What is a Good PSAT Score? (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors)
Many students are anxious to predict their performance on high-stakes standardized tests, like the SAT. The PSAT, which is similar in both format and content, can often project how strong a student’s SAT scores will be. In fact, its name used to stand for the Pre-SAT, though in recent years, it has simply become the PSAT.
In this post, we’ll discuss PSAT scores and what qualifies as a high score for students in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. We’ll also go into which PSAT options exist for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors along with how your scores might stack upon each. Keep reading to learn what constitutes a good score on the PSAT.
Why is the PSAT Important?
There are two main reasons why high schoolers take the PSAT. First, it introduces students to standardized testing. Students who take the PSAT get additional exposure to the content and test-taking strategies of both the PSAT and the SAT.
Taking the PSAT can also set you up to qualify for National Merit Scholarships. The top 1% of 11th-grade test takers qualify for National Merit semifinalist status, and can then go on to compete for scholarships of $2,500. Sitting for the PSAT as a 9th or 10th grader offers essential preparation if you want your 11th-grade scores to stand out.
What is the National Merit Scholarship?
This highly prestigious national honor—the National Merit Scholarship—has been annually awarded since the 1950s, and recognizes the nation’s most distinguished academic performers. All 11th graders who take the PSAT/NMSQT are eligible for National Merit Scholarships.
Of the top 50,000 performers, 34,000 become Commended Scholars, while the remaining 16,000 are distinguished as National Merit Semifinalists. Semifinalists submit additional essays, endorsements, and academic performance metrics to be considered for the honor. 15,000 of those students progress to the Finalist round, and 7,600 ultimately receive the distinction of National Merit Scholar. National Merit Scholars receive a $2,500 scholarship to spend on tuition at an accredited college or university.
Additionally, some corporate sponsors award Special Scholarships to certain members of this pool of 50,000 students based on their own scholarship criteria. All of these distinctions—Commended Student, National Merit Semifinalist, National Merit Finalist, Special Scholar, and National Merit Scholar—are remarkable distinctions. Recipients who can cite one or more of these distinctions on their resume tend to be very competitive in the college admissions process.
Which PSAT Should You Take, Based on Your Grade
It’s common for people to use the word PSAT interchangeably with the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) that is commonly taken in the fall of a student’s junior year. However, the PSAT today is a collection of three tests that account for the level of knowledge a typical student will have acquired through their coursework. Those three tests are the PSAT 8/9, the PSAT 10, and the aforementioned PSAT/NMSQT.
PSAT 8/9: The PSAT 8/9 is offered to 8th and 9th graders, giving them an opportunity early in their academic careers to prepare for the standardized tests they’ll encounter in the future. There is no fixed date for the PSAT 8/9, as the test is available to take from the fall through the spring. The PSAT 8/9 tests three core areas of knowledge (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math), is twenty minutes shorter than the PSAT/NMSQT (2 hours and 25 minutes), and is scored on a scale of 240-1440.
PSAT 10: The PSAT 10 shares its format with the PSAT/NMSQT—both tests are 2 hours and 45 minutes long, contain the same number of questions (47 for Reading, 44 for Writing and Language, and 48 for Math), and is scored on an identical 320-1520 point scale. The primary difference between the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT is that the subject matter tested is adapted for 10th graders and your PSAT 10 score will not qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT 10 is administered to students in the spring of their sophomore year.
PSAT/NMSQT: With the exception of more-advanced subject matter and the chance to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 are nearly identical—sharing the same duration, format, and scoring. When compared to the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT is just 15 questions shorter (with 5 fewer questions in Reading and 10 fewer in Math), 15 minutes shorter than the essay-less SAT, and is scored on a 400-1600 point scale. The other primary difference between the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT is not used in college admissions. However, an outstanding performance that earns consideration for a National Merit Scholarship will pique the interest of many schools.
How is the PSAT Scored?
Because of its comparatively less-challenging content, the PSAT 8/9 is scored on a slightly different scoring scale than the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and SAT—the PSAT 8/9 is scored on a 240-1440 scale. To calculate a test taker’s PSAT 8/9 score, the College Board (the group that administers the test) takes section scores between 6 and 36 and scales them into a 120 and 720 scale—providing one score for Math and the other for Reading as well as Writing and Language (called the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score). The scaled scores are then added together to tally a composite score between 240 and 1440.
The scoring scales on the PSAT and PSAT 10 are the same, and they are similar to the SAT in format, but different in scale. Students receive section scores of 8–38 in Mathematics, Reading, and Writing & Language. The raw score in Mathematics is scaled to a 160-760 point scale. The average of a student’s Reading and Writing & Language scores is also scaled to a score in the same range of 160–760. Those scaled scores are added together to calculate a composite score, anywhere from 320-1520.
To determine National Merit eligibility, a selection committee looks at students’ three section scores on the 8–38 scale. They double each section’s raw score and add them together for a new number, called the Selection Index. The Selection Index ranges from 48-228.
What Is a Good Score for a Freshman on the PSAT 8/9?
Because of the difference in scoring between the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT, it’s difficult to see how you stack up to other freshmen who took the test by simply comparing composite scores. The best way to see where you are in your PSAT preparation compared to the competition is to look at what percentile your score puts you in.
Although the PSAT 8/9 can be predictive of success on future standardized tests, it’s important for students to realize that this is just a consequence-free first step in preparing for future tests with higher stakes. More than a score, students should take away a firsthand experience with such a long test that requires intense focus. The PSAT 8/9 is also an excellent place to uncover areas of weakness where scoring gains can be made on future exams.
What is a Good Score for a 10th Grader on the PSAT 10, or an 11th grader on PSAT?
The College Board has set college readiness benchmarks for each grade. If, as a 10th grader, you score at or above a 430 in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the PSAT 10 and at or above a 480 in Math, you are on track to be college-ready by the time you graduate from high school. For 11th graders, the benchmarks are 460 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and 480 for Math.
Another useful way of comparing PSAT scores is by looking at them in terms of percentiles. Percentile ranks tell a student the percent of other test takers who scored at or below a certain result. For example, a student who achieves a score in the 70th percentile scored as high as, or higher than, 70% of test takers.
The College Board provides these percentiles for 10th graders taking the PSAT and PSAT 10—the percentiles are the same for both the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT.
Looking at these numbers in context, you can consider your PSAT or PSAT 10 score decent if you land in the 50th percentile, meaning you scored as good as, or better than, half of the students who took the test. This correlates with a composite score of about 920. A good score places you around the 75th percentile, which is a composite score around 1050. An excellent score will place you in the 90th percentile, which equates with a composite score of around 1180.
If you want to see whether your PSAT score is on track to make you eligible for National Merit awards, check your Selection Index. Students who surpass the Selection Index cutoff score for their state become eligible for National Merit recognition. Here are the Selection Index Cutoff Scores by state for the past year:
|State||Selection Index Cutoff Scores|
How Do PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9 Scores Correlate with Future SAT Scores?
There is no direct relationship between PSAT scores and SAT scores. Many students who do well on the PSAT go on to achieve strong SAT scores, but this is not always the case. On the other hand, many students who don’t achieve a high score on the PSAT are able to improve significantly before taking the SAT.
The bottom line is that scores from the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10 should be used as data points to inform future studying. Use the tips below to inform your SAT prep as you move on from the PSAT.
What is the Best Way To Prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT?
Do well in school. At the end of the day, the PSAT assesses your proficiency in mathematics, critical reading, and writing—three skills that are central to any high school curriculum. Therefore, the best way for you to prepare for the PSAT—or the SAT for that matter—is to take your high school coursework seriously.
Take the PSAT 8/9. The PSAT 8/9 provides students with an excellent opportunity to familiarize themselves with the rigors of future standardized tests—which in itself is great practice for the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT. It also provides insight into areas that need improvement, showing students where to focus when preparing for future exams.
Take the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT practice tests. If you are currently a 10th grader and haven’t yet taken the PSAT 10, we recommend taking the exam to familiarize yourself with the format and content of the PSAT. Next year’s PSAT/NMSQT will be more difficult than the PSAT 10 that you take this year, but the two are similar and have nearly identical formatting.
The score report you’ll receive from official PSAT sittings is extensive. They include subscores for each section that highlight areas of success and those for improvement. You can even use the “Your Scores: Next Steps” section to identify the specific skills that you need to work on.
If you’ve already taken the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10, you should familiarize yourself with the PSAT/NMSQT. The College Board has free practice tests and review questions that you can do at home.
Begin your SAT preparation. If you want to hit two birds with one stone, consider signing up for SAT prep in the summer before your Junior year. If you have already completed your SAT prep by the time the PSAT is administered, then you are much more likely to score within the range for National Merit consideration. Plus, you will already have taken the SAT, giving you lots of time to focus on other aspects of your college application.
The PSAT is only one small part of your overall college application, so don’t feel as though you have to dedicate hours each week to improving your score. Rather, use your PSAT 10 scores to see if you are on track. Ask yourself:
- Based on the college readiness benchmarks, am I on track to be prepared for college when it starts?
- Does my Selection Index suggest that I may be considered for National Merit Scholarships?
- Is there one subject or question type for which I could use additional preparation?
Use your PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 to gauge what preparation you can do now to set yourself up for success in the months ahead. If you’d like more information on how to do well on the PSAT, check out the College Board’s free practice tests as well as our PSAT Info and Tips.
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