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Chris Lele

The PSAT Scoring Kerfuffle – And What it Means for You

These days, the College Board is no stranger to mistakes. This time, the mistake affects your PSAT scores. Students who took the PSAT in mid-October, and who expected their scores by mid-December, are just now receiving their score reports. The October PSAT was the first version of the PSAT meant to prepare students for the newly redesigned SAT. Many students, parents, and educators are concerned by this delay. Should you be, too? Magoosh SAT Expert, Chris Lele, explains:

The New PSAT

For test prep tutors and high school counselors, the 2015 holiday season promised to deliver something not typically found on Santa’s list: scores to the redesigned PSAT and some insight into how those scores transferred to the Redesigned SAT. Sadly, they got neither. Indeed, we are a month over the College Board’s promised 2016 release date and are only know receiving this information—albeit less than was promised.

Part of this has to do with the fact that many students weren’t given their scores; the online score report system apparently had a snafu. Many guidance counselors are now up in arms since they will not be able to give that vital piece of information that students hoped to receive: should I take the old SAT one last time or wait to take the new SAT? And the College Board—according to this indignant bunch—is in no way being accommodating.

Is a sinister plot afoot in the dimly lit halls of the College Board? Probably not. Rather, it’s something far more humdrum: a question of a huge data set and the College Board psychometricians responsible for gathering all this data to figure out exactly how two very different tests compare. And then there’s the inevitable online glitches that result when trying to process a mountain of information that is, presumably, being presented in a new format. As for College Board customer service—go figure.

One thing people weren’t anticipating is that receiving the numbers would provide more uncertainty. We are in some pretty muddy waters on the number front, so bear with me as I try to explain without making things even more nebulous.

The New SAT is out of 760, or is that 720?

The New SAT, like the one about to be phased out at the end of this month, has sections that are out of 800 points. You’d expect the same to apply to the PSAT, but instead if you are a sophomore or junior you can max out 760s. 8th and 9th graders can max out at 720.

An easy solution would be to add 40 points to the PSAT score, right? Well, it’s not that simple. There is this really complicated chart to show you that the take 40 points off method doesn’t quite work, though it isn’t completely off.

Reading is now worth twice as much

If you excel at a reading this might be cause for celebration. The reading section will now be worth twice as much as the math section. So if you get a 65 on reading and a 60 on math, you total with be 2 x 65 (reading) + 60 (math) = 190.

This is a little misleading, though. The old PSAT included a writing section, which is now baked into the reading section. So there is still some grammar that is part of the score, but, given that the writing section contains fewer questions than the reading section (44 vs. 52), reading will be weighed slightly more than writing.

There are two percentiles

Just when you thought understanding your scores couldn’t get more confusing, the College Board has dropped in an extra layer of complexity. I’m not even sure I quite understand this, but here goes. There are two different percentiles, one of which leads to an over-inflation of scores based on the percentile ranking.

The Nationally Representative Sample

…your scores, percentile-wise, compared to students from the same grade as you. What’s mind-blowing is that this score also includes students from your grade who do not take the SAT. Such students tend to be lower scores, and just like that your percent ranking is bumped up by a few points.

The user percentile

This is the more commonsensical approach of showing how you stack up: against those students in your grade who actually took the test.

I’m not sure exactly how the College Board is going to weigh each, or what effect that will have on National Merit Scholarships. Again, there is much that is confusing about the new scoring system. I’m hoping that the College Board will be able to communicate these changes more effectively.

What does this mean for the New SAT?

One thing I think we can expect when the new test debuts in March is that things will not go smoothly.
Perhaps the answer keys will be off, maybe the correct answer on a test question might be debatable, or perchance there is a computer glitch along the way. Then, of course, there are the scores to deal with a few weeks later. Here’s hoping that College Board has fixed those issues by then. But, just like that game Whack-a-mole, something else will pop up.

P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 10 million views. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog! You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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