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What's a Good PSAT Score for 2020?

Posted by Christine Sarikas | Sep 16, 2020 1:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies

 

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Are you taking the 2020 PSAT? If so, you'll want to have a solid understanding of what score to aim for and what your score report shows. In this guide, we'll explain everything you need to know about PSAT scores, including what score you should be aiming for, what score you'll need to meet National Merit cutoffs, and what PSAT score you'll need to impress colleges.

 

When Is the 2020 PSAT?

These are the PSAT dates for 2020:

  • Primary Test Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2020
  • Saturday Test Date: October 17, 2020
  • Alternate Test Date: Thursday, October 29, 2020

Most high schools go with the primary test date, so you will likely take the PSAT on October 14.

Scores will become available to students beginning in mid-December 2020. When you're able to see your scores online will depend on the state from which you're trying to access your scores.

The PSAT costs $17 per student, but some schools cover all or part of this fee. To learn more about signing up for the upcoming PSAT, check out our complete guide to PSAT registration.

 

What Will You See on Your 2020 PSAT Score Report?

Before we analyze what a good PSAT score for 2020, let’s take a moment to review how PSAT scoring works and what you’ll be seeing on your PSAT score report.

Here are the eight main pieces of information you’ll see on your score report. The most important to you are the scaled total score, scaled section score, and selection index, and we'll discuss them more in the next section. 

  • Scaled total score
  • Scaled section scores
  • Section test scores
  • Raw scores
  • Subscores
  • Cross-test scores
  • Selection Index score
  • Percentiles

You can also check out this sample PSAT score report provided by the College Board.

 

Scaled Total Score

On your score report, likely the first number you’ll see is your overall scaled PSAT score. This is perhaps the piece of data you'll be most interested in. The PSAT is scored on a scale of 320-1520 in 10-point increments. 1520 is the max score you can get (this max differs from the SAT, where the highest possible score is 1600). Your total PSAT score out of 1520 is the sum of your scaled section scores for Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). Half of your total score is from the Math section, and the other half is from EBRW (which itself is a combination of the Reading and Writing and Language sections).

 

Scaled Section Scores

Along with your total score, you’ll get two scaled section scores (one each for Math and EBRW). Each section is scored on a scale of 160-760 in 10-point increments. 

 

Section Test Scores

You'll receive a section score for each individual section of the PSAT. You’ll get a score for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language (hereafter Writing). Each section test score, as it's called, uses a scale of 8-38 in 1-point increments. These scores are later converted into scaled section scores by the College Board through a special equating process.

 

Raw Scores

You’ll also receive a raw PSAT score for Math, Reading, and Writing. You'll get one point for each question you answer correctly in a section. As a result, the ranges for these scores will vary depending on the section. The highest scores you can get are 48 for Math, 47 for Reading, and 44 for Writing.

 

 Subscores

Subscores are given out by the College Board to provide you with more insight into how you did across specific skill sets and question types. Some subscores might appear across multiple sections. Each subscore uses a scale of 1-15.

There are seven subscore categories:

  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions
  • Words in Context
  • Command of Evidence

 

 Cross-Test Scores

Cross-test scores apply to the Math, Reading, and Writing sections and indicate how well you performed on particular history- and science-based questions. Each cross-test score has a scale of 8-38, the same as that used for the section test scores. The two cross-test score categories are:
  • Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • Analysis in Science

 

Selection Index Score

The Selection Index is unique to the PSAT and not part of the SAT as the other scores are. This is the score used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) to determine who qualifies for the National Merit scholarship competition. The Selection Index has a range of 48-228. It's equal to the sum of all three section test scores (not scaled scores!) multiplied by 2. 

 

Percentiles

PSAT percentiles show you how you did on the test compared to other test takers. The percentage listed on your score report tells you what percentage of test takers you scored better than on the exam. The higher your percentile, the better you performed relative to other test takers. For example, if you scored in the 84th percentile, this would mean that you did better than 84% of other students who took the PSAT.

 

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Which PSAT Scores Are Most Important?

When you get your PSAT score report, which numbers should you be paying most attention to? The most important data on your PSAT score report is your scaled total score and scaled section scores. These are the scores that give you the best sense of how you’re likely to score on the SAT. As a reminder, the PSAT score range is 320-1520 overall and 160-760 for Math and EBRW. Because Math and EBRW each make up 50% of your total scaled PSAT score, it is vital that you do well on both sections if you want to get a high score and to increase your chances of qualifying for National Merit.

Speaking of National Merit, the score used for this competition isn’t actually your total score but your Selection Index, which, as mentioned briefly above, is the sum of your Math and EBRW test scores multiplied by 2. Each state has its own Selection Index score cutoff to determine which test takers qualify as Commended Students and which qualify as Semifinalists. Cutoffs vary slightly each testing year.

The top 1% of test takers in each state go on to become Semifinalists, with the potential of becoming Finalists and eventually winning the scholarship. Only juniors who take the PSAT are eligible for National Merit; sophomores aren't eligible. 

 

What's a Good PSAT Score for 2020?

There are multiple ways you can define a "good" PSAT score because, ultimately, students have different goals and reasons for taking the PSAT. As a result, there are several ways we can define a good PSAT score:

  • Using national PSAT percentiles
  • Whether the score qualifies you for National Merit
  • Whether the score is close to the SAT score you’ll eventually need for your chosen colleges

We go over each of these definitions in detail below.

 

What’s a Good 2020 PSAT Score Based on Percentiles?

Percentiles tell you what percentage of test takers you scored higher than, both on the test as a whole and on a particular section.

Generally, PSAT scores above the 50th percentile can be considered good or above average, since you scored higher than the majority of test takers. Scores in percentiles higher than this, such as the 80th or 90th percentile, are even better, while scores in percentiles lower than this can be considered below average.

To become a National Merit Semifinalist, you’ll need to score in the 99th percentile, which is the highest percentile possible. (Just to be clear, a 99th percentile score does not necessarily mean you got a perfect PSAT score of 1520⁠—though it can.)

You can view the full list of current PSAT percentiles here to see where you rank.

The table below offers an overview of what PSAT percentiles mean in terms of how well you did on the exam relative to other test takers:

PSAT Percentile

Math Score

EBRW Score

TOTAL Score

99th (Best)

750 and above

730 and above

1460 and above

90th (Excellent)

640

650-660

1290

75th (Very Good)

570

590

1150-1160

50th (Good/Average)

490-500

510-520

1010

25th (Below Average)

420-430

430

860

10th (Poor)

380-390

360-370

750

1st (Poorest)

300 and below

300 and below

630 and below

Source: The College Board PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2019

As you can see, you’ll need to score at least 1010 overall to get what would generally be considered a good PSAT score for 2020. This puts you squarely in the 50th percentile.

But to score in the 75th, 90th, or even 99th percentiles would make you stand out much more and put you in a great place for scoring well on the SAT.

Also, you might have noticed that the PSAT scores you need to reach certain percentiles on the two sections differ slightly. Math is the more competitive section, as it requires you to get a higher score in order to get into those ultra-high percentiles. As the table indicates, you'd need a near-perfect or perfect Math score to get in the 99th percentile, whereas you’d only need 730+ to get in the same percentile on EBRW. Interestingly, this trend shifts the lower you go in scores. So for EBRW, you’d need a slightly higher score to get into the 50th, 75th, and 90th percentiles than you’d need for the same percentiles on Math.

 

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What’s a Good 2020 PSAT Score Based on National Merit?

The National Merit Scholarship Program, which is managed by the NMSC, gives special recognition and scholarship money to juniors who earn high scores on the PSAT.

Students who score in the top 3-4% are named Commended Students, and those who score in the top 1% are named Semifinalists and can apply to become Finalists and eventually win scholarship money.

As mentioned above, the NMSC uses the Selection Index to determine which students qualify for National Merit recognition. Each state will then determine their own Selection Index score cutoff for eligibility; this cutoff varies slightly every year.

Before we look at these cutoff scores, let’s quickly review how to find your Selection Index.

 

How to Calculate Your Selection Index Score

  • The Selection Index is the sum of your three PSAT section test scores multiplied by 2.
  • Your PSAT section test scores are the ones that use a scale of 8-38. You will get test scores for each section of the PSAT: Math, Reading, and Writing.
  • As an example, say you got a 35 on Math, a 36 on Reading, and a 37 on Writing. Here's how you’d calculate your Selection Index:

PSAT Section

Test Score

Sum x 2

Selection Index

Math

35

 

(35 + 36 + 37) x 2 =

 

216

Reading

36

Writing and Language

37

 

Whether a Selection Index of 216 will qualify you for National Merit will depend on what your state’s cutoff is. Keep reading for the full list of current state cutoff scores.

 

Qualifying PSAT Scores for National Merit by State

The table below shows the Selection Index score you’ll need to qualify for National Merit in every US state. Although the NMSC does not give out a full list of PSAT National Merit cutoffs, they do tell you what your own state’s cutoff is. As a result, this chart of cutoffs was put together using crowd-sourced data from students all around the country.

The data below is for students who took the PSAT in October 2019. It’s possible that the score cutoffs for 2020 will change slightly, but for now you can use this data to get a sense of what to aim for. You can also confirm your own state’s cutoff by calling the NMSC at (847) 866-5100.

Here is the full list of Selection Index score cutoffs for National Merit:

State
PSAT Cutoff for National Merit Semifinalist
Alabama
216
Alaska
213
Arizona
219
Arkansas
214
California
222
Colorado
220
Connecticut
221
Delaware
220
DC
223
Florida
219
Georgia
220
Hawaii
219
Idaho
215
Illinois
221
Indiana
218
Iowa
215
Kansas
218
Kentucky
218
Louisiana
215
Maine
215
Maryland
222
Massachusetts
223
Michigan
219
Minnesota
219
Mississippi
214
Missouri
217
Montana
214
Nebraska
216
Nevada
218
New Hampshire
218
New Jersey
223
New Mexico
213
New York
221
North Carolina
219
North Dakota
212
Ohio
218
Oklahoma
214
Oregon
220
Pennsylvania
220
Rhode Island
218
South Carolina
215
South Dakota
214
Tennessee
219
Texas
221
Utah
215
Vermont
216
Virginia
222
Washington
222
West Virginia
212
Wisconsin
216
Wyoming
212
Average Score
218

 

On average, PSAT test takers in 2020 will most likely need a Selection Index of at least 218 to qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status.

The places with the highest score cutoffs of 223 are:

  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey

Because the highest possible Selection Index is 228 (that’s a perfect 38 on each section), you’d need a score of 37-38 on Math, Reading, and Writing to earn a 223.

If you’re getting ready to take the PSAT and want to qualify for National Merit, it’s best to aim for a Selection Index score about 2 to 5 points higher than your state’s predicted cutoff score. Score cutoffs can change slightly each year depending on how test takers do, so overshooting a bit ensures these small variations will have less of an impact on your National Merit status.

 

Setting a PSAT Goal Score for National Merit

How can you find the section scores you need to qualify for National Merit? You just need to take the Selection Index score cutoff for your state, divide it by 2, and then divide again by 3. This will give you a rough estimate for the PSAT test scores you’ll need for each section.

For example, say you live in Hawaii, where the Selection Index score cutoff is currently 219. Just to be on the safe side, you will want to aim a little higher than this—let’s say 222.

Our first step, then, is to divide 222 by 2:

222 / 2 = 111

To get our target test scores for the Math, Reading, and Writing sections, we'll just need to divide this number by 3:

111 / 3 = 37

This means that your target scores for Math, Reading, and Writing would be 37 for each section. However, not all test takers are equally good at math and verbal questions, so you might want to go for a slightly higher or lower score on one of the test sections. For example, if you’re great at math but not so good at reading comprehension, you could aim for a 38 on Math and a slightly lower 36 on Reading.

What’s most important is that you get section test scores that add up to 111 (or whatever half your target Selection Index score is)—it doesn’t matter how you get there! Try to set realistic goals for yourself based on your own strengths and weaknesses.

 

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What’s a Good 2020 PSAT Score Based on Your Colleges?

The final way you can determine a "good" PSAT score is to look at the SAT scores you’ll eventually need to get accepted to the colleges you’re interested in attending. As you probably know, the PSAT is a practice SAT, so the score you get on this test is meant to be a predictor of what you’ll later get on the SAT (should you not do any additional studying in-between the two tests—but, of course, we advise studying a lot!).  

You can use your PSAT score as a baseline score to get a sense of where you’re currently scoring on the SAT and to figure out which skills you might need to work on in the meantime so you'll wind up hitting your SAT goal score. (Our expert guide on what a good SAT score is will teach you how to set your own target score based on the colleges you want to apply to.)

You can then use your PSAT results to help you create an SAT study plan.

For example, if you got a 1260 on the PSAT but will need a 1380 for the SAT, you’re going to have to improve your score by at least 120 points.

Below are the (estimated) number of hours you’ll need to commit to studying for the SAT based on how many total points you're trying to improve by:

  • 0-30 point improvement: 10 hours
  • 30-70 point improvement: 20 hours
  • 70-130 point improvement: 40 hours
  • 130-200 point improvement: 80 hours
  • 200-330 point improvement: 150 hours+

Remember that the max PSAT score is only 1520, whereas the max SAT score is 1600; however, a 1520 on the PSAT does not directly correspond to a 1600 on the SAT. This is because the PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT.

If you’re already scoring very close to your goal SAT scores on the PSAT, then you won’t need to do that much additional prepping for the SAT. However, if your PSAT score is hundreds of points below your SAT goal score, you’ll definitely want to come up with a solid study plan and really utilize the time you have between the tests to improve your weaknesses.

 

Summary: Good PSAT Scores 2020

For the 2020 PSAT, you'll take the test in October and get your scores back mid-December. The score report you get might seem confusing at first, but now you know what PSAT scaled scores, section scores, and subscores mean (and you can always use this article as a refresher if you forget!). Students aiming for National Merit should also check the Selection Index score to see if their score is above past years' qualifying scores for their state.

Everyone has their own definition of what a “good” PSAT score is. For some, a good PSAT score is one that's above average. In that case, you'd want to  use percentiles to determine what makes a good score on the PSAT.

If you’re a high-achieving student who has spent time prepping for the PSAT, then a good score for you might mean receiving National Merit distinction. National Merit is extremely competitive and only top scorers across the country get named Commended Scholars and Semifinalists. Before taking the PSAT, you should use the Selection Index cutoff for your state to set your PSAT score goals.

Finally, scoring well on the PSAT can inform how you prep for the SAT. You can set a PSAT score goal based on the SAT score you'll need for your eventual college applications. If you make it, then great; if not, you'll then know you need to put in more time prepping for the SAT to get into the sweet spot for the colleges you want to apply to.

 

What's Next?

Are you aiming for top scores on the PSAT? Learn what it takes to become a National Merit Semifinalist and a National Merit Finalist.

If you made it through this guide, it might be safe to assume you're getting ready for the PSAT! Check out this guide to find official PSAT practice tests and tips for how to make the most of them.

While you now have a sense of how the PSAT is scored, you might be wondering what scores are considered good. Check out this guide to figure out what makes a good score on the PSAT/NMSQT.

 

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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.



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