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Understanding PSAT Scores: Deciphering You Teenager’s Results

By Jane Parent

If your high school junior took the PSAT in October, he or she has probably received the PSAT score results in the past few weeks. There are an awful lot of numbers on that score report. What do they mean, how did your student do, and what can you do with this information? Dr. Kat Cohen, chief executive officer and founder of IvyWise, break down how to understand PSAT scores.

Understanding PSAT Test Scores

1. Understanding the numbers. 

Your student’s score report will show a Total Score, which is a combination of the Reading & Writing and Math sections of the PSAT. It will also show your student’s score for Reading & Writing and Math.

2. What is the scale?

A top score for each section is 760. Possible scores for each section range from 160-760 (or 320 to 1520 for the full test).

3. How well did my student do?

The higher the PSAT test score, the better your student performed. The score report will also show percentiles for your student’s scores. These percentiles show how competitive your student’s score is compared to other students who took the test this year (the higher the percentile, the more competitive).

Next Steps

Later this year, your student will take either the SAT or ACT. Here’s how to use the information in your PSAT score report to decide what next steps to take with regards to those tests.

4. The PSAT is an indication of your student’s score on the SAT. 

The score report will also show how your student may perform on the SAT by providing a “projected range” for for both the Reading & Writing and Math sections.

5. The score report can help your student prepare for the SAT.

Students should use the PSAT as a way “to assess their strengths and weaknesses,” says Cohen. Review the test booklets to determine what they got right, wrong, and what they didn’t have time to answer.

Cohen recommends that students should “analyze their test scores and sub-scores to give them an idea of what kind of test taker they are and where their strengths lie.” This can be helpful when it comes to preparing for the SAT, which your junior will take later this year. For example, the sub-scores can highlight the sections your student should focus on improving before taking the SAT. Scores in green show strengths, while scores in yellow and red show areas for improvement.

6. Or maybe your student should take the ACT.

If your student did score poorly on PSAT, then that may be an indication she’d be better off taking the ACT instead. Still, Cohen suggest students should take the practice SAT and ACT tests to see how they perform on those tests before making a final call.

7. Determine whether your junior qualifies for the National Merit Competition.

Only juniors taking the PSAT are eligible for the National Merit competition, so sophomores will have to wait until next year. The NMC Selection Index section will show whether or not your student meets the entry requirements. Note that only a top percentage of scorers (typically around one percent) in a state are eligible for the program.

Jane Parent

Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.