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Kwartler offers a complete guide to the PSAT/NMSQT

As the middle of October approaches, people of all ages ask themselves a deeply important, soul-searching question: “What is the PSAT/NMSQT?” This question is often followed by an even more philosophical inquiry: “How the heck do I pronounce that?”

I’ll tackle the second question first, because I don’t think you want to read an entire column examining the pronunciation of nine letters. Both PSAT and puh-sat nim-squit are acceptable names. Honestly, I’m not sure why so many people stumble over this; if a president of the United States was allowed to add a “u” to nuclear, making it “nucular,” I see no reason why we regular citizens can’t add vowels whenever we feel like it, too.

The first question is difficult, and depends on whom you ask. According to College Board, it’s “a standardized test that provides firsthand practice for the SAT [and] a chance to enter NMSC scholarship programs.” If you ask a high schooler, you might receive a wordy and thoughtful answer, such as, “It’s a test.” And according to Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president and valiant vampire hunter, “I think [the PSAT] is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union.” Most teens like the Lincoln perspective.

But none of these really do justice to the question. The PSAT is not merely another standardized test acronym that litters the college admissions process like the others: ACT, AP, SAT, SIT, STAY, ROLLOVER, etc. It’s more.

Your PSAT score does not go on your college application. However, if it makes you a national merit scholarship finalist, that may go on your college application. It’s therefore a bigger deal than, say, that online survey you just took to see if you qualify for identity theft — sorry, I mean car insurance.

Some of you might be wondering what sort of questions you’ll encounter on the PSAT. Essentially, you have a question about the questions. I have to be careful, here, because if I rephrase that into a question itself, the creators of “Inception” might sue me.

The test includes two critical reading sections, two math sections, one writing section, and one bubble section. Each lasts about a half hour, except for the bubble section, which takes three to seven days.

Before beginning, you bubble in some preliminary information. That info includes things such as your name, school, address, school’s address, email address, address’s address, and gender. By the time you get to the gender question, your brain has spent so much time filling out bubbles that you seriously need to stop and ponder whether you should bubble in “male” or “female.”

The worst part is that you are not allowed to move on from each bubbling section until everyone in the classroom has completed it. On the bright side, though, this gives you time to fill in extra bubbles. For example, on the ethnicity section, why not just fill in all the bubbles? You’ll be so diverse that colleges will be falling at your feet. As for the religion bubbles, well, think about it: what religion do you think a Caucasian European Latino African Alaskan Native American Brazilian Pacific Islander would be?

After bubbling, students advance to the critical reading section of the test. This section is filled with vocabulary and passage-based questions. As if that isn’t difficult enough, the passages are also written to encourage you to fall asleep during the test.

Then comes a math section. The real problem with the math section is that it’s full of math, which isn’t a pastime of choice for most students. What the PSAT really needs is an Ultimate Frisbee section.

Finally, the test ends with a writing skills section that, as you probably guessed from the title, involves little writing and no skills. (Filling in bubbles is not considered a skill unless you hold the pencil between two of your ribs, somehow.) This section was added to the test after College Board formed a profitable partnership with Scholastic Publishing, Inc. PSAT takers essentially edit sentences for free, saving Scholastic the cost of hiring editors.

After finishing the PSAT, most teens experience a sharp decrease in stress levels for about three long seconds. Then, one realizes that one hasn’t even taken the SAT yet, let alone the ACT or the AP History of Biophysical Chemicals in Economics test.

All in all, though, one thing is clear: the PSAT is by no means a major obstacle. It’s simply another metaphorical tollbooth on the winding road of life. How much it costs you depends on your ability to control the stress associated with it and laugh along the way. Me, well, I’ll be busy studying the most efficient way to fill in bubbles. And, of course, intensely avoiding having to ever say ‘nmsqt’ out loud.

Joel Kwartler is a junior at Lake Oswego High School. He writes a monthly column in the Lake Oswego Review. To contact him email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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