When you get your score report, you'll see a bunch of different kinds of scores, including your total score (out of 1520), your section scores (out of 760), and your Selection Index (out of 228).
Sorting through all of this data to figure out what's a good PSAT score can be tricky, so we've written this guide to understanding your PSAT score report. We'll begin with a quick run-through of the different types of PSAT scores, then get into how you can figure out how your score compares to that of other students.
Breakdown of PSAT Score Types
When you first look at it, your PSAT score report might seem a bit intimidating. All the information in it is intended to help you, but it can be hard to figure out what it means and how well you did if you don't understand what each score type actually shows.
PSAT score reports have 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 and what their ranges are:
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:
(Math section score + Reading section score + Writing section score) x 2 = Selection Index
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) uses the Selection Index to determine whether test takers qualify as Commended Students or Semifinalists.
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 what information in your score report matters the most for you. Out of all six kinds of data, which are the most important?
Which PSAT Scores Are Most Important?
All of the data on your PSAT score report is useful in one way or another, but the most important numbers are your scaled total score and scaled section scores.
As you saw above, the highest you can score on the PSAT is 1520 overall or 760 on Math and 760 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. While as you take the test there are separately timed sections for Reading and Writing and Language, your scores on these sections are combined into one scaled section score (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing). As a result, your total PSAT score is 50% Math and 50% Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
Another piece of information that's important for students competing for a National Merit Scholarship is your Selection Index. To make sure students from across the country are represented in the National Merit Scholarship contest, the NMSC sets different cutoffs in each state to determine which students become Commended Scholars and which become Semifinalists. The top 1% of scorers in each state are named Semifinalists, who then apply to become Finalists and win scholarship money.
As for the other score data on your score report? We recommend using 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 PSAT questions you got wrong is especially helpful when you go on to study for the SAT, as this understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker can point you towards where you need to focus your studying.
For example, having a higher Math score and a lower Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score indicates that you need to focus more on the Reading and Writing sections. This is fine, but still kind of broad--that's 2/3 of the test!
However, if you go deeper into your score report by checking your raw scores and subscores, you might discover that what you really need to work on is a specific type of question in the Writing and Language section (e.g. 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's a Good Score on the PSAT? What Does That Mean?
Before we can answer the question of what a good score on the PSAT is, we need to define what we mean by a "good score." Since everyone has different goals for the PSAT, a good score for one student may be a disappointing score for another.
To figure out what a good PSAT score is, let's consider a couple of different ways a score could be "good." 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. What the exact scores you should aim for to qualify for National Merit is something we'll talk about in a little bit.
Finally, because the PSAT is very similar to the SAT, we can use the PSAT to determine whether or not you're on track to get the SAT scores you need for the colleges you want to apply to. Figuring this out means understanding what kinds of SAT scores colleges are looking for.
Let’s start by considering PSAT percentiles. How do PSAT scores correspond to percentiles?
Full Chart of PSAT Score Percentiles
PSAT percentiles tell you how well you did in comparison to others who took the test. For instance, if your score is in the 81st percentile, you did as well as or better than 81% of test takers (and worse than 19% of test takers).
The top percentile on the PSAT is the 99th percentile. However, you don’t need a perfect PSAT score to get into the 99th percentile. We don’t have percentile data yet for the October 2018 PSAT, but we can get an idea of what to expect by looking at percentiles from the 2017 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 the chart above shows, percentiles are distributed slightly differently for Math and Evidence-based Reading and Writing, with Math being a little more competitive at most score levels. For example, an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 730 ranks in the 99th percentile, whereas you’d need a 750 to get into the 99th percentile for Math. This difference shows that more students get higher scores in Math than they do in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (indicating that EBRW is in fact harder to do well on for most students).
Using the PSAT percentile chart as a reference, we'll next discuss what you have to score in each section to get a "good" PSAT score (aka a score in a higher-than-average percentile).
What Is a Good 2018 PSAT Score, Based on Percentiles?
If we define a good PSAT score as a score that fewer than half of students get, we can use percentiles to figure out what exact score you'd need to rank higher than the majority of other test-takers. For the PSAT, to rank in the 50th percentile, you’d need at least a 510 in Reading and Writing and a 500 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 as well as or higher than other students at those levels.
|Percentile||Reading and Writing Score||Math Score||Composite Score|
Oddly enough, you have to score slightly higher in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing than in Math to make it into the 70th, 80th, and 90th percentiles. To make it into the 99th percentile, though, you’d have to score 20 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 2018 PSAT Score for National Merit?
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation awards students who get top scores on the PSAT a couple of different titles. Students who score in the top third to fourth percentile of all PSAT test takers are named Commended Students, while students whose PSAT scores are in the top 1%ile are named Semifinalists.
However, rather than relying on PSAT percentiles, NMSC uses students' 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 go through the cutoffs for each state, though, let's quickly review how to calculate your PSAT Selection Index.
How Is the Selection Index Calculated?
Once you know your 8-38 scale Math, Reading, and Writing and Language scores, you can easily calculate your Selection Index score. 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 37 in Reading, a 38 in Writing and Language, and a 31 in Math. Here’s how you would figure out your Selection Index.
|Section||Score||Sum x 2||Selection Index Score|
|Reading||37||(37 + 38 + 31) x 2 =||212|
|Writing and Language||38|
By adding together and doubling your section scores, you get a Selection Index of 212. Does this score qualify you to be a National Merit Semifinalist? It depends on where in the U.S. 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 NMSC doesn't release a full list of cutoffs, they will tell you what the score cutoff is for your state (if you took the PSAT as a junior that year). Because of this, the data in the chart below is crowdsourced from individuals across the country.
If any of the cutoffs are wrong, let us know in the comments! You can also confirm 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 218 to become National Merit Semifinalists. If you live in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Washington, DC, then you need to meet the highest cutoff of 223 to qualify for National Merit. The highest possible Selection Index is 228, so getting a 223 or above requires getting at least a 37 (out of 38!) on all three PSAT sections.
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 know what the Selection Index cutoff is for your state, how can you figure out what scores you need to qualify for National Merit?
Your cutoff score for National Merit depends on what state you live in.
How to Calculate Your Target Scores for National Merit
If you haven't taken the PSAT yet and are aiming for National Merit, this section is for you. Earlier, you learned 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 now 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 North Dakota. To qualify for National Merit, students who took the PSAT in 2017 needed a Selection Index score of 212. To be on the safe side, you'll want to aim for at least 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 fraction of students who take the PSAT do so with the intent of becoming National Merit Semifinalists. And only 16,000 of the 1.6 million who take the PSAT will receive this distinction.
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We've already discussed how a good PSAT score could be one that is better than what most students get or one that qualifies you to become a National Merit Semifinalist. We'll now go into the third and final way of defining a good PSAT score, which is a score that shows you’re on track to achieving your SAT goals and getting into college.
What Is a Good PSAT Score for College?
Since the PSAT is extremely similar to the SAT, your performance on the PSAT can help predict your SAT score. Almost everyone's score goes up if they take these kinds of standardized tests more than once, so the PSAT is a useful trial run. As a result, if you take the PSAT first you'll likely score higher on the SAT than you would if you hadn't 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'll need to do some college research. Find schools that you’re interested in and look up 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 much you want 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 improve different increments on the SAT.
- 0-50 SAT composite (out of 1600) 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 on the PSAT, then you can feel satisfied with your PSAT scores. But 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. Fortunately, if you have months to prepare and use that time effectively, you can definitely see a big improvement in both your skills as a test-taker and your SAT score.
Your PSAT score report offers a useful starting point for your SAT prep. Whether or not you think you did well 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 a good score for the 2018 PSAT is.
What SAT score do you need to be a good candidate for your dream school? Your PSAT scores can help you achieve your dream.
2018 PSAT Scores: Key Takeaways
If you take the PSAT in 2018, you'll get your scores back mid-December. The score report you get might be confusing at first, but you now 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 Selection Index score to see if it's above past years' qualifying scores for their state.
Everyone has their own definition for what is a “good” PSAT score. For example, what you might think a good score could simply be one that's higher than most other students' scores. In that case, 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 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.
Taking the PSAT can tell you about your strong and weak areas (which you can use for the PSAT prep) as well as qualifying you as a National Merit Semifinalist. In the end, you should decide what a good PSAT score for you is based on your personal goals and plans.
Once you're named a National Merit Semifinalist, what's the next step? Find out how to move on in the competition and win scholarship money with our complete guide on how to become a National Merit Finalist.
How does the PSAT differ from the SAT? Should you prep for both at once or one at a time? Learn more about the similarities and differences between the PSAT and SAT here.
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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.