Updated: Feb 2, 2021
So you’ve just received your PSAT score report and there is a lot of information! How do you know how well you did? Which scores are most important?
The PSAT is part of the suite of college readiness assessments put forth by the College Board. This group of tests includes the PSAT 8/9 (for students in 8th and 9th grade), the PSAT 10, the PSAT/NMSQT, and the SAT. The PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT are the same level test but the PSAT 10 is for students in 10th grade and the PSAT/NMSQT is for 11th grade students. The only difference between the two is that when a student is in the 11th grade, their scores are automatically entered into the National Merit Scholarship Competition (hence the NMSQT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test).
Juniors typically take the PSAT/NMSQT in October. This year, due to Covid, there is a January 26, 2021 test date available as well. Students receive their scores in December (or March 2021 for the January test). Score reports contain a wealth of information about whether students are meeting grade level benchmarks, how they are performing as compared to other students nationwide, and how likely they are to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Importantly, the PSAT is predictive of how you will do on the SAT -- though with serious study you can improve your score significantly!
The PSAT/NMSQT is a bit shorter in length and a bit less difficult than the SAT. The test has four sections: Writing, Reading, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator permitted). In the Writing and Reading sections, students are tested on comprehension and reasoning, command of evidence, expression of ideas, and standard English conventions such as punctuation and grammar. The Math sections focus primarily on problem solving, modelling, and using algebraic structure. Raw scores (the number of questions answered correctly) are converted to scaled scores between 160-760 for Reading/Writing and Math.
Raw scores are translated into scaled scores in order to adjust for slight differences in difficulty on test forms, so that there is a consistent score for comparison. Students are assigned percentiles which tell them how well they performed compared to other students. A score in the 51st percentile means 51% of all other students scored at or below that score on the test. Students will also receive a Nationally Representative Sample percentile which is often a bit higher than their actual percentile. Because not all students take the PSAT, the Nationally Representative Sample percentile is an estimate of what a student’s percentile would have been if all juniors nationwide had taken the test.
The PSAT report also provides benchmark scoring. These are grade level benchmarks, meaning that if a student’s score falls in the “green” they are performing at expected grade level and that they are expected to be ready for college if they continue to work diligently. Benchmark levels are slightly different for 10th and 11th grade students, of course.
Finally, the report will tell a student where they fall on the National Merit Index. This number is reached by adding the sum of the scaled scores for each section and then doubling that sum (index score = 2(writing + reading + math)). For example: 2(20.5 + 23 + 26) = 139. The score at which a student is selected as a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist is a bit different in each state, typically ranging from 209-223. Eligible students who achieve a score above the set score for their state are named Semi-Finalists. Students who score above a 209 but below their set state score are honored as Commended Students.
Semi-Finalists are invited to complete an application process if they wish to try to advance to Finalist status. In order to become a Finalist, students must:
complete the National Merit Scholarship Application, which includes writing an essay
have a record of very high academic performance in all of grades 9 through 12 and in any college course work taken
be fully endorsed for Finalist standing and recommended for a National Merit Scholarship by your high school principal
take the SAT or ACT and earn scores comparable to your semifinalist PSAT score
provide any other documentation and information that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation requests.
Scholarship winners are usually announced and notified between March and mid-June of their senior year.
Now that you have your PSAT scores, what is the next step? The PSAT is predictive of scores on the ACT and SAT. We typically see that scores on the SAT/ACT will be slightly lower than PSAT scores (50 points lower on average). If your PSAT score is in your goal range for your SAT/ACT score, then you may wish to register for an early spring SAT/ACT to confirm that score. If your PSAT score is lower than hoped, now is the time to begin studying and preparing for the SAT. We also suggest that all students take a mock ACT to compare to their SAT or PSAT score, so that they can choose which test is the best fit for them.