Although the PSAT and SAT share many similarities, their score ranges are actually pretty different. Unlike the SAT score range, which has a maximum score of 1600, the PSAT score range only goes up to 1520. But why? What are the score ranges for each PSAT section? Also, can you use the PSAT scoring scale to predict your SAT score?

In this article, we'll go over the current PSAT score range and PSAT score distribution. We'll then compare PSAT score ranges with SAT score ranges before concluding with a list of estimated 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 digital SAT, the digital PSAT has two major sections: (1) Math and (2) Reading and Writing. Each section, in turn, consists of two modules, which have four skill sections within them.

• Craft and Structure (28% of test section, 12–14 questions)
• Information and Ideas (26% of test section, 13–15 questions)
• Standard English Conventions (26% of test section, 11–15 questions)
• Expression of Ideas (20% of test section, 8–12 questions)
Math
• Algebra (35% of test section, 13–15 questions)
• Advanced Math (32.5% of test section, 12–14 questions)
• Problem-Solving and Data Analysis (20% of test section, 7–9 questions)
• Geometry and Trigonometry (12.5% of test section, 4–6 questions)

However, you’re only given one overall section score for Math and one overall section score for Reading and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 160-760 in 10-point increments, which combine to give you a total PSAT score out of 1520.

Finally, you'll get a Selection Index with a score range of 48-228. To calculate this score, multiply your Reading and Writing section score by two, add that sum to your Math score, and then divide that big number by 10.

For example, let’s say your Reading and Writing score was 670 and your Math score was 700. You’d multiply 670 by two to get 1,340. Then, you’d add your Math score to that, so 1,340 + 700, which would give you 2,040. Finally, you’d divide that number by 10, which would give you 204: your Selection Index score. The Selection Index score is used solely to determine your eligibility for National Merit distinction (we'll explain this in more detail later).

Here is a table showcasing the current PSAT score range and sub-sections:

PSAT Score Range

 PSAT Section Score Range Reading and Writing 160–760 Craft and Structure Information and Ideas Standard English Conventions Expression of Ideas Math 160–760 Algebra Advanced Math Problem-Solving and Data Analysis Geometry and Trigonometry TOTAL (Reading and Writing + Math) 320–1520

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2020-2021

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

PSAT Score Distribution

The PSAT scores scale makes it so that most test takers score around 920 (the halfway point between 320 and 1520). And the data backs this up: the average PSAT scores are 920 for 10th graders and 1010 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:

Now, let's look at the PSAT score distribution using percentiles. These percentiles will tell us what percentage of test takers you scored higher than on the PSAT.

In general, 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 have some 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, read our article on good PSAT scores for sophomores.

 PSAT Percentile Reading and Writing Math TOTAL 99 or 99+ 730 750 1450 90 660 620 1270 75 600 560 1140 50 520 490 1000 25 430 420 860 10 360 380 750 1 290 300 630

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Score Information

Each year, approximately 1.6 million juniors take the PSAT. The data above tells us that the top 1% of test takers—about 16,000 juniors—scored between 1460 and 1520. Contrary to what many believe, you do not need a perfect PSAT score to get into the 99th percentile. In fact, you can miss up to 60 points and still get in the top 1%!

Likewise, very few test takers scored at the lowest end of the PSAT spectrum: only 16,000 or so juniors scored 630 or lower. In other words, your chance of scoring below 630 is quite rare, as 99% 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 Reading and Writing and for Math are not the same. For R&W, a score as low as 730 guarantees you a spot in the 99th percentile. For Math, on the other hand, you must score at least 750—a near-perfect score!

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

On the opposite end of the percentile scale, R&W and Math maintain identical score ranges: any score below 300 falls in the 1st percentile for both R&W and Math. Once again, though, very few students actually score in this range, so you're likely to get above 300 on both sections.

Cupcake distribution: 99% for me, 1% for you.

SAT vs PSAT Score Range: Is There a Correlation?

We've covered the basics of PSAT score distribution, so let's address another question: how does the PSAT score range compare with the SAT score range? 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:

 Section PSAT Score Range SAT Score Range Reading and Writing 160-760 200-800 Math 160-760 200-800 TOTAL (R&W + Math) 320-1520 400-1600 Selection Index 48-228 —

Source: The College Board

At a glance, the two tests look as though they mirror each other, but in reality the PSAT and SAT differ in a few key ways.

According to the 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 is a preliminary to the SAT, it has 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 the same as a 1600 on the SAT; rather, a 1520 on the PSAT is the same as a 1520 on the SAT.

This pattern applies not just to the maximum scores but to all possible PSAT scores. For example, 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. If I scored 1170 on the PSAT, then—at that exact point in time and without any additional studying—I should also be scoring around 1170 on the SAT.

The PSAT essentially acts as a crystal ball, revealing the level of your current (and possibly future) SAT ability.

What Is the PSAT Score Range for National Merit Scholarships?

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

So what PSAT scores do you need 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% of test takers become Commended Students, and the top 1% proceed as Semifinalists. This works out to around 16,000 Semifinalists, of whom 15,000 will move on and become Finalists. (And of that 15,000, about 8,000 will eventually 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 state selection index cutoffs for semifinalists for the 2020 PSAT, as well as the estimated cutoff scores needed to qualify as a Semifinalist in each state.

I calculated these estimated PSAT score cutoffs by looking at the NMSC equation and working backward. First, I multiplied each state’s Selection Index by 10. Then, I divided that number by 3 to get (estimated) PSAT section scores for Math and Reading and Writing. Finally, I combined the Reading and Writing and the Math section scores to get an approximate PSAT score for each Selection Index cutoff.

 State Selection Index Cutoff PSAT Alabama 210 1400 Alaska 209 1390 Arizona 216 1440 Arkansas 210 1400 California 221 1470 Colorado 216 1440 Connecticut 221 1470 Delaware 219 1460 District of Columbia 223 1490 Florida 216 1440 Georgia 217 1450 Hawaii 217 1450 Idaho 211 1410 Illinois 219 1460 Indiana 216 1440 Iowa 210 1400 Kansas 214 1430 Kentucky 211 1410 Louisiana 214 1430 Maine 213 1430 Maryland 221 1470 Massachusetts 222 1480 Michigan 217 1450 Minnesota 216 1440 Mississippi 209 1390 Missouri 214 1430 Montana 209 1390 Nebraska 210 1400 Nevada 211 1410 New Hampshire 215 1440 New Jersey 223 1490 New Mexico 207 1380 New York 220 1470 North Carolina 217 1450 North Dakota 207 1380 Ohio 216 1440 Oklahoma 208 1390 Oregon 216 1440 Pennsylvania 219 1460 Rhode Island 215 1440 South Carolina 209 1390 South Dakota 209 1390 Tennessee 217 1450 Texas 219 1460 Utah 209 1390 Vermont 212 1420 Virginia 219 1460 Washington 220 1470 West Virginia 207 1380 Wisconsin 213 1430 Wyoming 207 1380 AVERAGE 214 1430

As you can see, the PSAT score required to be a Semifinalist can vary significantly by state. In New Mexico and North Dakota you can become a Semifinalist with a score of about 1380. But in Massachusetts you'll need a far higher score of around 1480—that's a 100-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 at least 20 points and still qualify for National Merit!

But what scores should you aim for on each PSAT section? Before you can answer this question, you should try and answer this one: are you stronger in math or are you stronger in reading and writing?

Because the NMSC Selection Index multiplies your Reading and Writing score by 2 in their score equation, this basically means that the R&W section is worth double what your math score is worth. So if you answered R&W as your stronger subject—that’s great news! If you answered math, this may seem a little scary at first. Have no fear, though—you can still get a great score by doing really well on Math, because this allows you to score a little lower on R&W and still do well, overall.

Let’s take this example: if you live in Wyoming, you need a 207 Selection Index score. If you got a perfect 760 for Math and a 660 for Reading and Writing, this would get you to your 207 goal!

Here’s the breakdown:

660 (R&W section score) x 2 = 1,320

1,320 + 760 (Math section score) = 2,080

2,080 (total sum) / 10 = 208

Selection Index Score = 208

If you’re not stronger in one subject than you are in another, aiming to get a score above 715 on both sections of the PSAT can help you compete for National Merit, though some states require even higher section scores. Here’s how it would break down with a 715 on each section of the test:

715 (R&W) x 2 = 1,430

715 (Math) + 1,430 = 2,145

2,145 / 10 = 214.5, rounded up to 215

A Selection Index score of 215 would qualify you for National Merit in states like Kansas, South Carolina, Nevada, and Maine, but it wouldn’t quite cut it for states like Virginia, Delaware, California, and Michigan.

Ultimately, if you plan to strive for National Merit status, it's important to 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 go up a little the year you take the PSAT.

If 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 Reading and Writing and Math.

In regard to PSAT score distribution, most test takers score at or around 920, the halfway point between the minimum and maximum scores. As recent percentiles show, Math is slightly more competitive than Reading and Writing since you need a higher Math score to get into the 99th percentile than you do to get into the same percentile for Reading and Writing.

PSAT and SAT scores are analogous, meaning that a scaled score on the PSAT will always equal that same scaled score on the SAT. Therefore, you can use your PSAT score to get a rough idea of 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 consideration.

Each state maintains a different Selection Index cutoff score, with the lowest being 207 and the highest being 223. 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 guide to PSAT scoring 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 PSAT test dates will give you info on when the next PSAT will be, where you'll take it, and what you can do to prepare for it.