What We’ve Learned from the First Digital PSAT

November 18, 2023

The first administration of the digital PSAT is over, and students and schools now have a better understanding of what’s to come when the digital SAT is released in March. Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve learned and how to best interpret the PSAT score report.

Score feedback is minimal, as expected

The PSAT score reports mirror the Digital SAT score reports given to international students since the March 2023 test. The PSAT provides feedback on 8 testing domains–4 on Reading & Writing and 4 on math–which are expressed as a bar with 7 segments. 

With the digital SAT and PSAT, the College Board is no longer providing a count of right and wrong answers. Why? The digital exams use item response theory, which means that different questions have different values. This allows for the PSAT to determine a score with fewer questions, but it eliminates the ability to produce a linear scale where 54 correct questions on the Reading & Writing gets you a 760 and 53 correct questions gets you a 750. 

Note that students can log into their College Board account and see sample questions that are similar to the ones that they answered correctly on their test and also see questions that are of a higher difficulty level.  Keep in mind that these are not the actual questions that were on the student’s PSAT, but rather are representative samples to give students a better feel for the range of questions of different difficulties found on the test.

If you are interested in receiving detailed question by question analysis along with your score, Summit’s digital SAT practice test is an excellent option.

Understanding the National Merit Index Score

The PSAT score report also includes a National Merit Index Score. This score was created by doubling your Reading & Writing score, adding it to your math score, and then dividing the total by 10. This keeps the index scores on the same scale as previous years, although it does disadvantage students who are stronger in math and weaker in language arts as the verbal section accounts for ? of the student’s overall selective index score.

While we can compare National Merit Index scores from previous years to this year, it’s too early to say whether a score will qualify for entry into the competition for a scholarship. As the PSAT is a new style this year, there may be more fluctuation in scores than in previous years, although we anticipate that similar to previous years, less than 1% of students will be recognized as the National Merit competition is incredibly competitive.

A 90-minute mix up on the PSAT Administered on October 11th 

One question people had was whether or not the College Board could handle all of the traffic of thousands of students trying to access the PSAT at the same time. The College Board tried to mitigate this issue, by allowing schools to schedule the PSAT anytime from October 2nd to the 31st. However, many schools chose October 11th, which would have been the classic middle Wednesday of October when students typically tested to administer the PSAT.. This created a log jam on the morning of October 11th and from 7:45 to 9:15 AM eastern time as the College Board’s servers were overloaded and some students struggled to access the test. While this was certainly a misstep on the part of the College Board, it’s important to recognize that most administrations of the PSAT went well, and the College Board will now have an opportunity to adjust before future testing administrations.

The Bluebook App itself performed well

The feedback from our students was that while some proctors struggled with adapting to the newness of a digital administration, once students started their tests,the Bluebook app functioned as intended. Many students liked the shorter passages and access to the Desmos graphing calculator on every math section and question.

Questions remain about individualized test forms

From the outset, the College Board promised individualized test forms for each student. How that actually materialized is still unclear, but looking at chatter on the PSAT thread on Reddit, many students seemed to have received similar test questions. It’s unclear how much randomization of answer choices or question order occurred, but from this anecdotal communication, there were certainly some similarities across test forms. 

Next Steps for Students

The PSAT is a great baseline score for the digital SAT that is coming in March. We are recommending that students take a full length practice ACT as well to be able to compare scores and to help decide whether the student wants to go down an SAT or ACT path for their spring testing.  Colleges accept both tests equally so taking an ACT in a practice setting is a great way to determine which test a student feels more comfortable with.

Contact one of Summit’s expert Program Directors who can help you to schedule a free ACT practice test and also map out a customized testing and tutoring plan. We are here to help, so take advantage of our expertise and 30+ years experience guiding students and families through the standardized testing process.