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Thousands of LI students to take revamped PSAT exam

A sample math question from the redesigned PSAT/NMSQT

A sample math question from the redesigned PSAT/NMSQT exam is shown. Photo Credit: CollegeBoard

High school sophomores and juniors across Long Island have sharpened their No. 2 pencils for the debut Wednesday of a revamped PSAT exam that is 35 minutes longer than the older version but shorter on esoteric vocabulary.

Starting around 8 a.m., thousands of students in Nassau and Suffolk counties will join teens throughout the country in sitting for the two-hour, 45-minute test that is a precursor to the SAT.

The latter is the college-admissions exam most often taken by students in New York State. A redesigned version of that assessment will be administered for the first time in March -- the biggest change in college-entrance testing in a decade.

As a warmup for the new SAT, the preliminary version is being taken seriously. For example, the Eastport-South Manor school district, which used to give the PSAT only to 11th-graders, is adding 10th-graders this year.

Sal Alaimo, principal of the district's high school, said the idea is to give local teens a little extra prep time for the SAT. Also, Eastport-South Manor wants to encourage students as early as possible to start planning for the future.

"In 10th grade -- really, in ninth grade -- we want students to start thinking about what they're going to do in the future, and what courses they're going to take," Alaimo said.

Scores from the PSAT also are used in determining students' eligibility for more than $32 million in college scholarships, distributed by the National Merit Scholarship Program.

"We're excited," said Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment for the Manhattan-based College Board, the nonprofit agency that sponsors both the PSAT and SAT. "They've been redesigned to connect more kids to more opportunities."

The PSAT's full name is Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Sponsors describe it as the nation's largest pre-college assessment. It was administered last year to 3.8 million students, including more than 266,000 in New York State.

Changes in the PSAT, as well as the SAT, include a greater reliance on nonfictional reading passages, as well as on math exercises that require analytical problem-solving. There is more vocabulary of the sort used in college research -- for example, "synthesis" -- but fewer words that might be considered arcane, such as "prevaricator" or "sagacious."

"I'm a little apprehensive about some of this," said Liam Chung, 16, a junior at South Side High School in Rockville Centre.

Chung's particular concern: a section of the PSAT that requires corrections in grammar.

The superintendent of Rockville Centre schools, William Johnson, is a regional leader in the push to encourage more students to take college-level International Baccalaureate courses that emphasize essay writing.

Johnson is unimpressed with tests such as the PSAT and SAT, which are mostly multiple-choice, in terms of their validity for measuring students' college readiness.

"I think the whole thing should be tossed," Johnson said.

Bookstores and websites are doing a brisk business nonetheless with practice tests and workbooks meant to help teens ready themselves for the new assessments.

Barron's Educational Books, a publishing house headquartered in Hauppauge, recently came out with a new prep book, "Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT/NMSQT."

Brian Stewart, an educational consultant and Princeton University graduate who wrote the book, sees advantages in the new PSAT.

"The test is much more practical, much more real-world," Stewart said.

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