The PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, is an important standardized test used to measure college readiness and provide valuable feedback to a student about their academic skills.
For many students, the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is taken at least once in high school to prepare for the SAT.
However, those who take the PSAT in 11th grade are eligible for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship.
Understanding what is a good PSAT score will help you and your student decide what level of effort he/she should commit to in trying to achieve a good score.
How is the PSAT Scored?
The PSAT is scored on a scale of 320 to 1520 in ten-point increments and consists of two sections—Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math—with each section worth between 160 and 760 points.
Scaled scores are converted by the College Board from raw scores that account for variances in difficulty between different versions of the PSAT. Raw scores are equivalent to the total number of questions a student answered correctly. Students receive three raw scores:
- Writing and language
The Selection Index (SI) is used to identify a student’s level of recognition from the National Merit program.
For an individual test taker, the Selection Index score is calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores and it can range from 48-228. If a student’s SI places them among the top 50,000 high scores they qualify for National Merit Scholarship recognition.
What Is a Good PSAT Score?
A good PSAT score may look different for students in different grade levels.
A perfect PSAT score is 1520. This score is the maximum possible score on the test which is made up of two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 160–760, for a combined total of 1520. A score of 1520 is extremely rare, and usually only achieved by the most academically talented students.
In addition to being a perfect score, a score of 1520 or higher is considered to be very impressive. It puts a student in the 99th percentile, meaning they scored higher than 99% of other students who took the test. A score of 1520 is also considered a National Merit Scholar qualifying score, meaning that a student who scores this high may be eligible for certain scholarships.
A good PSAT score is considered to be anything above a 1280*. A score of 1280 puts a student in the 95th percentile, meaning they scored higher than 95% of other students who took the test. This score is also above the average score, which is a 920. A score of 1280 or higher may qualify a student for certain scholarship awards and other academic honors.
*Based on data from test takers in the 2020 – 2021 school year.
What Is a Good PSAT Score for a Freshman (9th Grader)?
It is less common to take the PSAT as a freshman than as a sophomore or junior. However, beginning the PSAT journey in your child’s first year of high school can help them know what areas they should practice to achieve their best score possible by junior year.
Your child’s percentiles can give you a good idea of how well they did on the PSAT freshman and sophomore year.
For high school freshmen, based on data from test takers during the 2020-2021 school year, a “good” score in the 75th percentile is between 990-1000.
- “Outstanding” – 99th+ percentile: 1250-1440
- “Great” – 90th percentile: 1180
- “Solid” – 75th percentile: 990-1000
- “Average” – 50th percentile: 880
What Is a Good PSAT Score for a Sophomore (10th Grader)?
The test taken in your child’s sophomore year is the last opportunity to practice for the PSAT before the score is considered for the National Merit Scholarship. A score of over 1000 is commendable for 10th graders aiming for the 75th percentile.
For high school sophomores, based on data from test takers during the 2020-2021 school year, a “good” score in the 75th percentile is a 1060.
- “Outstanding” – 99th+ percentile: 1360-1520
- “Great” – 90th percentile: 1180
- “Solid” – 75th percentile: 1060
- “Average” – 50th percentile: 920
What Is a Good PSAT Score for a Junior (11th Grader)?
Like freshman and sophomore year, a good PSAT score junior year can be defined as a score at or above the 75th percentile.
For high school juniors, based on data from test takers during the 2020-2021 school year, a “good” score in the 75th percentile is a 1150.
- “Outstanding” – 99th+ percentile: 1460-1520
- “Great” – 90th percentile: 1280
- “Solid” – 75th percentile: 1150
- “Average” – 50th percentile: 1010
What Percentile Do You Have to Be in to Be a National Merit Scholar?
While a PSAT score in the 75th percentile is considered good, to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, your child will need to score higher.
The more competitive the class of juniors are nationally, the higher the PSAT qualifying scores are to be eligible for National Merit honors.
To be named a Commended Scholar, your student must score in the top three to four percent of test-takers nationally.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation establishes a target number of Semifinalists based on the high school population in each state. NMSC calculates a Selection Index (SI), which is reported on a scale ranging from 48 to 228. The SI for test scores varies by testing year and state.
To be named a Semifinalist, your child must score in the top one percent of test-takers or approximately the top scoring 16,000 students.
To calculate your child’s SI for the PSAT, add their three test scores together and multiply the total by two. Typically, your child will need a selection index of 209 or higher to qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status.
As this number varies by year and state, scoring a few points higher than your state’s cutoff helps ensure your child will qualify.
Almost 95% of Semifinalists are eventually named National Merit Finalists, equal to approximately the top scoring 15,000 students.
Although students receive their PSAT scores in December of their junior year of high school, there is no way of knowing if they qualify as a Commended Student or Semifinalist until high schools are notified by NMSC in early September of their senior year.
Do Colleges Look at the PSAT?
Colleges do not look at PSAT scores, in most cases just the student and their high school are able to see the report.
If your child qualifies for National Merit in 11th grade, their scores in each section of the PSAT may be submitted to qualify for a variety of scholarships. The recognition tells colleges that a student did well on the PSAT but their SAT and ACT scores are far more important to colleges than a student’s National Merit status.
With consistent practice and an understanding of the test, your child can be successful in taking the PSAT, be prepared for the SAT, and may reap the additional benefits of being a National Merit Scholar.
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