Not long ago, I wrote about how PSAT scores, contrary to College Board claims, may be predictive but are not perfectly aligned with future SAT scores. Specifically, PSAT scaled scores and percentiles don’t tell the full story of a student’s accomplishments and prospective SAT scores.
Recently, another significant disconnect between a student’s PSAT and SAT scores came to light. The student in question scored 100 points lower on a practice SAT Math section than on his PSAT Math, which is unexpected now that PSAT math tests the same content as the SAT. Careful analysis revealed a problem that should have been obvious: time per question.
This student, who happened to score exceptionally well on the PSAT Math section, ran out of time in SAT Math, particularly in the No Calculator section. How different is the pacing between these two tests?
MATH – NO CALCULATOR
PSAT: 17 questions in 25 minutes = ~1.47 minutes per question
SAT: 20 questions in 25 minutes = ~1.25 minutes per question
MATH – CALCULATOR
PSAT: 31 questions in 45 minutes = ~1.45 minutes per question
SAT: 38 questions in 55 minutes = ~1.45 minutes per question
The pacing for questions on the Math Calculator section is similar, but the difference between the No Calculator sections is more significant than a couple of tenths of a minute would appear. A student who completes the PSAT No Calculator section with no time to spare will miss those three extra questions on the equivalent SAT section. Three math score points equates to 20-50 Math scaled score points, depending on where in the scale a student lands. Add to this scenario the anxiety a test taker feels when running out of time on a section and we can see how someone might drop 100 points between tests.
That said, average time allotted per question is comparable for the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math – Calculator sections of both tests, which aligns them more reliably. I imagine that further observation would reveal great consistency from the PSAT to the SAT on the verbal side than the math side because of the similar pacing.
Of all the reasons to take the PSAT, practice and prediction are the ones most students find compelling. Make the most of both aspects of the PSAT by understanding exactly what your scores say–and what they don’t–about your SAT prospects.