If you're gearing up for a high PSAT score your junior year, then you might 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 can 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 PSAT 8/9 use slightly different scoring systems but overall 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 (called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, or EBRW for short). By adding these scaled scores together, you get a composite PSAT score range that 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, does not 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, the College Board considers everyone's performance on a given administration. Once it figures out your scores, it assigns them a percentile. If you scored in the 75th percentile, to give an example, then you performed the same as or higher than 75% of other test takers (and the remaining 25% of test takers scored higher than you).
By looking at how scaled scores are 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 that you're scoring below 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 the College Board's 2020-2021 PSAT score report.
|PSAT/NMSQT Score||EBRW Percentile||Math Percentile|
|280||1 and below||1 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.
By the fall of your freshman year, you still haven't taken any full high school classes yet. But maybe you've done a good deal of prep and are ready to try your hand at the test. Fortunately, you'll have lots of time to do even more prep before taking the PSAT again 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 would need to achieve on the PSAT/NMSQT to score in these higher-than-average percentiles:
|PSAT/NMSQT Percentile||EBRW Score||Math Score||Composite Score|
An average PSAT section score in the 50th percentile would be about 460. To get an above-average score, however, you'd want to get 470 or higher in both EBRW and Math.
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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 2020. 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 2020-2021 report on the PSAT 8/9.
Here's the percentile chart for 9th graders:
|PSAT 8/9 Score||EBRW Percentile||Math Percentile|
|260||1 and below||3|
|250||1 and below||2|
|240 and below||1 and below||1 and below|
Based on these percentiles, we can take the same approach we used above to figure out what makes a good score for a freshman on the PSAT 8/9.
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, so it should give you a more 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 50th, 75th, 90th, and 99th percentiles on the PSAT 8/9 for 9th graders:
|PSAT 8/9 Percentile||EBRW Score||Math Score||Composite Score|
You can use 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, though? 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 SAT, as the exams will be very similar. When you score them, write down any mistakes you made and 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 really studying question type and format, you can gain a strong familiarity with the commonly asked questions. You might even reach the point at which you feel 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 such as speed reading and skimming for key content, as well as learning how to identify and fix grammar rules fast.
While there might be some content 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 such as the 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 so you can 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.
Deciding between the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT/NMSQT? Read all about what's on the PSAT 8/9 and whether you should take it at this point in high school.
In sophomore year, you might also consider taking 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.
Starting to think about SAT prep? Read all about if you should start prepping for the SAT as a freshman and learn what a good freshman SAT score would be.
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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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.