What We Know About the Digital PSAT Coming this Fall
This October marks the next milestone in the College Board’s conversion to an all digital testing platform. For students taking the PSAT this October, the new digital test will be the only option. While there are still some questions unanswered, a lot of the details have been revealed. Let’s address the knowns and unknowns about the dPSAT.
What we know
- Structure: The Digital PSAT will match the structure of the Digital SAT, with the same number of questions per module and adaptive sections.
- Students will use the College’ Board’s Bluebook app on their own computer or tablet to take both the PSAT and SAT.
- The PSAT will feature short reading passages and a built-in graphing calculator just like the SAT.
- Students will download their own unique test form, which is designed to curb cheating and prevent the test from being leaked online.
- Scoring: The Digital PSAT will continue to have its own scale, with scores for the Reading & Writing section and the Math section ranging from 160 to 760, opposed to the SAT’s range of 200 to 800.
- National Merit: For juniors this fall, the PSAT will still also be the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), which can qualify high scorers for a range of scholarships and recognitions.
- Test Dates: The digital platform allows for flexible scheduling between October 2nd and 31st. Schools can also have different groups of students take the test on different days. While this makes it far more convenient for schools to administer the PSAT, it does mean that students will miss out on the catharsis of sharing PSAT memes online.
- Score return: Scores will be available sooner than in past years, with students testing in the first half of October receiving their scores in early November, and those testing in the second half of October receiving them in mid-November. In previous years, students had to wait until early December to get their scores.
- SAT vs. PSAT Content: The College Board plans to release a practice PSAT on Bluebook this month, which will give a better understanding of the differences between the content on the PSAT and SAT. On this webpage, the College Board offers up some of the differences in math between the PSAT and SAT. We know that the PSAT does not test on circles and will have fewer questions involving advanced math, but it will be good to see an example of the distinction. Furthermore, the College Board has shared even less about any differentiations between the PSAT and SAT Reading & Writing sections, and the current page offers few clues.
- National Merit Qualifying Scores: In years prior, National Merit used its own qualifying score that weighed reading, writing, and math equally. With the redesigned digital PSAT, the College Board has eliminated the reading and writing subscores, which makes the National Merit qualifying score impossible to calculate using the prior system. In a webinar, a representative from the College Board said that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will establish its own metrics but as of now, there has been no publicly available information.
Reports from abroad
There have been many questions about the College Board’s ability to provide a digital test without encountering technical disruptions. Students outside the US have already switched to the digital test and thankfully the March administration happened without significant issues. The Bluebook app downloads each module at the beginning of that section, which means that if students lose their internet connection momentarily, they can still continue to test in that module. Additionally, by allowing schools to schedule the PSAT throughout the month, this should put less strain on Bluebook’s servers.
Also of note is that the score reports from the international March test are quite vague and it’s possible that the PSAT score reports will be as well. Behind the scenes, the digital SAT and PSAT use an algorithmic scoring system based on Item Response Theory, which means that different questions have different weights. This does not affect the student testing, but it makes it impossible to say “if you miss one math question, you lose ten points off your score,” because not every question will have the same weight. The March international SAT score reports dodge this issue by keeping the information so vague that it’s unclear to students exactly how many questions they missed.
What’s the best plan?
The digital PSAT is a significant departure from the paper-based PSAT and SAT, so the best thing you can do is a practice test to feel how the new test is different. Take our free on-demand practice PSAT here.