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PSAT Scoring: How Does It Work?

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Jun 19, 2017 12:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies

 

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If you're preparing to take the PSAT, it's important you understand everything there is to know about PSAT scoring. How is the PSAT scored? And how will this information help you get the score you want on test day? On the SAT?

In this article, we go over the PSAT scoring scale and show you how to calculate your PSAT scores using official scoring tables. We also cover Selection Index scores and offer our top four tips on how to utilize PSAT scoring to inform both PSAT and SAT prep!

 

How Is the PSAT Scored Overall? By Section?

The PSAT scoring scale is 320-1520 in 10-point increments. On this scale, 320 is the minimum score you can get and 1520 is the maximum. This scale differs just slightly from the SAT scoring scale, which is 400-1600.

Like the SAT, your total PSAT score is a combination of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math scores. (The EBRW score comprises the Reading and Writing and Language sections.) Both EBRW and Math use a score range of 160-760, with each section accounting for half your total PSAT score. So a 500 on EBRW and a 600 on Math would equal a total PSAT score of 1100.

But obviously there aren't 1,520 questions on the PSAT! So why is the PSAT scoring scale out of 1520? The reason for this is that all of these scores are actually scaled scores, which are converted from raw scores (equivalent to the number of questions you answered correctly) through a special equating process. The College Board uses this process to account for variances in difficulty among PSATs — essentially, to ensure that a scaled PSAT score will always indicate the same level of ability, no matter when you take the test.

Here’s how the College Board describes the PSAT equating process:

“This conversion process adjusts for slight differences in difficulty among versions of the test and provides a score that is equated, or consistent, across forms. This process ensures that no student receives an advantage or disadvantage from taking a particular form of the test on a particular day;* a score of 400 on one test form is equivalent to a score of 400 on another test form.”

*Emphasis mine.

Upon completing the PSAT, you’ll earn three raw scores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language (hereafter referred to as “Writing”). So if you were to answer 40 Math questions correctly, your raw Math score would be 40. Likewise, if you were to answer 26 Writing questions correctly, your raw Writing score would be 26. You do not lose any points for incorrect or blank answers. These raw scores are then equated into your final (scaled) Math and EBRW scores.

Here's the catch, though: the equating formula differs for each PSAT. And because only the College Board knows what these formulas are, we'll never be able to predict exactly how a raw score will convert into a scaled score on an upcoming PSAT. Nevertheless, we can use scoring charts from official PSAT practice tests to estimate how raw scores may translate into scaled scores. These tables differ for each practice test but are extremely helpful because they show us how PSAT scores typically convert into scaled scores.

 

body_handy_dandy_notebook.jpgScoring charts are the handy, dandy notebook for high school students.

 

Below are two examples of PSAT scoring charts, both taken from official PSAT practice tests:

 

Practice Test #1 PSAT Scoring Chart

Raw Score

Reading Test Score

Writing Test Score

Math Section Score

Raw Score

Reading Test Score

Writing Test Score

Math Section Score

0

8

8

160

25

26

25

560

1

9

9

190

26

26

26

570

2

10

10

210

27

27

27

580

3

11

11

240

28

27

27

580

4

12

12

270

29

28

28

590

5

14

13

290

30

28

28

600

6

15

14

320

31

29

29

610

7

16

14

340

32

29

29

620

8

16

15

360

33

30

30

630

9

17

15

370

34

30

30

640

10

18

16

390

35

31

31

650

11

18

16

400

36

31

32

670

12

19

17

420

37

32

32

680

13

19

18

430

38

32

33

690

14

20

18

440

39

33

34

710

15

20

19

460

40

34

35

720

16

21

20

470

41

34

36

730

17

21

20

480

42

35

37

730

18

22

21

490

43

36

37

740

19

22

21

500

44

37

38

740

20

23

22

510

45

37

 

750

21

23

23

520

46

38

 

750

22

24

24

530

47

38

 

760

23

24

24

540

48

   

760

24

25

25

550

       

Source: Scoring Your PSAT/NMSQT Practice Test #1

 

Practice Test #2 PSAT Scoring Chart

Raw Score

Reading Test Score

Writing Test Score

Math Section Score

Raw Score

Reading Test Score

Writing Test Score

Math Section Score

0

8

8

160

25

25

26

530

1

9

9

190

26

26

26

540

2

10

10

210

27

26

27

540

3

11

11

240

28

27

27

550

4

12

12

260

29

28

28

560

5

13

13

290

30

28

28

570

6

14

13

310

31

29

29

570

7

15

14

320

32

29

29

580

8

16

14

340

33

30

30

590

9

16

15

350

34

31

31

600

10

17

16

370

35

31

31

610

11

17

16

380

36

32

32

620

12

18

17

400

37

32

33

630

13

18

18

410

38

33

33

640

14

19

18

420

39

34

34

650

15

19

19

430

40

34

35

670

16

20

20

440

41

35

36

680

17

21

20

450

42

35

37

700

18

21

21

460

43

36

38

710

19

22

22

470

44

36

38

730

20

22

23

480

45

37

 

740

21

23

23

490

46

38

 

740

22

24

24

500

47

38

 

750

23

24

24

510

48

   

760

24

25

25

520

       

Source: Scoring Your PSAT/NMSQT Practice Test #2

 

By comparing the tables above, we can see that there are small differences in how raw scores convert into scaled scores. For example, a raw Math score of 37 converts into 680 on Test #1 but only 630 on Test #2! As I explained previously, these conversions differ because the two tests vary slightly in difficulty.

Now that we’ve covered the equating process and how the overall PSAT is scored, let’s take a closer look at PSAT scoring for Math and EBRW.

 

body_number_vortex.jpgPrepare to enter the math vortex! Vroooooom!

 

Your PSAT Math Score

Math consists of two subsections: a No Calculator section consisting of 17 questions and for which you may not use a calculator, and a Calculator section consisting of 31 questions and for which you may (but don’t need to) use a calculator.

Your Math score begins as a total raw score out of 48 (the total number of questions on Math). Here are the steps for calculating your Math section score using your raw score:

 

1. Calculate your raw Math scores for each subsection. Start by adding up all of your correct answers on the No Calculator and Calculator subsections using the answer key for your test. On official practice tests, your Math answer key will look something like this:

body_psat_math_scores.png

2. Add your raw scores together to get a total raw Math score out of 48. So if I got 10 questions right on the No Calculator subsection and 22 questions right on the Calculator subsection, my total raw Math score would be 32.

3. Find your Math section score using your test’s scoring chart. Your test should offer a conversion table for calculating your Math section score. In my example, I’d find 32 on my test’s conversion table and look for its corresponding scaled score (which, in this case, is 620):

body_psat_math_scaled_score.png

If you’re not using an official practice test and/or don't have a PSAT scoring chart for your test, you can use the two conversion tables at the beginning of this article to estimate how your raw Math score will convert into a scaled score. For example, let's say you have a raw Math score of 40. According to our tables for Practice Tests #1 and #2, 40 on Math converts into either 670 or 720. This means that your Math section score is likely somewhere around the high 600s or low 700s.

 

body_encyclopedias.jpgTime to move on to Reading and Writing! (Am I dating myself with a pic of actual encyclopedias?)

 

Your PSAT EBRW Score

Your EBRW score is a combination of your Reading and Writing scores, which are at first given to you as two separate scores. Your Reading score starts as a raw score out of 47, whereas your Writing score is out of 44. These are then converted into test scores and then finally a combined EBRW section score.

In contrast with the relatively simple process for finding your Math score, finding your EBRW score requires a couple of extra steps. Here’s how to calculate it:

 

1. Calculate your raw Reading and Writing scores. Use your practice test's answer key to add up all of the correct answers you got on Reading and Writing. Be sure you add these scores up separately — you won’t be combining them until later. Here’s an example of an answer key for the Reading and Writing sections:

body_psat_reading_writing_raw_scores.png

2. Find your Reading and Writing test scores. Unlike the Math raw score, which immediately converts into a scaled section score out of 760, the Reading and Writing scores will first convert into individual test scores on a scale of 8-38. So if my raw score were 35 for Reading and 38 for Writing, my Reading and Writing test scores would, according to the chart below, convert into 31 and 33, respectively:

body_psat_reading_writing_test_scores.png

3. Combine your Reading and Writing test scores to get a total EBRW test score. In the example I used above, my Reading test score was 31 and my Writing test score was 33; thus, my total EBRW test score would be 64.

4. Multiply your EBRW test score by 10 to get your section score. This final step converts your EBRW test score into a scaled EBRW section score out of 760. This means that my test score of 64 would equal a final EBRW score of 640. Not bad!

 

Once you’re finished calculating your scaled scores for both Math and EBRW, add the two scores together to get your composite PSAT score out of 1520. If you want, you can compare your score to the current PSAT percentiles to get a feel for where you stand in comparison with other test takers.

 

body_ice_cream_sundae.jpgThese next scores are like the cherry on top: some people love them, and some people couldn't care less about them.

 

PSAT Subscores and Cross-Test Scores

In addition to Math and EBRW section scores, you’ll also be given separate subscores and cross-test scores (the same ones you’ll get on the SAT). These additional scores break down the three sections into smaller categories in order to highlight your strengths and weaknesses in specific skill areas.

Below, I explain how to calculate these subscores and go over what they mean for you.

 

Your PSAT Subscores

On the PSAT, you'll receive seven subscores:

For EBRW

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions

For Math

  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math

Each subscore is scored on a scale of 1-15. These subscores indicate how well you've performed on designated skill areas, such as vocabulary and data analysis.

To calculate your subscores, use your practice test’s subscore answer key, taking care to note which questions fall under which subscore categories. Scoring guides for official PSAT practice tests offer detailed descriptions for each subscore, explaining what the subscore measures and which questions it comprises. Here's an example:

body_psat_subscores_questions_example.png

Once you’ve tallied your correct answers for each subscore, you will then convert this raw score into a scaled subscore using your test’s scoring chart for subscores:

body_psat_subscores_conversion_chart.png

Although these subscores are useful for deciphering your own strengths and weaknesses, in the end they’re not especially significant. As it stands, subscores don’t factor into your PSAT section scores or even your overall PSAT score. They also aren’t used to select candidates for the National Merit Scholarship Program (which we’ll get into more in a moment).

 

Your PSAT Cross-Test Scores

Cross-test scores indicate how well you've answered questions in the domains of history/social studies and science. Unlike the subscores above, cross-test scores are not section specific; rather, they apply to all sections and use a scoring scale of 8-38.

The two types of cross-test scores are:

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • Analysis in Science

To calculate your cross-test scores, use your test’s scoring guide to see which Math and EBRW questions comprise these two categories as well as how many questions you answered correctly (i.e., your raw score). Here’s an example of a cross-test score answer key for Analysis in Science:

body_psat_cross-test_scores_questions_example.png

Once you’ve figured out your raw scores, use the cross-test scoring chart that came with your test to calculate your scaled cross-test scores:

body_psat_cross-test_scores_conversion_table.png

 

body_bag_of_money.jpgNow here's a score that's actually worth something!

 

Your National Merit Selection Index Score

The final score you’ll receive on the PSAT is a National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) Selection Index score. The Selection Index score uses a score range of 48-228 and is equivalent to the sum of your Reading, Writing, and Math test scores (that is, the ones on scales of 8-38) multiplied by 2. So if my three test scores were 34, 30, and 27, my Selection Index score would be:

34+30+27=91

91*2=182

The NMSC uses Selection Index scores to determine your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program. This program offers an extremely prestigious distinction and scholarship to students with exceptionally high PSAT scores. Each year, the top 1 percent of PSAT scorers in the 11th grade — equal to about 16,000 students — become Semifinalists. Of those students, 15,000 will become Finalists. And of those students, 8,000 will each win a $2,500 scholarship!

The Selection Index score you need in order to be a Semifinalist varies by state but usually ranges anywhere from 209 to 222. See our guide for an updated list of Selection Index score cutoffs by state.

 

4 Tips for Using the PSAT Scoring System to Your Advantage

So far, we've addressed nearly everything you need to know about the PSAT scoring scale. But what can you actually gain from it? Here are four simple ways you can use PSAT scoring to your advantage.

 

#1: Set a PSAT Goal Score Using Selection Index Cutoffs

If you want to try to qualify as a Semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Program, you can use the Selection Index score cutoffs to set a PSAT goal score. Remember that the cutoffs vary by state, so it’s important you aim for your state’s cutoff and not a different state’s!

According to our estimates, the lowest cutoff is 209 (equivalent to a total PSAT score of about 1400) and the highest is 222 (equivalent to about 1480). For a detailed list of Selection Index score cutoffs and their (estimated) corresponding PSAT scores, refer to my article on the PSAT score range (coming soon).

Let's look at an example. Jackie lives in Florida, whose Selection Index cutoff score is 217. This gives her a PSAT goal score of about 1450. To get her individual goal scores for Math and EBRW, Jackie divides her total PSAT goal score by 2. This gives her goal scores of 730 (rounded up from 725) for each section.

If you’re stronger at Math or Reading/Writing, consider aiming for a higher score on your stronger section and a slightly lower score on your weaker section. So if Jackie were better at Math, she could instead aim for something like 750 on Math and 700-710 on EBRW.

 

#2: Use Tables to Estimate the Number of Correct Answers You'll Need

If you've got a PSAT goal score in mind, you can use scoring charts from official practice tests to estimate how many questions you’ll need to answer correctly in order to hit your goal score on test day. This process is somewhat complicated but extremely helpful to know how to do.

Let's say your PSAT goal score is 1400, and you want to aim for 700 on both Math and EBRW. Using the tables above for Practice Tests #1 and #2, we see that 700 on Math comes out to 39-42 correct answers. (Remember, your raw score = the number of questions you answered correctly.)

There are more steps for EBRW, however. First, divide your goal score (in this case, 700) by 10 to get your total Reading and Writing test score. This gives us 70. Then, divide this number in half to estimate your individual Reading and Writing test scores. In our case, 70/2=35. Finally, convert your test scores into raw scores using the conversion tables above. In our example, a 35 Reading test score equals 41-42 correct answers, and a 35 Writing test score equals 40 correct answers.

This process of working backward, albeit time-consuming, is useful because it offers a rough idea of how many questions you can afford to get wrong on the PSAT. It also lets you estimate what your final PSAT scores will be before they’re released, thereby letting you predict whether you’ll qualify for National Merit.

 

body_peeps.jpgI prefer estimating how many peeps I can fit in my mouth.

 

#3: Consider Your PSAT Score a Starting Point to SAT Prep

Your PSAT scores are important but not nearly as important as your SAT scores, especially if you’re hoping to get into a top-tier university. Luckily, the PSAT was specifically designed to prepare students for the SAT!

We already know that the two tests use different scoring scales, with the PSAT being out of 1520 and the SAT out of 1600. But here's the kicker: each scaled score on the PSAT corresponds directly to the same scaled score on the SAT. This means that any score you get on any PSAT or SAT will signify the same level of ability. So 1400 on the PSAT equals 1400 on the SAT, 1250 equals 1250, 1000 equals 1000, etc.

But if this is the case, why does the PSAT scoring scale only go up to 1520 and not 1600? The reason for this is that the PSAT is not as challenging as the SAT. To account for its lower difficulty level, then, the PSAT employs a slightly lower maximum of 1520 (which is not a perfect SAT score but close).

Despite these connections, don’t consider your PSAT score a direct indicator of what your SAT score will be. Your PSAT score tells you where you’re currently scoring but not where you’re capable of scoring. In other words, think of your PSAT score as your baseline SAT score (i.e., the score you start off with before you begin any SAT prep). Then, once you have your SAT goal score, too, you can use both of these scores to calculate how many points you’ll need in order to hit your goal score on test day.

 

#4: Use PSAT Scores and Subscores to Target Potential SAT Weaknesses

What’s great about the PSAT is that it’s similar to the SAT — so much so that its section scores and subscores are the same ones you’ll get on the SAT. Therefore, you can use your PSAT scores to see what your SAT weaknesses are likely to be.

For example, if you received a low Heart of Algebra subscore on the PSAT, it's a good idea to dedicate a lot of your SAT prep to mastering the basics of algebra. Or if you didn’t get a high Words in Context subscore, you'll probably want to spend more time improving your reading comprehension skills and fine-tuning your vocabulary knowledge.

Knowing what to focus on for your SAT prep will not only help you hone your weaknesses but also help you attain an SAT score far higher than your PSAT score!

 

Recap: How Is the PSAT Scored?

The total PSAT scoring scale is 320-1520, and the Math and EBRW scoring scale is 160-760. The Math and EBRW section scores are scaled scores converted from raw scores through a special equating process, which changes slightly with each test.

Raw scores equal the number of questions you answered correctly. A raw Math score converts directly into a scaled section score, whereas raw Reading and Writing scores are converted into test scores on a scale of 8-38, combined, and then multiplied by 10 to give you a single scaled EBRW score. The PSAT also offers subscores and cross-test scores to indicate test takers' strengths and weaknesses in various skill areas. Subscores use a scale of 1-15, while cross-test scores use a scale of 8-38.

The final score you'll get is a National Merit Selection Index score, which uses a scale of 48-228. This score determines who is eligible for National Merit consideration. Every year, the top 1 percent of 11th-grade test takers, or approximately 16,000 students, qualify as Semifinalists.

Knowing the ins and outs of PSAT scoring can help you qualify for National Merit as well as predict how many questions you can afford to miss on test day. It can also offer you a starting point for your SAT prep and allow you to see which skills and areas you'll need to hone before taking the SAT.

All in all, PSAT scoring is a pretty useful tool to have, so use it to your advantage whenever you can!

 

body_wrench_tool.jpgPSAT scoring is a handy tool — though not nearly as handy as Colonel Mustard's wrench.

 

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about PSAT scoring? Check out my in-depth guide to the PSAT score range to learn more about the score ranges for each section as well as the scores you'll need to qualify for National Merit.

Got questions about the basics of the PSAT? Learn what exactly the PSAT is and what's considered a good score. If you're a sophomore, read our guide to see how "good" scores differ for 10th graders.

Ready to move on to SAT prep? Start with our guide to how the SAT is scored and learn about the basic differences between the PSAT and SAT, so you'll have no surprises on test day.

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 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:

Enroll Now

 

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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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