Page 2 Reading Study Guide for the PSAT/NMSQT® exam

Specific Skills to Practice

While reading for practice, make sure you can use the text to answer questions about content and structure of a passage. Here are some skills to review.

Identifying Key Words

As you read the passage, make sure to underline the most important words in the passage. These are the words that carry the most meaning in the passage. For example: In the sentence, “Ducks are not the world’s fastest flying creatures,” we should underline ducks, not, and fastest flying. Underlining these keywords will help you to identify which part of the passage the questions are referring to, and will also help you avoid making common mistakes, like misunderstanding the sentence because you read too fast and didn’t see the word not.

Use Context Clues

Often, you’ll be asked about specific vocabulary words from the passage. Even if you think that you know what the word means, you should pay careful attention to context clues (clues before and after the word) to check its meaning. One way to use context clues is to pretend that the vocabulary word is a blank, and ask yourself what word would make sense in that blank. Your answer will probably be very close to the actual meaning of the word.

Reading Fiction Versus Reading Nonfiction

For the PSAT/NMSQT exam, you should be able to identify whether the passage you are reading is fiction or non-fiction. There are several genres of fiction that might appear on the PSAT/NMSQT exam, for example: poems, short stories, plays, or novels. The nonfiction passages can also be of different types, such as newspaper or magazine articles, textbook passages, or essays.

It’s important that you identify what type of passage you’re dealing with before you begin answering questions. Analyzing a fiction passage can require different skills from those used to analyze nonfiction.

Dealing with Two Passages

One of the reading passages on the PSAT/NMSQT exam will actually be made up of two shorter passages that you need to read in order to compare and contrast them. Focusing on keywords will be especially important in this type of passage, since you’ll be trying to identify how the two passages are similar, and how they differ.

Locating Evidence within a Passage

You may be asked to locate the lines in a passage that best support a certain statement. In addition to that, the new PSAT/NMSQT exam has, for the first time, questions that build upon each other. For example: If the first question asks whether the author is for or against a particular thing, the second question may ask you to identify which lines in the passage led you to the correct answer.

Using the Passage to Predict

Another type of question may ask you to make predictions based on the passage. It’s important to remember that these predictions should not be based on what you think is going to happen next, but should be solidly based on concrete evidence that is written in the passage. Even if your prediction makes sense, if the passage doesn’t imply it, it’s the wrong answer.

Using Graphical Information (Reading Charts, Graphs, etc.)

One of the passages on the reading test now includes graphical information that you will be expected to be able to interpret correctly. You can practice for this by familiarizing yourself with different types of charts and graphs like pie graphs, bar charts, and line graphs. Make sure that you are comfortable correctly interpreting the information that they hold.

Making Inferences

Making inferences is essentially the skill of being able to understand more than what is actually written. For example, after reading a passage, can you guess whether the writer is a man or a woman, what profession they have, or what their ethnic background is? Can you guess who the author is writing to, or what he or she might believe on another related topic? These are all inferences.

Analyzing Arguments

You will be expected to be able to analyze the author’s arguments. This means you will understand which position the author takes, as well as what evidence he or she presents to support that argument.

Summarizing and Paraphrasing

Summarizing and paraphrasing are the skills of being able to take a longer passage and condense it into a shorter version that gives just the main idea of the passage. You may be asked, for example, which sentence best sums up what the author says in certain lines of the passage. For this type of question, it can be useful to think up your own summary for the lines first, and then choose the answer that best fits your summary.

Determining the Function of a Sentence in a Passage

Some questions will point out a specific sentence in a passage and ask you to determine what role it plays. Does it support the author’s argument? Does it negate it? Does it give examples of something that the author has just mentioned?

Dealing with Multiple-Meaning Words

One thing the new PSAT/NMSQT exam does frequently is to check whether you understand that one word can have multiple meanings. Take for example the word stores. It usually means shops but it can also mean supplies. The PSAT will ask you to state what the word means in context, so make sure that you read carefully and make sure that you choose the right definition for the particular case.

Extra Tips and Tricks

Read the Passage First

It’s important to read the passage before you move on to the questions. This is so that you can get a general feel for the main idea of the passage before getting stuck in the details. It will also help you to quickly identify the part of the passage that answers each question because you will be familiar with the passage already.

Use the Reading Passage

Never, under any circumstances, answer the questions without referring back to the passage. It’s easy to think that you know the answer from your first reading, but you’ll always get more points if you double-check. Remember, the answer is always in the passage.

Cover Answers and Form Your Own

Another good trick to increase your score is to trust your feelings. Cover the multiple-choice answers and focus on the question alone. See if you can answer the question on your own, then uncover the answers and choose the the option that best matches your own answer.

Move on if You Get Stuck

If you have already spent more than a couple of minutes on one question and you are not easily seeing the answer, just move on. It’s better to work ahead and get as many questions as you can finished. When you finish all the passages, go back and try the questions you got stuck on again. If all else fails, guess. There is no penalty on the new PSAT/NMSQT exam for incorrect answers.

Be Careful of “Matching Words”

One way that the PSAT/NMSQT exam checks to see if you’re really paying attention is by using matching words in the passages and questions. Remember, just because the same word appears in the passage and in a particular answer, doesn’t mean that answer is the correct one. This is just one more reason it is so important to double check the content of the passage.

PSAT/NMSQT exam Answer Choices Are Either All Wrong or All Right

Remember, there will only be one correct answer to each PSAT question. All three of the other options will be wrong, even if it’s not immediately obvious. You can increase your odds by crossing out the ones that you absolutely know are wrong, and then finding the evidence in the passage to support the one that is correct.