What is a Good PSAT Score?
If you’ve taken the PSAT, you’re probably wondering if you got a good score. Most high schools give the test to their juniors, if not their sophomores and freshmen as well. While the PSAT doesn’t carry the same level of stress as the SAT, you still want to do your best to increase your chances of earning merit-based scholarships.
The PSAT is administered by College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT and AP exams. The format and content all align with the SAT, so it can give you an idea of what taking the official SAT will be like. Scoring is slightly different, with each section score ranging from 160-760 instead of 200-800 on the SAT. This is only a marginal difference, however, and how you score on the PSAT can still give you a good idea of how you might perform on the SAT. But beyond just being a form of practice test, the PSAT can help you qualify for scholarships, like the National Merit Scholarship.
You should start preparing for the PSAT as early as possible, ideally as early as tenth grade. Here’s what you need to know to do well on the PSAT.
How is the PSAT Scored?
The PSAT is scored and structured very similarly to the SAT. It’s broken down into two sections: the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (or EBRW) and Math. Each section is scored from 160 to 760.
The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section has two tests—the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test, which have an individual score between 8 and 38. The Math section has one test—the Math Test—which is scored along the same range, except that it is divided into a no-calculator and a calculator section.
When you get your score report, you’ll see the percentile rank, which shows how you compare to other test takers, as well as whether you met the benchmarks for that test or not. For a more in-depth look at PSAT scores, check out our post, What Does My PSAT Score Mean?
How Do I Take the PSAT?
For the SAT, you’ll probably register to take the test on your own time. But for the PSAT, your high school will likely offer the test in-school. This year the PSAT was offered Wednesday, October 10, 2018.
The PSAT is administered almost exclusively at high schools around the country. If your high school doesn’t offer the PSAT, or if you’re homeschooled, you can sign up to test at another high school. You’ll want to contact the school at least 4 months in advance; you can find PSAT testing locations here.
High schools have to pay to administer the PSAT, but many high schools will cover the cost of the test for you. However, some high schools may only subsidize the cost of the test. If you’re homeschooled, schools may ask you to pay the entire cost of your test. If your family struggles with financial resources, you could qualify for a fee waiver, but only for the PSAT during your junior year.
Why are PSAT Scores Important?
Many students don’t take the PSAT as seriously as they should because it isn’t used in college admissions. However, PSAT scores are used to determine if you’re eligible for scholarships, awards, and many other opportunities that can help you in the college admissions process. You definitely want to do your best!
The PSAT is a good predictor of the SAT score you can expect to get. Because the tests are so similar in structure and content matter, you can gauge how much you need to work on your SAT test score based on your PSAT score. But remember—just because you earned a good score on the PSAT doesn’t guarantee you’ll earn a good score on the SAT. You’ll still want to study and prepare for the SAT itself.
Perhaps more importantly, the PSAT is the official qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship. Cutoffs for these awards vary by year and depend on the performance of test-takers in your state. Generally, students who score in the top 1% of their state become National Merit Semifinalists. Semifinalists may then compete for scholarships and finalist status (about 50% of semifinalists go on to be finalists). The amount of National Merit awards is usually a one-time $2500, though some schools may match that scholarship and renew it annually. Some schools may even offer automatic full rides if you become a National Merit Semifinalist. Students who reach Commended, Semifinalist, or Finalist status are also often eligible for merit-based scholarships from corporations, so doing well can help you earn more scholarships beyond just National Merit and the university you commit to.
College Board has partnered with several organizations to use the PSAT with other scholarships. Here’s a list of more scholarships your PSAT scores can help you qualify for.
What’s a Good PSAT Score?
There are a few different types of PSAT, and the benchmark scores vary by the grade you take it:
PSAT 8/9 (administered to 8th or 9th graders)
- 8th grade benchmark scores: 390 EBRW and 430 Math
- 9th grade benchmark scores: 410 EBRW and 450 Math
PSAT 10 (administered to 10th graders)
- Benchmark scores: 430 EBRW and 480 Math
PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), administered to 11th graders:
- Benchmark scores: 460 EBRW and 510 Math
That said, if you want to qualify for scholarships, you’ll want to be way above the benchmarks. As we said, you need to be in the top 1% of PSAT test-takers to qualify for the Semifinalist level of the National Merit Scholarship.
Other scholarships may not be as strict, but you’ll still want a score in the top 25% or higher. These are the score percentiles for juniors:
- Top 25%: 540 EBRW and 540-550 Math
- Top 5%: 640 EBRW and 650 Math
- Top 1%: 680 EBRW and 720 Math
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How Do You Get a Good PSAT Score?
Set a goal. You can use the benchmark scores for your grade as a starting point, or you can use the SAT scores from colleges you are interested in to inform your goal. Although the PSAT only goes up to 1520 and not the full 1600, you can see what scores the colleges you’re interested in are looking for and aim for a PSAT score close to that range. That way you’ll have less prep work to do when it comes to taking the official SAT.
Take a practice test. You’ll need to know how much work it’s going to take to get from your current score to your goal score. You can do this by using a score report from an earlier PSAT, such as one from 8th or 9th grade if you took it then, or you can take one of the free PSAT practice tests.
Review your practice test. Reflect on your testing experience—did you get nervous and rush or did you run out of time? Make a note of that, and then look at your score. If there are any areas where you aren’t meeting the benchmark score, you’ll want to improve those for sure. If you took one of the practice tests, you can get really specific about the types of questions you missed. Once you’ve identified the concepts and test-taking skills you need to work on, you’re ready to begin studying.
Brush up on skills. If you missed questions because you didn’t know a particular academic concept, you’ll need to learn that concept and practice it. But those aren’t the only skills you need to work on—if you found yourself rushing or second-guessing yourself, you’ll need to develop effective strategies to overcome that.
Practice consistently. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour a day to work on specific topics that give you trouble, or do a section of the test. Each weekend, you should set aside a larger chunk of time so that you can take a timed practice test.
Get help. The SAT receives way more attention than the PSAT, so finding resources specifically for the PSAT can be a little tricky. Luckily, many schools and public libraries offer test prep resources that are free for you to use, but you may have to ask around to find them. If you’re struggling with a particular academic concept, you can ask a trusted teacher for some additional help.
Wrapping it Up
If you’ve tried the above recommendations and are still not getting the results you want, you may want to consider getting professional assistance. Because the SAT and PSAT are so similar, most SAT tutors can easily help you prepare a test strategy that works for the PSAT.
For more information about the PSAT, check out these posts:
- What PSAT score you need to qualify for National Merit?
- Time Management Tips to Make the Most of Your Test Prep Time
- Should You Take the PSAT in 10th Grade?
- The PSAT: Way More Than a Practice Test
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