Top Questions & Answers from ArborBridge's New PSAT Webinar

Wondering how the new PSAT and new SAT compare? Looking for test prep advice as a National Merit contender? Maybe you even have questions about the ACT. Check out some of the questions our webinar attendees asked, and you might just find the answer you need!

These questions were collected from ArborBridge's webinar, The New PSAT: A Comprehensive Overview.

Does a student gain a leg up on the SAT if they take the PSAT?

Not really. There is, of course, something that comes from getting that extra experience with standardized testing, such as working to decrease test anxiety. But it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a point boost on the SAT. However, it can provide an indirect benefit by giving the student an idea of their starting score when they take the PSAT. They will be able to tell if the exam is a good fit for them, then adjust their test prep for the SAT accordingly.

Are there certain types of questions that pop up on the no-calculator math section of the new PSAT that would not pop up on the calculator-allowed math section?

There doesn’t appear to be a significant difference between questions types within the two sections, however, we did notice that the calculator section contains some higher level math.

So, the guessing penalty is gone for the PSAT too?

Yes! The new PSAT has gotten rid of the guessing penalty, which means if a student guesses wrong, points will no longer be deducted from their score. Strategywise, this also means that students should never leave an answer blank on the new PSAT. If you find yourself in a rut, pick a random letter, and just keep moving.

Do we know anything about National Merit and the new PSAT?

The new PSAT still qualifies a student for National Merit—it is the first and only qualifying step for the competition. If students think they will be competitive for National Merit, they should plan to take the new PSAT in October. Additionally, as in the past, if a student qualifies for National Merit and becomes a semifinalist, he or she will also need to take an SAT, then submit that score to the College Board for verification. We have heard that students can use old OR new SAT scores for their qualifying exam score. But because we don’t know a lot about scaling for the new SAT, we can’t yet tell what the cut off SAT score for qualification will be. In general, however, if you have a student who takes the new PSAT as a diagnostic exam and scores very highly on each section, there is a good chance he or she may be competitive for National Merit.

If a student may qualify for the National Merit, they will need to take the PSAT this fall, correct?

Yes. It is the only way to begin the process for the competition.

Can you tell us about the new PSAT 10 for international schools? Specifically, will the PSAT 10 be offered on a Saturday in late February/early March, as indicated on the College Board website?

This something the College Board will probably work out with the individual schools that are outside of the US. In terms of the PSAT 10, the College Board has indicated that they will help decide with the school if the school wants to offer the PSAT 10, as well as the PSAT 8 or 9, in spring or fall. One of the main differences between the earlier grade level versions of the PSAT compared to the regular version of the PSAT is that it is normally only given in October. Ultimately, it will be up to schools to decide in conjunction with the College Board. Students should speak with their own college guidance counselors at their schools to gauge what their best options are.

Which types of students should take the new SAT?

Across the board, we recommend that students should stick with the exam that changes the least by the time they are ready to take the test.

Do we know anything about whether colleges will be accepting both the old and the new SAT for the next application cycle?

It depends on the college/university. There are some indicators that colleges may want a student’s score from the new SAT, but it also looks like a lot of schools will accept either old or new scores. Overall, they are still working it out on their end, but we will keep you posted as soon as we know more.

I have a freshman and sophomore. Will colleges accept the old SAT for the class of 2017 and 2018?

There is no decisive answer here yet. Colleges have indicated that they would like current freshmen to take the new SAT, but current sophomores might get more flexibility because they are stuck in the transition between the old and new exam. Once again, however, this is a college-dependent decision—each admissions department will have their own protocol.

Since it is unclear which SAT the class of 2017 should take, would you recommend these students take the ACT instead?

Short answer: Yes. Because your class will sort of be the “guinea pigs” for the new SAT, we recommend the ACT if that’s what you’re comfortable with. It will probably be safest to take the exam that is changing the least by the time you’re ready to take the tests.

What changes are coming for the essay on the new SAT?

The new SAT essay will require a student to read an argumentative passage, then deconstruct and analyze the author’s persuasive rhetoric. Students will need to address how the author’s tone, diction, use of evidence, or paragraph structure is used to convince the reader of his or her argument. The College Board has doubled the amount of time students have to complete this section, so they have ample time to analyze the passage. Most importantly, the new SAT essay will be optional, and will not be included in the total score.

Will there also be a delay in scoring tables for the new SAT?

Yes, we believe so. The College Board will most likely wait to release scaling for the new SAT, even though they’ll release the new practice SAT in May.

Are the SAT Subject Tests changing in any way?

No. At this point we see no indicators that the Subject Tests are changing from the College Board.

Will there be a new ACT?

Yes, but the changes coming to the ACT will be very subtle, so students don’t need to worry too much about it.

Can you briefly describe the small changes coming on the ACT?

The ACT is making small tweaks and changes this coming fall. You may have remembered back in spring of 2014, the ACT reading section added double passages, which was always a concept seen on the SAT. In addition, the essay is going to change. The prompt will give students three different viewpoints from three different people on a specific topic. Students will be required to address all three viewpoints by supporting, contradicting, or comparing them within their analysis. The score report will also change slightly—it will include the same cross-section scoring that we see on the SAT and PSAT. Each section will contain subscores, which will be helpful for both colleges and students to gauge particular strengths and weaknesses. Finally, several locations will make the ACT available on the computer, however, the majority of locations will still provide the paper-based test.

Is the math section in the current ACT as difficult in the new SAT?

Yes, but in a different way. The new SAT will bring up its level of difficulty in terms of content, with the addition of trig and pre-calc, which traditionally were only seen on the ACT. The main difference between the two tests is the no-calculator section of the new SAT. The ACT allows students to use a calculator for the entire math section.

 Have more questions? Don't hesitate to contact a test prep expert at to learn more.

Megan Stubbendeck

About Megan Stubbendeck

Dr. Megan Stubbendeck is an eight-year veteran of the test prep industry with ten years of teaching experience. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Virginia, where she taught for three years in the History Department. She has been part of the test prep industry since 2007 and has earned perfect scores on the SAT, ACT, GRE, and multiple AP exams. As the CEO of ArborBridge, Megan oversees all aspects of ArborBridge operations and helped to create our innovative curriculum.

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