The PSAT Critical Reading Section

Length Question Types
Two 25 Minute Sections 8 Sentence Completions
12 Reading Comprehension

The PSAT Critical Reading component is designed to test skills in vocabulary, reasoning, and reading. The section does this through two distinct question types: Sentence Completions and Reading Comprehension.

PSAT Sentence Completion Questions

PSAT Sentence Completion questions are your friend because they're the fastest question type. You can earn more points in less time because there is no passage to read—just a sentence with one or two blanks that you need to fill-in.

On the PSAT, you'll notice that Sentence Completion question sets are arranged in order of difficulty. The first few might be pretty straightforward and manageable. The middle few will be a little harder, and the last few questions will be the most difficult.

Kaplan's 4-Step Approach to PSAT Sentence Completion Questions

STEP 1: Read the Sentence for Clue Words

Read the sentence and think about it for five seconds. Take special note of clue words like "but"—where you can expect a contrast in the next part of a question; or "moreover"—which tells you that a continuation of the same idea follows.

STEP 2: Predict the Answer

Decide what sort of word should fill the blank(s). Do this before looking at the answer choices. You don't have to guess the exact word; a rough idea of the kind of word will do. It's often enough to predict whether the missing word is positive or negative, but often you will be able to go farther. For example, you may be able to predict whether you need a pair of synonyms to fill in the blanks or two words that contrast.

STEP 3: Select the Best Match

Read each answer choice and compare your prediction. Find the one that best completes the sentence.

STEP 4: Plug Your Answer Choice into the Sentence

Put your answer choice in the blank(s). Only one choice should really make sense. If you've gone through the four steps and more than one choice still looks good, eliminate the choices that you can, and guess from the remaining choices and move on.

PSAT Reading Comprehension Questions

There are two kinds of PSAT Reading Comprehension passages: short and long. Short passages are approximately 100-150 words long, and are typically followed by two questions. Long passages are approximately 400-850 words long and are typically followed by 8-13 questions.

The passages and questions are predictable. The topics are drawn from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and fiction. The questions drill you about the overall tone and content of the passage, the details used, and what the author's overall meaning may be. You will also have one or more paired passage question sets consisting of two related excerpts. Those questions ask you to compare and contrast the two passages.

Kaplan's 4-Step Approach to PSAT Reading Comprehension Questions

STEP 1: Read the Question Stem

This is the place to read really carefully. Make sure you understand exactly what the question is asking. Is it a Big Picture question? Inference? Vocabulary? Are you looking for an overall main idea or a specific piece of information? Are you trying to determine the author's attitude or the meaning of a particular word?

STEP 2: Locate the Material You Need

If you are give a line reference, read the material surrounding the line mentioned. It will clarify what the question is asking and provide you with the context you need to answer it correctly. If you're not given a line reference, scan the text to find the place where the question applies, and quickly reread those sentences.

STEP 3: Predict the Answer

Don't spend time making up a precise answer. You need only a general sense of what you're after so you can recognize the correct answer quickly when you read the choices.

STEP 4: Select the Best Answer Choice

Scan the choices to find the one that fits your idea of the right answer. If you don't find one, quickly eliminate the wrong choices by checking back to the passage. Rule out options that are too extreme or go against common sense.

Take an PSAT Critical Reading Quiz

How will you do? Take our PSAT Critical Reading Quiz and find out.

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