How to Understand and Use Your PSAT Results

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The PSATs are often a student’s first exposure to the SAT suite of standardized tests, but many students wonder afterwards how they can use their PSAT results to move forward. If you scored well on your PSAT, you may be wondering if this is bound to translate to an ace performance on the SAT, too. If you underperformed on your PSAT, you might be looking for areas to improve so that the same is not true on your SAT. Either way, the PSAT can be a useful tool for SAT prep and college planning.

 

If you have or are expecting your PSAT results, don’t miss this post to learn more about how what these results mean and how you can use them to your advantage.

 

Do PSAT Scores Predict SAT Scores?

 

PSAT scores are not a precise indicator of SAT performance, but they can give you a fairly good understanding of where you stand at the beginning of your SAT prep.

 

Using a PSAT score to predict your SAT score is a little tricky, though. For starters, the tests are scored on a different scale. While the PSAT is scored on a scale from 320-1520, the SAT is scored on a scale is from 400-1600.

 

In order to compare scores on the two tests, it can be helpful to compare the national percentile of students achieving similar scores. For example, over the past three years, 11th grade students who scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT achieved a score of 1460 or above. Students in the past three years who scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT achieved a score of 1500. Similarly, students who scored in the 50th percentile on the PSAT achieved a score of 1010, while students in the same percentile on the SAT achieved a score of 1060.

 

By looking at this data, we can see that a very rough conversion from a PSAT score to a potential SAT score is about +50 points. Of course, this is only true if you score in the same percentile, and since the amount of prep work done by students between the PSAT and the SAT varies widely, it can be hard to gauge exactly how your PSAT score will translate to an SAT score. We offer this rough conversion only to help frame your thinking around goal setting and college lists.

 

You can find a complete chart of PSAT score percentiles in the CollegeBoard’s PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores pamphlet and a complete chart of SAT score percentiles in the CollegeBoard’s SAT Understanding Scores pamphlet.

 

In any case, the fact remains that unless you become a National Merit Scholarship recipient, your PSAT scores will not bear very much weight on your college admissions process at all. Instead, they are best used as a starting point for SAT prep, as this test will receive much more attention from admissions committees. While a great PSAT score can be a satisfying validation of your abilities, a lower score should only motivate you to study harder and perform better on the actual SAT, not close any doors on your future.

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How to Use PSAT Scores to Prepare for the SAT

 

You can definitely use your PSAT to help prepare for the SAT. The first step towards doing so is knowing how to read your score report. Most prominently on your score report will be your composite score. This is your total score based on your performance on all sections of the test, and while it’s a helpful indicator of your overall performance, it alone doesn’t do much to help you prepare for the SAT.

 

Instead, you will want to look at the question difficulty and distribution of each question that you got wrong. This can be found in the Question-Level Feedback page of your score report. See the diagram below from the CollegeBoard for an example.

Screen Shot 2019-01-10 at 11.36.58 AM

If you find that you are getting lots of easy questions wrong, you might be misunderstanding the questions or rushing through them. If you find that many of your mistakes are clustered towards the end of the test, you may have a problem with time management. These are all mistakes that can be addressed in your SAT prep.

 

You can also click on the links to Question Level Details, See Subscores, and Strengths and Weaknesses, all located at the bottom of your Question Level Feedback page. These links will bring you to more important details from your performance that can help you to optimize your SAT prep by focusing on areas in need of improvement.  

 

What Else Can You Use Your PSAT Scores For?

 

PSAT scores can also be a helpful tool for defining your college list. By using them as a rough predictor of how you’ll perform on the SAT, you can help to gauge how likely you are to be admitted to certain schools. This insight can help you to set goals for SAT performance that are both challenging and achievable, while taking your college admissions aspirations into account.

 

For specific help preparing for the PSAT or SAT and making sure that you perform to the peak of your abilities on test day, check out CollegeVine’s SAT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors in the industry guide students to an average score increase of 250 points.

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.