Understanding Your PSAT Score

It’s that time of year again. PSAT scores are out. From December through early January, high school students across the country will receive their PSAT score reports from their college guidance offices.

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

How do I read the report?

The score report is a huge sheet with lots of letters and numbers. Here’s how to make sense of what you see. (Note: each item below corresponds with a yellow highlighted item in this sample PSAT score report.)

Section Scores: These are your scores for each section of the PSAT (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing). Scores range from 20 to 80 on the PSAT.

Score Range: This is a prediction of where you might score in a section on any given day. This is the range within which you would likely score if you were to take the PSAT again today or tomorrow.

Selection Index: This is your total PSAT score—the sum of all three section scores.

Your Skills: This part of your report lists the major skill areas on the PSAT. It shows you how well you did in each skill area. The larger the bar, the better you did.

Your Answers: This part lists all of the questions from the test and how you performed on each one.

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 “o”, you left the question blank.

Also look at the last column titled Difficulty, which tells you if the question was easy (e), medium (m), or hard (h).

Click here to view the sample score report.

What do my scores mean?

The scores predict where you might score on the SAT when you take it as a junior. The SAT uses a different scoring scale from 200 to 800 per section. To roughly convert your PSAT score to an SAT score, add a zero to the end of each score. For example, if you got a 52 on PSAT Math, you are on track to get a 520 on SAT Math.

For the full conversion chart, see page 21 of this resource: https://www.collegeboard.org/pdf/psat/psat-nmsqt-official-educator-guide.pdf.

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. 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 and your Selection Index. The Percentile tells you how you compare to other students your age who took the PSAT. 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 no effect on your college application. No college will 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 $1,000 college scholarship given to the top 8,300 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 semi-finalist 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 American 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. Enroll in College Quick Start

On the bottom of your score report find your Online Access Code. Go to http://www.collegeboard.org/quickstart and enter this code. The College Board will create an account for you where you can access digital copies of your PSAT score report and PSAT test booklet. (This is really helpful if you lose the paper copies your school gave you!) This account will also give you access to explanations for each question.

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 the test booklet 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 in the Your Skills section of the score report 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 is offering 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 get your free practice SAT.

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!

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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