Sample PSAT Item

Status: 
Archived
Subject: 
University Testing

What do tests such as the PSAT actually measure besides the facility to "psyche-out" the answers the test-makers are seeking?

 

This was "Improving Sentences" Item 24 on the "Writing Skills" section of the PSAT/NMSQT administered on Tuesday, October 14, 1997. Test-takers are instructed to "Select the answer that produces the most effective sentence, one that is clear and exact, without awkwardness or ambiguity . . . In choosing answers, follow the requirements of standard written English. Choose the answer that best expresses the meaning of the original sentence."

 

Having an exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere, astronomers chose Mauna Kea as the prospective site of the world's largest optical telescope.

(A) Having an exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere, astronomers chose Mauna Kea

(B) Astronomers who chose Mauna Kea for its exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere saw it

(C) Mauna Kea's exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere led to its choice by astronomers

(D) Because its atmosphere is exceptionally dry and stable, astronomers chose Mauna Kea

(E) Based on its exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere, Mauna Kea was chosen by astronomers

 

FairTest "administered" this question to a number of journalists and published authors. None could explain why the wanted answer of "D" was clearly superior to other replacement alternatives. Nor did anyone understand what items like this one had to do with the ability to do college work. Yet, getting this question right or wrong could determine if a student was eligible for National Merit Scholarships because of the competition's reliance on absolute cut-off scores.