The PSAT is an important test on the road to college. Your scores predict how you'll do on the SAT, plus top scorers may earn distinction and scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
So, how do you know whether your PSAT scores are good? While what counts as a good score varies depending on your personal goals, we can give a more objective answer to this question by considering PSAT score percentiles. First, let's review how the PSAT is scored.
How Is the PSAT Scored?
The PSAT is scored between 320 and 1520. Math counts for half of the composite score with a range of 160 to 760. The Reading and Writing sections are scored together with that same range, 160 to 760.
Test-takers also get a more detailed score report of each section from 8 to 38. There's an easy trick for converting this section score a scaled score. For Math, simply multiply your section score by 20. For Reading and Writing, add your section scores together. Then multiply by 10.
When you take the PSAT and get your score report back, you'll see percentiles along with your scores. By looking at these percentiles, you can determine how competitive your PSAT scores are. In other words, we can answer the question, "What makes a good PSAT score for a junior?" by looking at percentiles.
What Do PSAT Score Percentiles Mean?
Your PSAT score report compares your scores to those of other students who took the PSAT that same year. It does this in two ways, with the Nationally Representative Percentiles and the User Percentiles. Since the Nationally Representative Percentiles include all students in a grade, even those who typically don't take the PSAT, it seems that the User Percentiles are the most relevant piece of data on your score report.
Our chart below shows how your scaled scores in Reading and Writing and Math convert to percentiles. The conversion of your composite scores is roughly the same, but this chart shows how math and verbal scores can be interpreted slightly differently at different scoring levels. A 700 in Math, for example, doesn't match to the same percentile as a 700 in verbal.
What exactly do percentiles mean? They show where your scores fall in comparison to the scores of other students in your grade. If you scored in the 70th percentile for Math, then you scored higher or the same as 70% of other students did in Math. The remaining 30% got higher Math scores than you.
This chart is sourced from College Board's 2016 score report and shows you how your scaled section scores convert to User Percentiles.
11th Grade User Percentiles On the PSAT
|Score||Reading and Writing||Math|
As you can see, section scores correspond somewhat differently to percentiles. To make it into the 99th percentile in Reading and Writing, for instance, you'd need to score a 730, while to get 99th percentile in Math, you'd need a near-perfect 750. These differences are mainly important if you're aiming for National Merit Semifinalist, which goes to the top 1% of scorers.
Getting back to our original question, how can we use these User Percentiles to figure out what scores count as a "good" PSAT score for 11th graders?
What's a Good PSAT Score for Juniors?
Whatever scores you're aiming for, let's define "good" scores as ones that are higher than the scores achieved by a majority of test-takers. This chart shows approximately what you'd need to get to make it into the 70th, 80th, 90th, and 99th percentiles.
Reading and Writing Score
To qualify for National Merit Semifinalist, you'd want to aim for tip-top scores, as the cutoffs can fluctuate from year to year. Of course, high scores don't happen by accident, so read on for suggestions and resources to prep for the PSAT.
How to Prep for the PSAT
Whatever your target scores are, you don't want to enter the PSAT with zero preparation. At the very least, you should familiarize yourself with the instructions, timing, and content of the test.
Beyond this, reviewing content, answering sample questions, and taking timed practice tests can help you improve your scores a lot. College Board has released two official practice tests for the PSAT.
You can also use older practice tests very effectively, as long as you don't waste time on outdated content, like sentence completions that ask about complicated vocabulary words. The newest version of the PSAT focuses more on understanding vocabulary in context and interpreting charts and graphs.
Beyond these PSAT materials, you can also use practice tests for the SAT, as the tests are very similar. Take the time to score a practice test and figure out which areas you need to focus on the most. Keep a careful eye on tricky question types and distractor answer choices.
One of the best things you can do is to write down any mistakes you make and questions you're unsure about. Then you should take the time to thoroughly understand the answer explanations and walk yourself back through the problems from step one. You can improve your scores a great deal by breaking mistake patterns and recognizing the way the PSAT asks similar questions over and over again.
If you start early, then you can space out your prep to consist of just a few hours each week. Then you can ramp up your studying in the weeks before the test. Not only will this preparation help you earn high scores (and maybe even qualify for National Merit), but you'll be that much closer to achieving your target scores on the SAT.
Now that you know what makes a good PSAT score, what about on the SAT? Read about good, excellent, and bad SAT scores here.
The PSAT is very similar in content and format to the SAT. Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Once you've familiarized yourself with the test, head over to this guide to learn how to study for the SAT.
Once you've gotten your PSAT scores, what do you do next? This article goes over in detail the steps to take once you've gotten your PSAT scores.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
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.