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PSAT Mathematics

How’s your Geometry? Statistics? Probability calculation skills? Rusty, maybe? For your sake, we’ll hope not, because the Math section, one of the three you’ll take on the PSAT, is a doozy. The other two, Critical Reading and Writing Skills will knock your socks off, too, but let’s deal with one problem at a time, okay?

The good news? You’ll only be stuck on it for 50 minutes. The bad news? You’ll have to remember some Algebra.

Take a gander below for all the nitty gritty numerical details.

PSAT Math Basics

When you show up to the testing center, you better warm up that calculator (yes, you can bring your own) because you’ll have two 25-minute Math sections to complete on the PSAT. They can earn you between 20 and 80 points, which accounts for one third of your total points on the PSAT. I know – that’s a hefty chunk to stake on some digits, but I didn’t make the rules.

Here’s the good news: the average Math score for 2008 was right around a 47 for juniors and a 44 for sophomores, so most of your fellow PSAT-takers are getting about half right, half wrong.

The two sections hold 38 questions, 28 of which are multiple choice, and 10 that require you to form a response (called grid-ins). Let’s go over each type in detail.

PSAT Multiple-Choice Math Questions

Work on these first. Because these math questions actually have choices, these are the easiest ones to answer and require less time than the grid-ins. At the very worst, you can guess and you’ll have at least a shot at getting the answer right.
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. (Getting things right = a higher score.)
What they measure: These are designed to test your ability to reason mathematically, to understand basic math terminology, and to recall basic mathematic formulas and principles – i.e. factoring polynomials, determining slope, working with sets and sequences, etc.
Question set-up: Each question offers you a problem that you must solve, and five answer choices below it.
PSAT Math Multiple-Choice Example:

A 19-liter mixture consists by volume of 1 part juice to 18 parts water. If x liters of juice and y liters of water are added to this mixture to make a 54-liter mixture consisting by volume of 1 part juice to 2 parts water, what is the value of x ?

(A) 17
(B) 18
(C) 27
(D) 35
(E) 36
(A) 17 is the correct answer

PSAT Grid-in Questions

Work on these second. Because you’ll need to do some calculations and scratch out the correct answer yourself, work on these second. Plus, since there are only ten of these, if you don’t get to them all, you’ll still have a higher chance of scoring well if you answer all the multiple-choice questions.
They get harder. Again, these get harder as you go, so answer them in order.
What they measure: These test the same things as the multiple-choice, but also test your ability to calculate correctly. If you make a mistake, you don’t get a choice! Guess, anyway, though since you aren’t penalized for wrong answers.
Question set-up: Each question offers you a problem that you must solve, and a grid where you must fill in the answer.
PSAT Math Grid-in Example:

The sum of the digits is 6.
Each digit is different.
The number is odd.
What is the greatest 4-digit number that has all of the characteristics listed above?

Correct Answer: 3,201

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