If you’re reading this, we’re guessing one of three things is true: you’re about to take the PSAT (don’t worry … it’s just practice!), you already took the PSAT and are waiting for your PSAT scores (woohoo … you did it!), or you already received your PSAT scores and you’re now wondering, “what do these numbers even mean?”
Whichever one of these is you, congratulations! You’re starting to think about applying to college, and that is HUGE.
It can be hard to figure out how to make sense of the PSAT scoring report or to know for sure what’s considered a good PSAT score, but that’s what we’re here for. Let’s just jump right in.
(click to skip ahead)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is the PSAT?
- What is Tested on the PSAT?
- Does the PSAT matter?
- PSAT scoring: how is the PSAT scored?
- What is a good PSAT score
- National Merit Scholarship PSAT score
- Do colleges care about PSAT scores?
- When do PSAT scores come out?
- How do I get my PSAT scores?
- What’s on the PSAT score report?
- Reminder: “P” stands for “practice”
What is the PSAT?
The PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT, and sophomores and juniors take it in October (although there are different tests for 8th and 9th graders). And before we give you any more information, we want you to remember that the PSAT is practice. While earning a good PSAT score can make you eligible for certain scholarships (more on that later), it’s probably healthier to think about the PSAT as your chance to get familiar with what the actual SAT is like.
The PSAT can also help you figure out which areas you need to spend a little more time preparing for when you get ready to take the SAT. You might be really good at Math, but you might also see after taking the PSAT that it would be good for you to figure out some test-taking strategies. Or maybe you’ll realize your vocabulary needs some work (the PSAT really likes to test your vocab), even if you’re an awesome English student.
We like to think of the PSAT as an opportunity. We don’t want you to stress yourself out about it, but we hope you can use it as a chance to get to know the format, structure, and potential content of the SAT.
What is tested on the PSAT?
The PSAT has two sections, but tests three categories of knowledge/understanding (we know, it already sounds confusing. But fear not … you have us!):
The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) section has a Reading test and a Writing/Language test (but no essay). You’ll get one hour to answer 47 multiple choice questions in the reading test, and you’ll basically read some provided passages and answer questions about those passages that will test your comprehension, vocabulary, and ability to analyze text.
The Writing and Language test is also multiple choice. You’ll have 44 questions to answer in 35 minutes, and these will test your vocabulary, grammar, and your ability to revise some writing to make it better (if you’ve ever done peer review in English, it’s kind of like that).
The Math test is a little more complicated. There is a calculator and a no-calculator section, and you’ll get multiple choice questions and a few questions that ask you to provide the answer (the College Board calls these “grid-ins”).
You get a total of 70 minutes to answer 48 questions, and these questions will focus on algebra, problem solving, some advanced math, and what the College Board calls “additional topics in math” (we know, that’s a little vague).
All of this is an overview of the PSAT, but if you want even more detail, you can check out the College Board's PSAT info.
Does the PSAT matter?
It does and it doesn’t: The PSAT is really good practice for the SAT, so it matters in that it can help you get ready for the actual test that could have an impact on your college applications. Earning a high PSAT score can also make you eligible for scholarships such as the National Merit Scholarship (keep reading to learn more about this).
The PSAT might also give you a little insight about how you’ll do on the SAT. For some students, the PSAT offers a good prediction of how you’ll score on the SAT.
Keep in mind, though, that a lot of other things could impact your score on the SAT, like …
Did you use the information you got from your PSAT scores to help you prepare for the SAT?
Did you get enough sleep the night before?
Did you eat your favorite breakfast before the SAT (pancakes is the right choice, by the way).
Is the person sitting next to you really distracting?
So, in some ways, the PSAT doesn’t matter.
Colleges don’t see your PSAT scores and don’t use them to determine admission decisions, and your PSAT scores don’t figure into your SAT scores.
Maybe the question isn’t really if the PSAT matters or doesn’t matter, but rather if it’s helpful or not helpful. And if you use the PSAT as practice, then we think it can definitely be helpful since it makes sure you are familiar with the kinds of questions you’ll see on the SAT.
PSAT Scoring: How is the PSAT scored?
PSAT scoring is where things get a little more complicated, but we’re here to walk you through this.
You will get an overall (or composite score) and then a separate score for each section of the test.
The scale for each section is 160-760, which means the total PSAT score range is 320-1520 since there are two sections of the test (even though there are three test categories, the Reading test and the Writing/Language test scores get combined to give you one Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score).
You get one point for every answer you get right, and there isn’t a penalty if you get a question wrong or if you skip it. These points get turned into your scaled score.
There is also something called a test score, which uses a different scale (8-38).
Pro tip: Because test scores break down the skills in each section, these scores can be really helpful in determining where you’re solid and where you might need to spend a little more time preparing since they give you a more detailed account of the specific Math, Reading, or Writing skills that could use some work.
What is a good PSAT score?
“Good” is all relative when it comes to the PSAT since (we want to remind you again), this is a practice test. The highest PSAT score you can earn is 1520, and in general, if you earn a score in the 75th percentile or higher, this would be considered a good PSAT score. This means you earned a score higher than 75% percent of the students who took the test.
This table gives you another way to look at this information. Based on the most recent information from the College Board, here is how specific scores translate to percentiles (remember, the 75th percentile would be considered a good PSAT score):
So, if we’re aiming for that 75th percentile, your score would need to fall somewhere between 1160-1180. And if you scored anywhere above 1010, this would be an above-average PSAT score!
PSAT scores also include “benchmarks” that can measure your college readiness based on where you are at that moment in time, and these are coded according to color (think of a stoplight):
Red means you need to make a significant amount of academic progress to reach the benchmark
Yellow means you’re not quite there but are very close
Green means you’ve already exceeded the benchmark.
Here's another table that breaks down where the scores in each section fall on our benchmark “stoplight”:
But here’s what we’ll say about these benchmarks. The student you are in 10th or 11th grade probably isn’t the same student you’ll be in college. Your brain will have matured, you will have had two more years to figure out what works for you in terms of your learning style, and you will get the benefit of two more years of new knowledge. All of this impacts your college readiness, too!
So, if you’re in the yellow (or even the red) in one of these areas, you’re not stuck there! Again, this is just a mark of where you are at the moment in which you take the PSAT.
National Merit Scholarship PSAT score
The National Merit Scholarship Program is a scholarship for high school students that provides financial aid for college, and you can qualify for this scholarship if you earn a high PSAT score (to be blunt, it’s an exceptionally high PSAT score).
11th grade students take the PSAT/NMSQT test (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), and if you earn a score in the top 1% of your state, you are eligible for this scholarship (which means you need to score in the 99th percentile to be eligible).
Since scores vary by state, it’s hard to give you the specific number you need to earn, but if you look back at the first table we gave you, you can see the range of scores associated with the 99th percentile. There are a few more steps to complete after you become eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, but the first step is earning the PSAT score you need.
Do colleges care about PSAT scores?
The short answer is “no!” Colleges don’t even see your PSAT scores, and the only way they would know anything about your scores is if you were recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, in which case you would report your own PSAT scores somewhere in your application.
Really and truly, the PSAT is a chance for you to practice and learn before taking the SAT!
When do PSAT scores come out?
You take the PSAT in October, and you have to wait a whole two months to get your score! Your scores become available online in the first week of December, so try to put the PSAT out of your mind until then!
How do I get my PSAT scores?
You need a College Board account to get your scores online. If you have college counselors at your school, they can often help you set this up (or you can click here to do it on your own).
You will also get a hard copy of your scores mailed to you, but this takes much longer. These usually get to you by the end of January.
What’s on the PSAT score report?
In addition to the composite score, section scores, test scores, and benchmarks we’ve covered, you’ll also get a suggested study plan that helps you identify the areas you might need a little more help with. The College Board has teamed up with Khan Academy so you can access their resources for an individualized study plan (click here for more information about this cool partnership) based on the analysis of your areas of strength and the areas that need improvement.
Reminder: “P” stands for “practice”
With all of this information about PSAT scores, percentiles, and scholarships, it can be easy to get stressed out about the PSAT, but we want to remind you one last time, this test is (above all else) PRACTICE!
If you earn a lower PSAT score than you hope for, that’s ok! It just means you have some preparation to do for the SAT. And if you earn an amazing PSAT score, pat yourself on the back! Although a high PSAT score doesn’t ensure a high SAT score, it does suggest you have a good handle on the test format and the challenges that come with sitting for a few hours and answering a LOT of questions.
Let the PSAT help you prepare for the SAT. Don’t let it freak you out!
Special thanks to Jessica B. for writing this blog post.
Jessica has a Ph.D in English from the University of Southern California and teaches English at a Los Angeles-area independent school, where she has also been English department chair and a class dean. Sandra Cisneros is her hero, and she loves books, her awesomely-sarcastic family, the beach, and more books. Oh, and her sweet pitbull/lab mix named Ruby.
Top values: Curiosity, equity, wonder