Understanding your PSAT score

It’s that time of year again. In early December, high school students across the country will receive their PSAT score reports. (January test-takers will receive their scores in mid-March.)

But what now? Below are the answers to all your questions.

How do I read the report?

The score report contains lots of letters and numbers. Here’s how to make sense of what you see.

PSAT Score Report Page 1

Total Score: Scores range from 320 to 1520 on the PSAT.

Section Scores: These are your scores for each section of the PSAT. 

  • You'll receive section scores out of 38 for each of the two verbal sections. 
  • Your Reading and Writing section scores are then combined to give you a scaled Evidence-Based Reading & Writing score out of 760.
  • The Evidence-Based Reading & Writing score is added to your scaled Math score (also out of 760) for a total score out of 1520.
  • Example: 430+530 = 960.

Percentiles: Each percentile rank represents the percentage of students whose scores are equal to or lower than yours. A total score of 960, for example, puts you in the 51st percentile, meaning 51% of students in your grade in the US earn scores at or below yours.

PSAT Score Report Page 2

NMSC Selection Index: This is double the sum of all three section scores and can range from 48-228.

PSAT Score Report Page 3

Question-Level Feedback: This part lists all of the questions from the test and how you performed on each one.

  • The Questions Overview summarizes how many questions you answered correctly, answered incorrectly, and omitted from each section. 
  • Pay attention to the third column in each set titled Your Answer. This column tells you how you did on the question.
    • If you see a check mark, you got the question right.
    • If you see a letter, you missed the question and that letter was the wrong answer you chose.
    • If you see an “ø”, you left the question blank.
  • Also look at the last column titled Difficulty, which tells you if the question was easy (one blue square), medium (two blue squares), or hard (three blue squares).
  • Note: Saturday test-takers and January test-takers will not see the Correct Answer column and will not have access to test questions and answer explanations.
  • Click here to view a sample score report.

What do my scores mean?

PSAT scores are meant to predict where you might score on the SAT if you were to sit for one the same day. The SAT is a bit longer and more difficult than the PSAT, which is why the highest possible PSAT score is 1520 and the highest possible SAT score is 1600: the PSAT cannot accurately predict how top scorers will perform on the most advanced questions on a longer exam.

Is my PSAT score good?

When it comes to college admissions, “good” means different things for different students. It mostly depends on the type of college you want to attend. Talk to your college counselor, and take a look at the admissions websites of colleges you plan to apply to. They often report the average SAT score of students they admit.

Another way to judge your score is to look at the percentile for each of your section scores. The higher the percentile, the better you did in comparison to other students.

Is my PSAT score important?

Yes and no. Yes, it’s important because it gives you a good idea of where you are starting from. But it has little to no effect on your college application. Except in very rare cases, colleges will not ask for your PSAT score, and you won’t report it on your college applications.

But what about scholarships? Does it matter for those?

There are a few private scholarship programs that do consider your PSAT score. The biggest is the National Merit Scholarship. The National Merit Scholarship is a $2,500 college scholarship given to the top 7,600 juniors in the United States. It may not be a lot of money given the high cost of college, but it is a very prestigious award. If you are a National Merit semifinalist, finalist, or winner, you can list it on your college application to make yourself more attractive to colleges.

Taking the PSAT is the first step in the National Merit Scholarship competition. In fact, just by taking the exam you entered the competition (whether or not you realized it). Only the highest scorers in your state will move on and qualify as semifinalists in the competition. This usually requires a Selection Index in the 96th percentile or higher. That means that only the top 4% of scorers need to worry about the National Merit competition. If you are selected as a semifinalist, your college guidance counselor will notify you in April.

Keep in mind, National Merit only applies for US citizens in their junior year. If you took the exam as a sophomore or freshman, or if you are not a US citizen, you won’t be considered for National Merit.

What do I do next?

This is the most important question you should be asking. The PSAT’s only real value is helping you decide how to prepare for college admissions.

1) Log into your College Board account. This account will give you access to explanations for each question, in addition to cross-test scores and subscores that provide feedback in more specific skill areas, such as algebra and advanced math.

2) Go over your omits and misses. The PSAT is the one and only time that the College Board automatically hands you a detailed report on exactly which questions you missed in a real test. Use this opportunity! Sit down with the score report and answer explanations and retry all of the questions you omitted and missed. Figure out what went wrong. Did you miss the question because you haven’t covered the material in Math class yet? Did you miss it because of difficult vocabulary?

Create a list of every question on a sheet of paper and write down why you got each one wrong. Common reasons include:

  • Unfamiliar vocabulary
  • Careless error: misread the question, miscalculated the math
  • Answered the wrong question
  • Haven’t learned content yet
  • Didn’t know how to get started on the problem
  • Ran out of time

3) Look for patterns. Are you making the same mistakes over and over? Are you omitting or missing questions only in certain places on the exam? When you look at the Difficulty Level of the questions you missed, are you missing mostly easy, medium, or hard questions? Are there certain skills that are lower than others? These are the things you need to focus on when it’s time to prepare for the SAT or ACT.

4) Plan your prep. Now that you know where you are starting, take a look at some of the colleges you are interested in and figure out how close you are to their average SAT scores. Knowing where you stand can tell you how much time you might need to set aside for test prep. Begin to plan your timeline now.

To help you better understand your PSAT score and further prepare for college admissions, ArborBridge offers free practice SATs with customized score reports. Taking a practice SAT is an ideal way to gauge your performance before the official exam, and it's also an effective method of analyzing where you stand on the PSAT. Click here to learn more.

The PSAT is only the first step in the long college admissions road. But it’s an important one that lays the groundwork for much of lies ahead. Being proactive now is the key to success!

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

Megan Stubbendeck

About Megan Stubbendeck

Dr. Megan Stubbendeck is an eight-year veteran of the test prep industry with ten years of teaching experience. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Virginia where she taught for three years in the History Department. She brings many years of experience as both an Elite Instructor and the Coordinator of Instructor Development at Revolution Prep. As the Senior Director of Instruction at ArborBridge, Megan oversees the curriculum team and their developments.

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