The PSAT Scores Are Out—Now What?

Earlier this fall, millions of high school sophomores and juniors took the PSAT. After 9 weeks of waiting, test takers nationwide can now access their scores on their College Board accounts. For information on how to access the scores, review the instructions provided by the College Board at this link.

What is The PSAT

PSAT stands for "Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test” - you can think of it as Pre-SAT. The PSAT serves as the National Merit Scholar Qualifying Test (that's where the NMSQT part of the PSAT/NMSQT name comes from). By taking the PSAT, you're automatically entered into the National Merit Scholar competition, and if your score is in the top ~3%, you'll get recognized. Even though the score itself doesn't matter, this recognition looks really good on a college application.

Finally, the PSAT experience can help juniors decide whether to take the ACT or SAT when it comes time for the official college entrance test. Our colleagues at Compass have done some great analysis of how to use a PSAT score to determine which test to prep for.

What Makes Up The PSAT Score

A PSAT report will have six main kinds of data: scaled total scores, section scores, raw scores, subscores, Selection Index, and percentiles. Here’s a quick rundown of what all of these terms mean and what their ranges are:

  • Scaled total score: Cumulative total score on the PSAT, ranging between 320 and 1520. Half of your total score comes from Math and the other half comes from Evidence-based Reading and Writing (which is a combination of the Reading and Writing and Language sections).

  • Scaled section scores: Two scores, one for Math and one for Evidence-based Reading and Writing. Both of these scores fall between 160 and 760.

  • Section (test) scores: Three scores: one for Math, one for Reading, and one for Writing and Language. All section scores fall between 8 and 38.

  • Subscores: Seven scores, each on a scale of 1 to 15. Subscores tell you how you did on certain types of questions, some of which appear across two or more sections of the PSAT. You’ll get a subscore for questions that fall into these seven categories: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.

  • Raw scores: Three scores, one for each PSAT section, representing the number of questions you got right. The ranges for raw scores vary by section. You can get a maximum raw score of 48 for Math, 47 for Reading, and 44 for Writing and Language.

  • Selection Index: One score that ranges from 48 to 228. Your selection index is the sum of your three section scores between 8 and 38 multiplied by 2:

    Selection Index = (Math section score + Reading section score + Writing section score) x 2

What Makes A Good Score ?

Before we can answer the question of what a good score on the PSAT is, we need to define what we mean by a "good score." Since everyone has different goals for the PSAT, a good score for one student may be a disappointing score for another.

To figure out what a good PSAT score is, let's consider a couple of different ways a score could be "good." First, we could define “good” as meaning that you scored better than 50% or more of other test-takers. Based on this definition, we can use percentiles to figure out what makes an above-average PSAT score.

Second, we can define “good” PSAT scores as scores that qualify for National Merit. Actually, qualifying for National Merit means that you got excellent, amazing, near-perfect PSAT scores. What the exact scores you should aim for to qualify for National Merit is something we'll talk about in a little bit.

Finally, because the PSAT is very similar to the SAT, we can use the PSAT to determine whether or not you're on track to get the SAT scores you need for the colleges you want to apply to. Figuring this out means understanding what kinds of SAT scores colleges are looking for.

Here is some recent analysis of the initial data from this year’s PSAT scores.

Regardless of how your scores came out, be sure to keep them in perspective. You have plenty of time to take the SAT and ACT this semester, and your scores will not follow you to college. Use them as a guide, get excited if your scores are high, and prepare for the real thing !

For Sophomores

For sophomores, PSAT scores are a different beast for sophomores. It's more about getting a sense for which academic areas need some work and getting some test-taking practice under their belt early in their high school careers. Students can also use their scores from sophomore year to compare to their junior year scores to see where they were able to improve and where they're still struggling. That will help them identify which study strategies were successful for them and which they should continue to adjust.