Thinking About Sum Scores Yet Again, Maybe the Last Time, We Don’t Know, Oh No.. 1: A Comment on McNeish (2023)

Keith F. Widaman*, William Revelle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The relative advantages and disadvantages of sum scores and estimated factor scores are issues of concern for substantive research in psychology. Recently, while championing estimated factor scores over sum scores, McNeish offered a trenchant rejoinder to an article by Widaman and Revelle, which had critiqued an earlier paper by McNeish and Wolf. In the recent contribution, McNeish misrepresented a number of claims by Widaman and Revelle, rendering moot his criticisms of Widaman and Revelle. Notably, McNeish chose to avoid confronting a key strength of sum scores stressed by Widaman and Revelle—the greater comparability of results across studies if sum scores are used. Instead, McNeish pivoted to present a host of simulation studies to identify relative strengths of estimated factor scores. Here, we review our prior claims and, in the process, deflect purported criticisms by McNeish. We discuss briefly issues related to simulated data and empirical data that provide evidence of strengths of each type of score. In doing so, we identified a second strength of sum scores: superior cross-validation of results across independent samples of empirical data, at least for samples of moderate size. We close with consideration of four general issues concerning sum scores and estimated factor scores that highlight the contrasts between positions offered by McNeish and by us, issues of importance when pursuing applied research in our field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEducational and Psychological Measurement
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • estimated factor scores
  • psychometrics
  • sum scores
  • validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Applied Mathematics


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