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Understanding the Redesigned PSAT Scoring: Its Potential Impact on Students and Scores

Update: Understand your scores on the new PSAT with our table showing how your redesigned PSAT scores correlate with ACT scores. This will help you choose whether to take the ACT or the new SAT.

As most admissions professionals and many parents of high school students know, on the current SAT (to be administered for the last time on January 23, 2016), the maximum possible score on each of the three sections (Reading, Math, and Writing) is 800 points, and the maximum total possible score is 2400. The PSAT is, conveniently, scored on a 240 point scale, and students can multiply 11th grade PSAT scores by 10 to predict scores on an SAT taken in the spring of 11th grade. A score of 190 on the PSAT thus predicts a score of 1900 on an SAT. PSAT scores can also be compared to ACT scores with the help of Concordance Tables calculated by the College Board and ACT, to help students decide which test – SAT or ACT – might be better for them. In sum, the current PSAT is a very helpful evaluative, comparative, and predictive tool – for students, parents, counselors, and tutors.

Last Tuesday, the College Board finally released charts to help students (and parents) convert raw scores on the one published redesigned PSAT and four SATs to scaled scores. We can now see how a student’s raw scores (number correct) convert to scaled scores on the redesigned PSAT and SAT. We can also see, to some extent, areas a student might want to work on, if he or she is planning on taking the redesigned SAT. Unfortunately, however, we still have no way to compare these scores to ACT scores or those on the current PSAT or SAT. We also don’t have percentile data, which would be useful for students to understand how they rank on a curve, relative to others, and to predict how they might do on the new SAT. The upshot is that for most students trying to understand whether to take the redesigned SAT, the current SAT, or the ACT, or to understand if they have a “good” score, all the information provided thus far is close to useless.

Here’s the nitty-gritty:

Each of the combined Reading-Writing and Math sections of the rPSAT is scored on a 160 to 760-point scale for a combined total score between 320 and 1520. The SAT will be scored on the currently familiar 200 to 800 point scale. Thus, a student, say Adam, could get 560 on the Reading and Writing test and 700 on the Math, for a familiar-sounding combined score of 1260 on the PSAT.

But what does this 1260 mean? Does it equate to a score around 1260 on the “old-old” (pre-2005 test), which was on a 1600-point scale? Based upon all the information released by the College Board (which is not comprehensive), it appears not.

The redesigned PSAT and SAT do not penalize guessing, so on multiple-choice questions (most of the test is multiple choice) students can guess randomly and get around one in four correct. If a student were to guess randomly on each question of the new PSAT test (and not be unlucky), she or he would achieve a score of 350 on the Reading-Writing test and 390 on the Math, for a total score of 740. A particularly unlucky random guesser might get a score around 350 on Math and 320 on Reading-Writing, but it would be very difficult to go lower. Why does this matter?

What this means is that in practice, the lower end of the scale (the first 150-200 points of the individual section scale and the first 300-400 points of the combined scale) is almost impossible to achieve, meaningless, and perhaps designed to create some nice looking, inflated scores. (In this, the scale is similar to that of the ACT, where the first 12 points are meaningless because random guessing gets you a Composite score of 13 or so.) On the redesigned SAT Reading and Writing section, you can get 14 out of 96 questions wrong (85%) and achieve a 700. On the current SAT’s Critical Reading section, you need at least 90% correct for a 700, and even so, you may score lower if you lose points for incorrect answers rather than skipping!

It appears that scores on the redesigned PSAT (and probably the redesigned SAT) will be higher than those on the current test, at least for scores below 700 on any section of the test. From what we can see, it also appears possible that the median section score will move above 500, and the median score on the overall test above 1000.

After the new PSAT is scored, we will of course have percentile tables, which will give students an accurate, and probably less flattering, picture of how they rank compared to others. These will predict redesigned SAT percentiles, which, ultimately, will be used by colleges to distinguish Candidate A from B (for the small number of students taking the new SAT).

The Take Aways:

 

  • We still don’t have a way to compare scores on these PSATs to those on the current SAT or ACT, or to understand how a student performed relative to other students.

 

  • Because most of our Class of 2017 students begin preparation now (in the summer before their 11th grade), the only real options for many (and perhaps most) of them are the current SAT and the ACT. For the Class of 2017, the College Board has failed to make the redesigned PSAT an evaluative, comparative, or predictive tool.

 

  • The strongest test takers should compare their scores on a practice current SAT with those on the ACT and study for the test on which they score higher.

 

  • Most others should consider the ACT.

 

  • If a student has slow processing speed and is not a strong test taker, she or he should wait for the redesigned PSAT scores (to be released in late December) to see how they compare to ACT scores. Such students should also work on a structured reading program starting now. Reading speed is a dynamic skill – most 11th graders read faster than they did when in 6th grade – and we have helped many students improve their speed and scores by creating an interesting, incrementally more difficult reading program.

 

If you have specific questions regarding your child’s test scores or performance, please reach out to us. If you have more general questions about scoring on the redesigned SAT and PSAT, please comment below, and we will respond as soon as we can.

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