What Does Your PSAT Score Say?


PSAT scores are being released, and often families have questions about the information provided in the report. To help you better understand your scores, we’ve put together a helpful guide. A full interpretive guide can be downloaded here. Below is some detailed information about the PSAT score report.

Your Total Score and Section Scores

The top half of the PSAT Score Report’s first page shows the student’s Total Score and Section Scores, as well as percentile ranks. The Total Score and Section Scores are typically the most important SAT scores when applying to college. Remember, the PSAT is not used for college admissions, but PSAT scores are good indicators of a student’s potential on the SAT. PSAT Section Scores are on a 160-760 scale, whereas the SAT’s Section Scores are on a 200-800 scale. The tests’ scale ranges differ because some SAT content is more advanced than what is seen on the PSAT. Put simply, the PSAT does not have 800-level content, so it does not offer an 800 score. Scaled scores are on the same “continuous” scale as the SAT. If a student achieves a Math score of 500 on the PSAT, he or she would have likely achieved the same score on an SAT taken on that same day.

Your Nationally Representative Percentile

Percentiles give a sense of relative standing among students. The “Nationally Representative” percentile is based on data for all U.S. students in a particular grade, including students who did not take the PSAT. Students can view their PSAT results and see their percentile ranking relative to only students who took the PSAT. Note that this percentile ranking is often lower than the “Nationally Representative” ranking.

The College and Career Readiness Benchmark

The Benchmark shows whether a student will, with average levels of improvement, achieve a “College Readiness” score on the SAT. As stated by the College Board, an Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Score of 480 and a Math Score of 530 are benchmarks of college and career readiness. This rough predictor should not be used as a definitive measure of student potential.

PSAT Scores and Subscores

The bottom half of the PSAT Score Report’s first page shows the student’s Test Scores and Subscores. As the PSAT is primarily used as practice for the SAT, the Subscores are important indicators of students’ skills. Subscores show strengths and weaknesses, which should guide how students prioritize their SAT preparation.

Test Scores are used to calculate Section Scores. Multiplying the sum of the Reading and Writing and Language Test Scores by 10 gives the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section Score. Multiplying the Math Test Score by 20 gives the Math Section Score.

Subscores provide more focused information for how students can focus their test preparation. For the SAT, these scores are generally not used in college admissions decisions.

Cross-Test Scores are based on 19 history-related questions and 19 science-related questions throughout the PSAT. There is no dedicated history or science section on the test. Cross-Test Scores are used primarily as assessment tools for schools. For the SAT, these scores are generally not used in college admissions decisions.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses PSAT/NMSQT scores to select candidates for Merit Scholarship awards. Candidacy is based on students’ NMSC Selection Index scores, which are calculated from PSAT Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores. Selection Index scores range from 48-228. The scores required to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program vary from state to state. The Selection Index for the Class of 2017 was 222 in Massachusetts, 220 in Connecticut, and 219 in New York. In September 2018, the NMSC will notify the top-scoring students (about 1% of the total PSAT-taking students) that are eligible to apply for the Merit Scholarships.

Your Scores: Next Steps

The score report includes tips for how the student can most effectively improve scores. This feedback is useful, but broad. More helpful advice requires personal consideration that the College Board cannot provide, such as careful analysis of individual test questions, feedback on the student’s testing experience, and consideration of the student’s personality and learning style.

Your Question-Level Feedback

The last page of the PSAT score report shows how the student performed on each question. Students should review their test to identify areas for improvement. Missed questions indicate areas where students need more study or practice. For example, incorrect answers to low-difficulty questions are signs of carelessness or gaps in foundational skills.

Question and Answer Explanations Online

Students can log into their College Board online account for more information on their PSAT results, including their PSAT percentile rank and detailed analysis of each question on the test.

Select the “Test Questions” tab to view individual questions from the PSAT. Students can review test material, see their answers, and get explanations for every question on their PSAT. The online report shows a range of scores the student would likely get if he or she took the PSAT or SAT again (without learning anything new that would improve the score). This range accounts for the standard error of measurement in the test’s assessment.

Below the student’s test scores is a prediction of how well the student will score if he or she takes the SAT a year later. Students can click on the link (“Projected Range for next year”) to view a message with the student’s predicted score range.

National Representative Sample Percentile

The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile is the same ranking seen in the printed report. The PSAT/NMSQT User Percentile is based on data for all students who took the PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10. Note that the PSAT/NMSQT User Percentile is usually lower than the Nationally Representative Sample Percentile. Students who typically take the PSAT are more academically competitive than the general student population.

Comparing Your PSAT score to an ACT score

Because your PSAT score is the score that you would have received had you taken an SAT on that day, you can think of your PSAT score as a baseline SAT score.  To compare your PSAT score to an ACT score, you can use the SAT/ACT concordance table that the College Board has created.  If you would like to compare your PSAT to ACT, you can do so here.

The Standardized Testing Road Ahead

PSAT scores provide a valuable glimpse at the road ahead. Whether you’re interested in improving your chances on the upcoming SAT or you’re considering the ACT, Summit can give you the tools you need to maximize your scores. We are here to help and we are happy to answer any questions you might have.

By Drew Heilpern

Drew Heilpern, PhD, began tutoring for Summit in 2010 and his passion as an educator quickly made him one of Summit Educational Group’s most requested tutors. His proclivity for tutoring students and helping families navigate the standardized testing landscape led him to a full time position with Summit. As the Chief Brand Ambassador, Drew works closely with schools, independent educational consultants, and families to help guide them through the college admissions standardized testing process.

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