If you’re a parent of a high school senior, your child is most likely preparing for the ACT or SAT, standardized tests that are required for college admissions. If you have a freshman, sophomore, or junior in your family, there’s another standardized test on the horizon: the PSAT (Preliminary SAT). The PSAT is used to assess students’ readiness for the SAT and college. You might be wondering if the PSAT is important in college admissions. Is it really just SAT practice? When and where does the PSAT usually take place? What constitutes a good PSAT score?
We’ll go over what the PSAT is, how to think of it as part of college admissions, what a good PSAT score is, and other important questions about this standardized test in this post.
What Is the Range of PSAT Scores?
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math are the two main sections of the PSAT. Each section is graded on a scale of 160 to 760, and your overall score is the sum of both. The PSAT score range for you is 320-1520. These numbers are used to estimate your SAT score. For example, if you scored 1100 on the PSAT, you’ll almost certainly score 1100 on the SAT. The SAT, on the other hand, has a slightly different score range of 400-1600 because it is more difficult. To put it another way, a perfect 1520 on the PSAT does not guarantee a perfect 1600 on the SAT.
A “test score” on a scale of 8-38 will be included in your score report, which breaks down each of the section scores into the skills you were tested on. The purpose of these scores is to help test takers understand their proficiency in each section of the test. They’re also used to generate a Selection Index score, which is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) to select semifinalists.
Finally, your PSAT score report will include cross-test scores and subscores that will allow you to better understand your performance in more specific skills and topics, such as scientific analysis.
What Is a Good Percentile-Based PSAT Score?
The percentile you receive on your PSAT score report compares you to everyone else who took the PSAT that year. The percentile indicates the proportion of students who scored the same as or lower than you. If you scored in the 80th percentile, for example, you scored on par with or better than 80 percent of all test takers. The greater the percentile, the more students you outperformed. If you scored above the 50th percentile, you outperformed the majority of test-takers.
A “good” score, in this case, would be in the 75th percentile or higher. The percentiles for PSAT scores vary slightly from year to year, depending on the testing class. The 75th percentile translates to a 590 EBRW, 570 Math, and 1150 total score for test-takers in 2020-21.
What Are Academic Benchmarks for a Good PSAT Score?
Benchmarks are included in your PSAT score report by the College Board to help you understand how your scores compare to those of other test-takers. The benchmarks also assist students in determining their college readiness and predicted SAT scores. “The SAT benchmark scores represent a 75 percent likelihood of a student earning at least a C in a first-semester, credit-bearing college course in a related subject,” according to the College Board.
To illustrate your performance, benchmarks are color-coded green, yellow, and red. Green represents scores that meet or exceed the benchmark, yellow represents scores that were close to meeting the benchmark and are likely to improve within a year, and red represents scores that will require significant growth to meet the benchmarks. To achieve the green benchmarks, you must score at least 510 in Maths and 460 in EBRW.
What makes the PSAT10 different from the PSAT/NMSQT?
Let’s look at some basic test facts to start answering some of these questions. First, some terminology: The PSAT has been referred to under two different names: the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT. These tests are the same length and cover the same subject matter. The PSAT 10 is more geared toward a 10th-grade level, but they are generally the same level of difficulty. Both tests have the same score range and come with score reports that suggest which AP classes your student should take based on their score.
One difference is when they’re given: some 10th graders may take the PSAT 10 in the spring, while 10th and 11th graders may take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall. Different schools make different decisions about when and which version of the test students take. In tenth grade, students may take either test for a variety of reasons. For starters, a score report can assist a student in determining which APs they should pursue based on their strengths. Second, schools may decide to give students as much time as possible to assess their strengths and weaknesses in preparation for the SAT or to prepare for a better PSAT/NMSQT score the following year.
In general, if your student wants to attend a highly selective college, she should take the PSAT/NMSQT as a sophomore instead of the PSAT 10. It’s good practice for the SAT because it’s designed for juniors. Furthermore, if she wants to compete for a National Merit Scholarship, she should take the PSAT/NMSQT as a sophomore. If your student has never taken a standardized test before, doesn’t plan on attending a highly selective college, and just wants some SAT practice, the PSAT 10 is a good option.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses scores from the PSAT/NMSQT to select students for its competitive, prestigious scholarship awards for academically talented students across the country in the junior year, which is a key difference between the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT 10 may also assist students in obtaining other types of scholarships from participating colleges and universities, as well as organizations such as the Children of Fallen Patriots, the American Indian Graduate Center, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, and the Gates Scholarship.
A complete list of foundations that offer merit and need-based scholarships can be found here. Scholarships are available from these organizations, as well as colleges and universities, based on PSAT/NMSQT scores. Our opinion is that these additional scholarships aren’t enough to persuade students to take the PSAT 10, which is a secondary or slightly easier version of the PSAT/NMSQT.
How Does The PSAT Work?
- The PSAT score is made up of two sections: reading and writing and mathematics and each of the three tests will give you a score ranging from 8 to 38.
- You’ll also get a score for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, as well as Math, that ranges from 160 to 760.
- Your overall PSAT score, which is calculated by adding your two area scores together, will range from 320 to 1520.
- You’ll also get subscores from 1 to 15 in the following categories: Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math are the topics covered in this course.
- The benchmark is a score in the 75th percentile, which is usually 1150 overall.
- Semifinalists for National Merit Scholarships are chosen from the top 1% of junior test takers.
Why Should You Take The PSAT?
The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is known as the PSAT/NMSQT. It serves three primary purposes:
1. The PSAT Is SAT Preparation
The PSAT is a great way to prepare for the SAT. It contains the same types of math, reading, and writing questions as the SAT, but it is shorter. However, it does not include an essay component. Just like the SAT, the PSAT compares your score to that of your classmates and peers across the country.
2. The PSAT Evaluates Your Eligibility For Scholarships.
Taking the PSAT gives you the opportunity to apply for several scholarship programs, the most prestigious of which is the National Merit Scholarship Program. Apart from the possibility of receiving college tuition, the National Merit Scholarship program provides you with the recognition that will look good on your college applications.
3. The PSAT Assists You In Standing Out In Colleges
Many schools buy lists of students with high test scores and encourage them to apply. A high PSAT score may get you noticed by colleges and earn you small perks like meals during visits and application fee waivers.
Should my freshman child take the PSAT?
Freshmen can also take the PSAT, either in the fall with the PSAT/NMSQT or in the spring with the PSAT 10. Some schools may encourage or require students to take the test as a warm-up for the high-stakes, timed tests they’ll face on the SAT. However, it is considered mere practice at that early stage in high school. The CollegeBoard does offer a PSAT 8/9, which is a slightly shorter and content-light version of the PSAT. Only take the test if your child is dead set on a National Merit Scholarship and wants to get a head start on the PSAT.
In general, your child’s freshman year should be spent concentrating on coursework and adjusting to high school rather than preparing for a test that is not appropriate for their grade level.
What role does the PSAT play in college admissions?
PSAT scores are not considered by colleges when making admissions decisions. However, the PSAT has two purposes in terms of college admission. For starters, it gives your child a preview of how she will perform on the SAT. Second, a good grade may qualify her for a scholarship. It’s a nice bonus for your student, and it can serve as a gauge for how much she should study for the SAT. However, it should not be a source of additional stress—rather, it should serve as a reminder to study more for the SAT.
What is PSAT scoring and how does it work?
To comprehend what a good PSAT score is, you must first comprehend how the test is structured and scored. The PSAT is divided into three sections: reading, writing, language, and math. The Reading Test, Writing and Language Test, and Math Test are all considered one section, with the Math Test being the second. The sum of your child’s scores in these two sections is the total score. The total score for your child can range from 320 to 1520. Each of the two sections’ scores can range from 160 to 760, and each of the three individual tests’ scores can range from 8 to 38.
The PSAT score report will show you where your child’s total score, section scores, and test scores fall on the percentile scale. A sample score report from the CollegeBoard can be found here. You’ll see benchmark scores on the score report that, according to the CollegeBoard, “represent college readiness.” The benchmarks basically show if your child is performing at grade level. If your child meets or exceeds the benchmark, he or she is likely to receive a C or higher in a freshman-level college course. This readiness benchmark will most likely be far below your student’s desired score if they are academically successful.
In 2020, the ERW Reading benchmark for 10th graders taking the PSAT 10 was 430, and the ERW Math benchmark was 480. These are 39th and 62nd percentile scores, respectively.) The maximum total score on the PSAT is 1520 (recall that the maximum score on the SAT is 1600), but you can use your child’s PSAT score as a near-perfect predictor of how she would have done on the SAT that day. “A PSAT/NMSQT score of 1200 is a strong indication that you’re likely to score around 1200 on the SAT,” according to the CollegeBoard’s blog. So, given this knowledge, what constitutes a good PSAT score on test day?
The importance of PSAT percentiles in achieving a “good” PSAT score
The score matters only as much as it indicates your child’s percentile—in other words, scoring is relative to the larger population of high school students in the country, as it is with many standardized tests. A good score means you outperformed many or most of the high school students who took the test that day. If your child received a 50th percentile score, it means they outperformed 50% of students who took the test in the previous three years. The higher the percentile, the better your student did in comparison to their classmates.
A 50th percentile score is considered “average,” a 75th percentile score is “solid,” a 90th percentile score is “excellent,” and a 99th percentile score is “outstanding.” We’ve listed total score ranges/cutoffs for the top percentiles using CollegeBoard statistics from 2021. For students in 10th grade who are taking the PSAT 10 or the PSAT/NMSQT:
- 99th percentile and above (“outstanding”): 1360–1520
- 90th percentile (“great”): 1180
- 75th percentile (“solid”): 1060
- 50th percentile (“average”): 920
For students in 11th grade:
- 99th percentile and above (“outstanding”): 1460–1520
- 90th percentile (“great”): 1280
- 75th percentile (“solid”): 1150
- 50th percentile (“average”): 1010
What are the National Merit Scholarship requirements?
Another criterion for determining a “good” PSAT score is whether or not your child qualifies for a National Merit Scholarship. The National Merit Corporation awards scholarships in a variety of ways. National Merit awards are divided into five categories: Recognition, Commended Students, Semifinalists, Finalists, and Winners. According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, approximately 50,000 students out of 1.5 million who apply are chosen. A Commended Student letter is sent to approximately 34,000 of those students. Students who scored in the top 3–4% of their state’s test takers were commended.
Although Commended Students do not advance in the competition, they may still be eligible for some scholarships. Meanwhile, approximately 16,000 of the 50,000 recognized students are still competing to become Semifinalists—those who score in the top 1% of test-takers statewide. To be considered for the finalist round, semifinalists must submit an application demonstrating their high academic standing. This includes their grades, a record of completed courses, a list of future coursework, and a principal’s endorsement. Around 15,000 Semifinalists advance to Finalists, and around 7,600 Finalists are chosen as Winners based on a number of additional criteria, such as an essay and teacher recommendations.
However, National Merit Scholarships are awarded based on a figure known as the Selection Index. The Selection Index is calculated by adding the individual PSAT test scores and then doubling the total, yielding a range of 48–228 possible scores. For instance, if your child received 33, 29, and 31 in Reading, Writing & Language, and Math, their Selection Index would be 186. What is the definition of a qualifying Selection Index? It varies by state, but the average Selection Index for 2021 is around 215 points.
What’s the Difference between PSAT and the SAT?
As I previously stated, the most significant distinction between the SAT and the PSAT is that colleges consider SAT scores rather than PSAT scores. However, there are some significant differences between the two tests. To begin, juniors usually take the PSAT at their school. Unlike the SAT, the PSAT does not require you to register on your own. Second, the SAT is graded on a 1600-point scale, whereas the PSAT is graded on a 1520-point scale. Additional questions worth 80 points on the SAT are at a higher level of difficulty. As a result, your PSAT score is a fairly accurate representation of your SAT score.
|A product of the College Board
|Tests math, reading and writing concepts typically learned throughout freshman and sophomore years of high school
|The qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship
|Part of the National Merit Scholarship criteria
|Scores are not sent to colleges, nor are they part of college admissions decisions
|Scores are sent to colleges, and are part of college admissions decisions
|Students are registered through their high schools
|Students must register on their own
|Administered in October of junior year
|Administered seven times throughout the year
|Scored on a scale of 1520 points
|Scored on a scale of 1600 points
Is Your PSAT Score Important to Colleges?
The majority of colleges are unaware of your PSAT scores. PSAT scores are not sent to colleges and are not considered in admissions decisions. The PSAT is primarily used to assess students’ readiness for the SAT and college-level courses. If your PSAT scores qualify you as a National Merit semifinalist (top 1% of test-takers) or a commended student (top 3–4%), you should include that information in your college application because it can help you stand out. Otherwise, colleges will be more concerned with your SAT or ACT scores.
What constitutes a “good” PSAT score is determined by the priorities of your family. If your child wants to get a scholarship in some form, they should aim for a score in the 96th percentile as a junior. If your child wants to stand out even more nationally, they can aim for the 90th percentile or higher. Finally, the PSAT should not be a stressful experience. This test is designed to determine where your child stands in terms of college readiness and SAT readiness. Yes, there’s the possibility of receiving a scholarship, but there are numerous other ways to qualify for merit and need-based college scholarships (you can find a list here). Treat the exam the way it was designed to be treated: as practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Scores in the top 90 percentile are considered exceptional. Scores in the 75th percentile or higher are between 1070 and 1200. For students taking the PSAT10, the 75th percentile in each component may range from 530-540, for a total score of 1070.
However, those averages may vary depending on the college to which you wish to apply. For example, Harvard admitted students’ average PSAT score was between 1420 and 1520. (or 210-238 on the old scale). To be sure, that’s a lofty goal to set.
A good PSAT score for a junior is one that is higher than 1150, an OK score is one that is higher than 1000 or 1010, and an excellent score is one that is higher than 1280, according to this chart.
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