What is a Good PSAT Score & More. Your PSAT Questions, Answered.

The PSAT is an odd duck in the testing world. Not only is its scoring system deceptively different from that of the SAT, but it also functions as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This means that the PSAT test can make or break your chances of becoming a National Merit Semifinalist and getting on track to a $2,500 scholarship.

In other words, the PSAT can be a big deal.

So why is it so hard to understand?

There are several factors that make the PSAT confusing. First off, the test itself has different levels with different implications for students. Secondly, the scoring system is misleading: it looks like that of the SAT, but the subtle differences between the two make an impact. Finally, it may be harder for you to get a sense of your relative performance on the PSAT versus the SAT or ACT. Knowing how your friends and classmates performed is different from understanding your score in the context of the entire country.

Because so many students are asking these questions about the PSAT, in this article we share our insights into what a good PSAT score is and how you can assess your own performance.

You can also jump ahead to find the answer you are looking for:

The different levels of the PSAT

Many students and families don’t realize that the PSAT test itself changes based upon what grade you take it in. Before the PSAT/NMSQT in Grade 11, you have the option to take the PSAT 10 in Grade 10 or the PSAT 8/9 in Grade 8 or 9.

The PSAT 10 is actually the same test as the PSAT/NMSQT. The big difference is that it is taken in Grade 10 and is for evaluative purposes—it does not qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship Program, but it can help give you and your school a stronger sense of your strengths and weaknesses. This, in turn, will help you come up with the right study plan to improve your score in Grade 11 when it really matters.

Unlike the PSAT 10, the PSAT 8/9 is a different test. Schools can choose to offer this for their Grade 8 and/or Grade 9 students at almost any time between September and April. Like the later levels in the SAT Suite of Assessments, the PSAT 8/9 has a Reading section, Writing and Language section, and Math section. It’s designed to give students their first exposure to such a testing format, and it tests them only on core content knowledge that is standard across many school systems and states. 

The PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 can be useful preparation for the PSAT/NMSQT. They are a great way to assess where you struggle as a test-taker. Some students are anxious and have trouble handling the time pressure of such a test, while others are easily distracted, or simply find it difficult to understand core concepts essential to the test.

Identifying both strengths and weaknesses before Grade 11 puts you on the path to achieve your highest potential on both the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT. However, since your scores on these earlier tests do not have as many important implications for your future, we will focus on breaking down your PSAT/NMSQT score, and you can trust that taking these earlier exams will enhance your overall ability to do great on such a test.

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Is the PSAT Similar to the SAT? Do I Have to Prepare Differently for Them?

The PSAT is a precursor to the SAT. They are both standardized tests meant to assess your strengths and weaknesses in core Math and English skills, giving you a basis of comparison with other students across the country and the world. 

The major differences between the PSAT and SAT are in their format and the level of conceptual difficulty of their questions. For the PSAT, a 10th or 11th grade student has two hours and 45 minutes to complete the full test. For the Reading section, which consists of 47 questions, you are given 60 minutes. For the Writing section of 44 questions you have just 35 minutes. Finally, for Math you must answer 48 questions in 70 minutes. This adds up to a total of 139 questions you must answer in the allotted time. 

For the SAT, on the other hand, the Reading section is 52 questions long with a 65-minute time limit, meaning that students have slightly less time to answer each question. The Writing section remains identical: 44 questions in 35 minutes. The SAT draws a distinction between Math with a calculator, and Math without a calculator, giving 38 questions in 55 minutes for the former, and 20 questions in 25 minutes for the latter. 

Otherwise, the skills being tested on the two tests are much the same. Both the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT seek to assess a student’s critical thinking in areas such as vocabulary (words in context), rhetoric (command of evidence), deductive reasoning (mathematics), analysis (in both Science and History/Social Sciences), and real-world understanding, past and present. This means that, though the sections do not appear to cover domain knowledge in history and the sciences, they are in fact very much designed to test a student’s grasp of fundamentals in these fields.

Given how similar the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT are overall, the tests provide great continuity in regards to preparation. Students who study hard for the PSAT/NMSQT will also be developing and refining key skills for the SAT, and building the necessary foundational content knowledge they need. That said, given the slight differences in the format, students should be sure to practice adapting their time management techniques between the two different tests. They can do this by taking many timed practice tests and pacing themselves according to an established plan. 

So, for the most part you can kill two birds with one stone when it comes to the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT. You might be wondering why, then, there is such a difference in the scores you see for the two different tests.

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How is the PSAT/NMSQT Scored?

The PSAT/NMSQT is scored on a scale of 320 to 1520 points. Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW) comprises both Reading and Writing sections, and is scored from 160-760. Math, likewise, is also scored from 160-760. These two scores are then added together to form your overall score.

After the test, you’ll need to wait six to eight weeks to receive your results, which are usually sent out in December. In your Score Report you will be able to see your Score Range, a general Mean Score, your College Readiness Benchmark, and your Percentile Rank:

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When Does Your PSAT/NMSQT Score Matter?

Your PSAT/NMSQT scores are meant to give you some indication as to how you might do when it comes time for your SAT exam. Thus, these scores will be particularly important if the school(s) you’re planning on applying to factor your SAT score into their admissions decision. Some colleges and universities will also take your SAT score, and perhaps even your PSAT/NMSQT score, into consideration as they make merit-based scholarship decisions.

Some of the other, more immediate benefits of taking the PSAT include:

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What is a Good PSAT Score in 2022?

In 2022, a PSAT score of 1500-1520 would be considered an exceptionally strong score for any student. This score should place a student in the 1st percentile of all test takers, meaning that students scoring in this range have performed better than 99% of students who take this test. Depending on the PSAT test you get, achieving this score can be even harder than it sounds: often, missing just one question on the Math section, for instance, can drop your scaled score by as many as 50 points.

Any PSAT score in the range of 1450-1500 is also a tremendous achievement, and an early indication that a student is academically prepared to pursue applications to top-ranked universities and colleges in the US. If you score between a 1400 and a 1450 you should also be proud. This means you are still in a highly competitive percentile and eligible for entry to highly selective universities. Any score from 1300-1400 leaves some room for improvement, but is nonetheless optimistic! It indicates that your fundamental skills are strong and simply in need of further refining.

If you score below a 1300, don’t fret too much. This can be a great learning experience, as it will really clarify what academic areas you need to invest time and effort into improving. You should have plenty of time to redouble your efforts and find solutions to your struggles. Overall, though the PSAT/NMSQT is indeed important for certain scholarship considerations, the SAT is the more influential test. So study hard, especially shoring up any skills you feel you didn’t meet your full potential on in the PSAT. (Even better, considering hiring an SAT tutor for individualized sessions). Bear in mind that the SAT is super-scored, meaning that most colleges will accept your highest score for each section, regardless of the date upon which you took the exam.

And finally, if tests just aren’t for you, but you have other great ways to show your prowess—grades, recommendations, activities, and personal story, to name a few—then consider taking advantage of test-optional applications. While some programs have adopted test-optional policies on a temporary basis, others have committed to them for the long term, and still more—like, most notably, the UCs—have decided not to consider test scores whatsoever from now on.

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What is a Good PSAT Score for the Ivy League?

A good PSAT score for Ivy League varies depending on the school, but you should aim to be at or above the 95th percentile overall and in each section. Keep in mind that if you are not aiming for schools in the Top 20, like the Ivy League colleges, or universities like Stanford, MIT, and Northwestern, your target scores will vary accordingly. Generally speaking, a score in the 90th percentile or higher is a good indication that you will be a competitive applicant to a Top 50 research university.

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Want expert help improving your PSAT or SAT score?

Get in touch with our college expert Jason Milan.