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PSAT Score Range: Where Do You Rank?

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Jan 11, 2018 12:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies

 

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Although the PSAT and SAT share many similarities, their score ranges are actually pretty different. Unlike the SAT score range, which reaches a maximum of 1600, the PSAT score range only goes up to 1520. But why? 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, the PSAT has three major sections: 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. These 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 section. Subscores are scored on scales of 1-15 and encompass the following seven areas:

EBRW

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

Finally, you’ll get a Selection Index with a score range of 48-228. To calculate 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 2017

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

 

Before October 2015 (and the introduction of the redesigned SAT in 2016), the PSAT looked quite different than it does today. Back then, 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 most test takers score around 920 (the halfway point between 320 and 1520). And the data backs this up: the average PSAT scores are 935 for 10th graders and 1014 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. These percentiles will tell us what percentage of test takers you scored higher than on the PSAT. 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, read our article on good PSAT scores for sophomores.

PSAT Percentile

EBRW

Math

TOTAL

99

730-760

750-760

1450-1520

90

650

640

1280

75

580*

570

1150

50

510

500*

1000*

25

430

430

870

10

370

380

760*

1

160-300

160-300

320-640

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2017

*Estimated score (specific percentile unavailable).

In 2017, approximately 1.6 million juniors took the PSAT. The data above tells us that the top 1% of test takers—about 16,000 juniors—scored between 1450 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 70 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 640 or lower. In other words, your chance of scoring below 640 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 EBRW and Math are not the same. For EBRW, 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 EBRW is, 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 have to work a little bit harder on Math than you will on EBRW.

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

 

body_cupcakes-2.jpgCupcake 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

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 section 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 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 is. 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, 1050 on the PSAT equals 1050 on the SAT, 1300 equals 1300, 1280 equals 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.

 

body_magic_8_ball.jpgUnfortunately, the PSAT doesn't emit bright, magical lights like a Magic 8 Ball does. (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 (who are juniors) might qualify as Semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship ProgramThis 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 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 estimated PSAT score cutoffs by working backward. First, I divided each state's Selection Index by 2. Then, I divided the quotient by 3 to get (estimated) PSAT 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 PSAT score for each Selection Index cutoff.

State

Selection Index Cutoff

PSAT Score Cutoff

Alabama

216

1440

Alaska

217

1450

Arizona

220

1470

Arkansas

215

1440

California

222

1480

Colorado

220

1470

Connecticut

221

1480

Delaware

221

1480

District of Columbia

223

1490

Florida

219

1460

Georgia

220

1470

Hawaii

220

1470

Idaho

216

1440

Illinois

221

1480

Indiana

219

1460

Iowa

216

1440

Kansas

219

1460

Kentucky

217

1450

Louisiana

216

1440

Maine

215

1440

Maryland

222

1480

Massachusetts

222

1480

Michigan

219

1460

Minnesota

220

1470

Mississippi

213

1420

Missouri

217

1450

Montana

214

1430

Nebraska

215

1440

Nevada

217

1450

New Hampshire

217

1450

New Jersey

223

1490

New Mexico

215

1440

New York

221

1480

North Carolina

219

1460

North Dakota

211

1410

Ohio

219

1460

Oklahoma

216

1440

Oregon

220

1470

Pennsylvania

219

1460

Rhode Island

219

1460

South Carolina

217

1450

South Dakota

215

1440

Tennessee

218

1460

Texas

221

1480

Utah

216

1440

Vermont

217

1450

Virginia

222

1480

Washington

222

1480

West Virginia

211

1410

Wisconsin

217

1450

Wyoming

213

1420

AVERAGE

218

1460

 

As you can see, the PSAT score required to be a Semifinalist varies by state. In North Dakota and West Virginia, you can become a Semifinalist with a score of about 1410. But in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, you’ll need around 1490—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 at least 30 points and still qualify for National Merit!

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

For example, if you lived in New Mexico, your Selection Index cutoff would be 215. Using this score, do the math as described above to get your goal (test) 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 section. If you’re stronger at Reading and Writing than you are at Math, you could instead aim for 38 on both the Reading and Writing sections and 32-33 on the Math section. This combination will still get you a Selection Index score of 215 (just do the math to check it!).

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.

 

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 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 EBRW since you need a higher Math score to get into the 99th percentile than you do to get into the same percentile for EBRW.

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 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 consideration.

Each state maintains a different Selection Index cutoff score, with the lowest being 211 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 the 2018 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:

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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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