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The pointlessness of the PSAT

By Caleb Hawkins

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By Caleb Hawkins | Staff Writer

October 22, 2012

[A note from the editor: All Dos Pueblos juniors took the PSAT on Wednesday, October 17. All sophomores took the PLAN test, a prepatory assessment for the ACT.]

The Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is designed to test the reading, writing, and math skills of students.

Weeks earlier, our second period teachers handed us packets with a practice test and told us to show up a little early on testing day to find out what room we were testing in.

That was it. That was all the preparation we got.

As most teachers know, students need to be told important information more than once.

And as judged by how many people showed up to the wrong rooms to test, maybe a little more enforcement would have helped.

So we were a little unprepared, but the test it’s self wasn’t too hard: a few odd math problems that we haven’t practiced in years and sentences with way more verbs than necessary, but not too bad.

And the test administration was a little funny. It was hurried and rushed with, for example, only 20 minutes to do each 25 question section, but then at the end we had over an hour of time to waste.

You couldn’t recheck your answers, the teacher couldn’t teach, so kids just talked and played cards.

What a great use of school time.

Why couldn’t we just showed up at 9 a.m.? Or have a really long lunch? Or a half day?

But hey, the test did have an upside: fewer pointless nonacademic questions than the ACT Plan ( for example, “rate these activities by how much you enjoy doing them: sorting through boxes, shelving goods, paying your bills, reading safety instructions, etc.”).

And it was like playing Jeopardy! except without Alex Trebek. If you get enough answers right, they put you in the running for National Merit scholarships.

Granted, it’s prelims for the semifinals, but in this economy I know my parents are looking to any college finance they can find.

No discussion of the PSAT is complete without talking about the cursive writing portion. At the beginning of the test, students are forced to “agree to the terms and conditions” of the test by copying a statement in cursive.

Why cursive? Does it make us more trustworthy? Does it show that we care more than print? Will the graders say to themselves, “He won’t cheat. Look, he wrote it in cursive. He must have meant it.”

Students, in general, haven’t used cursive since third grade.

I took an SAT subject test last year where I had to write out the cursive statement, so this time I came in a little more prepared.

I had done my three minutes of tying to remember how to make a cursive “I” before hand, but for others who were less prepared, they just slugged it out one letter at a time. Could this be why we have four hours to do a two-and-a-half hour test?

There have been high profile cheating scandals in the news lately, so security is tight.

Some of the practice questions in the packet and on the SAT website are older than I am. The teachers are on high alert for any kind of misconduct.

No phones, no calculators with keypads (no calculator on the desk at all during the English sections), no watches with alarms, no pens, no food, no rulers.

No one leaves the room.

I would love to talk about the questions that were on the test, but I think the test requires you to swear on your mother’s life that you will never talk about the questions until long after you’re dead.

So I better wrap this up before the College Board banishes me from taking the real SAT to get into college.

Oh the irony: getting banned from college for criticizing the test I took to prove I’m ready for college.

Then I would really have something to complain about.

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2 Responses to “The pointlessness of the PSAT”

  1. Beth on October 24th, 2012 8:35 AM

    Besides entertaining, Caleb has written with thoughtfulness and insight!


  2. PSAT Cursive Crisis | PAHSI on October 13th, 2013 2:38 PM

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.

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