SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What's a Good PSAT Score for a Sophomore?

Posted by Rebecca Safier | Apr 10, 2017 4:30:00 PM

SAT/ACT Score Target, PSAT Info and Strategies

 

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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's 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 new 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 combined (called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, or EBRW). 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 new 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 scaled scores, 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 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.

 

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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 about 1050 total. 

An "OK" PSAT score for a sophomore is one that's higher than the 50th percentile, meaning you scored 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 hit the 50th, 75th, 90th, and 99th percentiles on the PSAT:

PSAT Percentile (10th Grade)

EBRW Score

Math Score

Composite Score

50% (OK)

460

450-460

910-920

75% (Good)

540

520-530

1050

90% (Excellent)

600

580-590

1170

99% (Top)

690

710

1360

Source: Understanding PSAT/NMSQT Scores 2016

 

Based on that reasoning, a good PSAT score for a sophomore is a composite score higher than 1050, an OK score is one higher than a 920, and an excellent score is anything higher than a 1170.

 

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 2016 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 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). Here, the comparisons are less straightforward.

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

PSAT Score EBRW 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 99 98
680 98 98
670 97 97
660 97 97
650 96 97
640 95 96
630 94 95
620 93 95
610 91 94
600 90 93
590 88 91
580 86 89
570 84 87
560 81 85
550 79 82
540 76 80
530 73 77
520 70 73
510 66 71
500 63 69
490 59 65
480 56 60
470 53 55
460 49 52
450 46 48
440 42 42
430 39 39
420 36 35
410 32 29
400 28 25
390 25 22
380 21 17
370 18 14
360 14 11
350 11 8
340 8 6
330 6 5
320 4 4
310 3 3
300 2 2
290 1 and below 2 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 EBRW 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 EBRW puts you in only the 63rd percentile. 

 

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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 ...

 

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

There are multiple steps you can take to prepare for both the PSAT you take sophomore year and the one you take junior year. Even a small amount of preparation 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 website 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 most 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.

 

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:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

 

 

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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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