Paper PSAT score reports have been sent to schools. If you’re reading this, you may have received your own. This post will walk you through what all the elements on this score report mean for you as you prepare for college admissions.
The cover is pretty self-explanatory. Hopefully you’ve received your own score report! You can also access your report (and additional information) online by creating a College Board account. If you haven’t already created an online account, the “Access Code” listed on the cover can help College Board find your scores.
There are two groups involved in this test: College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The College Board makes the SAT and PSAT. It’s important to remember that the P in PSAT stands for preliminary; this is a practice test for the SAT. No college will ever see these scores. The NMSC, however, uses this test as a way to identify students for its scholarship program. Though both sophomores and juniors may take the PSAT, only juniors are eligible for National Merit recognition. You don’t need to apply for National Merit—you will be notified if you’re eligible, but that won’t be until September of senior year. See the explanation of the NMSC Selection Index below for more information.
Below this title is information about what the College Board thinks you can do with this info: (a) practice on Khan, (b) identify AP courses that may be a good fit for you based on scores, and (c) take the real SAT. As far as free practice on Khan Academy goes, you can read our take on that prep elsewhere on the blog. In short, practice can help, but Khan will most likely help those students who are already strong test takers and have a great deal of self-discipline. For the rest of us, having a tutor or coach can be a huge help. When it comes to APs, your high school counselors and teachers are often the best resources for helping you select which classes are right for you. And if you’re thinking you enjoyed (or perhaps, didn’t hate) the PSAT, then maybe you do want to register for the SAT, but there are good reasons for taking a practice ACT and then comparing your scores to see which test is actually the better fit.
At the top of page two, you find the most important items: your scores. In the middle is your “Total Score,” which is the sum of your two section scores.
The first two portions of the PSAT—the first asked you to read passages and then answer questions, and the second asked you to edit someone else’s writing—are combined into your “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score.” That’s a bit of a mouthful, but the College Board wants to emphasize that you’re being asked to find evidence for your answers—it’s not a subjective test. The “Math Score” is made up of the two math portions: the first without calculator and the second with calculator.
Note that it says “160 to 760” next to each section score. This is one of Fall 2015’s big changes! Prior to that, the PSAT was on a scale of 20–80, and students were told to “add a 0” to figure out where they were headed on the SAT. Now the PSAT and SAT are on the same scale, but the PSAT score range occupies a lower position on the scale because the PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT. As a result, the top score on a PSAT section is 760 instead of the 800 on the SAT. The highest total score possible for the PSAT is 1520, while the highest total score for the SAT is 1600.
The score you see on your PSAT is the score you’d likely receive if you were to take the SAT right now with no further prep.
Right below your scores is a bunch of information that you can probably ignore. The “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile” might seem like a way for you to compare your performances on the SAT and ACT or your performance against that of past students, but be careful! With the new test, the College Board has changed the way it defines and reports percentiles; a 92nd percentile on the new PSAT does not equal a 92nd percentile on the old PSAT. These new percentiles are a bit inflated because they include students who would normally not take the PSAT. To get a sense of how you’ve done in comparison to other college-bound students, you should visit your online report and look at your “User Percentile—National.” The “User Percentile” is also the type of percentile that the ACT offers; however, because the PSAT and ACT are different assessments taken by different populations, making prep decisions based solely on a comparison of percentiles across the two tests is not advisable.
Following percentiles are your “College and Career Readiness Benchmarks.” If your placement on these bars motivates you to study and do well in school, awesome! If it just looks like a bunch of stressful numbers, ignore! There are big questions about how the College Board arrived at the benchmarks, and these numbers are more for policy makers than for college admissions officers.
The Test Scores split out Reading from Writing and Language to help you see which area needs more improvement, and they help to calculate your National Merit Selection Index (see below). The the sub- and cross-test scores are more for educators and policy makers than they are for students or college admissions. But they look fancy, no?
One thing that is important: THE FINE PRINT! Check out the bottom left of this page. What this is telling you is that while a 620 on PSAT math is a good indication of how you would have done on the SAT, because of natural variations, you should really add a +/- 30 points to that score. And your total score? That’s really a range of +/- 40 points. Why does this matter? It matters because college admission officers know that small score differences should not be used to differentiate applicants.
On to Page 3! Let’s talk National Merit for a moment.
Your Selection Index = 2 x (Reading Test Score + Writing and Language Test Score + Math Test Score)
Note that those are TEST SCORES, not section scores. Each Test Score is out of 38.
The highest SI is 228 because 2 x (38 + 38 + 38) = 228. As you may have noticed, verbal skills are weighted more heavily than math skills by the NMSC.
Your report next wants to tell you about what skills you need to improve, but in truth, this guidance is so general that it may not be much help. While the College Board wants to give you feedback on your performance, it also wants to make sure you take the SAT instead of the ACT. All of this extra information is designed, in part, to help convince you that you can improve your scores if you stick with the SAT.
Instead of worrying about what College Board says are your “Next Steps,” a better plan is to take a sample ACT and talk about your results with your counselor or a Compass director to figure out which test better showcases your skills.
The final page of the PSAT report is the breakdown of questions. This is the good stuff!
Each section has a column for question #, the correct answer, your answer (a check means you got it correct, a red letter is the wrong answer you selected), the question difficulty, and the sub- or cross-test scores to which the question may relate.
One of the best things you can do with your report is review the answers you got wrong. That may feel like a drag but will help you to start to see how the test is designed to mislead you.
A quick strategy for review is to block out the column with correct answers and focus on the column with your answer. For those questions marked with your incorrect answer, go back to the problem and work through it again, but this time, eliminate the answer you chose from the get-go. Check your revised answer against the key. Ask yourself (or better yet, pair up with a friend) to explain why the correct answer is correct and, just as importantly, explain why the answer you picked is incorrect. What about the wrong answer made it seem appealing? What about the wrong answer made it wrong?
If you didn’t receive a paper copy of the test booklet with questions, you can also access the questions online.
That’s it. There’s a lot of information in your PSAT report, very little of which is actually relevant to you or how you prepare going forward. The key is to pick out those pieces that will help you and ignore the rest.