You’ve taken the PSAT and gotten your score report, but what’s next?
This is a guide as to how to interpret and use your PSAT score to help you prepare for the SAT. Read on to make the most of your PSAT score.
Interpreting Your PSAT Scores
On your PSAT score report, you will get scores for each section and an overall composite score.
On the “old” PSAT (any PSAT taken during the 2014-15 school year and earlier), the test is scored out of 240 total points, with Critical Reading, Writing, and Math each being worth 80 points (notice that this matches with the current 2400 SAT scoring system).
The scores on the new PSAT (which will start being given during the 2015-2016 year) will be matched up with the New SAT (which is scored out of 1600) and scored between 320 and 1520 – 160-760 for Math, and 160-760 for Reading and Writing combined.
Your PSAT score is designed to predict your actual SAT score, so if you get a 1300 PSAT that means you are predicted to get around a 1300 SAT. (The PSAT scale doesn't go up to a perfect 1600 since the SAT is harder than the PSAT. So even if you score very high on the PSAT you won't necessarily be set up to get a perfect 1600 on the SAT, though you will be predicted to get a very high score.) You also get subscores for Math, Reading, and Writing so you can see which subsections you are best at.
You will also get score ranges on the report – these are meant to show the extent your score could change with repeated testing.
Keep in mind these ranges are just estimates, so don’t think that you can’t get a higher score than the top of your score range on the real SAT. Also don’t assume that you won’t score any lower than your predicted ranges. Furthermore, your predicted SAT score is also an estimate, and certainly not set in stone. Your actual SAT score will depend on numerous factors, including how much you study and how much more difficult the real SAT is.
What You Can Learn from Score Comparisons
Your PSAT score report will also include a number of score comparisons to put your score in context.
These comparisons are a lot more helpful than just comparing your PSAT score report with your friends' reports (as exhilarating as that can be). For all you know, your school could have PSAT scores well below or above the national average.
First, the score report will show the average scores that other test-takers got nationwide per grade. According to College Board, if you’re at the average score or higher, you’re on track to develop the reading, writing, and math skills you’ll need in college.
College Board also includes benchmarks for each section. These are scores you should meet or exceed to be considered on track for college.
(College Board doesn’t specify what happens if the average score is lower than the benchmarks they set. Likely the benchmark should take precedent over the score average, since the average is dependent on the students who take the test. So if you score above the average but are still below the college-readiness benchmark, assume you need to put in more work to be considered on track for college.)
Percentiles are also given for each section, comparing you to others in your grade. For example, if you are in the 70th percentile in the Reading section, you scored higher than 70% of other students in your grade on this section.
These comparisons are a good measure of your overall progress and ability, and can help you spot any potential red flags. For example, if you’re above the 90th percentile for Reading and Writing but at the 50th percentile for Math, you know that you will have the most work to do in the Math section when you study for the SAT. It might also be a cue to work harder in math class.
But keep in mind it’s more important to meet your own SAT goals (like a score high enough for your top school) than to be at the top of the percentile charts.
How College Board’s Tools Can Help You Study
Part of the PSAT’s purpose is to help students get introduced to the SAT in a low-stress context and learn about their skills and weaknesses on the SAT.
College Board is trying to expand this by creating a more detailed online score report for the new PSAT. It will include performance summaries for each section, insights into strengths and weaknesses grouped by content area and level of difficulty, and a scanned copy of your essay so you can evaluate your performance.
The old score reports had many of these elements, including breaking down sections into concepts and reporting how many questions you got right for each. But they didn't expressly analyze your strengths and weaknesses, include detailed percentile rankings, or include your essay.
College Board is also adding additional resources. One of these is a partnership with Khan Academy, that will give students targeted SAT practice based on their PSAT performance. They are also adding a feature that predicts your readiness for AP courses, and even a personality profiler to help you explore college majors and careers.
How You Can Go Further to Prepare for the SAT
As we've discussed, your PSAT report gives you tons of valuable data about how you are shaping up to do on the SAT. But now that you have the report, you can use more than just College Board's tools. Come up with a personal target SAT score, create a plan, and study until you're positive you'll achieve your target score. By doing that, you can get an SAT score that will help you get into your top schools. Does that seem a bit ambitious? We'll take it step by step.
First, Know Your Goal
You can't hit the target if it doesn't exist!
While College Board analyzes your PSAT score in detail, before you start studying for the real SAT, it’s important to have an end goal in mind. There is a huge difference between going from a 1300 PSAT to a 1400 SAT than a 1300 PSAT to a 1600 SAT.
So how do you know your SAT target score? Based on the score ranges of the most competitive schools you want to get into. We have a detailed guide to coming up with your SAT target score based on your top colleges. You might also base your target score off scholarship score cut-offs at state schools.
Once you have your goal in mind, you can determine how long you need to study and schedule your study plan. For example, if you decide you need to study 40 hours, will you study for 4 hours a week for 10 weeks or 10 hours a week for a month?
Actionables from this section: set your SAT target score, determine the length of time you’ll study.
Second, Analyze Your Weaknesses and Strengths
Before you begin to study, you also need to know where your strong points are and where you’re weak. The PSAT does a good amount of this for you on the score report by analyzing the problems you got wrong.
However, it doesn’t tell you why you got certain problems wrong – for example, you may see you missed 3 Pre-Algebra problems, but the score report can’t explain why you got them wrong. Did you completely misunderstand the questions or were you going too fast and making silly mistakes?
The why is what you’ll get at as you start studying.
We recommend grabbing a notebook and making an initial inventory of your strengths and weaknesses based on the PSAT score report.
As you start doing SAT practice problems and tests, expand on this list and add detail as to why you’re getting problems wrong and what you need to do to fix your mistakes. The goal is to shrink your list of weaknesses as you study. Remember – don’t just study until you can get something right, study it until you’re positive you can’t get it wrong.
Actionables from this section: create your “weakness” notebook based on your PSAT report.
Third, Gather Resources to Study
Of course, you can’t study for the SAT with your PSAT score report alone. An easy place to start is the free online resources from the SAT, like the Khan Academy program we described above.
You can also check out other free, online resources we have gathered for studying, as well as SAT practice tests you can access online. We also have a study guide for the new SAT, and tips for studying vocabulary on the new SAT.
But websites alone might not cut it. Check out our advice on the best SAT prep books on the market, including math-specific prep books.
Remember to keep the "quality over quantity" rule in mind. Don't spend time finding 15 different resources if you're only going to use a few of them.
Finally, if you're considering a formal preparation program, we highly recommend our PrepScholar program – not just because it’s ours, but because it was created by experts. We truly believe it’s the best test preparation service on the market.
Actionables from this section: determine which study tools you’ll use and gather them.
Remember: The PSAT Is Just Your Starting Point
Your PSAT performance will give you some great data on how you are shaping up to do on the SAT. From detailed section performance breakdowns to your final predicted SAT score, the PSAT gives you a lot of info about your potential SAAT performance.
However, the main reason to take the PSAT is to practice for the SAT. Just because you’ve taken the PSAT, don’t underestimate the SAT itself, which is longer and more difficult. Full practice tests should be part of your study regimen.
Also, do not assume your PSAT score dictates your eventual SAT score! It’s more than possible to outscore your PSAT on the real SAT if you study. It’s also more than possible to score lower than your PSAT if you don’t study enough.
Use your PSAT score as just one tool as you move into serious studying for the SAT. Used correctly, it can be a very helpful tool.
Get a complete guide to the new 2015-16 PSAT, a practice test for the new PSAT, and a guide to the new SAT in 2016.
If you’re in the class of 2017, you’re probably wondering whether you should take the old or new SAT. Get an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of each possibility here.
If you want to compare the percentiles on your PSAT report with actual SAT scores, check out our guide to SAT percentile ranks.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.