Posted by Julia Wasson

Sep 16, 2014 10:43:00 AM

The SAT test is a college entrance exam that allows students to show schools what they know and how well they apply their knowledge in three main subject areas: critical reading, math, and writing. The PSAT test is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The PSAT also assesses students’ skills in these same academic areas.

High school sophomores must take the PSAT in the fall in order to qualify for the National Merit scholarships as well as to practice for the SAT. The PSAT lasts 2 hours and 10 minutes; it does not include an essay.

High school juniors generally take the SAT in the fall, though many take it later. The full SAT test, which includes the mandatory essay, lasts three hours and 55 minutes. During this time, students will take a 25-minute experimental section that does not count toward the student’s score and that is not identified as experimental.

The format, content, and difficulty of both tests re the same, though the PSAT is shorter and does not include the essay. Both the PSAT and the SAT test your child’s critical thinking skills, as well as his or her ability to analyze and problem-solve in all three subject areas. Although reading, math, and writing skills are commonly taught in high school, PSAT/SAT test prep is an important step in teaching your student how to approach each subject section (also called a “subtest”) of these important tests.

The following is a breakdown of PSAT/SAT test tips to help improve your child’s understanding of each subject:

SAT Test Prep Tips for the Essay

  • Length: One 25-minute essay

  • Question Type: One writing prompt

The SAT Essay is required and is the first task required of your student. The PSAT does not have an essay component. Students are giving just 25 minutes to read a prompt, plan, and write a persuasive essay. The best way to do well on this is to have a strategy and then practice. When seeking an effective SAT test prep course, look for one that provides concrete steps to use when planning an essay.

PSAT/SAT Test Prep Tips for Critical Reading

  • Length:

    PSAT: 48 questions in two 25-minute sections

    SAT: 67 questions in two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section

  • Question Types: Sentence completion, reading comprehension

If your student is having trouble with PSAT/SAT critical reading passages, she may be focusing too much on the finer details while missing the main idea.

During PSAT/SAT test prep, your child needs to practice focusing on the main point of passages first. Most questions in the critical reading section of the PSAT/SAT test relate back to the main idea in some way. When a question mentions a specific detail, it’s referring your child back to specific lines. That’s why it’s important not to get caught up in the details on the first read.

For the sentence completion questions in the critical reading section, it’s important that your child has a strong vocabulary and understands college-level words used in context. During PSAT/SAT critical reading test prep, the best way to improve vocabulary is to read, read, and read some more. Word games like Scrabble and crossword puzzles are also fun ways to pick up new vocabulary words. Using a college-level vocabulary game on a mobile device or computer is a fun and painless way for busy students to improve vocabulary.

PSAT/SAT Test Prep Tips for Writing

  • Length:

    PSAT: 39 questions in one 30-minute section

    SAT: 49 questions in one 25-minute section, one 10-minute section

  • SAT Question Types: Identifying sentence errors, improving sentences, improving paragraphs

The best way to become a better writer is to practice. Your child should write often and get feedback from a skilled writer. Solid writing is not only a means for doing well on the PSAT/SAT tests, but well-honed writing skills are also an important asset for anyone in the workforce.

The PSAT/SAT writing subtest assesses your child’s understanding of the structure of successful essays, including —

  • critical-thinking skills

  • supporting evidence

  • varied sentence structure and syntax

  • grammar, mechanics, and usage

Reviewing grammar rules is always a good idea. To exercise other elements of the PSAT/SAT writing tests, make a game of spotting errors on websites. Because the electronic world moves quickly and publishing is done with the click of a button, even the most visited websites have both grammatical and structural errors.

PSAT/SAT Test Prep Tips for Math

  • Length:

    PSAT: 38 questions in two 25-minute sections

    SAT: 54 questions in two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section

  • SAT Question Types: Multiple choice, student-produced responses

The PSAT and SAT math questions fall into four general categories: numbers and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and measures, and data analysis, statistics, and probability. There is no trigonometry on the PSAT or SAT test.

In the student-produced-response items on the SAT math test, there are 10 questions that do not provide answer choices. Students must solve the problems and fill in the answers on a special grid.

The best tip to help your student improve his math score is to focus study time on the most-tested concepts. They include:

  • Properties of triangles

  • Ratios and portions

  • Functions

  • Inequalities

  • Systems of equations

  • Exponents

  • Linear and quadratic equations

Your student shouldn’t waste time memorizing the most common formulas, because they’re provided in the PSAT and SAT test booklets. Rather, he needs to focus on how and when to use these formulas. Encourage him to study the chapter reviews in the math books for classes he has already taken.

Another important way to review is to work practice SAT math test problems, then review the answer explanations to understand why the answer is right or wrong. The more practice your child gets working SAT-style math problems, the better his score is likely to be.

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