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|
|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|
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|
(35 + 32 + 37) x 2 =
|Writing and Language||32|
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.
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.
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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.