What Is a Good PSAT Score? Essential Guide to Scoring, Scholarships, and Prep

what is a good psat score

What Is a Good PSAT Score? Essential Guide to Scoring, Scholarships, and Prep

Published November 16, 2023

what is a good psat score

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More than 1.5 million high school students take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) each year. This guide explains what constitutes a good PSAT score and how to improve yours. 

What Is the PSAT?

The PSAT, also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is a national assessment that high school juniors take before the SAT. Top scorers compete for prestigious National Merit Scholarships as well as corporate and college-sponsored merit awards. 

PSAT scores also serve a more general purpose in allowing students to assess their academic strengths and determine where they may need to focus their efforts in preparing for the SAT and college-level coursework. Alternative versions of the PSAT (known as the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10) are available to 8th, 9th, and 10th graders for precisely this purpose. 

Students can even see which AP courses and college majors may be a good fit based on their scores across different areas of knowledge assessed by the PSAT.

What Is a Good PSAT Score?

A “good” PSAT score depends on your goals. A PSAT score at the national average (50th percentile) will get students into some four-year colleges. This score would be about 920 for high school sophomores and 1010 for juniors. However, reaching the 90th percentile (1350) increases  scholarship chances.

Some might say a “good” PSAT score is in the 75th percentile, meaning your student scored better than 75% of their peers. For a sophomore, that’s a score of around 1060, and for juniors it’s near 1160. A score in the 75th percentile means that your student will probably do well enough on the SAT to get into a moderately competitive school.

A very good PSAT is in the 95th percentile, putting your students in the top 5% of their peers. This equates to an SAT score likely winning admission to a top 50 school. For the PSAT, this would be around 1250 for a sophomore or 1360 for a junior.

Finally, an excellent score is in the 99th percentile, meaning your student is in the top 1% of test takers. This represents an SAT score good enough to get into elite schools, given that other criteria are met as well. An excellent PSAT score is 1370 for a sophomore or 1450 for a junior.

How PSAT Scoring Works

The PSAT test covers two main sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each section of the PSAT is scored on a scale of 160-760 and then added together to produce a final overall score of 320–1520.

In the current version of the PSAT, the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section comprises two different tests — the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test — each of which makes up 50% of the scaled section score. Therefore, in addition to section scores, students also receive individual test scores (ranging from 8-38) reflecting their math, reading, and writing/language performance.

When students receive their score report, they’ll also see their percentile ranking for each section of the test, as well as their overall PSAT score.

To provide students a more detailed view of their academic progress in various areas of knowledge, the PSAT score report includes subscores (ranging from 1-15) covering more precise topics within Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, including: 

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math

Each sub-score comes with a color-coded spectrum ranging from red to green to indicate whether that subject is a relative strength (green) or weakness (red) for the student. 

A final set of PSAT scores are called cross-test scores, which range from 8-38, and assess students analytical reasoning skills in Science and History/Social Studies. Rather than separate sections, these scores come from a series of 19 science-based questions and 19 history/social studies questions peppered throughout the exam.

What Is a Good PSAT Score for a Freshman (9th Grader)?

A PSAT score of 990–1000 is considered “good” for a freshman and will land your student in the top 25% of 9th-grade test takers. A PSAT score of 850–860 is considered decent and will place your 9th grader in the 50th percentile range.

To reach the top 10%, a student needs a score of 1110 or above. To be among the top 1% of 9th grader PSAT test takers, your student would need a score of 1280–1440. 

What Is a Good PSAT Score for a Sophomore (10th Grader)?

A PSAT score of 1060 is considered good for sophomores, placing them in the top 25% vs. their peers. An outstanding score in the 99th+ percentile would require at least 1370, while a score of 1180 would place a sophomore student in the 90th percentile, or top 10%. 

An average score for high school sophomores is 920, which would place them in the 50th percentile.

What Is a Good PSAT Score for a Junior (11th Grader)?

For a high school junior, a “good” score is 1250 or above. Scoring within this range puts you in the top 25% of 11th-grade test takers and indicates that you will likely score high enough on the SAT to get into a somewhat competitive school. 

To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, your student generally needs to be among your state’s top 1% of 11th-grade test takers. While the actual cutoff score varies yearly, it’s typically at least a 1460 or above. 

Here are the scores needed to achieve certain percentile thresholds for high school juniors:

99th+ percentile: 1460-1520

90th percentile: 1280

75th percentile: 1150

50th percentile: 1010

PSAT Score Percentiles

A student’s PSAT scores include a percentile showing where they rank alongside other test takers both overall and on the individual Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections of the test. 

A score in the 75th percentile indicates that a student did as well as or better than 75% of students who took the test that year. A score in the 99th percentile places a student among the top 1% of test takers. 

The percentiles attached to different scores can change slightly from year to year, since they’re determined by that particular cohort of students. However, over the past three years, the average total PSAT score needed to rank in the 75th percentile among 11th graders has been 1250, while the score needed to rank in the top 1% has been 1450.

PSAT Percentiles

Percentile (11th grade)Total ScoreMath ScoreEvidence-Based Reading and Writing Score
99+1490–1520760750
991450–1480750730
951360–1370690690
901280–1290640650
751150–1160570600
501010+500510

Source: College Board

PSAT Academic Benchmarks

The PSAT score report provides grade-level benchmarks for the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections of the PSAT test. Benchmarks show the particular scores students need to achieve to be considered on track as they advance toward college-level coursework in those areas. 

In addition to the specific numeric benchmark, the PSAT score report uses a color-coded spectrum to indicate where students’ scores place them in terms of academic progress relative to their grade level. The spectrum progresses from red to yellow to green, with green indicating that a student meets or exceeds the academic growth expected for their grade level and red indicating that a student is considerably behind the curve.

ColorMeaning
GreenScores that fall within the green range indicate the student meets or exceeds the level of academic progress expected for their grade.
YellowScores that fall within the yellow range indicate the student is within one year of expected academic progress for their grade level.
RedScores that fall within the red range indicate the student is a year or more behind for their grade level in terms of academic progress.

Per the College Board, a student who meets the grade-level benchmark for that particular section of the PSAT has at least a 75% chance of getting a passing grade (C or higher) on related college-level coursework.

PSAT Benchmarks

RedYellowGreen
11th GradeEvidence-Based Reading and Writing160–420430–450460–760
(160–760 scale)Math160–470480–500510–760
10th GradeEvidence-Based Reading and Writing160–400410–420430–760
(160–760 scale)Math160–440450–470480–760
9th GradeEvidence-Based Reading and Writing120–380390–400410–720
(120–720 scale)Math120–420430–440450–720

Source: College Board

What Percentile Do You Have to Be in to Be a National Merit Scholar?

National Merit Scholars generally come from the top 1% of 11th-grade PSAT test takers. However, percentile isn’t the qualifying measure. Instead, a student’s qualification for a National Merit Scholarship Program is based on a Selection Index (SI) established by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). 

Each year, the NMSC establishes a target number of National Merit Scholarship Program participants based on the 11th-grade student population in each state — usually around 50,000 test takers in total. They use the Selection Index to establish a cutoff mark for entrance into the group of stop scorers. 

Selection Index scores range from 48–228 and are calculated by tallying a student’s scores on each of the three PSAT tests (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math) and then doubling the sum. The more competitive the class of juniors, the higher the SI score needed to be eligible for National Merit honors. 

For the 2023 National Merit Scholarship Program, the national minimum SI score was 207. However, cutoff scores in individual states tend to be higher, since each state is allotted a limited number of program participants based on the percentage of the overall student population who attend school there. In New Jersey and Washington, D.C., for example, National Merit hopefuls need a minimum SI score of 223, while the cutoff in Montana is a less competitive 207.

Why Take the PSAT?

Taking the PSAT as a sophomore or junior offers students several benefits, ranging from scholarship money to help figuring out what to study for the SAT.

The PSAT is essentially a test run for the SAT.

The PSAT gives students an idea of their academic progress as they prepare for the SAT and college-level coursework that follows. Your student’s PSAT scores strongly indicate how well they’ll perform on the SAT — the caveat being that students can improve their scores over time. If a student scores poorly on a certain section of the PSAT, they can use that feedback to focus their study efforts on improving that area of knowledge and hopefully get a decent score on the SAT.

You can use your PSAT scores to guide your prep for the SAT.

Your PSAT score report offered a detailed breakdown of your academic strength and weakness across various areas of knowledge, including math, reading, writing, science, and history/social studies. Let’s say you got strong scores in math, but only average scores on vocabulary. Knowing which areas you are excelling in and where you may need improvement can help you focus your efforts where they’re likely to have the highest payoff.

High PSAT scores can help you stand out to colleges.

High school students who perform well on the PSAT can attract attention from colleges seeking academically promising students to join their freshman classes. Some colleges even sponsor full-ride scholarships for National Merit Finalists who choose to attend their institution. 

Even if your PSAT score doesn’t place you in National Merit territory, you can still find schools looking for students with your academic profile by signing up for the College Board’s Student Search Service when you take the exam. While the College Board won’t share your PSAT score with colleges directly, participating institutions can see which students fall within a certain score range and let you know about programs and scholarship opportunities that match your academic strengths. 

You can use your PSAT to qualify for scholarships.

One of the more practical benefits of the PSAT — especially if your student is among the top scorers — is that it can help your family secure college money through a National Merit Scholarship. 

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation annually administers 7,500 scholarships to incoming college freshmen who achieved top PSAT scores in their junior year of high school.

Award amounts can range from several hundred dollars to a full ride, and many are renewable through all four years of college. 

Do Colleges Look at the PSAT?

Colleges don’t have access to PSAT scores unless you include them in your application or qualify as a National Merit Finalist and notify the NMSC that you plan to attend one of the 160 colleges that sponsor National Merit Scholarships. The NMSC will refer you to the sponsoring college for consideration.

The only other way colleges can get a sense of your PSAT score is if you opt to participate in the College Board’s Student Search Service. This free program connects students to colleges and scholarship agencies that may be a good fit for them academically. Participating institutions can search for students based on a score range. However, they won’t be able to see your actual score.

How the PSAT Ties in With National Merit Scholarships

Each year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) sponsors about 7,500 scholarships from a pool of about 50,000 college-bound seniors. To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, students must take the PSAT in their junior year and score in the 99th percentile for their state.  

From a starting pool of about 50,000 top-scoring students, the NMSC chooses about 16,000 semi-finalists who are invited to apply for one of 7,500 scholarships worth anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. 

There are three categories of National Merit Scholarship:

  • National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) awards: 2,500 one-time scholarships of $2,500.
  • Corporate-sponsored awards: Approximately 1,000 scholarships, ranging from $500–$10,000, and usually given to local students or children of employees.
  • College-sponsored awards: Another 4,000 scholarships given to National Merit Finalists who attend college at a sponsoring institution. Award amounts can vary in size, up to a full college ride. 

When choosing scholarship recipients, the NMSC and sponsoring organizations may also look at a student’s overall academic performance, recommendations from school administrators, supplemental application materials, and official SAT/ACT scores.

How National Merit Finalists May Be Eligible for Other Scholarships

In addition to corporate-sponsored National Merit Scholarships, corporations offer about 800 scholarships to National Merit semi-finalists who do not progress to the finalist round. The sponsoring organization sets the eligibility criteria, and the NMSC contacts semi-finalists with application instructions.

Is Your PSAT Score a Good Predictor of Your SAT Score?

Your PSAT score is a strong predictor of your SAT score — meaning if you score 1400 on your PSAT, you can probably expect to score similarly on the SAT. This is by design.

The SAT is a widely used college entrance exam intended to test students’ readiness for college-level math, reading, writing, and language coursework. Because the PSAT (short for Preliminary SAT) is specifically intended as practice for the SAT, the two tests are largely the same in terms of their contents and structure.

The key difference between the PSAT and SAT is that the latter is slightly more challenging, since students take it at the end of their junior year or beginning of their senior year — a semester or two after students generally take the PSAT. To account for the difference in grade level, the SAT has a few more questions and a slightly higher scale, ranging from 400–1600, as opposed to 320–1520 for the PSAT. The SAT also includes an optional essay component, which the PSAT does not.

Which Colleges Give Scholarships Based PSAT Scores?

In a given academic year, various colleges sponsor up to 4,000 National Merit Scholarship finalists who attend their institution. This list frequently changes, so check directly with the schools, or use a college search and comparison tool like R2C Insights

Scholarship amounts can range from several hundred dollars up to a full ride. Some schools also offer awards to semi-finalists as well as finalists. 

To qualify for a college-sponsored scholarship based on PSAT scores, students generally need to score in the top 1% of test takers among their cohort and proceed through the finalist and semi-finalists rounds of the National Merit Scholarship competition involving an evaluation of the student’s overall academic performance, letters of recommendation, and formal SAT/ACT scores. While some schools award scholarships automatically to National Merit finalists who plan to enroll in their school, others may require a separate application.

Different Versions of the PSAT

The PSAT comes in three versions, all designed to assess students as they advance toward the SAT, usually in the spring of their junior year or fall of senior year. The tests allow students to see whether they meet grade-specific academic math, reading, and writing benchmarks.

  • The PSAT 8/9 is a slightly shorter version of the PSAT designed for 8th- and 9th-grade students.
  • The PSAT 10 is for students in their second year of high school and is identical to the PSAT/NMSQT.
  • The PSAT/NMSQT is for students in their third year of high school and is used as an initial qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

What’s the PSAT 8/9?

The PSAT 8/9 is administered to students in either 8th grade or their freshman year of high school. Like the PSAT/NMSQT, it tests students on math, reading, and writing. However, it has ten fewer questions and takes about 20 minutes less to complete. Because there are fewer questions, the PSAT 8/9 is scored on a slightly lower scale of 240–1440, as opposed to 320–1520 for the PSAT/NMSQT.  

You can think of the PSAT 8/9 as a practice run for more advanced versions of the PSAT. It reveals the subjects in which a student is doing well and what they might want to work on in preparation for the SAT. 

Should a student wish to pursue Advanced Placement (AP) courses to boost their academic qualifications for college, the PSAT 8/9 score report can also show students which AP classes they’re best prepared for based on their marks in certain subjects.

PSAT10 Vs. PSAT/NMSQT

In terms of the subject matter, difficulty, and scoring, the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT are identical tests. The only difference is that students take the PSAT 10 as 10th graders (consider it a practice for the real thing) while students take the PSAT/NMSQT, also called the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) as high school juniors. 

The PSAT/NMSQT is the version that counts for the National Merit Scholarship competition. However, one benefit of taking the PSAT 10 is that students can use their score reports to get a personalized SAT study plan from Khan Academy. The PSAT 10 can also give students an idea of what subjects they need to study to improve their scores on the PSAT/NMSQT and, ultimately the SAT.

What Topics Does the PSAT Cover?

The PSAT contains two main sections — Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing — each accounting for half your total PSAT score. 

The math section is a single test containing 48 questions, while the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is further subdivided into two tests, Reading and Writing and Language, respectively. 

The PSAT test also contains 19 questions related to science and 19 questions related to history/social studies, peppered throughout each section.

The PSAT Math test consists of 48 questions spread across four key areas of assessment:

  • Algebra 
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Advanced Math (including complex equations and functions)
  • Additional Topics (including geometry and trigonometry)

Some math questions are multiple-choice while others are fill-in-the-blank.

The PSAT Reading test comprises five reading passages drawn from various areas of study, including literature, history/social studies, social sciences, and natural sciences. Each passage is followed by a series of multiple-choice questions — 47 in total — that ask students to demonstrate their aptitude in the following areas:

  • Understanding how an author uses evidence to support a claim
  • Identifying the meaning of words based on context
  • Thinking analytically in the context of history/social studies and science

Some in the Reading test passages may also be accompanied by visuals such as charts and graphs.

The PSAT Writing and Language test presents students with four reading passages containing various errors and weaknesses. Students read each passage and then answer multiple-choice questions about how to improve them. The 47-question test covers two key areas of assessment:

  • Expression of Ideas (relating to logic, organization, and use of language)
  • Standard English Conventions (concerning sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation) 

Writing passages vary in format and complexity and cover a range of topics, including science, the humanities, and history and social studies. Some passages may include informational graphics.

PSAT Topics and Scoring

Scores and Ranges
Total PSAT Score320-1520
Sections-Reading and Writing (160-720),
-Math (160-760)
Modules-2 Reading and Writing modules,
-2 Math modules
Reading and Writing Content Areas-Information and Ideas (26% of test section),
-Craft and Structure (28% of test section),
-Expression of Ideas (20% of test section),
-Standard English Conventions (26% of test section)
Math Content Areas-Algebra (35% of test section),
-Advanced Math (32.5% of test section),
-Problem Solving & Data Analysis (20% of test section),
-Geometry & Trigonometry (12.5% of test section)
NMSC Selection Index Score-Range from 48-228,
-This score is an initial qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

What’s in the PSAT Score Report? 

The official PSAT score report contains a detailed breakdown of a student’s performance, including their:

  • Overall score and corresponding percentile
  • Section scores for Math and Evidence-based Reading and Writing
  • Test scores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language
  • Subscores for Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math
  • Cross-test scores for Analysis in Science and Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • NMSC Index score equal to double the sum of a student’s Math, Reading and Language test scores and used as an initial qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program

Within the score report, students will also be able to see the number of questions they got wrong or right on each test, whether they’re behind or ahead of college-readiness benchmarks for their grade, and how they measure up to other students in terms of their overall and section-specific percentile rank.

Should I Prep for the PSAT?

The PSAT serves as preparation for the SAT college entrance exams — so many families don’t think to prepare for PSAT itself. However, preparing for the PSAT — either with online practice exams or a test prep tutor — can benefit your student in a few ways. 

“The PSAT gives many students the first serious feedback about where they really stand in terms of their most important academic skills,” says test prep expert Barak Moore, who believes all students stand to benefit from some sort of PSAT test prep. 

“Some will benefit from it directly in terms of various National Merit awards,” continues Moore, “but all students will benefit from the invaluable feedback in terms of fundamental abilities in reading, holistic math, and critical thinking.”

If your student’s scores place them near the qualifying threshold for the National Merit Scholarship Program, additional test prep may put them over the line. But students can also benefit simply from getting familiar with the test format and understanding what they need to study before taking the SAT.

Should I Retake the PSAT?

Suppose you perform incredibly well on the freshman and sophomore versions of the PSAT, known respectively as the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10. In that case, it’s probably worth retaking the PSAT as a junior to see if you can qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. 

Retaking the PSAT from year to year can also give you an idea of how you are progressing academically and where you may need to focus your study efforts in preparing for the official SAT. If you’re a nervous test taker, these extra repetitions with the exam may also help you get used to the testing environment and time restrictions. 

However, the PSAT is only offered to students once per academic year, so once you’ve taken the version assigned for your grade level, you can’t retake it simply to try for a higher score.

Tips to Improve Your PSAT Score

Students have various options for improving their PSAT scores, ranging from free online test prep to paid tutoring. 

  • Practice tests. You can download official PSAT practice tests directly from the College Board website. Students can also take free full-length SAT practice tests covering the same subject matter and question types.
  • Online test prep. In addition to practice tests, Kahn Academy offers comprehensive SAT prep tailored to students’ unique needs. These include subject-specific practice questions and personalized study recommendations based on previous scores. You can also opt for paid test prep through companies like Kaplan and the Princeton Review.
  • SAT prep books. Dozens of books exist to help students prepare for the PSAT. Some books cover specific subjects like math or reading, while others offer more comprehensive practice, including full-length practice exams. Companies like Barrons, Kaplan, and Princeton Review offer options. 
  • Paid tutoring. Families whose students prefer more hands-on coaching may benefit from hiring a test prep tutor locally or through a company like Kaplan or Varsity Tutors. You can find tutors for specific subjects, as well as tutors who will work with your student on the complete set of topics covered by the PSAT. 

The route you take may depend on your student’s goal — whether it’s to improve their readiness for the actual SAT or, if they’re already scoring quite well, to have a shot at qualifying for a National Merit Scholarship.

Take a Free Sample PSAT

Through a partnership with the nonprofit College Board, Khan Academy offers students free SAT prep, including full-length practice tests and daily practice questions covering various areas of knowledge assessed on both the SAT and PSAT. 

Students who have already taken the PSAT 10 can even link their College Board, and Khan Academy accounts for a full diagnostic report and tailored study plan designed to help them build on their strengths and improve in areas of weakness. 

Your student can access the full range of PSAT test prep materials by going to khanacademy.org. Once they sign up for an account, they can share their score report to get a personalized practice plan based on their scores. 

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