Understanding Your PSAT Scores
Students across the United States are getting their PSAT scores back this month; schools will start distributing scores around December 10th (the exact date varies by state). While the score report students and parents will receive is a condensed one, there’s still a lot of good information in there!
About the PSAT
The PSAT/NMSQT, a preliminary SAT written by the College Board, is given just once a year, typically in October. The scale of the PSAT administration is astounding. Take 2018 as an example: of the roughly 16.5 million high-schoolers enrolled in public and private American schools last fall, over 4.25 million took either the PSAT 10 or the PSAT/NMSQT. That’s 1 in 4 students.
The PSAT is a huge part of students’ academic consciousness, despite only lasting one day out of the year. PSAT memes crop up every year, no matter how hard the College Board tries to tamp down on them. In a way, the PSAT is one of the experiences that bring students together, whether they live in Brooklyn or Birmingham.
All this is to say that you probably know at least one high-schooler who is getting their PSAT scores back this month.
The first thing that parents should realize is that the PSAT is scored on the same rubric as the SAT, but it’s not the exact same scoring scale. The PSAT is shorter and slightly lower in difficulty, and because of that the PSAT is scored out of 1520 points, a score made up of two categories – Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math – each scored out of a possible 760 points.
The other thing to remember is that the PSAT, like the SAT, is a standardized test. Students’ raw scores – the number of questions they get right in each section – go through several conversions before they appear in their final form. The College Board’s Understanding Your PSAT Score resource shows you exactly how raw scores are scaled on the 2019 test.
The first page of your student’s score report gives you the composite and section scores for their PSAT.
PSAT Score Reports also contain percentiles, which rank your student against a comparative sample. A percentile is the percent of students who scored lower than a given score. The PSAT uses two percentiles, only one of which is on the report parents and students receive. The other one is only accessible online.
- Nationally Representative Sample: This is the percentile located on the front page of the report. It’s not a comparison between students who took the test in 2019. Rather, it’s a measure derived from a “standard research study of U.S. students in the 10th or 11th grade and are weighted to represent all U.S. students in those grades, regardless of whether they typically take the PSAT/NMSQT or the PSAT 10.” Essentially, it’s the College Board’s idea of a typical high school student.
- PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT User Sample: This percentile is located on your student’s online score sample, and it compares their performance to other students who took the test within the last three years. Generally speaking, the User Sample percentile is a bit lower than the Nationally Representative Sample percentile.
Benchmarks and Test Scores
The College Board measures every student’s score against its college readiness benchmarks and notes their progress on the report. Underneath each section score, you’ll see either a green checkmark or a yellow exclamation point, letting you know whether your student is on track to handle college-level work. Benchmarks are grade-level specific on the PSAT. If your student is in the 10th-grade, that green checkmark under Math doesn’t mean that they are ready for college math right now. It means that the College Board predicts they’ll be ready when the time comes, provided they keep working and improving.
Test scores are located right beneath the benchmarks. These test scores are standardized, and they’re used to calculate the National Merit Index on the next page. Test scores come from a student’s raw score, and they’re used to calculate the student’s score out of 1520 as well.
National Merit Index
Every student’s test report comes with a National Merit Index number. That number is calculated from the test scores on the previous page. The National Merit Scholarship is open to all 11th-graders who are U.S. citizens and who took the PSAT; that’s why the PSAT is called the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in the 11th grade.
Every student’s report has a National Merit Index, but if your student’s index (a 3-digit number) has an asterisk next to it, then they don’t meet all of the other qualifications for consideration. It’s impossible to know exactly what index number a student has to have to be selected as a Commended Student or a Semi-finalist, as the cutoff is determined by the scores of the current students. Students who are moving on to the next stage in the scholarship process will be informed next September.
Full Online Reports & Question-Level Feedback
As the report parents and students receive is just a teaser report, it’s important to log on to the College Board’s website to access more information about your student’s scores.
Your student’s PSAT report will feature general advice on where to go from here, but to access specific tips and content for improvement, they will need to look up the full report on their College Board account.
The question-level feedback shows them the answer key, what your student answered, and the question difficulty level. You can learn some things about your student by looking at the difficulty level of questions missed. If your student got all of the easier questions right but struggled with the harder ones, then it’s possible they haven’t yet gotten to the content in the more difficult questions. However, if they struggle more with the lower-difficulty questions, then it’s possible they need a refresher (or that they’re rushing!).
Now that you have your PSAT scores back, it’s time to make your test prep plan. To learn more about the PSAT, SAT, and ACT and the differences between the tests you can attend our upcoming webinar: All About PSAT, SAT, & ACT on Monday, December 16th at 8PM EST. To register, just visit our website here.