Understanding PSAT Scores – Introduction
Usually, when we think of standardized tests and college admissions, we tend to focus on SAT and ACT scores. However, PSAT scores can also play a key role in your college journey. But, just how much do PSAT scores matter? What PSAT scores should you aim for? Or, maybe you’re even wondering: what is the PSAT?
You may have never even thought about PSAT scores. After all, we often focus more on the SAT and ACT than the PSAT when it comes to college applications. Still, the PSAT can help you a lot as you prepare for the SAT and ACT. The more you understand your PSAT score, the more the PSAT can help you prepare for what’s next.
The PSAT stands for “Preliminary SAT.” Most often, students take the PSAT during their sophomore and junior years. While you can learn a lot from your PSAT scores regardless of when you take the test, students largely focus on getting a good PSAT score in their junior year.
Our guide to PSAT Scores covers:
- What is the PSAT test?
- Three types of PSAT
- What’s on the PSAT?
- When should I take the PSAT?
- Why should I take the PSAT test?
- PSAT and National Merit Scholarship (NMS)
- PSAT scores on average
- What is a good score on the PSAT for sophomores and juniors?
- How to calculate PSAT scores
- How to convert your PSAT scores to SAT scores
Now, before we discuss good PSAT scores and how to get them, let’s take a closer look at the PSAT.
What is the PSAT test?
The PSAT stands for “Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test.” Essentially, the PSAT is a slightly shorter and simpler version of the SAT. It is commonly referred to as a practice SAT. Even though the PSAT is shorter and simpler than the SAT, it will still help you prepare for the ACT and other standardized tests. In that sense, your PSAT scores matter when it comes to college application planning.
The PSAT refers to three assessments:
- The PSAT 8/9
- The PSAT 10
- The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT
We’ll discuss these exams in more detail later in this guide, along with PSAT scores and PSAT scores on average for each test.
While there is a lot of different lingo when it comes to the PSAT and PSAT scores (PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10), the idea surrounding them is basically the same. This is a “pre” standardized test that will help you gauge your readiness for the SAT or ACT.
Understanding the PSAT Format
The PSAT/NMSQT is a practice test that follows the same format (sections and questions) as the SAT. The total score you can earn on the PSAT 10 or PSAT/NMSQT is 1520. The PSAT/NMSQT can be taken by 10th or 11th graders. Unlike the SAT, students typically take the test during the school day on nationally designated dates in mid-October.
The PSAT test comes in three forms: the PSAT 8/9, the PSAT 10, and the PSAT/NMSQT. We’ll dive into the differences between each of these exams in the next section.
Please note that you will not report your PSAT scores to most colleges. Instead, the only stakes associated with the PSAT and PSAT scores relate to the National Merit Scholarship. If you achieve extremely good PSAT scores, then you could be in the running for this college scholarship.
A Practice Exam
The PSAT largely functions as a tool for students to understand how standardized testing works and how their scores compare. It’s an opportunity to become familiar with the overall test structure. Your PSAT scores can help you determine which college admissions exam is a better fit for you, which can lead to good SAT scores and/or good ACT scores.
Additionally, your PSAT scores can help you identify problem areas regarding particular subjects. The PSAT can also help you combat testing anxiety.
Overall, think of the PSAT as a test-run for the SAT with no major stakes attached. Plus, if you get good PSAT scores, you’ll likely also get good SAT scores.
PSAT Scores and Test-Optional Schools
In today’s admissions landscape, more and more schools are becoming test-optional. While this shift has its benefits, you still shouldn’t write off standardized testing. After all, strong test scores can only increase your admissions odds. This starts with the PSAT.
Often, standardized test scores (ACT/SAT) are an important part of the college admissions process. Today, the college admissions landscape is relatively divided when it comes to the merits of standardized testing. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March of 2022, 39% of Americans say that standardized test scores should be a major factor in college admissions, while 46% believe that test scores should be regarded as a minor factor in college admissions.
Even though a greater percentage of Americans feel that test scores should be a minor factor in admissions, test scores remain a key part of many college admissions requirements.
But what about those PSAT scores? How do they play into standardized tests and the admissions process? What does it mean to get a good PSAT score for juniors?
Simply put, your PSAT scores themselves will have no bearing on your admissions outcomes. However, if you get a good PSAT score in your junior year, you could get an admissions boost by receiving a National Merit Scholarship.
Three Types of PSATs
As briefly mentioned, there are three different types of PSAT tests. So, when considering the question “what is a good PSAT score,” you’ll need to understand the difference and importance of each type of exam.
SAT and ACT scores are used to evaluate students in the admissions process (with the exception of universities with test optional policies). PSAT scores, however, are not. In fact, the only PSAT scores that might influence your admissions odds are those you receive in your junior year on the PSAT/NMSQT. Even then, your PSAT scores can only boost your admissions odds.
But, before we get into that, let’s check out the first type of PSAT that students will encounter.
The PSAT 8/9
The PSAT 8/9 is designed for 8th and 9th graders. It serves as a baseline for college readiness.
The PSAT 8/9 is far less common than the PSAT 10. In fact, most students won’t encounter the PSAT 8/9 at all. When people use the term “PSAT,” they most often refer to the PSAT 10 or PSAT/NMSQT.
The PSAT 8/9 has no bearing on the college application process. It is a tool that students can use to evaluate where they stand in terms of standardized testing. As such, the PSAT 8/9 can be a useful benchmark for students.
Still, there’s no need to take the PSAT 8/9 beyond your own personal interest. Instead, you can take a practice PSAT 10 at any point to see how you do. Taking a practice PSAT 10 can also help you plan your studying methods based on the PSAT scores you receive.
Now, let’s look at the other types of PSATs.
PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT are the exact same test. However, the PSAT 10 is taken in 10th grade, as the name suggests. Additionally, students will take the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT tests at different times in the year.
The PSAT/NMSQT is taken in the fall of a student’s junior year and used for NMS evaluations. We’ll expand on the relationship between the PSAT/NMSQT and the NMS later in this article. We’ll also discuss the PSAT scores you need for eligibility and PSAT scores on average.
Differences between the types of PSAT:
|PSAT 8/9||PSAT 10||PSAT/NMSQT|
|Who takes it?||8th & 9th graders||Sophomores||Juniors|
|When is it offered?||Vary (fall or spring)||Spring||Fall|
|Does it qualify students for scholarships?||No||Yes||Yes|
|Does it qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship Program?||No||No||Yes|
As you can see, in most cases, no one will even receive your PSAT scores—with the exception of the PSAT/NMSQT. Even then, your PSAT scores cannot negatively impact your admissions odds.
What’s on the PSAT?
Before even asking what is a good PSAT score, you should consider what the test consists of.
To get good PSAT scores, you should know what you can expect to see on the exam.
While the PSAT 8/9 can be a useful preparation tool for standardized tests and high school course planning, it’s not imperative that students take this exam. So, while you should know what the PSAT 8/9 is, you don’t need to focus on getting good PSAT scores that early. In the rest of this article, we’ll focus on the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT.
Since these are the exams that all high school students will likely encounter, let’s take a look at their format. Later, we’ll get into the specifics of good PSAT scores for juniors and sophomores.
Essentially, the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT are the same exam. The PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT tests are 2 hours and 45 minutes in length.
The PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT are also broken down into three sections:
- Reading: 60 minutes
- Writing and Language: 35 minutes
- Math: 70 minutes
Keep in mind that the math section is split into a calculator and non-calculator portion, much like the SAT.
Like most standardized tests, the PSAT aims to evaluate your problem-solving skills alongside your skills in grammar, math, and analytical reasoning. The questions you will see on the PSAT will be similar to those that you will see on the SAT. That means that a good PSAT score can lead to a good SAT score.
When should I take the PSAT?
So, alongside wondering what is a good PSAT score, you might also be wondering when you should start planning to take the PSAT.
Well, logically, you can’t get good PSAT scores without first taking the exam. As mentioned, the PSAT 10 is offered to sophomores and the PSAT/NMSQT to juniors. These are usually administered at school during regular hours, as they are often a state requirement.
In order to earn competitive PSAT scores and have a chance at the elite NMS (a scholarship awarded to students with high PSAT/NMSQT scores), you’ll want to prepare for the exam. Juniors will take this exam in fall.
As you plan ahead for the college process, your testing date can be important. Based on your PSAT scores, you’ll know how much you’ll need to prepare to achieve your target SAT/ACT scores.
Consider your goals
Ideally, you should start planning sooner rather than later when it comes to standardized tests. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to study and strategize. The best preparation often starts early. Taking the time to study the summer before your junior year will put you ahead when it comes to standardized tests.
Remember that the PSAT 8/9 is not required. In fact, it’s a relatively new offering. The PSAT 10 is often not required (depending on your school), either. However, the majority of schools require juniors to take the PSAT/NMSQT in fall of their junior year. That being said, you don’t need to submit those scores to colleges.
This may lead you to think: why am I stressing about good PSAT scores if it’s not even considered during the college admissions process? In fact, why should students take the PSAT at all?
Next, let’s learn more about the benefits of good PSAT scores when it comes to your education goals.
Why should I take the PSAT test?
Now that we know a little more about the PSAT in all its forms, you might be wondering why you should take the PSAT test. Taking the PSAT will help you assess your readiness for standardized testing, including the SAT and ACT, which can help you get a good SAT score or good ACT score.
By seeing where you fall among PSAT scores on average, you can get a sense of how your future ACT or SAT scores will compare to those of your classmates. This can help you know how much studying you’ll need to do as you prepare for the college application process. The higher your PSAT scores, the more likely you are to earn high SAT scores. This can increase your admissions odds at top-tier schools.
Using your PSAT scores to prepare for the SAT
When you look at your official PSAT scores online, consider their analog within the SAT score distribution. You can also use a PSAT score calculator and conversion tools, which we’ll get into later. Still, the question of “what is a good SAT score” or “what is a good PSAT score” will depend heavily on your individual goals.
For instance, if you’re wondering about the average Harvard SAT scores, you can use your PSAT score percentiles to evaluate whether or not you are on track for a competitive score. Good SAT scores will depend on your personal college goals. Consequently, good SAT scores will mean something different to each student.
If you already have a good understanding of the average SAT score or average ACT score at your top schools, taking the PSAT will help you see how close you are to your targets. So, you shouldn’t just look at PSAT scores on average—you should think about them in the context of your college list.
Creating a study strategy
Another reason to take the PSAT is so that you can create a study plan for the SAT and ACT. By understanding PSAT scores, you can learn a lot about your testing habits.
By taking the PSAT and getting your PSAT scores, you will get a sense of how you do on different sections of standardized tests. This will help you find the right test-taking strategies for you. The PSAT is a great place to practice those strategies in action and see how your PSAT scores stack up to your peers.
Unlike the SAT and ACT, PSAT booklets are returned to you shortly after the PSAT scores online are available. This allows you to review any missed questions rather than just seeing your PSAT scores online. You can use this information to focus your energy so that you can get good SAT scores.
Understanding your PSAT scores can also help you acclimate to standardized testing as a whole. The timed testing environment of the PSAT is quite similar to that of the SAT or ACT. As such, taking the PSAT can be incredibly valuable. Taking the PSAT will help you learn how you perform in a testing environment. It can also help you manage any testing anxieties and feel more confident as you head into the SAT and ACT.
Compete for scholarships
Finally, taking the PSAT will let you compete for an elite group of scholarships. The National Merit Scholarship Program provides prestigious scholarships to high-achieving students each year. In 11th grade, students’ PSATs score will be used to determine whether or not they qualify. We’ll take a look at PSAT scores on average that qualify for NMS consideration later in this guide.
National Merit Scholarships, like many scholarships for college, are incredibly competitive. In fact, getting high PSAT scores is only the first step toward winning one. Winning an NMS can be a big deal, and the money you win can help you finance your college education. However, your eligibility depends on whether or not you earn good PSAT scores.
To recap, preparing for the PSAT can get you one step closer to earning good PSAT scores —and one step closer to your dream school.
Want more advice on how to get good PSAT scores? Check out our college SAT webinar for tips and tricks on how to prepare for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT.
PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship
As discussed, PSAT scores are used as the qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship process in a student’s junior year. The only way that you can become eligible is to take the PSAT/NMSQT and receive a good PSAT score.
If you’re wondering what the qualifying NMS PSAT score is, the answer isn’t always clear. The qualifying PSAT scores vary by year, but they are always high. So, if you aim to win an NMS, you will want to prepare scrupulously for the PSAT.
This might mean studying during your sophomore year to help you stay ahead of the competition and earn the highest PSAT scores possible.
There are only about 7,500 National Merit Scholarships awarded annually. These exist in three categories.
Three types of National Merit Scholarships
- National Merit $2,500 Scholarships
- Corporate-sponsored merit and special scholarships
- 4,000 renewable college-sponsored scholarships.
The National Merit $2,500 scholarships are awarded in one-time payments of $2,500 for high-achieving students.
The corporate-sponsored merit and special scholarships are scholarships up to $10,000 with amounts and duration varying by the awarding sponsor.
The 4,000 renewable college-sponsored scholarships range in awards of $500 up to $2,000 per year.
Winning this highly competitive scholarship can strengthen your college application and help you compete at top-tier schools. So, there’s plenty of reasons to aim for good PSAT scores.
Average PSAT Scores
You might be wondering: what is a good score on the PSAT? As discussed, the definition of a good PSAT score will vary by student. However, understanding the PSAT scores average will help you better understand your score.
Next, let’s check out some PSAT scores on average. That way, you can learn where an impressive score will fall on the PSAT scores range.
According to CollegeBoard, the PSAT scores average is 920. So, if you’re thinking about the PSAT scores range that could put you in the running for scholarships, then good PSAT scores will need to be far higher than that.
What is a good PSAT score? Well, exceptional PSAT scores range from 1210-1520. If you happen to fall within the outstanding PSAT scores range, you’ll be amongst the elite in PSAT score percentiles. Simply put, if your PSAT scores fall in the 1210-1520 range, then you’ll be in the top 10% of test takers.
Success takes practice
Don’t stress too much if your PSAT scores fall lower than that exceptional PSAT scores range or even slightly below PSAT scores on average. Not everyone is going to fall into the top PSAT score percentiles on their first attempt. On the same token, if you care deeply about getting good PSAT scores, you should start studying well in advance.
However, preparing for the test can help you increase your percentile in the PSAT scores range. If your PSAT score percentiles aren’t what you were hoping for, that’s okay. Once again, you won’t include your PSAT scores in your college applications.
If you study, you can definitely bring up your PSAT scores. However, unlike the SAT, you can’t retake the PSAT in your junior year.
Once again, your PSAT scores are also a good indicator of your potential SAT scores. Use them to guide your studying habits. If you get good PSAT scores, chances are that you’ll get good SAT scores. Additionally, by studying for the PSAT, you also will gain a lot of skills you’ll use on the SAT.
What is a good PSAT score?
So, how do you know just what is a good PSAT score? Like a good SAT score, the definition of “good PSAT scores” will vary by student and by test. Still, looking at the PSAT scores range can help you understand where your PSAT scores fall.
The PSAT scores on average for the PSAT 8/9 was around an 835 for eighth grade test-takers. Comparatively, PSAT scores on average for ninth graders were closer to an 892.
The average PSAT scores for the PSAT 10 are around a 920. Good PSAT scores for the PSAT 10 will fall between 1210 to 1520, which puts you in the top 10% of test takers. However, if you are trying to win scholarships for college, specifically an NMS, you’ll likely need to aim for a near-perfect PSAT score. However, for many students, good PSAT scores will look different.
PSAT score scale
The PSAT sections are scored on a scale of 160 to 760, which means you could receive a potential score in the range of 320 to 1520. Each correct answer equals one point towards a raw score which is then converted into a scaled score. There is no penalty for incorrect answers or unanswered questions.
According to U.S. News, in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, the average PSAT scores for sophomores was 959. The average PSAT scores for juniors was 1044. Good PSAT scores for juniors will need to be higher than that average.
Think about different benchmarks
As you consider your PSAT score, look at the requirements and benchmarks for different schools on your list as well as different scholarships for college.
For instance, if you are applying to a school where students tend to score at around the 60th percentile for the SAT, you should aim for a score that meets or exceeds this percentile benchmark on the PSAT. Your percentile indicates that you performed better than that number of other students who took the test.
Overall, as you consider “what is a good PSAT score?”, keep your college goals in mind. The great thing about PSAT scores is that they aren’t used to evaluate you for college admissions beyond NMS qualifications. So, think of the PSAT as a tool. Use it to learn where you are doing well and where you need to improve as you plan your testing strategy.
What is a good PSAT score for a sophomore?
We know that you could potentially take three different PSATs. But, how do your scores compare to other students at the same stage? How do you know if your PSAT scores range above or below average? And, how do you become one of the students falling into the top PSAT score percentiles?
Let’s focus on sophomores. According to U.S. News, in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, the mean PSAT score for sophomores was 959. If that’s the national average, then you’ll likely want to score higher in order to be competitive in the college application process.
How high you aim to score on your PSAT will directly relate to your college list. For example, a more competitive school will want its applicants to have top SAT or ACT scores. And, as we know, the PSAT is a great indicator of those potential scores.
Consider your college list
So, as you consider your PSAT score, look at the requirements and benchmarks for different schools on your list. For instance, if you’re applying to a school where students tend to score at around the 60th percentile for the SAT, you should aim for a score that meets or exceeds this percentile benchmark on the PSAT.
Overall, as you think about your PSAT score, keep your college goals in mind. So, try not to stress too much about the PSAT. The great thing about PSAT scores is that they aren’t used to evaluate you for college admissions beyond NMS qualifications. Overall, think of the PSAT as a tool. Use it to learn where you’re doing well and where you need to improve as you plan your testing strategy.
What is a good PSAT score as a junior?
As we’ve discussed, there is no universal “good” or “bad” PSAT score. A good PSAT score will mean something different to different students. Good PSAT scores for juniors will depend on the types of schools and scholarships for college that students plan to apply to.
You’ll be able to check your official PSAT scores online when they are available. Your PSAT score will be used to calculate your selection index, which is in turn used to determine eligibility for the NMS. When you receive your PSAT score, you will also receive your selection index as part of your score report. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, or NMSC, will use the selection index to determine finalists.
It’s important to note that the qualifying selection index for an NMS will vary by state.
Overall, a “good” PSAT score for a junior is a score that matches the benchmarks dictated by your college goals. As we noted above, good PSAT scores will vary from person to person.
Above all, you want to get a PSAT score that puts you in good standing for the colleges where you’re applying. If you are aiming for top schools like Harvard or other Ivy League institutions, you should try to get a PSAT score that exceeds many benchmarks. These elite schools look for more than just average SAT scores. What is a good SAT score? Well, that’s determined by the schools you’re planning to apply to.
However, keep in mind that some schools are adopting test-optional policies. For example, Cornell has extended their test-optional policy during the last admissions cycle. Be sure to check which schools require standardized tests or not, as that will affect your application strategy. Read this article if you’re not sure whether or not to submit your scores to test optional schools.
During your junior year of high school, you will want to start learning more about the standardized testing process. Read our helpful guide that includes everything you need to know about standardized testing and junior year.
Remember that standardized tests can be important when crafting competitive college applications. They can also help you to qualify for different scholarships for college. In order to answer “what is a good SAT score?”, you’ll need to clearly plan your college goals.
How to calculate your PSAT Score
When you receive your official PSAT scores, you will see a variety of different scores. This may seem confusing at first glance. You will get a total score, section scores, test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. Additionally, you’ll get a Selection Index score. This score is the indicator used to determine NMS qualifiers.
Long before the official exam, you’ll want to start preparing. Taking practice exams is an important part of getting good PSAT scores—and good SAT scores. Analyzing these different areas of evaluation and scores will help you plan how to move forward when studying. You’ll be able to pinpoint trouble areas and adjust accordingly.
Still, with so many different scoring categories, how exactly will you calculate your scores after taking a practice PSAT exam? You can use a PSAT score calculator to determine your score. But, if you plan to do it yourself, you’ll need your answer sheet, conversion guides, and answer key. You’ll next want to score your answer sheet according to the key. Calculate your missed questions in order to get your raw scores. Then you’ll use the conversion guides to get the final PSAT scores.
Calculating them without a PSAT score calculator tool
If you’re not using a PSAT score calculator, you’ll need to do a similar process in order to get your total score, section scores, subscores, and cross-test scores. As you may have realized from this brief summary, it can be a tedious process. Take your time and follow the keys and conversion guides in order to get accurate results.
Below are the four steps to find out if you’ve gotten good PSAT scores on your practice exam.
Calculating PSAT Scores
#1- Calculate your raw scores
Do this by simply going through your entire exam and marking which questions you got correct (1pt for each correct question).
#2- Determine math, reading and writing scores
Use your raw scores and your conversion charts to see what your math score falls. The chart provided should show you what your raw math score converts to. For the reading and writing sections, convert your raw scores into test scores using the provided chart. Add each of those together (for reading and writing). Now, multiply that number by 10. For both sections, your score should be out of 760.
#3- Turn section scores to total score
Add your section scores in order to get your total score. Your PSAT scores range will be from 320-1520.
#4- Convert to selection index score
This is important if considering National Merit Scholarship qualifications. To do this, simply add your section stores together and double it.
However, if that whole process sounded daunting, remember that there is another way to find your scores. You can just use a PSAT score calculator in order to determine your PSAT scores online. This is both a viable and reliable option.
Taking a long standardized test can be exhausting, so take advantage of online resources to help you calculate your results. So, to make sure you get your accurate scores, and don’t drive yourself mad. Instead, use a PSAT score calculator.
How do I convert my PSAT score to an SAT score?
What is a good score on the PSAT and how will that translate to your SATs? Conveniently, once you have PSAT scores, you can use various tools to convert them into an SAT score. Using a score conversion tool will help you see how raw scores are converted into test scores and/or subscores.
PSAT scores can be a helpful indicator of how you will perform on the SAT. Converting your PSAT score into an SAT score will help you understand whether you’ll meet the target SAT score or SAT requirements for the schools on your list.
The PSAT to SAT conversion tool allows you to enter your PSAT score into the box. When you click on the “convert” button, the tool will automatically populate your projected SAT score.
You can also use the chart below to estimate your SAT score based on your PSAT score. Please note, the scores listed in the table below are representative of the PSAT/NMSQT version of the test, and not for any other versions of the PSAT.
Remember, this is only a projected indication of how well you will perform on the SAT. Your SAT scores could match the projected score based on your PSAT score, or they could be higher or lower depending on your actual performance on the standardized test. Use this conversion tool to your advantage as you research colleges and begin your college applications.
PSAT scores – Final Thoughts
As early as eighth grade, you’ll be able to take the PSAT. However, nationwide, students will be taking the PSAT/NMSQT in fall of their junior year. The PSAT serves as a good indicator of where you’re at in terms of standardized test scores. This is important when it comes to taking the SAT and ACT.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies. For test-optional schools, applicants can choose whether or not they send standardized test scores. These policies help students without access to testing, test prep, or who simply don’t test well. On the other hand, other parts of the application carry more importance without standardized test scores.
Focus on your goals
So, when wondering what is a good PSAT score, your goals and college list are of utmost importance. While your PSAT scores don’t impact college applications, with a good PSAT score you may get a National Merit Scholarship. The NMS benchmark changes year to year, so your best bet is to study hard. Even if you don’t meet the PSAT score needed for an NMS, your average PSAT scores can predict your SAT score.
There are no strictly good or bad test scores. A good score for one school may not work for another college. A “good PSAT score” depends on your school list, your goals, and how you want to present yourself to schools. Whether you’re gearing up for your first PSAT or puzzling over where to send your scores, there’s help for you. Check out one of our CollegeAdvisor.com college SAT webinars for some guidance.
And, remember, when it comes to the college application process, you should start early. That means beginning your college journey by gaining valuable experience and knowledge from your PSAT scores.