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Critical Reading on the PSAT

Are you one of those voracious readers? You know, the kind that snatches every new gigantic novel off the YA shelf and plunges into the mysterious depths with uninhibited, childlike glee?

Oh? That’s not you? I’m confusing you with your sister? Oh.

That’s okay. You can do well on the Critical Reading Section of the PSAT anyway. No books filled with dragons, firefights, or angst-filled sixteen-year-olds required.

Read (yes, actually read) below and see what I mean. You can do it. I promise.

Writing on the PSAT

Math on the PSAT

Critical Reading Basics

This part of the PSAT, often referred to by its old name, the PSAT Verbal, can earn you between 20 and 80 points, which accounts for 1/3 of your total PSAT score. I know – that’s a lot of points to stake on reading! The good news is the average Critical Reading score for juniors in 2008 was a 48, and the average for sophomores was a 46. See? No one is perfect. (Except maybe your sister, but we won’t go there.)

You’ll have two sections to complete on this bad boy: two 25-minute sections, that is chock-full of 48 questions. The questions in the section are arranged randomly, but will include the following question types:

13 Sentence Completions

35 Passage-Based Reading

Sentence Completion

Work on these first. These are the easiest questions in Critical Reading and require less time than the passage-based reading questions.

They get harder. As you answer them in order, which you will if you’re test-savvy, they will become increasingly more difficult. So it’s good to get your feet wet on the first ones, because you’ll have an easier time getting them right.

What they measure: These are designed to test whether or not you know the meanings of words, which is where your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots come in, and how parts of a sentence should fit together logically.

Question set-up: Each question is a sentence with one or more blanks in it. You have to choose words from a multiple-choice selection that best fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole.


The novel’s protagonist, a pearl diver, naïvely expects that the buyers will compete among themselves to pay him the best price for his pearl, but instead they ____________ to ____________ him.

A. venture…reward

B. pretend…praise

C. collude…swindle

D. refuse…cheat

E. conspire…reimburse

Passage-Based Reading

Work on these second: These are usually the hardest types of questions for most people, because they involve reading a passage, analyzing it, and then choosing a response.

Difficulty ranges: Unlike sentence-completions, these questions merely go along with the passage. You could get a tough question first, followed by one your kid brother could ace.

What they measure:

Comprehension: Can you read and understand what you’ve read?

Vocab in context: Can you figure out the meaning of a word based on the words around it?

Higher-level thinking: Can you analyze, evaluate, synthesize, identify cause and effect, make inferences, recognize a main idea or an author’s tone, and follow the logic of an analogy or an argument? Can you? Hunh?

Question Set-up: You’ll be given a reading passage or two related passages with anywhere from about 100 words up to approximately 850 words. (A typical double-spaced page is about 250 words.) Afterward, you’ll have to answer a multiple-choice question related to the reading selection.


I remember the summer of 1940 when I first left here. After my final school year my days had been reduced to waiting, anticipating the preinduction physical for the year of compulsory service required of all physically fit seventeen and eighteen year olds, both men and women. Although I wanted the medical reports to declare me perfectly fit and would have felt inferior if they had not, I was not looking forward to upcoming camp life. Yet without any say in my future, all I hoped to know was where and when. Then the paralyzing uncertainty ended. My orders to report to a never-heard-of location in Czechoslovakia even kindled a spark of anticipation for traveling to a foreign country and moving toward new experiences, whatever they might be. I was assigned to a camp that was an agricultural teaching facility, where I was expected to learn to run a large rural household. Like me, most of the girls at the camp enjoyed the hearty meals and learned to ignore our servant status. After years of having subsisted on ration diets in the cities, we blossomed into robust young women whose physical well-being countered surges of hurt pride, resentment, and periods of homesickness. And so began just one of the many disjointed and unpredictable periods I endured before the subsiding waves of war swept me an ocean away.

The author uses the phrase “disjointed and unpredictable” in line 14 to describe:

A her infrequent reunions with her family

B her plans for her life after the war

C the varied situations she experienced during the war

D her prior experiences with foreign traveling

E her preparation for performing skilled labor