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What's a Good PSAT Score for a Junior?

Posted by Rebecca Safier | Dec 22, 2019 4:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies

 

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The PSAT is an important test on the road to college. Your scores predict how you'll do on the SAT. Plus, top scorers can earn distinctions and scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

So how do you know whether your PSAT scores are good? While what counts as a good score varies depending on your personal goals, we can give a more objective answer to this question by considering PSAT score percentiles. But first, let's review how the PSAT is scored.

 

How Is the PSAT Scored?

The PSAT is scored between 320 and 1520. Math counts for half the composite score with a range of 160-760. The Reading and Writing sections are scored together (called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, or EBRW) with that same range, 160-760.

Test takers also get a more detailed score report of each section from 8 to 38. There's an easy trick for converting this section score (also called a test score) to a scaled score out of 760. For Math, simply multiply your section score by 20. For Reading and Writing, add your section scores together and then multiply the sum by 10.

When you take the PSAT and get your score report back, you'll see percentiles along with your scores. By looking at these percentiles, you can determine how competitive your PSAT scores are. In other words, we can answer the question, "What makes a good PSAT score for a junior?" by looking at percentiles.

Percentiles compare your PSAT section and composite scores with those of other test takers. For example, if your Math score falls in the 70th percentile, then you've scored the same as or higher than 70% of other test takers. (And the other 30% scored higher than you.) Basically, the higher your percentile is, the better your PSAT score will be compared to everyone else's scores.

 

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What's a Good PSAT Score for a Junior?

We can define a "good" PSAT score as one that's higher than the 75th percentile. This means you scored equal to or higher than 75% of all other test takers. For juniors, 75th percentile scores are around 570 to 590 in each section, or about 1150-1160 in total.

An "OK" PSAT score is one higher than the 50th percentile, which means you scored the same as or higher than half of all other test takers. An excellent score is a score in the 90th percentile or higher (although a 90th percentile score still isn't high enough to qualify for National Merit, as we discuss more below).

The following chart shows the minimum section and composite scores you'd need to reach the 50th, 75th, 90th, and 99th percentiles on the PSAT.

PSAT Percentile (11th Grade) EBRW Score Math Score Composite Score
99th (Top) 730-760 750-760 1460-1520
90th (Excellent) 650-660 640 1290
75th (Good) 590 570 1150-1160
50th (OK) 510-520 490 1010

Source: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2019

 

According to this chart, a good PSAT score for a junior is a composite score higher than 1150 or 1160, an OK score is one higher than 1010, and an excellent score is anything higher than 1290.

 

What Do PSAT Score Percentiles Mean?

To understand how we chose the scores to represent "good," "OK" and "excellent" PSAT scores, and to understand how you can interpret PSAT scores yourself, you'll need to know more about PSAT percentiles.

As we mentioned above, percentiles show where your scores fall in comparison with those of other students in your grade. Your PSAT score report will feature lots of score types and data. Among this data, you'll get not one, but two percentiles comparing your scores with those of other students. These percentiles are called the Nationally Representative Percentile and the User Percentile. We'll focus on User Percentiles, which compare all students in a grade who typically take the PSAT.

Below is a chart showing 11th grade User Percentiles for the entire range of PSAT scores. This chart is sourced from the College Board's 2019 PSAT score report. Use this info to see how your scaled section scores convert to User Percentiles.

PSAT Score EBRW Percentile (11th Grade) Math Percentile (11th Grade)
760 99+ 99+
750 99+ 99
740 99 98
730 99 97
720 98 96
710 97 95
700 96 95
690 95 94
680 94 93
670 92 92
660 91 92
650 89 91
640 87 90
630 85 88
620 83 87
610 80 85
600 78 82
590 75 80
580 72 78
570 69 75
560 66 72
550 62 69
540 59 66
530 55 62
520 52 59
510 48 56
500 45 52
490 42 49
480 39 45
470 36 40
460 33 37
450 30 33
440 27 29
430 25 26
420 22 23
410 20 20
400 17 16
390 15 13
380 13 11
370 11 9
360 9 7
350 7 5
340 5 4
330 4 3
320 2 2
310 2 2
300 1 and below 1 and below

 

As you can see, section scores correspond somewhat differently to percentiles. To make it into the 99th percentile on EBRW, for instance, you'd need to score 730 or above, while to hit the 99th percentile on Math, you'd need a near-perfect 750.

 

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Why Are PSAT Scores Important to Juniors?

There are two main ways that PSAT scores can be important to juniors who take the test.

The PSAT's most obvious purpose is to help high school students be better prepared for the SAT. The PSAT and SAT have many similarities, so by taking the PSAT early on in your junior year, you'll get an estimate of how well you'd do on the SAT. You can use this information to figure out which areas you need to improve on the most, create a study plan, and set SAT score goals for yourself.

However, the PSAT isn't just a way to help you see how well you score on the SAT; PSAT scores themselves can actually be quite important for juniors. If you score high enough, you could qualify for National Merit and the benefits the program offers. Keep reading to learn more about what National Merit entails.

 

What's a Good PSAT Score for National Merit?

For high school juniors who take the PSAT and score very well (in the top 1%), there's the possibility of becoming a National Merit Semifinalist, which can give you a serious leg up when applying to colleges and possibly even lead to scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses its own Selection Index to determine who qualifies as Commended Students and Semifinalists. Students who score in the top 3-4% on the PSAT are named Commended Scholars, and students who score in the top 1% are named Semifinalists.

How do you calculate your Selection Index? Just add your three PSAT section scores together and multiply by 2 (these are your test scores, not your scaled scores).

Let's say you got 30 in Reading, 28 in Writing and Language, and 32 in Math. To get your Selection Index, you would first add your section scores together: 30 + 28 + 32. Next, multiply the sum by 2. In this case, your Selection Index score would be 180.

As you can see in the chart below, a Selection Index score of 180 isn't quite high enough to qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status. In actuality, you'll need a Selection Index of 212 or higher, depending on where you take the PSAT.

To get a good idea of the score you'll need to become a Semifinalist, look at the chart to see the most recent estimates for state cutoffs for National Merit Semifinalists. These were used to select Semifinalists from the October 2018 administration of the PSAT.

State Selection Index Cutoff State Selection Index Cutoff
Alabama 216 Montana 214
Alaska 213 Nebraska 216
Arizona 219 Nevada 218
Arkansas 214 New Hampshire 218
California 222 New Jersey 223
Colorado 220 New Mexico 213
Connecticut 221 New York 221
Delaware 220 North Carolina 219
District of Columbia 223 North Dakota 212
Florida 219 Ohio 218
Georgia 220 Oklahoma 214
Hawaii 219 Oregon 220
Idaho 215 Pennsylvania 220
Illinois 221 Rhode Island 218
Indiana 218 South Carolina 215
Iowa 215 South Dakota 214
Kansas 218 Tennessee 219
Kentucky 217 Texas 221
Louisiana 215 Utah 215
Maine 215 Vermont 216
Maryland 222 Virginia 222
Massachusetts 223 Washington 221
Michigan 219 West Virginia 212
Minnesota 219 Wisconsin 216
Mississippi 214 Wyoming 212
Missouri 217 AVERAGE 218

 

As you can see, minimum scores for National Merit vary depending on which state you take the PSAT in. Cutoffs regularly vary a few points between years, so if you haven't taken the PSAT yet and are aiming for National Merit, you should set your target Selection Index about 1 to 3 points higher than the predicted cutoff for your state.

 

Bonus: Aiming for a National Merit Scholarship? If you're not sure you can self-study your way to a qualifying PSAT score, you'll love our PSAT prep program, PrepScholar.

We designed our program to learn your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics and customize your prep to be as effective as possible for you. When you start with PrepScholar, you'll take a diagnostic that will determine your weaknesses in over forty PSAT skills. PrepScholar then creates a study program specifically customized for you.

To improve each skill, you'll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

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For more information on National Merit and how you can maximize your chances of qualifying, check out our guide for everything you need to know about becoming a National Merit Semifinalist.

 

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How to Prepare for the SAT After Taking the PSAT

You've got your PSAT scores, and now it's time for the next step: taking the SAT. How can you use your PSAT scores and the lessons you learned by taking that test to help you score higher on the SAT? Check out the following four steps in order to be prepared and confident when you take the SAT.

 

Step 1: Set an SAT Score Goal

Figuring out your SAT score goal is an important part of preparing for the test, and it can help motivate you by giving you a concrete goal to work toward. To figure out what SAT score you should be aiming for, check out our guide on what a good SAT score is.

Basically, you should research the average SAT scores of admitted students for the schools you're interested in applying to. Many schools provide 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles of admitted students.

Aiming for the 75th percentile score gives you a good shot at getting in (provided the rest of your application is strong as well), so make a list of the 75th percentile scores of all the schools you're interested in. Then, find the highest score on the list; this will be your goal score. If you can meet this score, your SAT scores will likely be high enough for every school you're applying to.

Your PSAT scores give you an estimate of how well you'd currently score on the SAT and where you need to improve. (Note that PSAT scores only go up to 1520, while the SAT goes up to 1600, since the PSAT is a less challenging exam than the SAT.)

So if you got a 1350 on the PSAT, you could expect to get around that same score on the SAT. In other words, you can use your PSAT scores to determine how much studying you need to do in order to meet your SAT score goal.

However, remember that your PSAT scores don't account for improvements you might make while studying for the SAT, which can be significant if you have a smart study plan.

 

Step 2: Identify and Learn From Your Mistakes

When you get your PSAT scores back, you'll be able to see how well you scored on each section of the test. Look over this information carefully to see whether you can spot any patterns. For example, did you score well on the Math section but struggled on EBRW? Then you should spend more of your SAT study time focusing on Reading and Writing. Learn from your PSAT mistakes so that you can score higher on the SAT.

Additionally, every time you take a practice SAT (see step 4), you should identify each of the problems you answered incorrectly. Then, take the time to thoroughly understand the answer explanations and walk yourself back through the problems from step one. You can improve your scores a great deal by breaking mistake patterns and recognizing the way the SAT asks similar questions over and over again.

 

Step 3: Create a Study Plan

To keep track of when you should be taking practice tests as well as doing other review, you should create a study plan. Mark when you'll study each week as well as goals you want to achieve every week or month, such as reviewing a particular exam topic or raising your score by a certain number of points.

If you start your study plan early, you can space out your prep to consist of just a few hours each week in order to meet your score goal. Then, you can ramp up your studying in the weeks before you take the SAT.

 

Step 4: Take Official, Full-Length Practice Tests

Taking timed practice tests is one of the best ways to significantly improve your SAT scores. The College Board has released several free practice SATs, which are the highest-quality practice tests you can take.

When you take these practice tests, be sure to take them timed and in one sitting so that you get the most accurate score results and become used to the test's length. Also, remember to review the questions you got wrong, the same way you did with your PSAT results, in order to learn from your mistakes.

 

What's Next?

Now that you know what makes a good PSAT score, what about on the SAT? Read about good, excellent, and bad SAT scores here.

The PSAT is very similar in content and format to the SAT. Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Once you've familiarized yourself with the test, head over to this guide to learn how to study for the SAT.

Once you've gotten your PSAT scores, what do you do next? This article goes over in detail the steps to take once you've gotten your PSAT results.

 

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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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