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Using digital PSAT Scores to Compare SAT and ACT

By October 23, 2023November 2nd, 2023ACT, PSAT, SAT

How can digital PSAT scores help students determine whether to prepare for the SAT or ACT ?

The PSAT has long been thought of as a gateway to the SAT, but it can be just as useful in helping students decide whether to choose the ACT instead. Many students have already taken a practice ACT or an official PreACT that establishes a testing baseline. When digital PSAT scores are available, it’s smart to compare scores to see whether there is any clear advantage.

Students who have not yet taken an ACT can invest the 3 hours required to take a practice ACT at a Compass location or from home via our online proctoring. For students impatient for official PSAT scores, a practice digital PSAT or digital SAT with Compass is also an option. An added benefit is that our score reports provide far more detailed insights versus what is provided by the one received from College Board or ACT. For instance, students can no longer review the questions they missed on College Board’s official digital PSAT.

Compass has analyzed available research and concordances to create an interactive comparison tool, as well as a downloadable chart and table.  Although most students will find their digital PSAT and ACT scores intersect somewhere in the “Judgment Call” band, others will discover that one test or the other is a better fit.

Download a PDF Version

It is important to think about the relationship between digital PSAT and ACT scores as a range of options rather than as an all or nothing proposition. Concordance tables are used by colleges to compare digital SAT and ACT scores, so the tables are extremely useful to students when choosing which scores to send to colleges.

Deciding which score is “higher,” though, is different from deciding which test will be better for you in the future. A digital PSAT or an initial ACT score is only a starting point. Most students will continue to build subject and testing skills. Students in the “judgment call” zone should think through the testing process before making a commitment. Which test dates will be targeted? Are there test areas or characteristics that make one exam more appealing than the other? What are the test preparation options for each exam? How does National Merit fit into the mix?

Adam Ingersoll has written an excellent post on choosing between the SAT and ACT that outlines some of the factors students may want to consider. Compass directors are experienced in helping make those decisions. Our Essentials class is designed to help guide students through the test selection process while gaining a foundation of testing skills.


Parents and students wanting a more in-depth discussion of some of the issues surrounding digital PSAT and ACT comparisons may find the questions and answers below of use.

How do concordances work for the digital PSAT, digital SAT, and ACT, and can they be trusted?

In order to understand how digital PSAT scores are compared to ACT scores, it is important to first understand how digital SAT and ACT scores are compared. While the ACT and SAT cover some of the same topics, they are very different exams. One cannot take a given score on the SAT and say that it equals a certain score on the ACT. Instead, the tests have a looser linkage known as a concordance.

In a proper concordance study, the results from real students who took both exams are compared via what’s known as equipercentile linking.  Since the same students take both exams, percentile scores can be directly compared. A 90th percentile score on the SAT can thus be compared to a 90th percentile score on the ACT. In the summer of 2018, ACT and College Board released a concordance established through joint effort. With the release of the digital SAT, College Board has indicated that digital SAT scores are equivalent to paper SAT scores and so a further concordance study is not required.

PSAT scores are placed on the same scale as SAT scores. The idea is that a 650 on the PSAT represents the same achievement as a 650 on the SAT. To the extent that PSAT and SAT scores can be used interchangeably, they can also share a concordance.

Why do no PSAT scores favor the SAT when compared to the highest ACT scores?

The digital PSAT is a test designed for sophomores and fall juniors. The material is slightly easier than that of the digital SAT, so the top SAT scores are not achievable on the PSAT—even with a perfect answer sheet. The PSAT score range extends from 160–760 (320–1520 total) versus the SAT’s score range of 200–800 (400–1600 total). In much the same way that no PSAT score can represent the same performance as a 1600 on the SAT, no PSAT score can be concordant with a 36 on the ACT (and a student with a 36 should stick with the ACT!). In fact, there are no scores on the PSAT that definitively favor the SAT over ACT at ACT scores of 34 and higher. A high scoring PSAT student with a 34 or a 35 may want to consider both tests, but the PSAT does not represent a difficult enough exam to make a definitive judgment. To give an exaggerated analogy, the PSAT is the golfing equivalent of a par 3 course—not challenging enough to measure the most elite testers/players. A full SAT might be recommended in those judgment call cases.

Are these comparisons valid for sophomores as well as juniors?

While the relationship between digital PSAT scores and ACT scores should be consistent, students are advised to be more guarded about making definitive decisions based on the sophomore PSAT. Most students hold off on preparation for the SAT or ACT until at least the summer before junior year—almost a full academic year after the sophomore PSAT—and students’ skill-sets can develop quickly in that period. Ideally, test comparisons are made on exams taken in the same timeframe. It’s a good idea to avoid, for example, comparing an October PSAT score with a practice ACT score obtained in June of the following year. At minimum, the time difference should be a consideration when weighing performance.


Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.


  • Your chart is very helpful! I hope it’s okay that I put your link on my FB page. There’s going to be so much buzz about these scores that having something concrete to share with parents and students is going to help me so very much! Thank you! Prilla

  • James says:

    Do you have a chart that takes the scores on the PSAT 8/9 and predicts or translates them to the projected ACT and/or SAT score? Thanks

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The confusing thing is that PSAT 8/9 scores are already stated on the same scale as the SAT. However, they indicate current performance rather than projected performance. Because of the significant progress — although at varying rates — 8th and 9th graders will make before taking the SAT and ACT, we have not tried use PSAT 8/9 scores to predict ACT scores. We feel that the results would be too speculative.

  • Hannah says:

    Given that one is meant to predict the other…How do PSAT and SAT scores compare?
    I don’t understand how a 1500 on PSAT can be equivalent to 1500 on SAT. The former seems to result in a score in the higher percentiles than does the latter. Can you please explain?
    Thank you

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Percentiles are dependent on the group taking the test. Since fall juniors are a younger group than SAT takers (and have a different composition, since not all PSAT takers take the SAT and vice versa), they have lower scores than SAT takers. This means that an equivalent score ranks you higher among PSAT peers.

      • Jeff says:

        I’m visiting for the first time so may be missing something–but I think I see a problem in one of your replies. Hannah asked (12/12/2016) about comparing a 1500 on the PSAT with a 1500 on the SAT. She wondered why the PSAT 1500 was stronger Percentile-wise. You replied with info about fall-juniors and other cohort info. But you left out the most important distinction, which is that a PSAT-1500 (on the 1520 scale) is a significantly stronger performance than an SAT-1500 (on the 1600 scale).
        – Jeff

        • Art Sawyer says:

          The vertical scaling used by the College Board is structured so that a score represents — in theory — comparable performance across any of the exams in the “suite of assessments.” A 1200 on the PSAT should be comparable to a 1200 on the SAT. The lower top score on the PSAT simply reflects somewhat easier material. I agree with you that this theoretical structure probably breaks down as scores reach the very edge of the range.

  • Becky says:

    Do you anticipate needing/making a new chart for the 2017 score release, now that there is another year’s worth of data on the redesigned tests? Or have the numbers not changed much since last year?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The chart is based on the College Board’s concordance of P/SAT and ACT scores. It has not yet updated the concordance, as it requires extensive cooperation with ACT. They plan on publishing new numbers in the spring of 2018. Short answer: the current chart applies.

  • Kate says:

    When comparing PSAT and SAT results, do you compare the scores or percentiles? For example, use 2017 PSAT results of 1300 total score (97th user percentile), 720 Evidence-based reading/writing (99+ user percentile) and 580 math (89th user percentile). If you do a straight score comparison to SAT results, the percentiles drop to 87th percentile total, 97th percentile evidence-based reading/writing and 70th percentile math. Or do you compare the percentiles and convert the total SAT score to 1400, evidence-based reading/writing to 760, and math to 630? The literature says you likely would have scored the same on the SAT as the PSAT, but how can it be accurate if your percentile would vary so much? A 10 percentile drop on the total percentile and almost 20 percentile drop on math seems impossible.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The PSAT and SAT scales are aligned so that, in theory, if your student (or you?) was accidentally given an SAT in October, the score would have been around the same 720/580 (at least if you averaged lots of students in the same boat). When you move over to the SAT column, you are comparing fall juniors to (primarily) spring juniors and fall seniors with added academic development, added prep, and added test savvy. That’s why the percentiles are lower. The 1400 SAT (comparing percentiles) basically says that students with 1300 PSAT’s go up about 100 points (not automatically, of course).

  • Michele says:

    What would the equivalent, or predicted) SAT score be for a PSAT score of 1470 (taken fall 10th grade?)

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I want to be careful about how I describe this, because the scores are not meant to be predictions. Percentile equivalents is more accurate. For example, a 1470 is in the top 1/4 of one percent among sophomores. The top 1/4 of one percent of all SAT takers is about 1560. That does not mean that a 1470 student will move to 1560 (the higher a student’s score, the more she “fights” against regression to the mean). In order to maintain her place in line, she must get to 1560. I believe that the PSAT score report also gives predicted score ranges.

  • Tammi says:

    Do you have a chart like this for the SAT vs ACT? My daughter is a sophomore and took a mock ACT and mock SAT two weeks apart and we are trying to determine which one she favors.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, we do. The two charts should be virtually identical, as the PSAT and SAT are on the same scale (the difference being that SAT scores extend to 1600, whereas the PSAT tops out at 1520).

  • Tom says:

    I have a converse question for you. If I took the new SAT as a sophomore and scored a 1500 (710 EBRW and 790 Math), what equivalent PSAT score should I expect to get when I take it in the Fall?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      There is no published data on sophomore SAT to junior PSAT. One problem that you will run into on the PSAT is that your Math score will max out at 760. Unless you increase your EBRW, you would be at 1470.

  • SAM says:

    I got 1590 on the New SAT in August 2018. I am junior right now. What will I get in the PSAT if i take it this year? Do I have a chance to make it in the NMSQT. Thanks for the help. I LOVE YOU.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Congratulations on the 1590. If you are scoring that high, much of it will come down to luck and where you live. Because the PSAT scale only goes to 760, missing even a couple problems in each section can pull down a student’s score. Your SAT score is actually higher than the maximum possible PSAT score. I expect that you will do quite well.

  • Colleen says:

    I got an 1180 on the PSAT as a sophomore in August. Is that ok?

  • Brayden says:

    If I made 1070 on the PSAT should I favor the ACT more than the SAT?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I would recommend that you take a practice ACT for comparison. ACT has a downloadable test on its site. Try to have a family member “proctor” the exam and keep you completely honest on timing and breaks. That should give you a good idea of how the tests stack up.

  • Ronald says:

    Hello, I am a junior and I scored a 1300 on my psat which I recently got back. To what sat score would this might translate, and would you recommend taking the sat or the act. Thanks!

    • Ash Kramer says:

      Hi Ronald,

      Congrats on the 1300! The idea behind the PSAT’s scoring is that it aligns with the SAT – so if you were to take the SAT today, you would expect to get about a 1300. That concords to a 28 on the ACT. The only way to know whether you should take the SAT or ACT is to take a practice ACT test! If you score less than a 26, you should probably prep for the SAT; if you score higher than a 30, you should probably prep for the ACT. If you fall somewhere in between, you may want to consider other factors, like test dates and personal preference, before you decide which test to take.

  • Amy says:

    I must clearly be missing something because I am still confused 🙂 My son got a 1230 on the PSAT and I can’t figure out if he favors the ACT or SAT or if it is a judgement call?

    • Ash Kramer says:

      Hi Amy,

      In order to know whether your sun favors the ACT or SAT, he’d need to take a practice ACT as well. Then you can use these features to compare scores and decide where he falls. Visit compassprep.com/practice-tests for options.

  • Stephanie says:

    I attended a meeting on the PSAT test that was given Oct 24th. Apparently because of some anomaly the test was easier so the College Board decided to grade it “more harshly.” That being said my daughter scored a 1370. She only missed 6 questions on the entire test. But it looks like she won’t be in the running as a National Merit Semifinalists. Also her ACT score came today & she scored 33. Will that score be considered as well? And should she take the SAT? She is a Junior this year.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, the 10/24 PSAT was horrendous. The Selection Index is used rather than the total score (1370), but it’s likely that your daughter will fall short for NMSF. Only the PSAT applies at that stage. She need not take the SAT unless she thinks it will give better results than the ACT. It sounds like she is already on the right path.

  • Brian S. says:

    My son took the PSAT 8/9 one month into 8th grade (9/26/17) and scored 1300 (680 math/620 reading/writing). He just took the 8/9 again as a freshman. Other than looking at the type of questions he got wrong back in 8th grade, we weren’t too sure what else to do to help him prep. Are there any recommendations for helping a student improve when the margins are so thin? What would be a reasonable expectation for improvement for the PSAT/NMSQT?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      That 1300 puts him at 99+ percentile as an 8th grader. On average, scores improve by 30-40 points per year on each side of the test. Most of the prep applicable to the SAT is applicable in your son’s case. There are more self-prep options than I can list in a paragraph, and I don’t like to play favorites. Khan Academy is one of the most convenient options, and some of their materials are based on released exams, which is always a plus. Your son is on the young side for paid prep. Hitting one’s peak in the 10th grade isn’t of any benefit, so most students wait until the summer after sophomore year to take a class or do tutoring.

      If your son stays on track, he should be able to achieve a score in the high 1400s or better.

      • Brian S. says:

        Art – a follow up – we just got this year’s PSAT 8/9 (my son is now a freshman) and he got a 1330. His reading/writing went up to 670 but math went down a bit. Here is the weird thing – he only got one question wrong in the entire math section and got a 660 in math. How is that possible? Is there nothing between a 660 and a 720? Thanks for your advice.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Not sure if your son took this one. That form shows one wrong as 690 and 2 wrong as 660. Perhaps your son left one blank? Or he may have taken a different form code. A 60-point gap would be an extreme drop-off, but we have seen College Board having a hard time getting its curves right. It can be difficult to distinguish 8th and 9th graders at the top end of the scale while also providing accurate information across the rest of the range.

          • Brian S. says:

            I don t think he took that one – the testing date was 4/9/19. Nope – none blank. 37 out of 38. Very weird and seems to be not a very good assessment.

          • Art Sawyer says:

            Thanks for confirming, Brian. No, not a good assessment at all when a single questions covers 10% of the usable scale.

  • Jim says:

    My daughter scored 1140 on her PSAT as a Freshman in April of 2019. What could she expect to score as a Junior on the SAT?

  • Alan says:

    Hi, I am a 6th grader and I took the psat and got a 1490 on it. I was wondering what this would translate to on the ACT when I take it as a junior/senior.

    • Margaux Erilane says:

      Hi Alan,

      Congratulations on your impressive score at such a young age! A 1490 on the PSAT concords to a 33-35 on the ACT. Assuming you’re able to maintain and improve upon this score over the next few years, you could achieve a 35 on the ACT. We recommend you take a full-length practice ACT to get your baseline for that test. Feel free to contact us at (800) 685-6986 to info@compassprep.com to set up a diagnostic test.

  • Sam says:

    Hello! I am a junior and on the October PSAT in 2019, I scored at 1410. Last year (October 2018), as a sophomore, I scored at 1350. I took a practice SAT online this fall after taking the PSAT and scored 1380, but it was more for me to get a sense of the questions and I was not nearly as focused as I could have been.

    Also, last year (spring 2019), I took a practice ACT and got a 31. My main struggle with the ACT was that I was a bit short on time in the math section and had to rush the last couple of problems–that’s where I got most points off. However, on the practice SAT, I found the reading to be the most difficult for me.

    At this point, I’m confused about which test I should take. Should I simply take both and see how I do?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Your scores align closely. Taking both tests is not that hard; it’s preparing for both that makes things difficult. It’s best to make a decision and go for it. Sometimes that preference can be about which exam you felt more comfortable with — preparation means spending a lot of time with a test. Sometimes it’s as simple as which exam has more appealing test dates. It might be worth taking another practice ACT to see if you’ve improved now that you have a better sense of the timing.

  • Renee says:

    My daughter got a 670 English and 550 Math on her junior year PSAT and a 29 on the P-ACT with a 32 English and 31 reading, and 28 math and her lowest score 23 in the science section. We were told that the PSAT/SAT equivalent and her ACT were very close and it was recommended that she take the SAT because there is no science section and she could focus her time on improving math and English. Generally, she is a strong English student and a b+/A- math student. Your thoughts/recommendations?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I would say that her 29 PreACT is 2-3 points stronger than her 1220 PSAT. I’d normally be leaning toward the ACT with those scores. Yes, she can avoid Science with the SAT, but given her other scores, I think she’ll have no problem bringing up that 23. Even if she did no studying specifically for Science — not what I’m recommending! — test awareness and familiarity would help her improve. While it’s possible that she’d see larger gains on the SAT, I like to start out ahead.

  • Melody says:

    My daughter scored 1440 on the PSAT as a junior – 720 on both sections. She scored a 33 on theACT – Math 29, Science 30, English 35 and Reading 36. Which test should she focus on? On math I believe she can improve on the ACT because she just has to brush up on Algebra. She didn’t study for either test. From this info can you direct me to whether SAT or ACT will be a better focus for her?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I would probably recommend the ACT. She is in an excellent place on both exams so early in her junior year. Many schools will now superscore the ACT (and the SAT), so she basically has locked in the 35 and 36 for those colleges. The fact that she was able to get a 720 on the SAT Math and do so well on ACT Reading gives me hope for her potential on ACT Math and Science.

  • Milani says:

    Hi I am a sophomore in high school and I just took the PSAT and got a 1260 (590 English and 670 math). I am planning on taking a practice ACT soon and doing prep for one of the tests over the summer. As of now, should I do prep for the ACT or SAT?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      It’s great that you are already thinking ahead to your summer prep. I’d check back in after you’ve got your ACT results or set up a phone appointment with one of the Compass directors. You may find that you are stronger on one test or the other or just prefer the format of one of the exams.

  • Tracy Schwartz says:

    If you took the PSAT a week apart from the SAT would the ACT be higher because its easier?

    • Margaux Erilane says:

      Hi Tracy,

      It’s tough to say whether the ACT is “easier” than the SAT because difficulty is subjective, and different students have different experiences with both exams. We recommend students take a practice test of each to get a baseline score as well as a feel for the test’s content, timing, and format (especially now that the SAT is going digital in the spring). For more information about diagnostic testing, visit http://www.compassprep.com/practice-tests or call us at 800-685-6986.

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