Everybody knows the old saying, “You reap what you sow.” Just as high school juniors (and some sophomores) take the PSAT in October, so do they receive their scores in December or maybe early January. In some ways, taking the test is the easy part. While there are some good reasons to take the PSAT, the college application is not one of them, since schools won’t use these scores for admissions purposes. This explains why some students–and their parents–might find understanding PSAT scores trickier than answering test questions.
To understand the PSAT score report, you must understand both the arbitrary scale and a deceptive similarity to the SAT.
Anyone who has come up through the American education system understands tests scores on the 1-100 scale or in letter form from A to F. We also grasp the complexities of 4-point GPAs in comparison to 5-point scales. But what can you make of a test scored from 320–1520? Even a perfect score sounds lackluster. But this is how the PSAT/NMSQT, which is the version of the PSAT administered to juniors, is scored:
1. Test takers receive individual sections of 8-38 on Reading, Writing and Language, and Math.
2. Reading and Writing and Language section scores are added and multiplied by 10 for a 160–760 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.
3. The Math section score is multiplied by 20 for a 160–760 Math score.
4. Your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores are added to produce a 320–1520 PSAT/NMSQT Composite score.
Easy, right? If you happen to score in the 98th percentile or higher, you’ll need to crunch the numbers again to calculate your Selection Index for National Merit Scholarship qualification purposes. Just add your three section scores together and multiply by 2 to get a Selction Index score of 48-228. The score you need to qualify for some level of recognition ranges from 209-222, depending on your home state.
Speaking of percentiles, be advised that PSAT percentiles can present a skewed picture of a test taker’s performance relative to other students. Consider both the scores and percentiles carefully!
SIMILARITY TO THE SAT
Obviously, the PSAT connects directly to the SAT as part of vertical suite of assessments. However, the preliminary test is not exactly the same as the advanced college entrance exam. Why, then, does the College Board assert that the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and SAT are on the same scale? SAT scores are reported on a 400-1600 scale, while PSAT scores max out at 1520. This inconsistency triggers confusion.
The discrepancies in scoring can be explained by the relative difficulties of the PSAT and SAT. Simply put, the PSAT is easier, mainly because the multiple-choice portion of the test is slightly shorter. Content on the two exams is actually the same, though the PSAT leaves out the optional SAT essay. But fewer questions put a cap on the number of score points a PSAT test taker can earn, thus placing the uppermost levels of the SAT scale out of reach. The good news is that exceptional PSAT scores herald exceptional SAT scores. For that reason alone, taking the time to understand your PSAT score report moves you one step closer to your SAT goals.