Interpreting the new PSAT scores

The October PSAT was the first introduction to the “new” SAT which will debut in March. Students were recently able to retrieve their scores online at College Board and they should receive paper copies of their score reports within the next week.

The new PSAT score report is full of helpful information, but it is different from its predecessor and there is no question that most families are really confused. There is a good primer video on the College Board website that tries to explain what’s going on. Go to and type in “video to understand PSAT scores” in the search box.

Here are some basic items to help you to interpret the new PSAT score report:

The total score range is now 320-1560. The old 200 – 800 scale has been replaced with a 160 – 760 scale. Some test prep centers are advising that students add 40 points to their tests to have a better sense of what their SAT score might be.

There are now two sections: 1) Math and 2) a combined Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. So, where Math was one-third of the old SAT total score, it is now one-half. That fact may sway stronger math students towards the SAT since it is just one-quarter of the total score on the ACT. The other three sections of the ACT are: English, Reading and Science.

There are test scores and cross-test scores with a range of 8-38 and sub-scores with a range of 1-15. If this isn’t confusing enough, there is a National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) Selection Index with a range of 48-228.

There are two types of percentiles: a Nationally Representative Sample (every other high school junior in the country) and a Test User (compared to other actual test-takers). The former will always be higher and the latter will always be more useful.

Remember, no college will ever see these scores.

Most families planned to use this score report to determine if their student should prep for the new SAT or take the ACT. Here in North Carolina, all high school juniors in public schools will take the ACT on Tuesday, March 1, in school, at no cost.

General guidance from college counselors and test prep companies has consistently been to stick with the ACT for a few reasons.

One is that no one knows how colleges will interpret this new test, so the 2017 grads are really guinea pigs in the process. Two is that College Board has already announced that the scores from the March administration of the new SAT will be delayed.

Traditionally scores have been available online to students within three weeks, but, since this is a new test, scores won’t be available until late May, and that won’t be enough time to register for the June test.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;
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