If you plan on taking the PSAT in October 2017, then you won’t have to wait too long for the results. You’ll get your scores back mid-December, just before winter break.
Your PSAT score report gives you a few different score types, including your total scores, section scores, and Selection Index. With all this data, how can you sort through the numbers to figure out what's a good PSAT score?
This guide goes over the full scoring system of the PSAT so you'll know exactly what makes a good score. We'll start with a quick glossary explaining the various types of PSAT scores you’ll find on your score report in December.
Types of PSAT Scores: A Glossary
At first glance, your PSAT score report can be pretty intimidating. You'll be faced with your total score and section scores and subscores. All this information is meant to help you, but if you don’t understand what each type of score means, it'll be hard to figure out how well you performed on the PSAT.
Your PSAT score report will contain six main kinds of data: scaled total scores, section scores, raw scores, subscores, Selection Index, and percentiles. Here’s a quick rundown of what all of these terms mean:
Scaled total score: Your total score on the PSAT, ranging between 320 and 1520. Half of your total score comes from Math and the other half comes from Evidence-based Reading and Writing (which is a combination of the Reading and Writing and Language sections).
Scaled section scores: Two scores, one for Math and one for Evidence-based Reading and Writing. Both of these scores fall between 160 and 760.
Section (test) scores: Three scores: one for Math, one for Reading, and one for Writing and Language. All section scores fall between 8 and 38.
Subscores: Seven scores, each on a scale of 1 to 15. Subscores tell you how you did on certain types of questions, some of which appear across two or more sections of the PSAT. You’ll get a subscore for questions that fall into these seven categories: 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.
Raw scores: Three scores, one for each PSAT section, representing the number of questions you got right. The ranges for raw scores vary by section. You can get a maximum raw score of 48 for Math, 47 for Reading, and 44 for Writing and Language.
Selection Index: One score that ranges from 48 to 228. Your selection index is the sum of your three section scores between 8 and 38 multiplied by 2 ((section score + section score + section score) x 2). The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) uses Selection Index to award test takers Commended Student and Semifinalist status.
Percentiles: Ranking of your performance compared to that of other test-takers. Percentiles tell you what percentage of other students you scored the same as or better than. If you score in the 80th percentile, then you scored the same as or better than 80% of other test-takers.
There it is—all of the categories of data on your PSAT score report, explained. The next step is understanding which of these types of data matter most for you. Out of all six kinds of data, which are the most important?
Which PSAT Scores Are Most Important?
All of the PSAT score data is useful in different ways, but the most important numbers on your score report are your scaled total and section scores.
As you saw above, you can score a maximum of 1520 on the PSAT overall, or a 760 each on Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. While the Reading and Writing and Language sections are separate sections on the PSAT, your scores on these sections are combined into one scaled section score. As a result, your total PSAT score is half-Math and half Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
Another important piece of data for students competing for National Merit distinction is their Selection Index. The NMSC sets a different cutoff for students in each state that determines who becomes a Commended Student and Semifinalist. The top 1% of scorers in each state are named Semifinalists, which means they may be able to move on to become Finalists and win scholarship money.
Finally, you can use your non-scaled section scores, raw scores, and subscores to get detailed insight into how you did on each section and question type on the PSAT. Understanding what kinds of questions you got wrong is especially helpful when you go on to study for the SAT, as they show your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker and where you need to improve the most.
For instance, your scaled section scores might tell you that you're fine with most of the Math and struggle more with Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. However, if you look deeper by checking your raw scores and subscores, you might discover that what you really need to work on is the Writing and Language section, or, more specifically, “Command of Evidence” questions.
Now that you have the tools to sort through your PSAT score report, let’s go back to our original, million-dollar question: what makes a good score on the PSAT? Read on to find out.
What Makes a Good Score on the PSAT 2017?
Before we can answer the question “What’s a good score on the PSAT?”, we need to define what we mean by a “good score.” Because everyone will have their own specific goals for the PSAT, what's good for one person may be just okay for another.
To help us find some answers, let’s try defining good in a few different ways. First, we could define “good” as meaning that you scored better than 50% or more of other test-takers. Based on this definition, we can use percentiles to figure out what makes an above-average PSAT score.
Second, we can define “good” PSAT scores as scores that qualify for National Merit. Actually, qualifying for National Merit means that you got excellent, amazing, near-perfect PSAT scores. We’ll discuss what you need to get in greater detail below.
Finally, we’ll consider what kinds of SAT scores colleges are looking for. The PSAT is very similar to the SAT, so your score can help you figure out if you’re on track to get the scores you need for the colleges you want to apply to.
Let’s start by considering PSAT percentiles. How do PSAT scores correspond to percentiles?
How Do PSAT Scores Correspond to Percentiles? Full Chart
PSAT percentiles give you a way to compare your scores to those of other test-takers. If your score is in the 75th percentile, then you scored the same as or better than 75% of other students. The remaining 25% scored better than you.
The highest possible percentile on the PSAT is the 99th percentile. You don’t have to get a perfect PSAT score to land in the 99th percentile. We don’t yet have percentile data for the October 2017 administration of the PSAT, but we can get an idea of what to expect by looking at percentiles from the 2016 PSAT.
Here’s the full chart that shows how PSAT scaled section scores compare, using percentiles:
|PSAT Section Score||Evidence-Based Reading
and Writing Percentile
As you can see, percentiles work slightly differently for Math and Evidence-based Reading and Writing, with Math being a little more competitive at most score levels. For instance, an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 680 ranks in the 99th percentile, whereas you’d need a 720 to get into the 99th percentile for Math. This variation happens because more students get top scores in Math than they do in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
Using this chart, let’s pick out what you have to score in each section to get a “good” PSAT score in a higher-than-average percentile.
What Is a Good 2017 PSAT Score Based on Percentiles?
If we define a good PSAT score as one that's higher than what most students achieve, we can use percentiles to figure out what exact score you'd need to rank higher than the majority of other test-takers. To rank in the 50th percentile, you’d need at least a 480 in Reading and Writing and a 490 in Math.
What if you want to rank in the 70th, 80th, 90th, or even 99th percentile? Here are the section scores you’d need to score higher than the majority of other students.
|Percentile||Reading and Writing Score||Math Score||Composite Score|
Oddly enough, you’d have to score slightly higher in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing than in Math to make it into the 90th percentile. To make it into the 99th percentile, though, you’d have to score 40 points higher in Math than in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
If you’re a strong test-taker aiming for National Merit, then a good PSAT score for you will be one that qualifies you for Commended Student or Semifinalist. Read on to learn what is a good PSAT score for National Merit distinction.
What’s a Good 2017 PSAT Score for National Merit?
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation distinguishes students who get top scores on the PSAT. Students who score in the top three to four percent are named Commended Students, and students who get top one-percent PSAT scores are named Semifinalists.
However, instead of relying on PSAT percentiles, NMSC uses its Selection Index to determine which students qualify for which honor. Each state has its own Selection Index cutoff that students need to make to qualify for National Merit.
Before we look at all of these cutoffs, let's review how your Selection Index score is calculated so you understand where it comes from.
Qualifying for National Merit Commended Student or Semifinalist is a feat worthy of celebration (and being put on your college applications)
How Is the Selection Index Calculated?
You can easily calculate your Selection Index score once you know your 8-38 scale section, or test, scores. Simply add your section scores for Reading, Writing and Language, and Math together, and then multiply the entire sum by 2 to get your Selection Index Score.
Let’s say you got a 25 in Reading, a 37 in Writing and Language, and a 38 in Math. Here’s how you would figure out your Selection Index.
|Section||Score||Sum x 2||Selection Index Score|
|Reading||29||(29 + 37 + 38) x 2 =||208|
|Writing and Language||37|
Once you add together and double your section scores, you get a Selection Index of 208. Does this score qualify for National Merit Semifinalist? That all depends on where you live. Keep reading for the full chart that shows the qualifying cutoff scores for National Merit in each state.
Qualifying PSAT Scores for National Merit, State by State
We've created a chart that shows the Selection Index score you need to qualify for Semifinalist in every state.
While the National Merit Scholarship Corporation doesn't release a full list of cutoffs, it will tell interested individuals what scores they need for their own state. Because of this, the data in the chart below was crowdsourced from individuals across the country
If you think any cutoffs are in error, let us know in the comments! You can also verify your own state's Selection Index cutoff by calling NMSC at (847) 866-5100.
Here’s the full list of state cutoffs to qualify for National Merit Semifinalist.
|State||PSAT Cutoff for National Merit Semifinalist|
On average, students need a Selection Index score of 216. If you live in Washington, DC, Massachusetts, or New Jersey, then you need to meet the highest cutoff of 222.
If you haven't taken the PSAT yet and are aiming for National Merit, I'd recommend aiming for a PSAT score that's at least two to five points higher than your state's cutoff on this list. The cutoffs can fluctuate a bit from year to year, depending on how students around the country do on the PSAT/NMSQT.
Once you’ve found your state’s cutoff, how can you figure out what scores you need to qualify for National Merit?
Your National Merit Selection Index score cutoff depends on what state you live in.
How to Calculate Your Target Scores for National Merit
This section is for students that haven't taken the PSAT yet and are aiming for National Merit. You read above how to convert your PSAT section scores into the Selection Index. If you know what Selection Index you’re aiming for, all you need to do is work backward to figure out your target section scores.
Remember how you needed to add your section scores together and then double that sum to get your Selection Index? Working backward just means dividing your Selection Index by two and then further splitting that quotient into three.
Let’s say you live in New Mexico. To qualify for National Merit, students who took the PSAT in 2015 needed a Selection Index of 213. To be on the safe side, you'll want to aim for around a 216 as your target score (just in case the cutoff fluctuates). Our first step, then, is to divide 216 by 2.
216 / 2 = 108.
Now you know that your section scores in Reading, Writing and Language, and Math need to add up to 108. You can also figure out what section score you need for each section (Math, Reading, and Writing and Language) by dividing 108 by three.
108 / 3 = 36
However, not everyone is equally strong at math and reading and writing. You might be able to aim a little higher in Math and a little lower in Reading and Writing and Language, or vice versa. As long as your section scores still add up to 108, you’ll still get a Selection Index of 216 and potentially qualify for National Merit.
Once you understand what total section scores you need, you can adjust your target scores among the three PSAT sections however you want. Set realistic goals for yourself based on your own math, reading, and writing skills.
Of course, only a small group of students are aiming to become National Merit Semifinalist. Only 16,000 of the 1.6 million who take the PSAT will receive this distinction.
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A good PSAT score is also one that shows you’re on track to achieving your SAT goals and getting into college. Let’s consider our third and final piece of criteria, which defines a “good” PSAT score as one that helps you meet your college goals.
What Is a Good PSAT Score for College?
The PSAT is extremely similar to the SAT, and your performance on the PSAT can help predict your SAT score. Almost everyone improves when they take these tests more than once, so the PSAT is a useful trial run. You'll likely score higher on the SAT than you would if you'd never taken the PSAT.
You can use your PSAT score report to see your current scoring level and find out what skills you need to improve to hit your target SAT scores. To figure out your target SAT scores, you should do some college research. Find schools that you’re interested in, and look for the average SAT scores of accepted students. You can then use this information to set your own SAT score goals.
Once you know what scores you need to get into your colleges of interest, you can use your PSAT score report to design a study plan. Use the data provided by section scores and subscores to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, then type yourself up a personalized SAT study plan that targets your weak areas.
Depending on how many points you’re seeking to improve, you can roughly predict how much time you'll need to set aside to prep. Here’s an estimate of how many hours you need to study to achieve various score improvements.
- 0-50 SAT composite point improvement: 10 hours
- 50-100 point improvement: 20 hours
- 100-200 point improvement: 40 hours
- 200-300 point improvement: 80 hours
- 300-500 point improvement: 150 hours+
If you’re already scoring close to your target SAT scores, then you can feel satisfied with your PSAT scores. If you fell short by a hundred points, then you need to kick your test prep into gear and devote several hours a week to getting ready for the SAT. If you have months to prepare, then you can definitely see a big improvement in your scores and skills as a test-taker.
Your PSAT score report offers a useful starting point for your SAT prep. Whether or not you think you got a good score on the PSAT, you can still achieve a good score on the SAT with enough commitment.
In closing, we'll go over the key points you need to remember about what makes a good score on the 2017 PSAT.
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What SAT score do you need to be a good candidate for your dream school? Your PSAT scores can help you achieve your dream.
2017 PSAT Scores: Key Takeaways
If you take the PSAT in 2017, then you'll get your scores back mid-December. Your PSAT score report might look confusing at first glance, but now you understand what all of its scaled scores, section scores, and subscores mean. Any students aiming for National Merit will also want to check their Selection Index score to see if it's above past years' qualifying scores for their state. If you haven't taken the PSAT yet, you can use the cutoffs to set goals for your scores.
Everyone has their own definition for what is a “good” PSAT score. For example, you might think a good score is one that is higher than that of most other students. You can use percentiles to figure out 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 goes to the top scorers across the country.
Finally, scoring well on the PSAT can help shape your plans for taking the SAT and getting into college. You might have a certain PSAT score goal based on your eventual college applications. Even if you fall short of it, you'll then know you need to boost your SAT performance through studying.
Taking the PSAT is a valuable experience that will help you get ready for the SAT. In the end, you should decide what makes a good score for you based on your personal goals and plans.
If you get named a National Merit Semifinalist, what steps do you need to take to move on to become a Finalist and earn scholarship money? Find out with our complete guide on how to become a National Merit Finalist.
What are the differences in content between the PSAT and SAT? Should you prep for both simultaneously? Learn more about the four key differences between the PSAT and SAT here.
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:
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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.