What do PSAT scores mean?


The PSAT is a standardized test that the College Board offers through your child’s high school. Unlike the SAT, you don’t have to register for this test with the college board. In many cases you still need to register at your high school and a small fee may be involved. This test does not get used for your child’s college applications. Taken by 10th & 11th graders, this test has two objectives:

  1. Practice for the SAT

  2. Entry to National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC)

Let’s discuss both these items.

Practice for the SAT The new PSAT is on a seemingly bizarre scale of 320-1520 (its math score x 20 + reading x 10 + writing x 10). But there is a very good logic behind this. Your PSAT score is your expected SAT score. So if you received 1,360 on the PSAT, you are probably going to get a 1,360 on the SAT if you do no further preparation (note that the new SAT is on a scale of 1,600 and not 2,400 like the current SAT). The PSAT tops out at 1,520 since it's an easier test than the SAT.

If you plan to take the ACT, this aspect of the PSAT does not really matter. However, if you plan on taking the SAT, obviously, you should prepare more. One wonderful resource is Khan Academy. If you link your College Board account with Khan Academy, it will generate a personalized program for you. Why pass up this free resource? In fact, the new SAT is much better aligned with schoolwork so the need for expensive test preparation class may be reduced or even eliminated after you go through this free resource.

One final point, when you log into your College Board account, it will tell you more about percentiles and national averages... For example, for the10th graders, the National Average Scores are as follows:

National Merit Scholarship

The other benefit of the PSAT is automatic entry into NMSC. But this benefit is only offered to Juniors. Sophomore scores, even a 1520, do not count; so simply hope your child does well next year J. The College Board also makes the score available to other scholarships in addition to NMSC.

So what is the cutoff to qualify for semi-finals? First off, you have to use a different formula. Go to the tab titled “NSMC Selection Index”. There you will find the NSMC selection index which is 2 x (reading + writing + math scores). On the old PSAT, the cut off for California was 222 in 2015. For the new PSAT, the cut off has not been announced yet. Some experts speculate that it will actually be lower e.g. 210. Whatever the cut off score is, basically you have to be in the top 1% or in the top ~15,000 students in the country.

Hope this answered some basic questions on the PSAT.


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