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PSAT Score Range: Where Do You Rank?

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Jun 5, 2017 12:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies

 

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Although the PSAT and SAT share many similarities, their score ranges are surprisingly distinct. Unlike the SAT score range, which reaches a maximum of 1600, the PSAT score range only goes up to 1520. But why is this the case? What are the score ranges for each PSAT section? Can you use the PSAT scoring scale to predict your SAT score?

In this article, we’ll introduce the current PSAT scores range and PSAT score distribution. We'll then compare PSAT score ranges with SAT score ranges before concluding our analysis with a list of approximate PSAT score cutoffs for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

 

What Is the PSAT Score Range Overall? For Each Section?

The total PSAT scoring scale is 320-1520 in 10-point increments. Like the SAT, there are three major sections on the PSAT: Math, Reading, and Writing and Language (hereafter "Writing"). Each section is first scored on a scale of 8-38 in one-point increments; these are your PSAT test scores.

The test scores are then converted into section scores on scales of 160-760 in 10-point increments (which combine to give you a total PSAT score out of 1520). To get your Math section score, multiply your Math test score by 20. To get your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score, add your Reading and Writing test scores together and then multiply the sum by 10.

There are also subscores and cross-test scores, which measure your mastery of specific skills and knowledge on each PSAT section. Subscores are scored on scales of 1-15 and encompass the following seven areas:

For EBRW:

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions
For Math:
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math
Cross-test scores are a little different because they apply to all PSAT sections and use scoring scales of 8-38. The two cross-test scores are:
  • Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • Analysis in Science

Finally, you’ll receive a Selection Index score with a score range of 48-228. To get this score, multiply the sum of your three PSAT test scores by 2. The Selection Index score is used solely to determine your eligibility for National Merit distinction (we’ll explain this more later).

Here is a table showcasing the current PSAT score range as well as the score ranges for each PSAT section, subscore, and cross-test score:

 

Current (2015-Present) PSAT Score Range

PSAT Section

Score Range

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)

160-760

Reading

8-38

Writing and Language

8-38

Command of Evidence

1-15

Words in Context

1-15

Expression of Ideas

1-15

Standard English Conventions

1-15

Math

160-760

Math (Test Score)

8-38

Heart of Algebra

1-15

Problem Solving and Data Analysis

1-15

Passport to Advanced Math

1-15

TOTAL (EBRW + Math)

320-1520

Cross-Test Scores*

Analysis in History/Social Studies

8-38

Analysis in Science

8-38

Selection Index

48-228

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2016

*Cross-test scores are for all sections of the PSAT.

 

Prior to October 2015 (and the introduction of the redesigned SAT in 2016), the PSAT looked quite different than it does today. At that time, the PSAT scores range was 60-240, the Critical Reading and Writing scores did not combine for a total EBRW score, and test takers received neither subscores nor cross-test scores.

To help you better visualize these differences, here is an overview of the old (pre-2015) PSAT scores range:

 

Old (Pre-2015) PSAT Score Range

PSAT Section

Score Range

Critical Reading

20-80

Math

20-80

Writing

20-80

TOTAL (All Sections)

60-240

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2015

 

body_softball_old_new.jpgThe old PSAT has made way for the new PSAT to shine.

 

PSAT Score Distribution

The PSAT scores scale makes it so that a majority of test takers score around 920 (the halfway point between 320 and 1520). And the data backs this up: the average PSAT scores are 933 for 10th graders and 1009 for 11th graders

This pattern in scoring creates a bell curve on which most PSAT takers score around the middle of the PSAT scoring scale, and very few score at the lowest and highest ends of the scale:

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Now, let's look at the PSAT score distribution using percentiles. PSAT percentiles tell us what percentage of test takers you scored higher than on the PSAT. So a score in the 75th percentile or higher means you’re doing well, a score in the 50th percentile means you’re about average, and a score in the 25th percentile or lower means you've got room for improvement

Below is a condensed list of the most recent PSAT percentiles for 11th graders. For more info on PSAT percentiles for 10th graders, refer to our article on good PSAT scores for sophomores.

 

2016 PSAT Score Percentiles

PSAT Percentile

EBRW

Math

TOTAL

99

730-760

750-760

1450-1520

90

650

640

1270

75

580

570

1140

50

510*

490**

1000

25

430*

430*

870*

10

370

380

760

1

160-300

160-300

320-640

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2016

*Score is one percent higher than percentile listed (51st or 26th percentiles).

**Score is one percent lower than percentile listed (49th percentile).

 

In 2016, approximately 3.5 million students — including 1.6 million juniors — took the PSAT. The data above tells us that the top 1 percent of test-takers — or 16,000 juniors — scored between 1450 and 1520. Contrary to what you may believe, you do not need to attain a perfect PSAT score in order to get into the 99th percentile; in fact, you can miss up to 70 points and still get in the top 1 percent!

Likewise, few test takers scored at the lowest end of the PSAT spectrum: only 16,000 or so juniors scored 640 or lower. In other words, your chance of scoring anything below 640 is quite rare, as 99 percent of test takers score above this range!

But what about the percentiles for individual sections? As you probably noticed, the score ranges for the 99th percentiles for EBRW and Math are not the same. For EBRW, a score as low as 730 guarantees you a spot in the 99th percentile, but for Math you must score at least 750 — a near-perfect score! — to get in the top 1 percent.

This discrepancy between the PSAT score ranges for the two sections indicates that Math is slightly more competitive than EBRW, as more people receive high scores on Math than they do on EBRW. So if you want to get 99th-percentile scores on both Math and EBRW, you’ll likely have to work a little harder on Math than you will on EBRW.

As for the opposite end of the percentile scale, EBRW and Math maintain identical score ranges: any score below 300 falls in the 1st percentile for EBRW and Math. Once again, though, very few students actually score in this range, so you’re more than likely to score above 300 on either section.

 

body_cupcakes-2.jpgCupcake distribution: 99 percent for me, 1 percent for you.

 

SAT vs. PSAT Score Range: Is There a Correlation?

We've finished covering the basics of PSAT score distribution, so let's address another question: how does the PSAT score range compare with the SAT score range (coming soon)? Although the PSAT and SAT share several striking similarities, their score ranges are more like siblings than they are twins.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the current SAT and PSAT score ranges:

 

PSAT and SAT Score Ranges

Section

PSAT Score Range

SAT Score Range

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)

160-760

200-800

Reading

8-38

10-40

Writing and Language

8-38

10-40

Command of Evidence

1-15

1-15

Words in Context

1-15

1-15

Expression of Ideas

1-15

1-15

Standard English Conventions

1-15

1-15

Math

160-760

200-800

Math (Test Score)

8-38

Heart of Algebra

1-15

1-15

Problem Solving and Data Analysis

1-15

1-15

Passport to Advanced Math

1-15

1-15

TOTAL (EBRW + Math)

320-1520

400-1600

Essay*

2-8 | 2-8 | 2-8

Reading

2-8

Analysis

2-8

Writing

2-8

Cross-Test Scores

Analysis in History/Social Studies

8-38

10-40

Analysis in Science

8-38

10-40

Selection Index

48-228

Source: The College Board

*There is no Essay on the PSAT, but there is an optional Essay on the SAT. Note that the Essay score does not factor into your composite SAT score.

 

At a glance, the two tests appear to mirror each other, but in reality the PSAT and SAT differ in a few key ways.

According to this table, the maximum PSAT score is 1520 and the maximum SAT score is 1600. But if the two tests are so similar in terms of form and content, why does the PSAT score scale only go up to 1520 and not 1600? This difference in maximum scores is due to the two tests' differences in difficulty. Because the PSAT functions as a preliminary to the SAT, it contains fewer questions and is overall less challenging than the SAT. As a result, the PSAT score range doesn't reach as high as the SAT score range does.

But wouldn't a 1520 on the PSAT simply correspond to a 1600 on the SAT? Nope! Even though both scores are the two tests' respective maximums, a 1520 on the PSAT is not equivalent to a 1600 on the SAT; rather, a 1520 on the PSAT is the same as a 1520 on the SAT. And this pattern applies not just to the maximum scores but to all possible PSAT scores. So a 1050 on the PSAT equals a 1050 on the SAT, a 1300 equals a 1300, a 1280 equals a 1280, and so on. In other words, scaled PSAT and SAT scores always signify the same level of ability.

The reason for this is that your PSAT score is meant to be a direct indicator of your SAT score. So if you were to score 1170 on the PSAT, for example, at that exact point in time and without any additional studying, you should also be scoring around 1170 on the SAT. Essentially, the PSAT acts as a crystal ball, revealing the level of your current (and possibly future) SAT ability.

 

body_magic_8_ball.jpgUnfortunately, the PSAT doesn't emit bright, magical lights like a Magic 8 Ball. (bark/Flickr)

 

What Is the PSAT Score Range for National Merit Scholarships?

As I mentioned briefly at the beginning of this article, high PSAT scorers (that are juniors) may qualify as Semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program. This scholarship competition is a pretty big deal in the academic world. Not only does the program look great on college apps, but it also hands out a $2,500 scholarship to every winner!

So what PSAT scores do you need in order to qualify? The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) uses Selection Index scores to determine which students are eligible for scholarship consideration. Each year, the top 3-4 percent of test takers are named Commended Students, and the top 1 percent proceed as Semifinalists. This works out to around 16,000 Semifinalists, of which 15,000 will move on to become Finalists. (And of that 15,000, 8,000 will ultimately win scholarship money.)

But here's the caveat: the Selection Index score you need in order to qualify as a Semifinalist varies by state. Below are the estimated cutoff scores needed to qualify as a Semifinalist in each state. Beside each Selection Index score is an estimated total PSAT score cutoff.

NOTE: I calculated the estimated PSAT score cutoffs by working backward. First, I divided the Selection Index score by 2. Then, I divided the quotient by 3 to get (estimated) test scores for Math, Reading, and Writing. Next, I converted each test score into a section score. Finally, I combined the EBRW and Math section scores to get an approximate total PSAT score for each Selection Index cutoff.

 

PSAT Score Cutoffs for National Merit Scholarships

State

Selection Index Cutoff

PSAT Score Cutoff

Alabama

215

1440

Alaska

213

1420

Arizona

219

1460

Arkansas

213

1420

California

221

1480

Colorado

218

1460

Connecticut

220

1470

Delaware

218

1460

District of Columbia

222

1480

Florida

217

1450

Georgia

219

1460

Hawaii

217

1450

Idaho

214

1430

Illinois

219

1460

Indiana

217

1450

Iowa

215

1440

Kansas

217

1450

Kentucky

215

1440

Louisiana

214

1430

Maine

214

1430

Maryland

221

1480

Massachusetts

222

1480

Michigan

216

1440

Minnesota

219

1460

Mississippi

212

1420

Missouri

216

1440

Montana

210

1400

Nebraska

215

1440

Nevada

214

1430

New Hampshire

216

1440

New Jersey

222

1480

New Mexico

213

1420

New York

219

1460

North Carolina

218

1460

North Dakota

209

1400

Ohio

217

1450

Oklahoma

213

1420

Oregon

219

1460

Pennsylvania

218

1460

Rhode Island

217

1450

South Carolina

215

1440

South Dakota

209

1400

Tennessee

218

1460

Texas

220

1470

Utah

215

1440

Vermont

215

1440

Virginia

221

1480

Washington

220

1470

West Virginia

209

1400

Wisconsin

215

1440

Wyoming

209

1400

AVERAGE

216

1440

 

As you can see, the PSAT score required to be a Semifinalist varies by state. In Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming, you can become a Semifinalist with a score of about 1400. But in Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and New Jersey, you’ll need around 1480 — that’s an 80-point difference!

Luckily, in no state do you need a perfect PSAT score to qualify as a Semifinalist. In fact, in all states you can miss about 40 points and still qualify for National Merit!

But what scores should you aim for on each PSAT section, specifically? To calculate your PSAT goal scores, divide your state’s Selection Index cutoff by 2 and then again by 3. The number you get will act as your approximate goal score for Reading, Writing, and Math. (Note that this goal score will be a test score out of 38 and not a section score out of 760.)

So, for example, if you were living in Utah, your Selection Index cutoff would be 215. Using this score, do the math as described above to get your goal score for each section on the PSAT:

215 / 2 = 107.5

107.5 / 3 = 35.83

35.83 = 36 (Always round up!)

Of course, you don’t need to aim for the exact same score on each PSAT section. If you’re stronger at Reading and Writing than you are at Math, for example, you could instead aim for a 38 on Reading and Writing, and a 32 or 33 on Math.

Ultimately, if you plan to strive for National Merit status, it's imperative you know the cutoff score for your state. Always aim, at a minimum, for your state's cutoff score, though I suggest aiming a little higher if possible. Doing this will give you a solid buffer should the cutoff score for your state slightly increase the year you take the PSAT.

 

body_roller_coaster.jpgIf you don't meet the PSAT score cutoff, you can't ride the roller coaster to Free Money Land.

 

Takeaways for the PSAT Score Range

The PSAT score range is 320-1520 in 10-point increments. This composite range includes two score ranges of 160-760 for EBRW and Math. In terms of test scores, Reading, Writing, and Math are all scored separately on scales of 8-38. You will also receive subscores with ranges of 1-15 and cross-test scores with ranges of 8-38.

In terms of PSAT score distribution, most test takers score at or around 920, the halfway point between the minimum and maximum scores. About 3.5 million students (including 1.6 million juniors) took the PSAT in 2016. According to current percentiles, Math is slightly more competitive than EBRW, as test takers need a higher Math score to get into the 99th percentile than they do for EBRW.

PSAT and SAT scores are analogous, meaning one scaled score on the PSAT will always equal the same scaled score on the SAT. Thus, you can use your PSAT score to get a rough idea as to how your SAT performance might look.

The PSAT also assigns each test taker a Selection Index score on a scale of 48-228. This is the score used to determine your eligibility for National Merit Scholarship consideration. Each state maintains a different Selection Index cutoff score for the program, with the lowest being 209 and the highest being 222. To ensure you have the best shot at winning a scholarship, try to aim for your state's cutoff score — ideally, even higher!

 

What’s Next?

Got more questions about the PSAT scoring system? Our extensive guide to PSAT scoring (coming soon) explains how PSAT scores are calculated and gives you tips on how you can use this info to your advantage on test day.

Confused about what's tested on the PSAT? Get the rundown with our guides to what the PSAT is and what you should know about its structure and question types.

Want to know exactly when you'll take the PSAT? Our guide to the 2017 PSAT will give you info on when this year's PSAT will be, where you'll take it, and what you can do to prepare for it.

 

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:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

 

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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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