PSAT scores are back this week. If you’re a high school junior, this moment marks the start of SAT and ACT prep season. (That is if you haven’t started already!) Here’s our handy guide to understanding your PSAT scores and what to do next as you prepare for the SAT or ACT.

What do my PSAT scores mean?

Your PSAT scores are an extremely helpful indicator as you begin to prepare for the SAT or ACT. And a good SAT or ACT score is always a plus for college admissions.

To help you understand your PSAT scores, let’s start with the scoring scale. You are probably familiar with the SAT’s scoring scale. You can score anywhere from 200 to 800 points in the combined Reading and Writing sections and on the combined Math sections. When your scores for these two sections are added together you get your composite SAT score, which can range from 400 and 1600.

The PSAT, which is a shorter and slightly less difficult version of the SAT, is scored out of 1520 possible composite points. The Reading and Writing section and the Math section are each scored out of a possible 760. You’ll find your section and composite score on the first page of your PSAT score report.


For a quick-reference visual guide to your PSAT scores, check out our Junior Jumpstart Guide to College Admissions Testing.


Your score report will also contain percentiles, which rank your score against a comparative sample of other students. Your percentile tells you the percent of students in the sample who received a lower score than yours. If your score is in the 85th percentile, it means you received a higher score than 85% of students in the sample.

The PSAT uses two different percentiles. The Nationally Representative Sample is located on the front page of your score report. It’s not a comparison between students who actually took the test. Rather, it’s a measure derived from a research study, and it’s essentially meant to represent a typical high school student. The PSAT/NMSQT User Sample, by contrast, compares your performance to other students who took the test within the last three years. This percentile is located on your online report, so you’ll have to log in to your College Board account to see it. Generally speaking, the User Sample percentile is a bit lower than the Nationally Representative Sample percentile.

Underneath each of your section scores you’ll see either a green checkmark or a yellow exclamation point — these are your college readiness benchmarks. They are meant to let you know whether you’re on track to handle college-level work, given your current grade level. Right beneath the benchmarks, you’ll find your test scores. These are standardized subscores that were used to calculate your section and composite scores. They’re also used to calculate the National Merit Index on the next page.

Do my PSAT scores “count” for college admissions?

Colleges do not look at PSAT scores in the admissions process. However, in your junior year, your PSAT scores do count in determining whether you qualify for National Merit Scholarship program recognition. Only a very small percentage of test takers make the cut-off for recognition, so students who receive Commended, Semifinalist, or Finalist status should certainly include that information in their college applications.

What does my National Merit Index number mean?

Every student’s test report comes with a National Merit Index number, which is the score used to determine whether you will be selected as a Commended Student or Semi-finalist in the National Merit Scholarship process. 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.

It’s impossible to know exactly what index number you need to be selected as a Commended Student or a Semi-finalist, as the cutoff is determined by the scores of current students and, therefore, changes slightly year to year. Students who are moving on to the next stage in the scholarship process will be informed in September of their senior year.

Learn more about the National Merit process here.

How can I use this information to prepare for the SAT or ACT?

For high school juniors, now is time to make a plan and enroll in SAT or ACT prep for the months ahead. Your PSAT scores give you a window into how you would perform on the SAT and can be especially helpful when compared to a practice ACT score.

You can use this information to decide which test is best for you, so you spend your time on the test where you’ll shine the most. If you really want to dig in, we also recommend logging into your College Board account, where you can see question-level feedback about your PSAT performance. You can learn some things by looking at the difficulty level of questions you missed and the type of questions you missed. And, most importantly, you can use this information to make your SAT or ACT prep efforts more targeted and effective.

To learn more about how you can use your PSAT results as a launching-off point to prep efficiently and effectively for the SAT or ACT, reserve your spot in our upcoming webinar: Your PSAT Scores are Back: Now What? Invest the time now to get higher scores in less time in 2022. Speaking of effective prep, we’re offering up to 6 FREE hours (a value up to $1290) on our private SAT/ACT tutoring packages. Private tutoring with Applerouth is the single best way to improve your scores and it’s available at an exceptional value when you enroll now.


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