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What's a Good PSAT Score for a Sophomore?


You wouldn't go for your driver's license test before ever getting behind the wheel, right? In reality, you'd practice your three-point turns and parallel parking first so you're ready and know what to expect when the real test comes.

Just as you suspected, this scenario is an analogy for the PSAT. Rather than sitting for it junior year without a practice run, you can improve your performance if you've already taken it in 10th grade. Taking the PSAT as a sophomore is a great, low-pressure way to familiarize yourself with the test, gauge your level, and figure out where you need to improve.

With this in mind, we'll look at what PSAT scores are good for sophomores and how to improve them even more for junior year. But first, let's consider how the PSAT is scored.


How Is the PSAT Scored?

The PSAT is scored between 320 and 1520 points. You'll get two scaled scores between 160 and 760: one for Math and one for Reading and Writing. You'll also get to see how you performed on each of the three sections with a test score between 8 and 38. (This scoring scale differs from that on the old PSAT, which gave you 20-80 points on three separate sections.)

The PSAT scoring scale helps you predict your SAT scores. If you score 1500 on the PSAT, you're likely to achieve a similarly high score on the SAT. The scale is shifted about 80 points lower than that of the SAT (which has a total score range of 400-1600) since the PSAT is a slightly easier test. Therefore, you can only compare the scores up to about 1520; beyond that, you can't equate a perfect PSAT score with a perfect SAT score.

Your PSAT score report will give you lots of data, including your section scores, and subscores, which further break down your performance.

For the sake of figuring out what makes a good PSAT score for a sophomore, let's consider another important piece of data: your percentiles. Percentiles compare your section and composite scores with those of other test takers. So if your Math score falls in the 80th percentile, you've scored equal to or higher than 80% of test takers (and the remaining 20% scored higher than you). Basically, the higher your percentile, the better you scored on the PSAT compared with everyone else.

Read on to learn about percentiles and how they can help us answer our question of what's a good PSAT score for a 10th grader.



What's a Good PSAT Score for a Sophomore?

We can define a "good" PSAT score for a sophomore as one that's higher than the 75th percentile. This means that you scored higher than 75% of other sophomores who took the PSAT. For sophomores, 75th percentile scores are around 520-540 on each section, or 1060 total.

An "OK" PSAT score for a sophomore is one that's higher than the 50th percentile, meaning you scored the same as or higher than half of test takers. In contrast, an excellent score is one that's higher than the 90th percentile, or 90% of test takers.

This chart shows the minimum section and composite scores you'd need to get in order to hit the 50th, 75th, 90th, and 99th percentiles on the 2021 PSAT:

PSAT Percentile (10th Grade) R&W Score Math Score Composite Score
99% (Top) 700-760 710-760 1370-1520
90% (Excellent) 610 580-590 1180
75% (Good) 540-550 520 1060
50% (OK) 460-470 450-460 910-920
Source: College Board


Based on that reasoning, a good PSAT score for a sophomore is a composite score higher than 1060, an OK score is one higher than 920, and an excellent score is anything higher than 1180.


What Do PSAT Score Percentiles Mean?

To understand how we chose the scores to represent "good," "OK," and "excellent" PSAT scores, as well as how you can interpret PSAT scores, you'll need to understand PSAT percentiles. This section will give you a more in-depth look at PSAT percentiles and the information you can get from them.

Your PSAT score report will feature lots of score types and data. Among this data, you'll get not just one but two percentiles comparing your scores with those of other students. These percentiles are called the Nationally Representative Percentile and the User Percentile.

The reason behind using two percentiles remains vague, and some educators have suggested that the College Board uses the Nationally Representative Percentile as a way to inflate students' scores and make the PSAT appear less competitive than it really is.

Regardless, we'll focus on User Percentiles, which compare all students in a grade who typically take the PSAT (as opposed to the other percentile, which includes all students in a grade, even those who didn't take the PSAT—weird, I know).

Below is a chart based on info from the College Board's 2021 PSAT score report, which gives PSAT User Percentiles specifically for 10th graders. As you look through the data, note that the same scores translate to slightly different percentiles. In past years, Math tended to be more competitive than Reading and Writing. Here, the comparisons are less straightforward.

Check out the data, and then read on for further interpretation of how these sections compare.

PSAT Score R&W Percentile (10th Grade) Math Percentile (10th Grade)
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 96 97
650 95 97
640 94 96
630 93 96
620 92 95
610 90 94
600 88 92
590 87 91
580 84 89
570 82 87
560 80 85
550 77 83
540 74 81
530 71 78
520 68 75
510 65 73
500 61 69
490 58 66
480 55 62
470 52 58
460 49 54
450 46 49
440 42 44
430 39 40
420 36 36
410 33 32
400 29 27
390 26 22
380 23 19
370 19 16
360 16 12
350 13 9
340 10 8
330 7 6
320 5 4
310 3 3
300 2 2
290 2 2
280 1 and below 1 and below


In past years, Math was pretty much always more competitive than Reading and Writing; however, Reading and Writing has recently become more competitive. This means that most of the time you'll need to achieve a slightly higher score on Reading and Writing to make it into the same percentile as you did on Math. For example, a Math score of 500 puts you in the 69th percentile, but the same score on Reading and Writing puts you in only the 61st percentile.




Why Are PSAT Scores Important for Sophomores?

Your sophomore year PSAT scores aren’t as important as your PSAT scores from your junior year when you’ll be able to compete for National Merit, but they're still useful.

You can use your sophomore PSAT scores to estimate how well you’ll do on the PSAT next year and on the SAT later on. This can help you gauge how much studying you'll need to do to qualify for National Merit and/or meet your SAT score goals.


Preparing for National Merit as a Sophomore

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) identifies juniors who get top scores on the PSAT. Students whose PSAT scores are in the top 1% are named Semifinalists. Reaching this stage can give you a big boost in college admissions and make you eligible for numerous scholarships. Thus, many students who take the PSAT as sophomores do so to prepare themselves for when they take the PSAT as juniors and can compete for National Merit.

There are several things you can do as a sophomore to help you prepare for the PSAT as a junior and potentially qualify you for National Merit. If you're already scoring in the 95th percentile or above as a sophomore, you're well on track to qualifying as a Semifinalist and eventually Finalist.

While these are outstanding scores, National Merit scholarships only go to the top 1% of juniors, so you'll have to do some serious prep to compete with other juniors and bring up your scores to the top of the pack by the following year.

If National Merit is in your sights, you'll want to aim for a score of around 1440 on the PSAT, or about 35-36 as your "test score" on each section (when you take the test as a junior). The exact score you need to qualify varies by state. Check out the cutoff scores here, as well as all the other criteria you must meet to be competitive for National Merit.

Remember, though, that you have lots of time to prepare for both the PSAT and SAT, so if you’re not happy with your scores, there’s still time to develop a solid study plan and improve your scores. Speaking of prep ...






What Can You Do to Prepare for the PSAT? 3 Key Tips

There are multiple steps you can take to prepare for the PSAT, both in your sophomore year and junior year. Even a small amount of prep can translate into significant score increases, so be sure to take a look at these tips and make use of them before test day!


#1: Set Target PSAT Scores

Before you take the PSAT your sophomore year, consider setting a target score to give you a goal to aim for while studying and to make sure you're on track to meet your goals for your junior-year PSAT and eventually SAT.

A potential goal could be scoring in at least the 70th percentile, for example. Or you might aim higher, such as the 95th percentile, if you're hoping to qualify for National Merit as a junior.

Once you get the results for your sophomore-year PSAT, you can start to set goals for your junior-year PSAT. Again, if you're aiming for National Merit, you'll need to get a composite score of about 1440 to qualify. With serious prep, you could raise your PSAT score by hundreds of points.

Even apart from all your studying, you're likely to improve regardless since you'll be a year older with an additional year of high school under your belt!


#2: Take PSAT Practice Tests

The best way to improve your PSAT scores is to start practicing! You can use official PSAT practice tests as well as official SAT questions available through the College Board and Khan Academy (a partner website).

The abundance of practice material for the old (pre-2015) PSAT doesn't have to go to waste either. Many of these questions, especially the Math and reading comprehension ones, are still relevant. Just make sure to familiarize yourself with the changes to the test so you can shift your focus to the most important skills.

If you're disappointed with your sophomore-year PSAT scores, don't worry! You still have plenty of time to learn and practice. Use your feelings as motivation to improve next year through focused, disciplined, and effective test prep.


#3: Target Your Weaknesses

After you've taken your first PSAT practice test, look it over and see which questions you got wrong and which ones you got right. Did you score well on Reading and Writing but struggle with Math? Were there specific types of questions or topics that gave you trouble? Take time to figure out where you need to make the biggest improvements.

Then, get to work targeting those weaknesses. For each question you got wrong on your practice test, look at the correct answer and try to re-solve it, using the correct answer as a guide. If you still can't figure it out, read that question's answer explanation to understand what you did wrong and how to solve it.

When studying, be sure to focus extra attention on your weak areas. Brush up on the topics themselves if you need to, and answer lots of practice problems until you feel more confident. Do all of this, and you'll be well on your way to a great PSAT score!


What's Next?

The PSAT is great prep for the SAT, but you might also be taking the SAT or ACT as practice. Learn about good SAT and ACT scores for sophomores so you can get a better idea of what scores to aim for on test day.

Do your PSAT scores predict your SAT scores? Our guide offers a detailed look at the connection between the two tests and your scores on them.

Got questions about the PSAT format? Read this complete guide to the redesigned PSAT.



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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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