The College Board has released, at long last, its first full practice test since announcing sweeping changes to the PSAT and SAT last year. You may now finally, if you’re one of a small group of merry misfits that actually enjoy this kind of thing, sit down for 3 hours and take a prototype test from start to finish. Then you can correct it. You cannot, however, score it yet. Unsurprisingly, College Board still hasn’t fully figured out how it’s going to scale these things.
Believe it or not, the answer document is longer than the test document.
Anyway, I just spent 3 hours of my beautiful Sunday afternoon with this thing, so I figured I’d jot down a few of my initial reactions in bullet form.
- At an hour long, the reading section is a real slog. And it’s the first thing students will do.
- As advertised, there’s less emphasis on tough vocabulary.
- The passages, for the most part, feel familiar. Many of the questions would be just as at home on the current SAT.
- The stuff that’s new is…fine, I guess. The questions that ask students to select the best justification from the passage for their previous answer are annoyingly formatted. Because the sections from the passage aren’t recreated in the choices—it’s the familiar old SAT-format, e.g. Lines 7–9 (“Thanks . . . life”)—there’s a LOT of necessary flipping back and forth.
- The graphs that appear seem tossed in after the fact, without much thought put into integrating them into the passage.
- I guess the “Great Global Conversation” piece in this test is the excerpt from Carnegie’s “Wealth”? Two thoughts: 1) Blech. 2) Students with some contextual knowledge of Carnegie’s life will be at an advantage answering those questions.
- Strong readers will probably welcome the changes—they’ll need to worry much less that, despite their comprehension skills, they might encounter vocabulary words they don’t know on test day. Weak readers will be at a disadvantage, but, well, it’s a reading test.
Writing and Language
- The writing is, basically, ACT writing. I know I’m not making an original observation here, but there’s just no other way to describe it.
- In this one test, the difference between their, they’re, and there, AND the difference between its and it’s are both tested.
- There’s punctuation, too. Students will love that. </sarcasm>
- Something I unsarcastically do love is an emphasis on clear, concise prose over both colloquialisms and awkward usage of fancy words. In one question, a student must choose between “prosaic directives,” “simple directions,” “bare-bones how-tos,” and “facile protocols.” I am fully on board with discouraging people from using phrases like “prosaic directives” and “facile protocols” whenever possible.
- Right off the bat, it’s obvious this test is different—more information is supplied on the first page than there used to be. Formulas for the volume of a sphere, the volume of a right cone, and the volume of a right pyramid are now provided. Also, the note that used to say that all numbers on the test are real numbers now says: “All variables and expressions used represent real numbers unless otherwise indicated.” This sample PSAT contains no spheres, cones, pyramids, or imaginary numbers, but they’re fair game now.
- It’s probably too early to say this, but the answer choices seem less intentionally devious. On one question, I rescued myself from forgetting a negative sign because the answer I arrived at wasn’t a choice. Phew! The old SAT might not have been so kind.
- The “Heart of Algebra” questions that come early in the section are kinda fun, if you know what you’re doing.
- With the exception of one basic trigonometry question, a question about graphing inequalities, and the last two question about shooting an arrow in the air (more on that later), pretty much everything in this test felt like it could have been fair game on the last test. This surprised me a bit, but it probably shouldn’t have. I didn’t start working in test prep until a year after the last big change in 2005, but I’m told that the same thing happened—early promises of a revolution were greatly exaggerated. Then again, it’s early yet.
- My friend Akil worries that the calculator allowed/no calculator allowed sections will result in unfairness, or at the very least confusion; I agree with him to an extent. However, I liked that I was forced to solve some questions by hand that I normally would have turned to my calculator for. It’s good to work out unused muscles.
- There are still only 8 grid-in questions, but now they’re split among the two math sections—4 in the no calculator section, and 4 in the calculator allowed section.
- It’s possible that there isn’t a stronger emphasis on the advanced topics showcased in previous question releases because this is a PSAT and they’re actually going to start saving the tough stuff for the SAT. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
- The last two grid-ins come as a pair—two questions about the same mathematical scenario. In earlier released questions, we were shown questions about a traveler dealing with exchange rates and bank fees—pretty tough stuff. Here, we’re dealing with an arrow being shot from the ground, which is tough stuff if you haven’t taken physics yet, but pretty standard if you have. What was interesting to me about the questions, though, was the amount of information provided that you don’t need at all. You are given 3 equations, and you need only one of them—the same one—to answer both questions. The old SAT wouldn’t have done that. We’ll have to keep an eye on how often the new one will.
Holy cow, I rambled on for a good long while. If you’ve got the stomach to sit down with the test, I’m very curious to hear what you think. Please, make liberal use of the comments section on this post. 🙂