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A PSAT™ for Grades 8 and 9? Facts from unCommon Apps.

portrait of a schoolboy (8-9) wearing his school uniform

Several years ago, I began using the PSAT and SATⓇ to teach core skills to my younger private students. My favorite sources were publicly available math questions and writing prompts (once the essay was added to the SAT). I discovered that the students, especially those in middle school, loved using the tests; in particular, they enjoyed mastering questions that they knew were intended for older teens. Now, students in middle school and early high school may face a new test: the PSAT 8/9, which the College Board plans to implement along with a PSAT 10 (and a revamped PSAT/NMSQT). Anticipating questions from parents and followers, I have been looking more in depth at the PSAT 8/9.

Who’s actually going to implement the new test? Unlike the SAT, the PSAT is administered by schools. So school administrators, many of whom are already dealing with the ramifications of Common Core testing, may find themselves making a tough call. Will another test max out parents’ and students’ patience? Will some schools welcome the test as a benchmark? Will counselors, many of whom avoid the college “discussion” until late in the sophomore year, be amenable to an admissions-like test geared toward Grades 8 and 9?

I sought some opinions locally. The high school in my town hopes to decide whether to use the new PSATs by late June. Another top-ranked public high school thinks it will administer only the PSAT 10. Schools and districts previously using the College Board’s ReadiStep program would be logical candidates to administer the PSAT 8/9.

What will the test look like? Unfortunately, there is no sample test out just yet. Describing the PSAT 8/9 as a “foundation for understanding the status of student readiness as he or she enters high school,” the College Board has modeled the test to feature the same categories as the revamped SAT. Thanks to the internet, I was able to review a College Board counselor resource on the Suite of Assessments. Here’s a summary of the types of skills students will need to demonstrate:

  1. Reading (55 minutes): Draw one-step conclusions; identify relationships; determine explicit meaning

  2. Math (60 minutes): Solve using one or two steps; apply common geometric equations; understand basics of probability, statistics, ratio and proportions; use properties of right triangles. (Anti-calculator people will be glad to know that the devices are only permitted on one of the Math sections in the new SAT Suite of Assessments.)

  3. Writing and Language (30 minutes): use punctuation correctly in simple contexts; edit straightforward sentences; incorporate information from graphics into text. (Total PSAT 9/10 Scores will range from 320 to 1520. Reading and Writing and Language will combine as one section scored from 160 to 760, while Math will be the other section in that score range.)

When will the test be administered? The College Board has posted a range of possibilities: September 28, 2015-January 29, 2016, for fall, and February 22-March 4, 2016, for spring.

What else about logistics? The College Board website indicates that the fee for test books will be $10.00. There will be no approval necessary to test with accommodations. Like the PSAT scores, results of the PSAT 8/9 will go directly to schools rather than to parents or students. Furthermore, the College Board has no intention of reporting scores to colleges.

How can students prepare for the PSAT 8/9? Regarding authentic test-prep resources, the College Board partnership with Khan Academy will encompass the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT, but not the PSAT 8/9. Expect other test-prep firms and learning centers to create their own test guides. So that leaves us where we started (this blog); motivated teachers and students may use high school questions for younger and bright students.

Can the ACT be far behind? Only a few schools in my area have administered the PLAN, the “junior” ACT, while I have yet to meet a student who has taken its EXPLOREⓇ. There’s an important update from ACT; those two tests have been replaced by ACT Aspire™. This joint venture between ACT and publishing giant Pearson offers English, Math, Reading and Science components online or on paper; it is administered in class.

So should parents ask for the new test? Absolutely, yes! All too many times, I meet a college applicant whose core skills are either weak or not where they should be relative to that student’s ability. With the new test, Parents can be alerted to sub-par skills well in advance of the norm. By implementing the PSAT 8/9, schools can provide their students with invaluable test-taking experience. Counselors, students, parents, and others will have useful benchmarks and percentiles.

This is a follow-up to my blog post: What’s Going on With Testing. Read my blogs on, or follow me @nberler.


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