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Are New PSAT Scores Really Higher than Old PSAT Scores?

 In PSAT

Last Wednesday, the College Board released redesigned PSAT (rPSAT) scores to schools, about a month later than originally planned. On Thursday, they made scores available to students. In addition to end-user frustration with technical glitches that precluded some schools and students from accessing scores, the scores themselves generated immediate reaction among parents, students, school counselors, and consultants. The most common reaction has been that scores seem “high” or “elevated.” Consequently, many are wondering whether or not the redesigned SAT might ultimately give students an advantage over the ACT in the college admissions battle.

There are understandable reasons for why new PSAT scores might seem higher.

A variety of factors are likely contributing to the feeling that these PSAT scores are high, not the least of which are the bold-faced percentile scores that sit at the top of the PSAT score report. If you’re a school counselor or a consultant who has seen a lot of PSAT reports over the years, you’ll likely feel that the percentiles are higher this year. They are. This particular percentile score is based on what is called a Nationally Representative Sample, which shows how your score compares to ALL juniors in the country, including those who “don’t typically take the test.” College Board is also reporting a User Percentile, the percentile we’re used to, which compares your score to “students who typically take the test.” User Percentiles, however, are available only online. The table below shows the difference in the two types of percentiles for a particular set of PSAT scores.

psat percentile table

Further contributing to the feeling of higher scores is the fact that many parents remember when the SAT consisted of verbal and math sections and was scored on a 1600-point scale (pre-recentering). I’m sure the scale is familiar to some parents, but these recent PSAT scores perhaps seem higher than their frame of reference would suggest.

Finally, many students have previous data points – an old PSAT score from sophomore year, a practice ACT test, or even an old SAT score. For many, their new PSAT scores seem higher.

But are they really higher? The answer is a very definitive NO.

Different tests. Different scales.

old new psat thermometerThese new PSAT scores are for a different test with a different scale. We all understand clearly that even though 32 is bigger than 0, 32° Fahrenheit is the same as 0° Celsius. No confusion. Just different scales. Unfortunately, tests and scales for the new and old PSAT are, on their faces, not as dissimilar as Fahrenheit and Celsius, and the similarity is causing understandable confusion. It’s natural to look at a new PSAT score and do a mental comparison to an old PSAT score, but that’s just as invalid as saying that 32° F is higher than 0° C.

Concordance Tables – The Great Equalizer

To help end-users compare these two different tests with different scales, the College Board has appropriately and necessarily created concordance tables (https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/pdf/psat-nmsqt-preliminary-concordance-tables-2015.pdf). A close look at these preliminary tables reveals that the majority of new PSAT scores are in fact higher numbers than their old PSAT equivalents. A Math score of 540 on the new test, for instance, compares to a 52 (520) on the old test. The concordance table is NOT revealing that the 540 is higher than the old 52 (520); instead, it’s showing that the two scores in fact represent the same level of performance, just as 32° F and 0° C represent the same temperature. Different tests. Different scales.

A year from now when admissions officers are considering applications from the high school class of 2017, they’ll be presented with old and new SAT scores and ACT scores. Different tests. Different scales. Rest assured that they will be using concordance tables to make sense of and to compare scores.

Testing plans should still favor the ACT, but analyze your PSAT score.

When the redesigned SAT was first announced, our testing plans for class of 2017 favored the ACT. Our ACT-leaning plans were based on familiarity with the ACT, a large number of official ACT practice tests, and, importantly, the delay in the release of March and May SAT scores, which will hinder test planning and delay college selection. None of that has changed: the rSAT is still a relatively new test for which there are only four released, unofficial practice tests, and given the recent delays in College Board score releases, who knows when March and May results will come back?

We at Summit take pride in recommending sensible, thoughtful testing plans to our families. We are more than ready to help students with the rSAT if that is their best test. We urge students and counselors to review their PSAT scores, and if, after looking at concordance, it seems that the SAT might be the better test, we recommend that students move down that path. Because counselors, students, and parents have to make these decisions NOW, we’ve created a derived concordance for comparing new PSAT scores to ACT scores. Please feel free to download it here. Should you have any questions or if you’d like to discuss PSAT scores and what they mean, please reach out to one our expert Program Directors.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Alan Haas
    Reply

    Very helpful…thank you.

  • Robert Mollp
    Reply

    Thank you Summit for providing some clarity to the labyrinth that is our testing program. Hats off to your knowledgable and supportive teachers and staff.

  • Maxman
    Reply

    “A Math score of 540 on the new test, for instance, compares to a 52 (520) on the old test. The concordance table is NOT revealing that the 540 is higher than the old 52 (520); instead, it’s showing that the two scores in fact represent the same level of performance, just as 32° F and 0° C represent the same temperature. Different tests. Different scales.”

    I get it. But… this does mean that a 540 on the new test represents and equivalent level of performance as a 520 on the old test, which means that it is easier to get a higher point score on the new test, which means the test scores are inflated. Yes, we should just forget about the old test and judge the new scores in comparison to others who take the new test, look are our percentile ranking, and so on, and there would be no problem. But you know that this is not what people will do. Somebody will say, “I got a 720” and people will go “WOW!”. The fine-print part, that a 720 is equivalent to, say, a 680 on the old test, will be ignored, lost, forgotten. People react to higher numbers,

    • Joshua White
      Reply

      You’re right that some people will react to higher numbers without considering concordance. Siblings will compete with each other, children will boast they scored better than their parents did, and so on.

      However, admissions folk are very aware of concordance, and that’s what matters. Schools are interested in what the scores represent: a certain level of performance on the test. The scores may shift, but the performance requirements for school admissions are the same.

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