Understanding Your PSAT Score Report
With the recent release of PSAT/NMSQT score reports, many students are asking the same question: Did I get a good score? This is often followed by turning to one’s friends and asking the inevitable next question: What score did you get?
Before you either announce your score to the world or bow your head in shame, remember that your score is your (and possibly your parent’s and guidance counselor’s) business, so don’t feel obligated to share your results. And if you scored higher than your friends, don’t flaunt it, because that’s just annoying. However you did, avoid the temptation to look at the score and then throw it aside and ignore everything else in the report. Your score report provides a treasure trove of feedback that can help you create a roadmap for your test preparation and college application plans.
What does the score report include?
The first part of your score report is, of course, your score. Because the PSAT content is a little less advanced than the SAT, the highest possible score is 1520, while the highest possible SAT score is 1600. Below your score you’ll find your percentile, which indicates how your score compares with your grade-level peers. You may see two percentiles, a “Nationally Representative Sample” (NRS) percentile and a “User Percentile.” The NRS is higher because it includes all students in the nation, including those who don’t take the PSAT, but the User Percentile, which compares your score with other test-takers, is probably what colleges will consider in their application process. Next, the score report tells you if you’re “on track for college readiness” in that area or not. If you’re not on track, you will likely need extra practice in your weak areas.
Next, your score report tells you subscores for each of three areas: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. It also lists specific objectives that you’ve mastered and those in which you need improvement. Lastly, it breaks down your test question by question, telling you which ones you got correct and which subcategory each one fits.
So, did I get a good score?
“Good” is subjective, but how your score matches with your goals is numerical. Compare your score to the average SAT scores of the colleges you’d like to attend. For example, by some estimates Harvard’s average score for admission is 770 on both sections (1540 total), which is basically the top score available on the PSAT. The average score for Cal State Los Angeles is about 490 per section, or 970 total, which is about average for all students.
You can also look at the National Merit Scholarship Competition (NMSC) Selection Index, which is found by adding together the subtest scores for Reading, Writing and Language, and Math and then doubling the sum. This means that Reading and Writing and Language are worth 2/3 of this score, while Math is 1/3. The top 1% of test-takers in each respective state qualify as National Merit Semi-Finalists. In California in 2015, this score was 221, which equates to an average score of 37 out of 38 on each subtest. That’s a really high score, which is why being a NMS is so prestigious!
If you scored at or close to your goal…
Congratulations! Do a happy dance, and then go back and work through the test questions you missed. If you are a sophomore who scored highly, focus on the most challenging questions and concepts and aim for National Merit Scholar for next year. Even if you don’t make the cut junior year, you can finish your test preparation early and focus on AP classes and extracurricular activities during senior year. If you are a junior, see where you can still improve and consider getting your college admissions testing over with junior year.
If you scored lower than you’d hoped…
Don’t despair! First, evaluate your testing experience. Did you pace yourself badly and run out of time? Did you come across types of questions you’ve never seen before and get stuck? These issues all lend themselves to learning better test-taking strategies and taking several practice tests.
Then, look at the specific areas of weakness noted in your score report. The College Board has a partnership with Khan Academy, so you can follow its instructions to link your score report with its website. Once you do that, you will have access to personalized practice to improve your weak areas, along with free full-length SAT practice tests. It might also be helpful to go through your test and rework the questions you missed, but if you have a weaker score you might save this step for after you’ve completed a test preparation program so it’s not too overwhelming.
Next, use your score to help shape your college preparation plans. If your PSAT scores are far below the average for your goal schools, be realistic and consider broadening your college search while also working to raise your score. If you struggled with the PSAT format, which mirrors the SAT, you should try out the ACT and see if that’s a better fit. The ACT is accepted by virtually every school that accepts the SAT, and many students find it easier to prepare for.
Lastly, consider your test preparation options. No matter which test you choose or how far you have to progress, a private tutor can help you create a personalized study plan and keep you on track and disciplined as you pursue your goals.