In October over 3 millions students took the PSAT in its digital, adaptive format for the first time ever, and their scores started being released on November 6. Both students and parents are now faced with trying to determine what those scores actually mean and what their next steps should be. So let’s talk through what the PSAT is, what the scores mean, how important they are, and what to do next.
How do I get my scores?
The first round of scores were released on November 6, and all students should have them by November 16th. If you entered a cell phone number when you took the PSAT, you can download the Big Futures app from the Apple or Android store and receive a notification on your cell phone when scores are ready. You can view your score repot directly from your app. Alternatively, you can a PDF of your score report from your school.
How do I make sense of my PSAT score report?
There is valuable data on your score report that can help you determine if you're better suited for the SAT or ACT, what goals to target on official tests, and which date to register for. Check out College Board's video about how to interpret your SAT score report.
Why did I take the PSAT?
Essentially, the PSAT is a test that gives students the chance to take a practice run at the actual SAT. The PSAT questions are formatted similarly to those on the SAT, and the material covered is similar. Students can take a PSAT as early as 8th grade in the form of the PSAT 8/9. Sophomores can take the PSAT 10, and juniors take the PSAT/NMSQT. As you would expect, the material on the PSAT 8/9 is slightly easier than that on the junior year PSAT.
They also differ in terms of score. The PSAT 8/9 is scored out of 1440 (720 verbal + 720 math), while the 10th and 11th grade tests are scored out of 1520 (760 verbal + 760 math). The official SAT is scored out of 1600 (800 verbal + 800 math).
In previous years, the PSAT 8/9 had fewer questions and required less time than the PSAT 10/11, and the PSAT 10/11 had fewer questions and required less time than the official SAT. This year, all versions of the PSAT have the same number of questions and require the same amount of time as the official SAT. The difference in scores reflects the difference in the difficulty of each test. Tests for older students have more difficult questions and those questions are worth more points, resulting in higher potential scores. Read on for a deeper dive into the new, weighted scoring system of the digital PSAT and SAT.
Why was this year’s PSAT so different from last year’s PSAT?
This year, for the first time ever, the PSAT was exclusively offered as a digital, adaptive exam and the SAT will follow suit in March 2023. Check out the table below for a comprehensive look at the differences between the two PSAT formats.
The biggest changes to the test are generally positive.In previous years, the PSAT has four sections in this order: Reading (60 minutes for 48 questions), Writing and Language (35 minutes for 44 questions), Math without Calculator (25 minutes for 17 questions), and Math with Calculator (45 minutes for 31 questions).The new digital test is considerably shorter and features only two main sections, Verbal (reading and writing combined) and Math. Each section will be made up of two modules, with the entire first part of the test consisting of both Verbal modules and the second part consisting of both Math modules. Both Verbal modules have 27 questions and must be completed in 32 minutes, and both Math modules have 22 questions and must be completed in 35 minutes.
The digital PSAT is stage-adaptive, meaning performance on the first stage, or module, determines which second stage the student is given. In the first modules, the student will be presented with a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions, similar to the old version of the PSAT. Based on their performance, students will be routed to a more or less difficult module.
Unlike last year’s PSAT, where questions are all given the same weight, the new adaptive PSAT rewards students for the types of questions they get correct. Therefore, getting only the easy questions correct on the first module will not give access to the harder–and higher scoring–second module. In order to access the higher scores, a student will need to show that they can get a number of medium and hard questions correct in module 1, as well.
Take a look at our visual guide to the new and adaptive format below:
Finally, the no-calculator section of the current PSAT is no more, as the digital PSAT math section allows students to use their own calculator or an on-screen Desmos graphing calculator for the entire section. The reading portion of the test, which has typically been one of the most difficult sections for students, now features shorter passages with fewer questions. However, while the current PSAT only offers passages in literature, social studies, and science, the new digital test includes poetry and note taking passages that students will need to navigate and understand.
What about the National Merit Scholarship?
While the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 are purely practice runs at the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT does have some potentially larger implications. The NMSQT designation stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The National Merit Scholarship is an award that juniors can qualify for by scoring in the top 1% of PSAT test takers in their respective states. The state by state differentiation is important, because average test scores vary widely by state.
The PSAT/NMSQT score report gives the overall score out of 1560 and the sectional breakdown between the verbal and math scores. It also provides another number known as the National Merit Index Score. This index score is the number used by the National Merit organization to determine which students move on as semi-finalists and which do not. The qualifying index changes year to year, as it’s based on that particular group of students in each state that took the test that year.
Index Scores are calculated by multiplying your verbal score by 2 and adding it to your math score, then dividing the sum by 10. For example if a student scores 620 on the verbal section and 500 on their math section, they would find their Index Score using the following equation:
(2 x 620 + 500) ÷ 10 = 174
The Index Score is 174.
Once a student becomes a semi-finalist, they then have several additional steps--including taking an official SAT or ACT--to attempt to become a finalist and, ultimately, a scholarship winner. Check out our infographic below to understand the full process, and see estimated Index Score cutoffs for National Merit semi-finalists by state.
So, does the PSAT matter?
In short, yes. If a student is looking to be an elite-level scorer and make the National Merit threshold, a PSAT score can translate into a good amount of scholarship money. For example, the University of Alabama, the University of Florida, and the University of Arizona all offer full tuition plus other stipends just for becoming a National Merit finalist. Even without winning the National Merit scholarship, semi-finalists and finalists can gain huge benefit from hitting those qualifying scores.
For those students not looking for extremely high scores, the PSAT is still a great way to become acclimated to the SAT, especially given recent changes to the test. It gives students a no-pressure dry run through the test format and material; test-taking experience is one of the best and most effective ways for students to begin to improve their scores on the SAT. And by using the score report students receive in November, students and their families can get a clear idea of the students’ strengths and challenges, and they can then move forward to create a plan to score well on the SAT.