What do PSAT scores mean?

This fall, more than 3.5 million high school juniors and sophomores took the PSAT, a preliminary version of the SAT delivered by College Board. Score reports are now available on Naviance!

Inevitably, parents and students face a ton of questions when they receive their score reports. Here, we try to guide you through understanding your PSAT results by tackling the most common questions and misconceptions surrounding the test:

What do my PSAT scores mean?

The PSAT is designed as a “practice” for the SAT. However, PSAT scores differ from SAT scores in a few key ways:

PSAT questions are less difficult. Questions on the SAT and PSAT do follow the same format, but PSAT questions are notably easier. Generally, students get more questions correct on the PSAT than they would on an SAT.

This skews the scores. Remember that the PSAT, like the SAT, is graded on a curve – how other students do influences your score. Since all students get more questions right, students end up getting more questions right. College Board must “smooth out” their curve, however, so often one or two missed questions will decrease a score more drastically on the PSAT than they would on the SAT.

So PSAT scores are simultaneously inflated and deflated. Your score is inflated because the questions are easier than actual SAT questions. At the same time, your score is deflated to maintain the typical SAT score curve, with so many students getting more questions right. Unfortunately, this in- and de-flation is not necessarily one-to-one. Scores tend to be scattered and not precisely accurate in predicting SAT scores.

So what CAN I learn from my PSAT score?

The most important piece of your PSAT score report is the percentile rank. This shows your performance on the test relative to other students in your grade level. (Yes, that means that sophomores’ percentile ranks indicate performance relative to only other sophomores, and juniors’ to juniors.) You can figure out the SAT scores that match those percentiles to get an idea of where you stand.

How can I perform better on the actual SAT than I did on the PSAT?

Ultimately, the only way to ensure that you score higher on the SAT is to prepare, study, and practice for the real SAT. If you think tutoring is your best chance to do that, contact us today!

What about the National Merit Scholarship?

Only juniors can qualify for National Merit honors, so sophomores can skip ahead! There are three levels at which students can be commended for their PSAT performance:

Commended students: score at or above the 96th percentile overall.

National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist: score in the 99th percentile in your state. This title is only given when a student fills out an application for the scholarship, which takes into account other factors such as GPA and extracurricular activities.

National Merit Scholar: Semifinalists who pass through the selection phase become National Merit Scholars and receive scholarship money for college.

Students who achieve any of these levels should make sure to indicate it on their resume or in the “Awards” section of college applications.

Now that I’ve finished my PSAT, what’s next?

The only way the PSAT influences college applications is if a student earns some sort of National Merit honors. Otherwise, the PSAT plays no active role in college admissions.

The tests that really matter are the SAT and ACT. All colleges accept either tests, so students only need one of the two. Typically these are taken for the first time at some point junior year, though sometimes advanced sophomores may take a shot at them in the spring.

Your PSAT can help you to determine which of these tests to take. By comparing your scores on a PSAT and on an ACT diagnostic test, Ivy Experience can help you to determine which test is a better fit for you. We grade and evaluate diagnostic tests for any student, completely FREE of charge. If you would like to take an ACT diagnostic test, just ask us for one!

Remember, whether you choose to prepare with a tutor, on your own, or in a class, you should prepare yourself for the SAT and ACT as best you can!


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