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Writing Skills Tested on the PSAT/NMSQT®

The writing portion of the PSAT/NMSQT® requires you to read passages, identify issues, and correct them. Each writing question will ask that you thoroughly analyze what is presented to you, and create a solution that improves upon what is given. Unlike many other writing exams, the writing portion of the PSAT/NMSQT®‘ is a multiple-choice test, with four possible answers for each question. Also dissimilar to many tests is the source material; rather than asking for pre-studied information, this test studies your ability to receive and analyze new information.

Questions About Context and Conventions

Context and conventions questions will require you to look at the passage and its surroundings to determine what a word might mean (and whether it is used correctly), or whether or not punctuation is used correctly. Colons and semicolons, for instance, are often misused and interchanged, as are commas and periods. To adequately prepare for these questions, study the differences in punctuation marks and their intended use, as well as reading work above your typical understanding level to practice finding the meaning of words using context clues.

For further help in either of these areas, try these study guides on punctuation and word usage.

Evidence and Analysis Questions

Evidence and analysis questions test your ability to find supporting evidence for a particular point—or the lack of evidence—and determine the best way to alter a particular passage. An analysis question, for instance, might ask you what sentence does not fit within a piece, or what changes need to be made to a sentence to better convey the author’s point. To practice for these questions, reading is paramount, and editing your own work will help hone your evidence-finding and editing skills. If you struggle with critical reading skills make sure you practice before test day.

Understanding the Writing Process

Ultimately, the best way to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT® writing exam is to read and write frequently, work to identify any problems within the work you read or write, and learn to recognize the need for supporting details, more cohesive structure, and more effective word use. The writing exam tests your ability not merely to write, but to recognize effective, useful communication in the work of others. Make sure you understand the writing process and the basic conventions of English.This seems to involve a lot of preparation, but if you work on one or two skills at a time, it will all come together! Good luck!

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