PSAT Results Are Coming. What’s Next?

testSophomore and Juniors:

If you or your student took the PSAT in October, you should be receiving the score reports next week. Here is a video explaining how to read your report, and continue reading below for some tips on understanding your scores.

The PSAT is said to be scored on the same scale as the SAT, but the maximum you can score on each of the two sections of the PSAT (Evidence-based Reading & Writing plus Math) is 760 (for a maximum total of 1520), while the SAT’s two sections are scored on an 800-point scale (maximum total score of 1600).

What you score on the PSAT should equate to a projected SAT score if you took the SAT now. However, since the tests are normed to the student population, scaling from PSAT to SAT is actually going to look different at each point within the bell curve. Additionally, be aware that the PSAT percentiles are often higher than what is reported on students’ SAT reports, with a number of students scoring below their predicted SAT scores based on the PSAT percentiles. This can be due to a number of factors, including the fact that PSAT percentiles are based on averages of “all students” vs. just students who took the PSAT. Here is how the PSAT creates these percentiles:

  • Nationally Representative Percentile – shows how your scores compare to scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don’t take the PSAT.
  • User Percentile – shows how your score compares to scores of U.S. students in your grade who typically take the PSAT.

The percentiles on the SAT, in comparison, show how you did compared to other students who actually took the test. Read more here to understand why percentiles are important on the SAT (more so than they are on the PSAT). Regardless, to make the most of your PSAT, make sure that you and your student log in here to see their full report and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report?

There is a total score, a math score, an evidence-based reading and writing (EBRW) score, a “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile(s),” three test scores, two cross-test scores, seven subtest scores, and a National Merit® Scholarship Corporation Selection Index.

Each of these sets of scores has a different score range. The total score ranges from 320 to 1520; Math and EBRW (Evidence-Based Reading & Writing) scores range from 160 to 760; test scores and cross-test scores range from 8 to 38; subscores range from 1 to 15, and the NMSQT Selection Index ranges from 48 to 228.

Focusing on the total score will give you a rough prediction of what your SAT score would be if you took it the same day as your PSAT. So, if you are a junior, keep in mind the amount of prep you have done and what your target score range is (based on the colleges you are considering), as you determine how much test prep you will need in the future.

If you are a sophomore, keep in mind that you have a year or more of education to improve your score without even considering the effects of test prep.

The subscores and cross-test scores can give you insight on how to study for your next test, showing areas of strength and areas where to focus. The percentiles tell you how competitive you are compared to other test takers or potential test-takers, but don’t let a high percentile fool you into thinking you don’t need to prep/study for the SAT or ACT.

How do I compare ACT scores against the SAT?

One of the best things to do with PSAT results is to use them to figure out if you should focus on the SAT or ACT for future testing and prep. Colleges accept both exams equally, but (as of fall 2018) Duke University will accept ACT scores in lieu of its “strong recommendation for subject tests” if you take the SAT. If you have taken both the ACT and the PSAT, check out this link to compare scores and determine which test to focus on (SAT or ACT). If you do not have any exposure to the ACT, read here for some key differences to determine if it is a test worth exploring for you.

What Is a Good PSAT Score?

The PSAT is extremely similar to the SAT, and your performance can help predict how you’ll do on the SAT. Almost everyone improves when they take these tests more than once, so the PSAT is a useful trial run. You’ll likely score higher on the SAT than you would if you’d never taken the PSAT.

You can use your PSAT score report to see your current scoring level and find out where you can improve to hit your target SAT scores. To figure out your target SAT scores, you should do some college research. Find schools that you’re interested in, and look for the average SAT scores of accepted students. This piece of data will help you set your own SAT goals.

Once you know what scores you need to get into your colleges of interest, you can use your PSAT score report to design a study plan. Pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses and write down a personalized SAT study plan that targets your weak areas. Step one in your test plan should be to link your PSAT account to Khan Academy (do this while you are logged into your College Board account).  Step two in your test plan should be to work with an advisor on mapping out the resources you will use, as well as a timeline for practice tests and official tests.

You should plan to set aside a certain amount of time for studying depending on how many points you’re seeking to improve. Here’s an estimate of how many hours you need to study to achieve various score improvements.

  • 0-50 SAT or 0-1 ACT composite point improvement: 10 hours
  • 50-100 SAT or 1-2 ACT composite point improvement: 20 hours
  • 100-200 SAT or 2-4 ACT composite point improvement: 40 hours
  • 200-300 SAT or 4-6 ACT composite point improvement: 80 hours
  • 300-500 SAT or 6-9 ACT composite point improvement: 150 hours+

Your PSAT score report offers a good starting point for your SAT prep. Whether or not you think you got a good score on the PSAT, you can still achieve a good score on the SAT with enough commitment. I encourage you, regardless of whether you are using free resources in books or online or using private/group tutors, to view Test Prep like you are training for a marathon and not a sprint.  To be successful in taking standardized tests for college admission requires content knowledge as well as pacing and endurance. The only way to achieve all of those skills is by studying and taking practice exams.

If you are not interested in the National Merit contest, skip the next section. For those interested in what to do with the NMSQT score, read the section below.

Will my score be high enough for National Merit?

The big news for juniors aspiring to be National Merit scholars is that starting with the PSAT in October 2018, you are the first class that will be able to use ACT scores as “confirming scores” in the Finalist round of the competition. This a welcome change, as many high-scoring ACT students have had to take the SAT simply to satisfy National Merit rules. Semi-finalist status (and the opportunity to compete as a finalist) for the Class of 2020 will be announced in late August 2019, and are based on the PSAT juniors took in October 2018.

For detailed information about the National Merit contest process, continue reading and go here.

In September of students’ senior year, 2/3 of the top 3% of all test takers are notified of their status as Commended Students. The Commended Student cutoff for 2019 graduates was 212 (the cutoff varies each year). These students should be proud of their incredible achievement and can add this designation to their college applications and resumes, but they do not continue on in the competition. The remaining 1/3 are considered semi-finalists and can continue on in the competition by completing an application, essay and submitting verifying ACT or SAT scores. Oregon’s semi-finalist cutoff was 221 for the class of 2019 (there were 180 semi-finalists), so scoring around 1400 might be needed to be a commended scholar or 1460 to be a semi-finalist. We will not know until next fall what the exact numbers are for 2020 graduates, but they are predicted to be about the same as for the class of 2019.

For everyone: Remember, the PSAT will not be used for admission to colleges.  It is just good practice/preview for the SAT and is used as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship program.


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