How to Compare PSAT and SAT Scores
In early December, PSAT score reports are sent out. One of the first questions many students have about their PSAT results is “What does this mean for how I will do on the SAT?” Your PSAT results can help you determine how much preparation will be necessary to achieve your goal score on the SAT and whether you should target your studying for the SAT or the ACT.
Differences Between the PSAT and SAT
Direct comparisons between scores on the PSAT and SAT can be misleading because the PSAT and SAT are calculated on different scales. The material covered on the PSAT is slightly easier than that on the SAT, and the PSAT is shorter than the SAT. The PSAT is scored on a total scale of 320-1520, with math and verbal scores of 160-760 each. The SAT is scored on a total scale of 400-1600, with math and verbal scores of 200-800 each. Because the test is meant to cover an additional school year of material, the SAT is a bit harder than the PSAT, particularly in the math section. The math section on the SAT includes more material that students would encounter in trigonometry or precalculus. Additionally, the SAT is 15 minutes longer than the PSAT (or 65 minutes longer if students take the optional essay), which can lead to students being more fatigued towards the end of the test and therefore performing slightly worse. Given these differences, it is common for a student’s composite SAT score, without a preparatory program, to be about 50-100 points lower than their PSAT score from the previous year.
Comparing Percentile Rankings on the PSAT and SAT
The PSAT can help guide you about how much you need to prepare before taking the SAT the following year. You can assess this by looking at the percentile rankings for each test. The College Board provides two percentile rankings on its score reports: the National Representative Sample Percentile, and the User Percentile. According to the College Board, the National Representative Sample Percentile is derived from a research study of 10th or 11th grade U.S. students that is weighted to represent all U.S. students in those grades. The User Percentile is based on the actual population of students that took the tests during the last three school years, making it a more accurate estimate of how your student compares to other college-bound students.
Percentile rankings represent the percent of students that scored at or below the scores listed. For example, if your PSAT score was a 1350, you scored in the 94th percentile, meaning that 94% of students scored at or below you and 6% of students scored higher. That same percentile ranking on the SAT equals a score of 1400. Given the likelihood of a 50 point drop between the PSAT and the SAT, a student who scored a 1200 on the PSAT, but wants to achieve a 1300+ on the SAT is looking to increase their score by about 150 points, not just 100 points.
The table below this post shows the User Percentiles for the PSAT10 (given to 10th grade students), the PSAT/NMSQT (given to 11th grade students), and the SAT. The percentiles are based on the 2019 College Board guides to understanding SAT and PSAT/NMSQT scores.
Should you take the SAT or the ACT?
Your PSAT scores can also help predict whether you should take the SAT or the ACT the following year. Colleges accept both test scores, but because of key differences between the two tests, students are often better at one of the two. Mindfish has a practice test program to help students determine which test they are better suited to take. As part of the practice test program, Mindfish administers a practice ACT, which can then be compared to the student’s PSAT score to determine which test is the best fit for them. Once your best fit test is determined, your Mindfish tutor will use your practice test results to develop a targeted plan for your student.