The mission: a perfect score on the PSAT. The method: serious test prep. Achieving a perfect score is no easy feat, but with the right study plan and materials, you can master this important exam.
This guide will go over what makes for a perfect score on the PSAT, and how you can prep to conquer the test. Read on to learn how to succeed in your mission for a perfect PSAT score, should you choose to accept it.
First off, what's the new full score on the redesigned PSAT?
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What's a Perfect Score on the New PSAT?
The new PSAT is using a different scoring range than that used by PSATs past. The composite range will be from 320 to 1520. The Math section will count towards half of this score, while Reading and Writing together will account for the other half. Both of these sections will be scored between 160 and 760.
To break it down, you'll get a score between 8 and 38 for each section, Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. To convert to the scaled score discussed above, simply multiply your math score by 20. A math score of 30, for example, would convert to a 600 on the new scale (30 x 20 = 600).
The Reading and Writing sections get a little trickier. Since they're now combined, you'd have to add your section scores together. Then you'd multiply by 10. If you got a 30 in Reading and a 34 in Writing, then your scaled score would be 640 ((30 + 34) * 10 = 640).
With this new scoring range, the new perfect score on the PSAT is a 1520, with a 760 on Math and a 760 on Reading and Writing. A 1520 doesn't necessarily equate to a perfect 1600 on the new SAT, since the SAT is a somewhat more difficult test, but it still predicts a very strong SAT score.
In past years, the grading curve on the PSAT was not very forgiving. You had to get every single Math and Reading question correct to get a perfect score. On the Writing section, you could get one question wrong and still get full points. The new PSAT will likely be similar, especially considering Reading and Writing will be scored together. This means there might be a little more flexibility in these sections, while for math you'll have to answer every question correctly.
If you're able to answer almost every question correctly and achieve a full 1520, what does this accomplishment mean in terms of your college planning?
What Does It Mean to Get a Perfect PSAT Score?
For one thing, getting a perfect PSAT score is a big testament to your dedicated preparation and mastery of the math, reading, and writing skills helpful for college. Achieving top scores in the PSAT is a rare achievement, and it demonstrates that you took the test seriously and acted effectively in pursuit of your goal. All that studying also predicts excellent SAT scores, especially if you keep it up!
In addition to feeling a great sense of personal achievement, getting a perfect PSAT score qualifies you for National Merit recognition. The top 1% of scorers, usually about 16,000 students across the country, are named National Merit Semifinalist. A perfect 1520 would exceed even National Merit expectations. After completing an application, you might go on to be named a National Merit Finalist and win scholarship money.
Some colleges offer their own merit-based scholarships to National Merit scholars. The University of Idaho and University of Oklahoma, for example, offer full rides. Even if your school doesn't offer financial aid, having the National Merit distinction on your application is an impressive credential.
You've probably noticed that I've mentioned preparation as a key component to getting full scores on the PSAT. While the test does require you to have specific skills in math, critical reading, and grammar, having a strong academic record in class will only get you so far. The PSAT tests these concepts in unique ways with question types specific to the test.
The content isn't necessarily all that advanced, but the questions may be worded in new or unusual ways. What this means is not just that studying is extremely useful for doing well, but also that students at all levels can get strong scores with the right approach. That being said, let's take a closer look at how you can put forth your best efforts to obtain perfect scores on the PSAT.
How to Get a Perfect Score on the PSAT
Technically, getting a perfect score on the PSAT means answering just about every question correctly. In past years, you had to answer every question right on the Math and Reading sections to get the maximum score. On Writing, you could get one question wrong before your scaled score started to decrease.
The new PSAT will likely have a similarly tough curve, especially with Math, since it counts for half of your total score. There may be a little more leeway on Reading and Writing, but you should aim to get to every question right in order to get a full 1520.
Since the PSAT is debuting a redesigned version this fall, there isn't a ton of practice material out there yet for the new PSAT. Not to worry! You can still use the sample questions that are available, along with older versions of the PSAT, to get ready. This guide will provide links to free resources for PSAT practice that should be an essential part of your prep.
Before starting, it's a good idea to set your intention. Then you can refer back to it over the weeks and months to stay motivated and focused on your goal.
Define Your Goals
Achieving a perfect score on the PSAT is a rare accomplishment. You have to really want it. Whatever your reasons are, you need passion and motivation to fuel your studying. Even when you'd rather be watching TV or playing video games, you can keep your eye on the 1520 prize and connect your daily actions with your future goal.
Before diving into your study plan, I recommend defining your reasons for wanting to achieve a perfect score. What's going to keep you studying with all the other work you have to do? What will pick you up when you're feeling discouraged? A large part of this is believing that you can do it, even if you're not achieving perfect scores yet on your practice tests.
Rest assured; studying and analyzing your mistakes will help you improve. It's entirely possible to conquer the PSAT and familiarize yourself with the test to the point where you'll know exactly what kind of content and question types to expect on test day.
In his article on how to get a perfect score on the SAT, Allen Cheng details his own test prep journey. He shares advice on how to identify those factors that will keep you disciplined, plus suggestions on how to treat the test like a game to win or problem to be solved.
Once you've written down your reasons, post them up on your wall or somewhere visible. Even if you feel frustrated at times, try to connect back to your original objective and the optimistic mindset you had when you first set it. Once you've committed yourself and got your head in the game, you can gather the materials that will help you achieve your perfect PSAT score.
Stock up with PSAT practice questions for test season.
Use High-Quality Practice Materials
Students taking the PSAT this year have an extra challenge. They're taking the redesigned PSAT, which has a different format, structure, and scoring system than PSATs in previous years. Because it's a new test, there aren't a ton of official practice tests to study. College Board has released one, along with some sample questions. There are also four new SAT practice tests, which closely resemble the new PSAT.
Don't worry about not having enough PSAT practice tests, though. Despite the changes in design, the fundamental concepts and skills tested by the PSAT remain the same. You can still use old practice tests and sample questions to prep effectively. Plus by studying the changes, like no more sentence completion questions, you'll become even more familiar with the new PSAT.
To master the PSAT, you must to focus not only on mastering content skills, like algebra and rules of grammar, but also on understanding the format, like timing constraints and common "distractor" answer choices. Because it's a standardized test administered on the national level, the PSAT repeats certain question types over and over. The more practice you have, the faster you'll be able to recognize a question and what it's asking you to do. Then you can apply the same tried and true steps you used on practice problems to get to the correct answer quickly and efficiently.
In addition to using high-quality materials and keeping a critical eye on question structure, you also want to look inwards. Customize your study plan so you can target your individual strengths and weaknesses.
Find and Analyze Your Strengths and Weaknesses
If you're consistently acing algebra problems, then there's no point spending a lot of time on algebra review. You should allocate your prep time where it will have the biggest payoff. If you're struggling to answer reading questions in time, then focus on reading comprehension review and strategies. If you're relying on "what sounds right" to answer grammar questions, then take the time to learn specific grammar rules.
Before you can design your study plan, you need to get a specific sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are. One way to do this is to take a practice test and to be thorough in scoring it and finding your mistakes. Analyze your results and take the time to figure out why you got a question wrong. Was it confusion over the material? A timing issue? A careless mistake?
Write down your mistakes and the reasons for them, and then drill those areas to get them right the next time. The key factor here is not just spending time to study your results, but also to analyze why you missed a question and then take steps to solve that problem. If you can root out the reason behind a mistake, then you can stop it from becoming a pattern. You can address the skills you need to answer the same question type correctly the next time.
Once you have a clear understanding of what you specifically need to work on, you can maximize the effectiveness of your studying. From there, you'll have to be meticulous and laser-focused about drilling certain content and practice questions.
Be Your Own Drill Sergeant
Not to get too intense about it, but achieving a perfect score on the PSAT requires, well, perfection. As mentioned above, you can't miss any Math or Reading questions, and you can only miss one Writing question. If you're aiming to answer every question correctly on the PSAT, then you'll want to work up to answering every question correctly on your practice tests. This takes time and a lot of work, but ultimately that's your goal before you walk into your classroom on test day.
To get to this point, you'll have to be dedicated to drilling your mistakes and reviewing material and question types to the point of becoming a PSAT expert. Don't let any mistakes pass you by. Keep studying and retesting until you're answering every question correctly. Even if the specifics and wording are different on your official PSAT, the questions should essentially be ones that you've seen and answered before.
All of this studying - taking practice tests, analyzing your mistakes, drilling your weak areas - takes time and diligence. How much time should you set aside to study for the PSAT if you're aiming for a perfect score?
What Should Your Study Plan Look Like?
To a large extent, the nature of your study plan depends on the level at which you're starting out. That's why it's a good idea to take a practice test right away and measure your level. As discussed above, your individual needs, namely your academic and test-taking strengths and weaknesses, largely determine your approach.
If you're scoring very highly right off the bat and are only looking for a 100 to 200 point improvement, then 40 hours might be sufficient. Again, this depends on the nature of your mistakes - whether it's a content or timing issue, for instance - and how effective your prep is in improving your performance the next time.
If you're looking to raise your score a few hundred points, then you might need 60 to 80 hours of test prep. For larger improvements of 300 to 500 points, you might need to commit 150 hours or more. This may sound like a ton of time, but if you start early and space out your studying, then it starts to look a lot more reasonable.
Let's say you start to think about the PSAT at the beginning of your sophomore year. If you set aside three hours a week, then that adds up to over 100 hours by the end of the year. This time isn't including the summer before 11th grade, which may be when you have the most time to prep for the PSAT. You may also consider taking the PSAT 10 in 10th grade or the PSAT 8/9 in 8th or 9th grade to get ready.
You should review content, take a practice test, analyze your results, and design your study plan based on how much you need to improve and what specific areas you need to focus on. Write out a schedule, setting aside a specific day or amount of time each week.
Be patient with yourself; it will take time before you're seeing perfect scores. At the same time, if you find your approach isn't working too well, feel free to readjust to something more effective. While getting a full 1520 requires a lot of effort, you can achieve this goal with careful planning and an early start. Breaking down this goal into small, manageable steps not only helps make it attainable, but it also reduces any stress and pressure you feel around the PSAT.
Find Ways to Handle the Pressure
Speed reading isn't the only strategy you should learn to excel on the PSAT. You also want to find strategies to reduce stress and deal with test-taking pressure. Not only will this help you feel happier in general, but being able to clear your mind and direct your energy into the test will improve your overall performance.
Experiencing some nerves on test day isn't necessarily a bad thing, but too much anxiety or perfectionism could be unpleasant and distract you from the task at hand. When you're studying, be patient with yourself and take breaks to re-energize. Exercise and meditation can also go a long way toward reducing stress and improving concentration.
The PSAT is a strictly timed test. Try not to psych yourself out if you get held up on a question. Don't waste too much time on it or let it ruin the rest of the section for you. As you study, you'll learn more about what questions are easiest and most difficult for you, what you find distracting, and how to keep up your energy and focus over several hours. Just as you review content and learn strategies for improving on the test, you should learn about your own needs and try out ways to deal with stress and pressure.
If you do get held up by a few questions, remember that you don't need to get perfect scores to get National Merit distinction. While a full score would be a great feat and accomplishment, you don't need perfection to achieve National Merit or make it into the top 1%.
To sum up, let's go over the most important takeaways for students studying to achieve excellent scores on the PSAT.
- The new perfect score on the PSAT is a 1520, or a 760 on Math and a 760 on Reading and Writing.
- In past years, the curve was not forgiving. You had to get every question right on Math and Reading for full points, and could only miss one Writing question.
- Use official PSAT practice tests when you study, along with College Board's sample questions.
- Take time to analyze your mistakes and shape your study plan around the areas where you most need improvement.
- Start early and write down your study plan. Setting aside a few hours each week will add up to significant prep and improvement.
- In addition to mastering the content and test-taking strategies, you must master the mental game to achieve a perfect score. Find ways to deal with pressure and stay focused on the material at hand.
Achieving a perfect score on the PSAT would be a testament to your effort and ability to stay focused on pursuing your goals over time. Not only is it a rare feat that would lead to National Merit awards and scholarships, but it also may predict a perfect SAT score for your college applications!
Not only is the PSAT/NMSQT important for National Merit, but it also helps predict your SAT scores. Read about how your PSAT performance predicts your SAT scores here.
Are you a 9th grader wondering if you should take the PSAT? Check out this article before making your decision. If you do take the test as a younger student, what would be a good score as a freshman on the PSAT?
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.