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What's a Good PSAT Score for a Freshman?

Posted by Rebecca Safier | Dec 23, 2018, 10:26:00 AM

PSAT Info and Strategies



If you're gearing up for a high PSAT score in junior year, then you may choose to take the PSAT as a freshman for practice. Taking the PSAT in 9th grade will help you identify your current scoring level and figure out how you can improve for the future.

As a freshman, you can choose between two tests: the PSAT/NMSQT that 11th graders take or the PSAT 8/9, a version of the test specifically geared toward 8th and 9th graders.

These two tests have comparable, but slightly different, score ranges. This article will go over the scoring and percentiles of both so you know what would make a good PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 8/9 score as a freshman.


How Is the PSAT Scored?

The PSAT NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) and the PSAT 8/9 use slightly different scoring systems, but they match up pretty closely. Let's take a look at both.

The PSAT/NMSQT gives you two scaled scores between 160 and 760. One is for Math, and the other is for Reading and Writing together. Adding these scaled scores together, the composite score range on the PSAT falls between 320 and 1520.

The PSAT 8/9 gets shifted down 80 points, falling on a scale between 240 and 1440 total, or 120 to 720 for each section. It's moved down to make up for the fact that it's a slightly easier test than the PSAT/NMSQT. A perfect score on the PSAT 8/9, while strong, doesn't equate exactly to a perfect score on the PSAT NMSQT.

Similarly, the PSAT/NMSQT is shifted 80 points down from the SAT's score range of 400 to 1600 to make up for its slightly less challenging content. You can picture the score ranges like a slide, with the SAT at the top, the PSAT/NMSQT just below, and the PSAT 8/9 underneath that.

To calculate your final scores, College Board considers everyone's performance on a given administration. Once it figures out your scores, it assigns them a percentile. If you score in the 75th percentile, to give an example, then you scored higher or the same as 75% of other test-takers. The remaining 25% scored higher than you.

By looking at how scaled scores get translated into percentiles, we can answer our original question of what makes a good PSAT score for a freshman. Objectively speaking, we can look at what PSAT score is higher than the scores of the majority of other test-takers. Is your score above average, or did you fall below the halfway mark?




PSAT Scores and Percentiles 

Since freshmen can take either the PSAT/NMSQT or the PSAT 8/9, we'll look at the data for both tests. By looking at how scores fall into percentiles, we can figure out what makes a good score on either test for a freshman. First, let's consider the percentile chart for the PSAT/NMSQT. 


PSAT/NMSQT: Percentile Chart

Since the majority of PSAT/NMSQT test-takers are juniors, followed by sophomores, the College Board unfortunately doesn't release stats on the scores and percentiles of only freshmen. Instead, it groups all students who are 10th graders and younger together when presenting data on how scaled scores convert to percentiles. 

If you feel like you're scoring lower than average, don't worry! The majority of students represented in this data have a whole year of schooling on you.

The chart below matches up the PSAT/NMSQT scores of younger students with percentiles. This chart is sourced from College Board's 2018 score report

PSAT/NMSQT Score Reading and Writing Math
760 99+ 99+
750 99+ 99+
740 99+ 99
730 99+ 99
720 99+ 99
710 99 99
700 99 98
690 98 98
680 98 98
670 97 97
660 97 97
650 96 97
640 95 96
630 94 95
620 92 95
610 91 94
600 89 92
590 87 91
580 85 89
570 83 87
560 80 85
550 78 82
540 75 80
530 72 77
520 68 74
510 65 71
500 62 68
490 59 64
480 56 60
470 52 56
460 49 52
450 45 48
440 42 43
430 39 39
420 35 35
410 32 30
400 28 26
390 25 21
380 21 17
370 17 14
360 14 11
350 11 8
340 8 6
330 6 5
320 4 4
310 3 3
300 2 2
290 and below 1 and below 2 and below


As you can see, you don't have to get a perfect score to make it to the 99th percentile. Using this information, keep reading to learn what can we conclude makes for a good score for freshmen on the PSAT/NMSQT.




What's a Good Score for Freshmen on the PSAT/NMSQT?

Since freshman year is early to take the PSAT, your target scores can certainly be lower than they would be when you reach 10th or 11th grade. In fall of freshman year, you haven't taken any full high school classes yet. You may have already done a good deal of prep for the PSAT though, and you have lots of time to do more before taking the PSAT as a sophomore and/or junior

With this in mind, let's consider good scores to be in the 70th percentile or higher. These are the section and composite scores you'd need to achieve on the PSAT/NMSQT to score in these higher than average percentiles. 

Percentile Reading and Writing Score Math Score Composite Score
70% 520-530 500-510 1020-1030
80% 560 540 1090
90% 600-610 580-590 1180
99% 700 710 1370


An average section score in the 50th percentile would be a score of about 460 on each section. To get an above average score, you'd want to get 470 or higher in both sections.


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Now let's consider the other version of the PSAT you can take as a freshman, the PSAT 8/9.


PSAT 8/9: Percentile Chart

The data in the chart below solely reflects the scores and percentiles of 9th graders who took the PSAT 8/9 in the fall of 2018. Remember that the PSAT 8/9 score range goes from 240 to 1440, or from 120 to 720 for each section. This information is sourced from the College Board's official 2018/2019 report on the PSAT 8/9.

PSAT 8/9 Score Reading and Writing Math
720 99+ 99+
710 99+ 99+
700 99+ 99+
690 99+ 99+
680 99+ 99
670 99+ 99
660 99 99
650 99 99
640 98 98
630 98 98
620 97 98
610 96 97
600 95 96
590 94 96
580 93 95
570 91 94
560 89 92
550 87 91
540 85 89
530 82 87
520 80 85
510 77 82
500 74 79
490 71 76
480 68 72
470 64 69
460 61 64
450 58 60
440 54 55
430 50 51
420 46 46
410 42 42
400 38 38
390 34 33
380 30 28
370 26 24
360 22 20
350 18 17
340 15 14
330 11 11
320 8 9
310 6 7
300 4 6
290 3 4
280 2 3
270 1 2
260 1 2
250 1 2
240 and below 1 and below 1 and below


Based on these percentiles, let's take the same approach as we did above to figure out what makes a good score for a freshman on the PSAT 8/9. Let's see what you'd need to score to make it into the 70th percentile and above.


What's a Good Score for Freshmen on the PSAT 8/9?

Unlike the data on the PSAT/NMSQT, this data is entirely based on 9th graders. It's also more recent, so it should give the most realistic view of what you'd need to score on the PSAT 8/9 to do better than average. This chart shows the scores you'd need to achieve to make it into the 70th, 80th, 90th, and 99th percentiles.

Percentile Reading and Writing Score Math Score Composite Score
70% 480-490 470-480 950-960
80% 520 500-510 1010-1020
90% 560-570 540-550 1100
99% 650 650 1270


You can use all this data on scores and percentiles to set goals for whichever test you choose to take as a 9th grader. How can you achieve your target scores? That all depends on how much you prepare. Read on for a few tips for prepping for the PSAT leading up to freshman year.



By prep, I mean studying, not popped collars.


How to Prep for the PSAT as a Freshman

One of the first steps in getting ready to take the PSAT is defining your target scores. What are you aiming for? What do you hope to score at this point in your education? To figure this out, I recommend taking a timed PSAT practice test. Score your test, and figure out where you're currently scoring and what areas you can improve in.

For a lot of freshmen, the math section might be especially challenging with new concepts and problems. To get yourself ready, you could seek out PSAT practice materials and self-teach or get tutored in the new concepts and vocabulary you'll need to know. By finding your areas of strength and weakness, you can adjust your studying to meet your own individual needs. 

Official PSAT practice tests and sample questions are the best representation of what you'll see on the test. You can also use older practice tests to prep, as well as practice tests for the new SAT, as the exams will be very similar. When you score them, write down any mistakes you made or questions you're unsure about.

Taking the time to thoroughly understand and correct your mistakes is the best way to ensure you answer similar questions correctly the next time. The PSAT is a national standardized test, so even when the specifics change, the question types generally stay the same test after test. By thoroughly studying question type and format, you can gain a strong familiarity with the commonly asked questions. You may even reach the point where you feel that your official PSAT is very similar to practice tests you've already taken.

The PSAT is challenging for its content, the complex wording of questions, and the strict time limits. By timing yourself as you practice, you'll improve your ability to answer questions quickly and efficiently. You can try out strategies of speed reading and skimming for key content, as well as how to identify and fix grammar rules fast. 

While there may be some content that you just haven't studied in school yet, all this studying will at least help your test-taking skills. You'll get better at working quickly under time limits, applying time-saving strategies, like process of elimination, and handling the pressure of taking College Board exams.

Even if you decide not to take the PSAT as a freshman, it's a great idea to start early with a PSAT practice test to gauge your level, map out your study plan, and familiarize yourself with the test. By the time you reach junior year, you'll be prepared to take the PSAT NMSQT when it counts for National Merit and ultimately, the SAT.


What's Next?

Are you deciding between the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT NMSQT? Read all about the PSAT 8/9 here and whether or not you should take it at this point in high school.

In sophomore year, you might also be considering the PSAT 10. This guide explains what this College Board exam is all about, while this article discusses whether you should take the PSAT 10 or the PSAT NMSQT.

Are you starting to think about SAT prep? Read all about if you should start prepping for the SAT as a freshman or what a good freshman SAT score would be.


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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

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.

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