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PSAT to SAT Scores: Does One Predict the Other? What's a Good PSAT Score?

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Nov 28, 2017 8:00:00 PM

SAT/ACT Score Target, PSAT Info and Strategies

 

psat-to-sat

The PSAT is the first exposure many students have to college entrance exams. Because the two tests are so similar, the PSAT is very good at predicting how you'll do on the SAT. In this article, we explain the most accurate way to use your PSAT score to predict your future SAT score.

 

A Note on This Article

This article uses data based on the older version of the PSAT, when the score range was 60 to 240. In October 2015, the current version of the PSAT was first released, with a new score range of 320 to 1520. (Learn more about how the current PSAT is scored here.)

As such, the data in this article is out-of-date for anyone who's taken the PSAT since October 2015, and you cannot use the strategies below to estimate your SAT score from your PSAT score. However, the major patterns discussed below still apply. This means that, when comparing your PSAT and SAT scores, you'll likely see the biggest gains in Verbal scores, followed by Math scores. Students with lower PSAT scores will also likely see bigger gains in their SAT scores compared to students who initially scored high on the PSAT. And an effective prep strategy is still one of the best ways to improve your SAT score.

 

The Naïve Method: Multiply Your PSAT Score by 10 to Get Your SAT Score

The PSAT is incredibly similar to the SAT: they overlap by 90% or more. In fact, the two tests are so similar that you can think of the PSAT as nearly identical to the SAT.

Seen this way, there is an "SAT equivalent" score for all PSAT scores: you can convert your PSAT score to an estimated SAT score just by multiplying your PSAT score 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 a 42 in math on the PSAT, this is the same as a 420 on the SAT Math section.  

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 score? The answer is a resounding yes.

 

How to Predict Your Future SAT Score From Your 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 factors, we used a large sample of thousands of real students who took the PSAT and later the SAT in their normal high school career. This way we don't need to rely on theory. We can look at the hard empirical data to see the truth. The results are below.

 

Average Improvement From PSAT to SAT Scores: 139 Points

The average improvement between the PSAT score (expressed in SAT equivalent) 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 multiply your PSAT score by 10 to get the SAT equivalent, then add 139.

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

 

Breakdown by Section: Verbal, Math, and Writing

The improvement wasn't evenly spread across all three sections of the SAT. In fact, Verbal scores increased the most at 62 points, while Math increased 47 points, and Writing improved only 30 points. This can be explained by the theory that Verbal subjects often require 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 how much you improve will also depend on your starting PSAT score. 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 expected improvement is 166 points. If your starting PSAT score is 1200-1800, then your improvement is a slightly lower 155 points. If you're starting as a high scorer, your expected improvement is only 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 poorly 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 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 160 points, or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide on 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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