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New 2016 PSAT Percentiles and Selection Index

Posted by Rebecca Safier | Apr 2, 2016 4:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies



Your PSAT score report will show you a myriad of scores, including your total scores, section scores, subscores, percentiles, and Selection Index. This guide will focus on the last two pieces of data, your score percentiles and Selection Index.

Since it’s important to understand how the other scores in your report relate to your PSAT percentiles and Selection Index, we’ll start with a quick review of terms. If you’re one of many students or parents looking for directions out of the complex maze that is the PSAT score report, read on to have the path illuminated!


What Scores Will You Get On Your PSAT Score Report?

If you took the newest version of the PSAT, then you know that your score report gives you a lot of data. The various scores fall on different scales, and all of them are calculated from your raw score, or the total number of questions you got right.

In other words, your raw score is composed of one point for every correct answer. You don’t get any deductions for wrong or skipped answers.

Let’s take a moment to define the various scores on your PSAT score report to clear up any confusion and reveal where your percentiles and Selection Index come from.

  • Total scores - the sum of your section scores, ranging between 320 and 1520.
  • Section scores (2) - a score for Math and a score for Evidence-based Reading and Writing, both between 160 and 760.
  • Test scores (3) - separate scores for Math, Reading, and Writing & Language, all between 8 and 38.
  • Cross-test scores (2) - scores to measure your performance on Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science questions taken from all three subject areas, Math, Reading, and Writing. These range from 8 to 38.
  • Subscores (7) - scores to measure your performance on questions in seven skill areas: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. They range from 1 to 15.
  • Nationally Representative Percentile - shows how your scores compare to scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don't take the PSAT.
  • User Percentile - shows how your score compares to scores of US students in your grade who typically take the PSAT.
  • Selection Index - a scoring system used by National Merit Scholarship Corporation to determine eligibility for Commended Scholar, Semifinalist, and Finalists.

As you can see, there are a lot of scores on your score report. Your section and total scores, along with the percentiles they fall in, are probably the most important for understanding your performance.

Your cross-test scores and subscores are most useful as feedback on your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker. You can use this feedback to prep for the PSAT if you’re a younger student or for the SAT if you’re a junior.

Now that we’ve defined these scores, let’s consider the metric that compares your performance to that of other test-takers, your percentiles.


Read on so you too can magically juggle percentiles in the palm of your hand.


What You Need to Know About PSAT Percentiles

Your percentiles are useful because they compare your performance with that of other test-takers in your grade. If you scored in the 90th percentile, for example, then you scored the same as or higher than 90% of other test-takers. The remaining 10% scored higher than you.

As you saw above, the Nationally Representative Percentile takes into account all students, even those who don’t typically take the PSAT. It includes students who didn't take the test, but who, on the whole, presumably would have scored lower if they had.

The Nationally Representative percentile appears to be based on population of all US students in a certain grade, rather than on the population of PSAT test-takers in a certain grade. For this article, we’ll focus instead on User Percentiles, which is calculated based on the performance of students who actually took the PSAT.

If these two percentiles seem confusing, it’s because they are. In fact, some critics have questioned the accuracy of both percentiles from the October 2015 test, suggesting that they’re inflated and "presenting a rosier picture” of student scores to sway students toward the SAT and away from the ACT. While it’s unclear whether or not these criticisms are warranted, it does seem that the data has potential to fluctuate in the future.

For now, these are the percentile charts that College Board released in 2016. They show how your total and section scores get represented by percentiles.



Critics of the PSAT may be right to be suspicious. As many people know, 73.6% of statistics are made up on the spot.


PSAT Total Scores to Percentiles

This chart, based on College Board's 2016 report, shows the User Percentiles for total PSAT scores. You can check out our other guides if you're looking for PSAT percentiles for sophomores or freshmen.

Whether you want to check it against your score report or are looking up your results on a PSAT practice test, you can find your percentiles by locating your total scores. Again, these range between 320 and 1520 and are the sum of your section scores.

If you scored 650 in Evidence-based Reading and Writing and 700 in Math, for example, then your total score is 650 + 700 = 1350. Based on the chart, you can see that a total score of 1350 falls in the 95th percentile. Scroll down to find yours or, conversely, to see what you would need to score to make it into your target percentile.

Total Score Percentile Total Score Percentile
1520 99+ 1070 63
1510 99+ 1060 61
1500 99+ 1050 59
1490 99+ 1040 57
1480 99+ 1030 56
1470 99 1020 54
1460 99 1010 52
1450 99 1000 50
1440 98 990 48
1430 98 980 46
1420 98 970 44
1410 97 960 42
1400 97 950 40
1390 97 940 38
1380 96 930 37
1370 96 920 35
1360 95 910 33
1350 95 900 31
1340 94 890 29
1330 94 880 28
1320 93 870 26
1310 93 860 24
1300 92 850 23
1290 91 840 21
1280 91 830 19
1270 90 820 18
1260 89 810 16
1250 88 800 15
1240 87 790 13
1230 86 780 12
1220 85 770 11
1210 84 760 10
1200 83 750 8
1190 82 740 7
1180 81 730 6
1170 79 720 5
1160 78 710 5
1150 76 700 4
1140 75 690 3
1130 73 680 3
1120 72 670 2
1110 70 660 2
1100 68 650 2
1090 67 640 1
1080 65 630 and below 1 or 1-




Learning any new skill takes hours of dedicated practice. Doing well on the PSAT is no different!


PSAT Section Scores to Percentiles

While the chart above shows the percentiles represented by total scores, this next one shows the percentiles assigned to section scores. As described above, you’ll get two section scores, one for Math and one for Evidence-based Reading and Writing, between 160 and 760. Just like in the chart above, you can use this chart to find your percentiles or to find out what scores you need to achieve your target percentile.

In addition to helping you prep and interpret your PSAT scores, whether on practice tests or the real thing, percentiles are somewhat helpful for estimating your chances for National Merit distinction. Read on to learn why they matter.

Score Reading and Writing Math
760 99+ 99+
750 99+ 99
740 99+ 98
730 99 97
720 98 97
710 98 96
700 97 95
690 96 94
680 95 94
670 93 93
660 92 93
650 90 91
640 89 90
630 87 89
620 85 87
610 83 86
600 80 84
590 78 82
580 75 79
570 72 75
560 69 72
550 65 69
540 62 65
530 58 62
520 55 58
510 51 56
500 47 53
490 44 49
480 41 44
470 37 39
460 34 36
450 31 33
440 28 28
430 26 26
420 23 23
410 20 18
400 18 16
390 15 14
380 13 10
370 10 8
360 8 7
350 6 5
340 5 4
330 3 3
320 2 2
310 2 2
300 1 1
290 1 1
280 1 1
270 1- 1
260 1- 1
250 1- 1-



If you're aiming for National Merit, then you need to know your Selection Index score.


How Do PSAT Percentiles Relate to National Merit?

Students who score highly on the PSAT in their junior year may qualify for National Merit distinction. The top 3-4% of scorers are named Commended Scholars. The top 1% are named Semifinalists and could potentially go on to become Finalists and scholarship recipients.

Your percentiles on your PSAT score report are an estimate, rather than an exact prediction of your chances of National Merit. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation actually uses its own scale called a Selection Index to determine National Merit.

It compares students nationally for Commended Scholar, but determines eligibility on a state-by-state basis for Semifinalist. It uses this state-by-state system to ensure an even distribution of Semifinalist awards throughout the country.

This discussion of National Merit brings us to another important piece of data, your Selection Index.


What Is the Selection Index?

Your score report will give you your Selection Index score, and you can also easily calculate it yourself, as you’ll see below. The Selection Index looks much different from your total scores, as it ranges between 48 and 228.

To be named National Merit Semifinalist, you’ll need a Selection Index score at or above a certain cutoff. Each state’s cutoff is different (students in New Jersey, Washington, DC, and testing abroad usually have the highest ones) and changes from year to year. 

Based on reports from students around the country, we've compiled the full list of 2015 cutoffs for each state. If you took the PSAT as a junior, you can check out our National Merit Semifinalist guide to gain a sense of whether or not you might qualify. Remember that cutoffs can change from year to year.

So where does this Selection Index score between 48 and 228 come from? Read on to find out.



Calculating your Selection Index score is easy. All you need is a calculator, a spoon, a Yukon Gold potato, and a dozen European coins. 


How to Calculate Your Selection Index Score

Your Selection Index score is calculated from your test scores. As you saw in the glossary at the beginning of this guide, you get three test scores, one for Math, one for Reading, and one for Writing and Language. Each test score ranges from 8 to 38.

If you take the PSAT/NMSQT, then your score report will show you your Selection Index. You can also easily calculate this score yourself by adding your three test scores together and multiplying by 2. Put another way, your Selection Index score is double the sum of your test scores.

For instance, this chart shows how to reach your Selection Index score if you got a 35 in Reading, 32 in Writing and Language, and 37 in Math.

Section Score Sum x 2 Selection Index Score
Reading 35
(35 + 32 + 37) x 2 =
Writing and Language 32
Math 37


If you scored in top percentiles and think you might be eligible for National Merit, you can check out our state-by-state cutoffs for the 2015 PSAT

In closing, let’s review what you need to know about the scoring system, particularly the percentiles and Selection Index, of the PSAT.


Key Points: Scores on the PSAT

The redesigned PSAT is scored on a scale from 320 to 1520. Its scale is shifted down from the SAT’s scale, which ranges between 400 and 1600, to account for the fact that it’s a somewhat easier test.

Your Reading and Writing and Language performance is reported together with one “Evidence-based Reading and Writing” score between 160 and 760. Your other section score is Math and also ranges between 160 and 760.

Your score report will tell you two percentiles, the Nationally Representative and User percentiles. It seems that the User Percentile is the more accurate and useful of the two, as its based primarily on students who typically take the PSAT.

The charts above show how the percentiles represented by your total and section scores. If you’re taking and scoring your own PSAT practice tests, you can use these to figure out what scores you need to achieve to make it into your target percentile.

If you’re scoring in top percentiles, then you may be named National Merit Commended Scholar or National Merit Semifinalist. National Merit Scholarship Corporation will notify qualifying students in September.

While your score report may look confusing with all its measures and metrics, the various scores can actually be very useful as feedback for your PSAT and SAT prep. If you take the time to comprehend your score report or calculate these scores on your own from practice tests, then you’ll gain valuable insight into your profile as a test-taker.

You can use this feedback to shape your prep whether you’re taking the PSAT again next year or preparing for the very similar SAT. Whatever you’re studying for, it’s a good first step to take stock of your academic strengths and weaknesses and design a personalized study plan that will work for you.


What’s Next?

Now that you’ve gained some insight into PSAT scores, check out this guide to learn about the SAT scoring system. This article breaks down how the SAT is scored and provides scoring charts for you to score your own practice tests.

What should you do after you get your PSAT score report? This guide discusses some next steps everyone should take after getting their PSAT scores.

Are you aiming for top scores on the PSAT? You can learn all about the test here, and then download PSAT practice tests to help you study. If you’re aiming for National Merit, check out this guide on how to get a perfect score on the PSAT.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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