What We’ve Learned from the First Digital PSAT

Matthew Kiesner
November 18, 2023
min read

The first administration of the Digital PSAT is now behind us, and students and schools now have a taste of what’s to come when the Digital SAT arrives stateside in March. Let’s take a look at how to best interpret a PSAT score report, what we’ve learned from the first students to take the test, and what it all means for future digital test administrations by the College Board.

Score feedback is minimal, as expected

The PSAT score reports mirror the Digital SAT score reports given to international students since the March 2023 test. The PSAT provides feedback on 8 testing domains—4 on Reading & Writing and 4 on Math—which are expressed as a bar with 7 segments.

With the Digital SAT and PSAT, the College Board is no longer providing a count of right and wrong answers. Why? Behind the hood, the digital exams use item response theory, which means that different questions have different values. This allows for the PSAT to determine a score with fewer questions, but it eliminates the ability to produce a linear scale where 54 correct questions on the Reading & Writing gets you a 760 and 53 correct questions gets you a 750.

If you are interested in receiving detailed question by question analysis along with your score, Applerouth’s digital SAT practice test is an excellent option.

Understanding the National Merit Index Score

The PSAT score report also includes a National Merit Index Score. This score was created by doubling your Reading & Writing score, adding it to your math score, and then dividing the total by 10. This keeps the index scores on the same scale as previous years, although it does disadvantage students who are stronger in math and weaker in language arts.

While we can compare National Merit Index scores from previous years to this year, it’s too early to say whether a score will qualify for entry into the competition for a scholarship. As the PSAT is a new style this year, there may be more fluctuation in scores than in previous years.

A 90-minute mix up on October 11th

One question people had was whether or not the College Board could handle all of the traffic of thousands of students trying to unlock their test forms. The College Board mitigated this issue, by allowing schools to schedule the PSAT anytime from October 2nd to the 31st.

However, many schools chose October 11th, which would have been the classic middle Wednesday of October when students typically tested. This created a log jam on the morning of October 11th from 7:45 to 9:15 AM Eastern time. While this was certainly a misstep on the part of the College Board, it’s important to recognize that most administrations of the PSAT went well, and the College Board will now have an opportunity to adjust before future testing administrations.

Bluebook itself ran well

The feedback from our students was that many proctors struggled with adapting to the newness of a digital administration, but once students were allowed to start their tests, Bluebook functioned as intended. Many students liked the shorter passages and the ability to use the Desmos graphing calculator on every section.

Preplanning for schools becomes essential

We’re hearing reports that many schools scheduled a “tech check” day for their students the week before to make sure that students’ devices had Bluebook installed and that students knew their College Board accounts. Going forward, this step will be crucial for a successful PSAT administration and we imagine that schools who waited until the day of, or assumed students would set up their devices, were met with frustration.

Questions remain about individualized test forms

From the outset, the College Board promised individualized test forms for each student. How that actually materialized is still unclear, but looking at chatter on the PSAT thread on Reddit, many students seemed to have received similar test questions. It’s unclear how much randomization of answer choices or question order occurred, but from this anecdotal communication, there were certainly some similarities across test forms.

What’s next?

Now that you have PSAT scores in hand, it’s a good idea to speak with an Applerouth Program Director about starting test prep. Get in touch today for help reviewing your PSAT results and personalized advice on whether you should proceed with the Digital SAT or the ACT. You can also give us a call at 866-789-PREP (7737)!

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