PSAT scores have just come out and you might be looking at your score wondering what exactly it means. Is it a good score? Worthy of getting you into your dream school or getting you a scholarship? How is it different from the SAT? Does it mean you have to take the SAT instead of the ACT to get into college? Read for the answer to these questions and more.
What is the PSAT?
The PSAT is a standardized test taken by high school juniors and sophomores. It measures college readiness and what you learned in high school.
“PSAT” stands for Preliminary SAT. Did you know there were two versions of the tests? There’s the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10 (and even the PSAT 9 for freshmen at some schools!).
The PSAT/NMSQT is given in the fall at school to 11th and 10th graders. “NMSQT” stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. According to CollegeBoard, “Scores from this test are used by scholarship programs, including the National Merit® Scholarship Program, to look for eligible students.”
The PSAT 10 is given in the spring at school to 10th graders. Scholarship programs use the scores to look for eligible students, but the National Merit Scholarship Program isn’t included.
Essentially, the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 are the same test, just offered at different times. For clarity, I’ll refer to both as “the PSAT” in the rest of the post.
The PSAT has a cumulative score range of 320-1520. It is made up of two section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), and Math. Those sections each have a range of 160-760. They are added together to get your cumulative score.
The PSAT has 3 test scores, Reading, Writing and Language, and Math, each given a subscore from 8-38. There are also two cross-test scores, Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science (from 8-38) and 7 subscores under Reading and Writing and Language and Math (from 1-15.)
What’s a “good” PSAT score?
When you log in to your CollegeBoard account to view your scores, you’ll see college readiness benchmarks for each section. The benchmarks for 2020-2021 are 430 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 480 for Math for sophomores and 460 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 510 for Math for juniors.
If you score at or above the benchmark, that means you’re on track to be ready for college when you graduate high school, according to CollegeBoard. However, scoring below this benchmark likely means you have more preparation to do to be college-ready.
You’ll also see a percentile rank, a number from 1-99 that shows how well you scored as compared to other students. For example, scoring in the 63rd percentile means you scored better or the same as 63-percent of the students in your grade. The higher your percentile rank, the better your score.
But let’s talk numbers! View the chart below for a better idea of where your score falls.
|Percentile||EBRW Score||Math Score||Cumulative Score|
|Very Good: 75-89%||550-600||530-580||1080-1190|
|Good/Above Average: 56-74%||490-540||470-520||960-1070|
|Low/Below Average: 1-44%||160-440||160-440||320-890|
Note: If you’re planning to apply to the most selective schools in the country, you want your score to be in the 95th percentile or higher. Keep in mind that other parts of your college application, like your academic profile (GPA and course rigor), should be strong in tandem with your scores.
How can you improve your score?
The PSAT is a great indicator of how you’ll do on the actual SAT. If you were to take the SAT, your score would be very close to your PSAT score. But you still have the option of taking the ACT instead. You can also use your PSAT score to see whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit.
If you’re concerned about whether your score is good enough to get into the schools you’re applying to, check out the 50th percentile SAT scores for accepted students. Your score should fall at or above this range to be a competitive applicant.
If your score is significantly below the average SAT scores, or you want to improve your score to increase your chances of getting into college or earning a scholarship, you have plenty of time to study! You can self-study using online resources or a test prep book, or you can do tutoring with a test prep expert. We find one-on-one tutoring with an expert tutor alongside online skill-building software to be the most effective.