Weekly College Column

Interpreting the PSAT

Students were recently able to retrieve their scores from the October PSAT online at College Board. If they haven’t already received paper copies of their score reports, they will be distributed within the next few weeks.

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 www.collegeboard.com 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 old 200 – 800 scale has been replaced with a 160 – 760 scale on each of the two sections. TOTAL SCORE RANGE:  320 – 1520.
  • Some test prep centers are advising that students add 40 points to their tests to have a better sense of what their SAT scores might be.
  • Students receive two separate scores and a total score: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW): Score range 160-760. Math: Score range: 160-760.  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. The two cross-test scores are Analysis in Science and Analysis in History/Social Studies. They’re called “cross-test” scores because the questions that make up this part of your score are drawn from all three tests.
  • 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 plan to use this score report to determine if their students should prep for the SAT or take the ACT. When you view your online score reports, you’ll get summaries of your performance on each test and content area. You can also filter results and drill down to see how you performed on easy, medium, and hard questions or on questions that measure different skills. Percentiles will show how you did compared to your peers.

PSAT and National Merit

The October PSAT also serves as the National Merit Qualifying Test (NMSQT). National Merit provides recognition and scholarships for the highest-performing students. Many high scorers who don’t receive National Merit Scholarships are awarded merit scholarships from the schools to which they apply based on their high scores. Whether you qualify as a Commended Student, a Semifinalist, a Finalist, or a full-fledged National Merit Scholar, it’s definitely worth noting this achievement on your college applications.

For more detailed information on the National Merit Scholarships and Special Scholarships, visit www.nationalmerit.org.

Understanding the Scores

Here is what the PSAT is testing:

  1. Command of Evidence – reading comprehension
  2. Words in Context – vocabulary
  3. Expression of Ideas – revising sentences to make them better
  4. Standard English conventions – grammar and punctuation
  5. Heart of Algebra – expressions, equations and word problems
  6. Problem-solving and Data Analysis – interpretation of mathematical expressions, graphs and data
  7. Passport to Advanced Math – high-level math function and quadratic equations

Tips on how to utilize the report:

  • Use test scores, cross-test scores, and sub-scores to evaluate relative strengths and weaknesses and see what skills need practice.
  • Use the red/yellow/green coding on test scores and sub-scores to evaluate performance relative to students who are meeting or exceeding the benchmark.
  • Highlight the areas in green as the student’s strengths.
  • Prioritize areas in the red range for additional work and practice.
  • Use the “Your Scores: Next Steps” section to identify the specific skills that the student should address.
  • Work to develop each of the skills you have identified for focus and improvement.
  • Encourage students to go online for more details and to link their College Board account to Khan Academy for a personalized study plan.

Here’s some new information on the latest PSAT.

  • 50,000 students across the country with the highest PSAT scores will qualify for recognition
  • The top 32,000 students with the highest scores will qualify to receive a Letter of Commendation
  • The top 16,000 students with the highest scores will be named “Semi-Finalists”
  • The top 15,000 students will be named “Finalists”
  • Of the 15,000 finalists, 8,500 will receive National Merit Scholarships of up to $2,500 a year toward their college education. More than 10,000 of these students share more than $47 million in National Merit Scholarship money. Only juniors who take the PSAT are eligible for National Merit Scholarships.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.comwww.bierercollegeconsulting.com


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