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PSAT to SAT scores - does one predict the other? What's a good PSAT score?

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Mar 9, 2015 8:35:00 PM

SAT/ACT Score Target, PSAT Info and Strategies



The PSAT is many students' first exposure to college entrance exams.  Because the PSAT is so similar to the SAT, the PSAT is very good at predicting how you'll do on the SAT.  But, the answer has some subtleties. 

The Naïve Method: Multiply by 10

The PSAT is incredibly similar to the SAT: they overlap by 90% or more.  In fact, the two tests are so close that you can think of the PSAT as identical to the SAT but for a few minor differences.  

Seen this way, there is an "SAT equivalent" score for all PSAT scores: you can covert your psat to sat score just by multiplying by 10.  For example, if your PSAT total was a 155, then the SAT equivalent would be 155 x 10 = 1550.  Likewise, if you got 42 in math on the PSAT, this is the same as a 42 x 10 = 420 on the SAT.  

If you're just looking for the theoretical equivalent SAT score -- this method is good enough.  In fact, in our text below, we will use the SAT-equivalent score a lot.  However, some students and parents ask themselves a more relevant question:  Now that I know my PSAT score, what will I likely get when I take the SAT for real?  Can you predict my future SAT score based on my PSAT?  The answer is a resounding yes.

Predict SAT Score from the PSAT Score

You need to take into account a few extra factors when doing prediction versus just conversion.  First, if you've been paying attention to my series on what's a good 7th grade SAT score or what's a good 10th grade SAT score, you'll know that students improve over time.  This factor is vital to a good prediction, as we show you below.  Second, the SAT is not exactly equal to the PSAT.  Finally, some call it luck and others call it fate, but there is some chance involved, and we must account for that.

To account for all three effects, we use a large sample of thousands of real students who took the PSAT and then later on the SAT in their normal high school career.  This way we don't need to rely on theory.  We can look at the hard emprical data to see the truth.  The results are below:

General Improvement: 139 points

The general improvement between the PSAT score (expressed in SAT equvialent) and SAT score was 139 points.  This means that if you got a 150 on the PSAT, you can expect to get 150 x 10 + 139 = 1639 on the SAT.  Remember to multiple your PSAT score by 10 to get the SAT equivalent, and add 139.

What does this mean?  It reflects that scores for students do go up generally because they're learning more in school.  Some students also receive great SAT preparation, and I believe these students likely improve more than average.

Breakdown by Section: Verbal, Math, and Writing

The improvment wasn't evenly spread across all three sections of the SAT.  In fact, Verbal improved the most at 62 points, while Math improved 47, and Writing improved only 30 points.  This can be explained by the theory that verbal often requires intuition that comes with maturity and training, while writing has a new essay section that many students don't do as well on.

Breakdown by PSAT Score: Low Scorers Win?

You know the average improvement is 139 points, but these points don't go evenly to high scorers versus low scorers.  In fact, if you're a low scorer on the PSAT -- if your starting score is 1200 (all scores here will be in SAT units) or below, your imprvement is as high as 166 points.  If your starting PSAT score is 1200-1800, then your improvement is 155 points.  Shockingly, if you start out on the PSAT with 1800 or above, if you're starting as a high scorer, your improvement is only as low as 64 points.

  Scorer Type       Starting PSAT Score (x10)     Improvement Expected 
Low Scorer Less Than 1200 166 Points
Middle Scorer 1200-1800 155 Points
High Scorer More Than 1800 64 Points

Why is this the case?  In statistical speak, this is just another example of regression to the mean.  In everyday language, this can mean that if you did badly on the PSAT, you're often motivated to study harder and prep more and improve your score (but you need to put in the effort).  Likewise, it says if you're scoring high already, there's less room to grow, and if you want higher than average improvement, you're best off with help.

What's Next?

The college admissions process has become so competitive that it's helpful to plan well in advance for SAT/ACT prep during high school. Here are a few guides to help your thinking:

Want to score a perfect SAT or ACT score? Read our guide to scoring the maximum SAT score possible, written by our resident perfect scorer. (ACT edition here).

What's a good 10th grade SAT score?


Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points, or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.

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