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Developing a PSAT Strategy

Though the prospect of taking the PSAT may seem a bit daunting at first, it doesn’t have to be. There are several things your student can do to ensure that he or she is putting the best foot forward on test day. 


Because there is no penalty for wrong answers, it is in your child’s best interest to guess on any question he or she is unsure of. Sometimes the best way to find the correct answer is to eliminate the incorrect answers. Here are some more tips for success:
  • Answer all the questions you are certain you know how to answer, either because you are confident in the answer choice you’ve selected or because you are able to eliminate all the choices that don’t work, leaving you with one answer that does work.
  • For those questions you are not sure how to answer, eliminate as many answer choices as possible (that is, those answer choices that you know can’t be correct). If you are able to eliminate one or more answer choice, it’s in your best interest to make an educated guess from the remaining choices. However, circle the question number in your test booklet (not on your answer sheet) so that you can come back to it at the end if you have time.
  • If you are unable to eliminate any answer choices for a question, skip it. Put a star next to the question number in your test booklet (not on your answer sheet) so that you can come back to it at the end if you have time. If after further review you are still unable to eliminate any answer choices, guess.
  • Remember that PSAT questions generally increase in difficulty as you work through each type of question in a section (except on the reading passage questions, which progress chronologically through the passage). Use this knowledge to your advantage: focus your time and energy on the questions you have the best chance of answering correctly (most likely the ones toward the beginning and middle of the section), and guess on questions that are too challenging and time-consuming (most likely the ones toward the end of the section).

Tips for Eliminating Answer Choices

Sentence Completion Questions
  • Look for key words and conjunctions in the sentence. These clues will help you eliminate answer choices that don’t fit within the context of the sentence.
  • ​If you don’t know the exact meaning of the words in the answer choices, try to determine the tone of the words. For example, if you know that the correct answer must be a word with a positive tone, based on key words and conjunctions in the sentence, you can eliminate any answer choices with a negative tone.
Reading Passage Questions
  • The reading passage questions progress chronologically through the passage. Use that fact to help identify where in the passage you should look for clues to identify the correct answer.
  • Beware of answer choices that include phrasings used or information contained in the passage but don’t directly answer the question being asked.
  • Beware of answer choices that contain extreme or absolute words such as “never” or “always.”
Multiple-Choice Math Questions
  • If you’re not sure how to approach a question, consider whether you can solve it by plugging the answer choices back into the problem for the unknown value.
Grid-In Math Questions
  • Because the grid-in math questions don’t list answer choices, you can’t eliminate answer choices. However, because you do not lose points for incorrect answers, you should answer all of these questions even if you aren’t sure if you have found the correct answer. Try to use the information given in the question to make an educated guess.
Improving Sentence Questions
  • If you can identify an error in the original sentence, eliminate answer choice (A), which is the same as the original sentence.
  • If you can identify an error in the original sentence, eliminate any answer choices that repeat the same error.
  • Eliminate any answer choices that change the overall meaning of the sentence.
Identifying Sentence Error Questions
  • Read the sentence in your head, and try to “listen” for the error. If part of the sentence sounds strange, that may be the section that contains the error.
  • Work through grammar and usage rules to eliminate answer choices. For example: Do the subject and verb agree in number? If so, eliminate that answer choice. Is the correct pronoun case used? If so, eliminate that answer choice, too. Doing so will help you narrow down the choices.
Improving Paragraph Questions
  • Before you look at the answer choices, determine what you would do to improve or revise the sentence, paragraph, or passage, as appropriate. Eliminate those choices that don’t fit with the changes you made.

By using process of elimination and the tips detailed above, your child will be better positioned to maximize the points he or she earns.

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