Prepping for the PSAT/SAT? Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too early.
It’s like saving for retirement –
if you only start when you actually need it, you’re already behind.

See this page for:

Benefits to Using College Board :: PSAT 10 Overview :: Inside the Test (ELA (Writing and Reading) and Math) :: Student Resources :: Resources for Counselors, Teachers, and other Leaders :: News and Relevant Articles :: Things You Should Know to Improve Your Score

Benefits to Using the College Board Assessments (PSAT, SAT, AP)

  • The new SAT looks so similar to the ACT it’s uncanny. It measures many (almost all) the exact same skills we’ve been prepping, so we have lost nothing in our preparation but instead have been on the right track despite the name. All our efforts up until now are still meaningful and beneficial to students.
  • In terms of the most important skills, the test format doesn’t matter. Reading skills are important; this test measures the most essential math and grammar content alongside essential reading skills. The more comfortable a student is with the content, the less the test format matters. At the end of the day, we are NOT prepping kids for a test – we are preparing students for a level of efficiency and capacity necessary for their post-secondary lives.
  • AP Potential® is a free, Web-based tool that allows schools to generate rosters of students who are likely to score a 3 or higher on a given AP Exam based on their performance on the PSAT or SAT. This means we can target more students who might be ready for AP.
  • Math: The new SAT Math is much more aligned to Colorado Academic Standards High School Content.
  • Scoring: The new SAT will offer more informative scoring than ACT (See presentation under “The New SAT” called “Scoring”). This will help students build skills over time.
  • Professional Development has been created for teachers and other professionals; it includes eight modules and guides! (links below)
  • Shmoop is all about the New SAT, so their SAT materials all reflect the new test as well and continues to be a resource for our students. However, students can continue to use the ACT materials for many skills due to the strong relationship between the two tests.
  • Opens Doors to College: The SAT is accepted by almost all U.S. colleges. Students can opt in to Student Search Service® to receive free information about admission and financial aid from colleges, universities, and scholarship programs.
  • Students who take any of the tests from the College Board Suite (PSAT 10, SAT, AP) using a fee test waiver can choose four colleges from over 2,000 participating colleges and apply for free!
  • FREE practice on Khan Academy®: For the first time ever, College Board has teamed with Khan Academy® to provide 4 official full-length practice tests, study and test-taking tips, Interactive practice, thousands of practice questions, 8 diagnostic quizzes, and instant feedback for students. Khan Academy® will tailor instruction to meet individual needs.
  • College Board has put a lot of information together about this new test. You’ll find it below, organized a bit so you don’t have to go through each part of their website. However, their website is easy to navigate and very user-friendly, and its use is highly encouraged.

The New PSAT, Overview

From The New York Times, “Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT” (link)

As for content, the revamped test draws heavily from the Common Core — math and reading benchmarks adopted by most states. Those standards emphasize evidence-based interpretations of texts, vocabulary used in college and careers, and depth-over-breadth math skills. And yes, although the exam will not be the mirror image of the ACT, the two are about to become much more similar.

From USA Today, “10 Ways the SAT Will Change This Year” (link)

Last sentence: “In the meantime, the general consensus seems to be that the best way to prepare for the redesigned SAT is, oddly enough, to study for the ACT.”


The new PSAT has four sections, and a fifth optional essay section.
Section 1: Reading (60 minutes, 47 questions)
Section 2: Writing and Language (35 minutes for 44 questions)
Section 3a and 3b: Math (70 minutes, 48 questions) includes a calculator and a non-calculator section

The creators of the test expect about 45-50 minutes of pre-administration work (bubbling in name, address, classes, etc) and anticipate that, in addition to the two 5-minute breaks, the entire process should take approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes.


  • Score Structure
  • Total Score: Sum of two section scores: 320 – 1520
    • Section Scores (2): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math: 160-760
    • Test Scores (3): Reading, Writing and Language, and Math: 8-38
    • Cross-test Scores (2): Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. Based on selected questions in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests
    • Subscores (7):
      • Command of Evidence (R/W)
      • Words in Context (R/W)
      • Expression of Ideas (W)
      • Standard English Conventions (W)
      • Heart of Algebra (M)
      • Problem Solving and Data Analysis (M)
      • Passport to Advanced Math (M)

Inside the Test

Take a look here for a Bird’s Eye View of Content Descriptions across ACT, SAT, and PSAT 10.

      • A challenging assessment of comprehension and reasoning skills with focus on careful reading of appropriately difficult passages in wide array of subject areas. Authentic texts from high-quality, previously published sources. Widely applicable across disciplines, still includes paired passages. No more arcane vocab!!
      • Always includes:
        • One passage from a classic or contemporary work of literature
        • One passage (or pair) from US founding document or a text in the great global conversation they inspired
        • A selection about economics, psych, sociology, or other social science
        • Two science passages: one passage and one passage pair) that examine foundational concepts and developments in Earth science, bio, chem, or physics.
      • Measures:
        • Command of Evidence (find evidence for a conclusion, identify how authors use evidence to support, find relationships between informational graphics and a passage)
        • Words in Context (use context clues, decide how an author’s word choice shapes meaning, style, tone)
        • Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science (Examine hypotheses, interpret data, consider implications)
      • Teachers should be utilizing the unit plans, accessing texts that align with the unit plans (Collections, Overdrive), and always making sure classroom texts match the text complexity demands of SAT and Colorado Academic Standards.

Math Content and Sample Questions

      • Most will be multiple choice, but some will be “grid-in” – student produced response
      • Two portions: Calculator and non-calculator
      • Focus:
      • Measures:
        • Fluency
        • Conceptual Understanding
        • Applications
        • Calculator Use
        • Grid-In Questions (8 total of 48)
    • Inside the Writing and Language Test, includes Sample Questions LINK

      • Proofreading
      • All MC, based on passages.
      • Some passages accompanied by graphics, like tables and charts
      • Prior topic knowledge never tested
      • Part of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section
      • Passages will range from arguments to nonfiction narratives and will be about careers, history, social studies, humanities, and science.
      • Measures:
        • Command of Evidence (find evidence for a conclusion, identify how authors use evidence to support, find relationships between informational graphics and a passage)
        • Words in Context (use context clues, decide how an author’s word choice shapes meaning, style, tone)
        • Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science (Examine hypotheses, interpret data, consider implications)
        • Expression of Ideas: Passage organization and its impact
        • Standard English Conventions: Sentence structure, usages, punctuation, verb tense, agreement, etc
      • Scoring (Concise powerpoint that shows scores that will be available and how it can be used to inform instruction.)
  • New Score Structures, table
  • Test Specifications (I’ve summarized above, but this is very good if you have the time/ patience)

How is this different?

Student Resources

  • Practice for Students (Sample Questions, Paper and Pencil Practice Test)
  • Practice Tests, Answer Sheets, Answer Explanations LINK – You can actually print a paper answer sheet, take a picture of it with your phone, and have it scored within a minute.
  • Link to Khan Academy. For the first time ever, the creators of the SAT and PSAThave given Khan Academy exclusive access and advice to build a personalized practice program for anyone, anywhere. These tools are free and available now for every student to take ownership of their learning and their future.Khan Academy has officially partnered with College Board to provide free online resources to students: includes 4 practice tests, 8 short, diagnostic quizzes, interactive practice, and immediate feedback.
  • Shmoop. Shmoop remains a fantastic resource for PSAT and SAT prep. All their materials are updated to the new PSAT/SAT test specifications and exceed the quality of their Aspire and ACT resources.

Resources for Teachers, Counselors, other Leaders

  • Professional Development Modules (Module 1: Key Changes, Module 2: Words in Context and Commands of Evidence, Module 3: Expressions of Ideas and Standards of English Conventions, Module 4: Heart of Algebra and Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Module 5: Passport to Advanced Math and Additional Topics, Module 6: Using Scores and Reporting to Inform Instruction)
  • Teacher Implementation Guide: These guides were created to help teachers and curriculum specialists
    • Generate ideas about integrating SAT practice and skill development into challenging course work
    • Interpret student scores, monitor progress, and make connections between scores, curriculum, and instruction
  • Resource Library on College Board: Includes Supervisor’s Manuals, Official Educator Guide, Official Student Guide, Prepare for the New PSAT, Prepare for the PSAT 10, Sample Score Report, Using Scores to Increase College Readiness, Lesson Plan to walk students through scores, PSAT/NMSQT Skills Crosswalk (compares to old PSAT), Quick Reference

Understanding the College Board Accommodations Process (CDE ppt)
Colorado PSAT 10 Overview Webinar (Feb 16)
College Board’s Colorado page

SSD – Services for Students with Disabilities

News and Relevant Articles

This year, Colorado voted to adopt the PSAT 10 as the standardized, summative assessment for 10th graders. Want to learn more about this test? Click on this link or the picture above to go to the ACT Aspire page and read more about this assessment and find exemplar items for each section! Meanwhile, here are some Fast Facts!

— Vertically articulated, standards-based  summative, interim, and classroom assessments
–Linked to SAT College Readiness Benchmarks; aligned with the Common Core State Standards

 Some things you should be doing to increase your SAT and PSAT score:
—  Know why you should care about it!
—  Encourage students to stay on track with rigorous courses: it all starts in school!
—  Tell them to read, read, read. And then read.
—  Address anxiety
—  Give a practice ACT test! (A full-length one…)
—  Speaking of school – what are they learning in class that they’ll see on the ACT?

We teach sophomores – why should we care about the test?
This test will be as important to most colleges as students’ GPAs. Think about how much time we work on their GPAs – and then how much time we spend on ACT. A few months their junior year with few practice problems sprinkled here and there isn’t going to cut it. And you know this is a test kids care about. It might be the one they care the most about, actually – so starting now doesn’t actually seem all that early when you’re talking about rigor, reading skills, and problem solving.

It’s easy to be passionate about this test. Sure, there are some strategies that help to know, but largely you’ll find that by working on the skills this test measures, you’re working on the skills you care about and want them to have. Like critical reading, science literacy, translating word problems and problem solving, and writing clearly and concisely.

Furthermore, ACT actually compares student performance their freshman year in college to ACT scores. We’re talking about your students’ ability to access text in college – and setting them up for success for that is 100% our responsibility. One of the most important things we can do as educators is to help students independently access information when we’re not there. That’s what the ACT is testing, so by working on these skills, you’re addressing some deeper issues that will have multiple, positive returns. The ACT is measuring independent efficiency when addressing writing, math, reading passages, and scientific labs. Isn’t our ultimate goal that students be proficient in these skills? The ACT is a great test for measuring those skills and helping students in the best way possible. If you’re helping a student comprehend 70% of what she reads in 35 minutes rather than 55%, isn’t that a great service? Won’t that help her in other areas in your class? In life? It’s an extremely practical and meaningful assessment.

Stay on Track with Rigorous Courses: Physics, anyone?
This is no anecdotal advice. From our district, state, and national results, students’ scores vary dramatically when they’re taking core (or more) and embracing rigor.
PhysicsHere’s just one example of what I’m talking about. The chart above (taken from, displays a dramatic difference in student scores when they’ve taken Physics. The end goal here is not just to get students the highest score possible – taking rigorous courses prepares them for level of scientific rigor needed to show efficiency with the material. Sorry, but grades in class alone won’t cut it. Schools want to know that students can do this independently and efficiently. AP classes, honors classes, concurrent enrollment programs – the district offers tremendous resources for those who wish to take advantage of them.

I’m not sure if it’s totally because of the content; it’s about the ability to break down complex passages with little to no assistance. Are you giving students that opportunity? Are you showing – and then removing – scaffolds to help the access that text?

Read, Read, Read!
It’s awesome to hear that kids want a high ACT score. We love that! But – if they’re shooting for a high score without reading, then they’re not being realistic. I have the potential to be a great tennis player – but only if I practice. And the odd thing about sports is that the better people get, the more help they get. You don’t get a tennis coach for a chicken, for example. There’s no hope. It’d be like getting me singing lessons – a total waste of money.

(For an awesome read, check this article out: the author asks, “Athletes have coaches: Why don’t doctors?”)

Yet in education, we often miss two main lessons from that sports analogy: one, that struggle is what makes you strong, and two, that the best of the best are the ones who practice the most. Michael Jordan was the best in the world – he had a coach AND he practiced more than you or me. Do you think the better he got, the less he practiced? I doubt it.

So let’s be honest with our kids. They might struggle in reading. That’s okay – they know they do. But get them practicing. And once they do well enough, get them to practice even more! This idea that “They’re done,” or “They’re proficient,” wouldn’t stand in other settings – developing a growth mindset with your students is one of the best ways you can help them!


This image is adapted from the Yale Center for Learning to Study (and, if you’re interested in how we learned to read, check out the book this came from, “Overcoming Dyslexia” by Sally Shaywitz; it’s an exciting read for dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike).

 If one child reads 20 minutes a night, and another only reads 5 (or none), which would you expect to do better? Which student would be better at writing? Which student would be more confident and patient when dealing with reading passages? (And though I love Lightning Thief and think it has its place, help students find variety in their reading list and exposure to various levels and forms of text. A student who “reads a lot” because he’s read Twilight seven times probably isn’t getting the full benefit.)

It’s not a matter of intelligence – it’s a matter of practice. We need to have honest communication about this with students.

My test anxiety is freaking me out! 
TheScreamAnxiety is no laughing matter, so don’t think I’m taking it lightly. It can freeze students to the point they’re white-knuckling their pencils during the test, or silently weeping during the math section. My heart breaks when I see that. However – familiarity with the test, its contents, and having a plan for dealing with anxiety will take kids much further than just acknowledging that the test stresses them out and calling it anxiety without any real help. Practicing these strategies sophomore year is critical, as you’re trying to break habits. Talking to students about anxiety junior year three weeks before the test doesn’t give them any time to address these issues.

Start this year having students recognize stress or nerves, and talk them through how to relax. A few ideas I’ve had success with are embracing the struggle and knowing your goals.

Recognize and embrace the struggle: I had one sweet student who would cry when she’d think about tests. Super bright girl in class, but her independent reading level wasn’t that great. So she’d study and study and then I’d hear, “What was on the study guide wasn’t what was on the test.” Well, it often was – she just couldn’t recognize the questions and themes. We worked on a quote – “No pressure, No diamonds.” She’d repeat this mantra during volleyball, where she was much more comfortable with – and expected – stress. By the time she got to class, that attitude started to transfer. We spoke about other areas in her life where she dealt with stress, then actively transferred those techniques to testing.

Knowing your goals: If I told you to run, you’d probably first ask, “What?” But then we might get around to, “How far?” and “When?”. Great questions. But when kids read or test, they only know the goal is to do their best without really asking how. How many do I need to get right to get an A? That’s a great question – and it also answers how many you can MISS! Same student above would sit down to a Spanish test and the first thing she would do is calculate how many questions she could miss and still get an A. If it was seven, then she’d know there were 7 questions she didn’t have to fret over. PRACTICE this!

On the ACT, that’s a very practical skill! Knowing how many you can miss or have to answer to get your goal score is one of the best strategies. If I say I want to gain weight but don’t break it down into the steps I need to take to get there, chances are I won’t meet any special goal. In fact, I’m thinking of about eight different ways I could gain weight right now.

So the lesson is, make your students tell you their ACT score goal. An actual number. Then help them determine how to get there. (What percent do I need right? Are there skills I need to practice? Have I taken a practice test yet so I know my starting point?)

Take a full-length practice test
Tell your student to go to a library or somewhere public and yet quiet, and time herself while she takes a full length practice test. Once she sees what’s on the test and how it feels, she’ll be better calibrated to ask questions, set goals, and focus in school on things she saw on the test.

I say somewhere public because I think a) you need to be near someone sniffling. Maybe it’s just me, but I get seated next to the kid with allergies so bad he could keep Kleenex in business for years to come. And I get annoyed, and angry, and then I’m thinking more about Sniffly Bob than I am about the test. Reason #2) their rooms are too cozy. Kids won’t be hard enough on themselves there. A hard chair, a solid table, and Sniffly Bob. Set the stage.

What can you teach this year that will be on the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and SAT?
Telling a junior that what she learned last year will be on this year’s test seems kinda cruel. Knowing ahead of time what’s going to be on the test sounds much better.