I just got my PSAT scores back. Now what?

– Edison Prep Exclusive –

In 2018, we published our “I just got my PSAT scores back. Now what?” blog post that’s received over 20,000 clicks over the last four years, despite us being a small company! School counselors, parent groups, and others shared the wisdom in this blog post, the sole goal of which was to de-stress the process and make sure that parents did not feel the pressure to prepare for the test too early and to prep at the right test at the right time during high school.

Each year, we update the blog post with new information so that it can be an evergreen blog post that’s useful to all! (Last update: Dec. 6 2022!)

Interpreting Your PSAT Score Report

PSAT scores are released today, so let’s take a look at an example student’s report! Your student’s report should look very similar, with, of course, some differences in score and percentile.

What’s a Good Score?

Despite what it might seem like in conversations in the lunchroom and in the stands at sports games, the average score for a sophomore is 910- 920 (about halfway between 320 and 1520), and the average score for a junior is 1000.

For sophomores hoping to shoot for National Merit as juniors, a score of 1300 “cold” (taking the test without preparation) is a hopeful sign, and deliberate steps should be taken to prepare for the junior year PSAT. Use CollegeBoard’s free PSAT/NMSQT full-length practice tests to track your progress.

Ultimately, a “good” score depends on your percentile (how you compare to other students in your grade level) as well as your aspirations for future tests and your potential college list. The PSAT simply shows how you performed on that day—use it to guide, not hinder, your academic growth by targeting any weaknesses and honing any strengths. It is a great way to build familiarity with and demystify standardized tests in a low-pressure way that cannot be used against you in college admissions. You should take the PSAT every year that your high school allows you to!

Back to your PSAT Score Report:
Your Question-Level Feedback

Finally, page 4 of your report includes ‘question-level feedback’. Here, you can see the number of questions correct, incorrect, and omitted in each section. However, questions and answers are only released for certain test dates. For instance, if you took the PSAT on October 15, you will only see if you answered questions correctly; the actual questions, answers, and answer explanations will not be released.

Your NMSC Selection Index Score

Every year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation considers the 50,000 highest-scoring students for National Merit Scholarship Program recognition by using their NMSC Selection Index Score. This score ranges from 48 to 228, and is calculated by adding your three two-digit section scores together and then multiplying by 2. For example, a student with a 30/40 on Reading, 29/40 on Writing, and 28/40 on Math would receive an index of (30+29+28)*2 = 174. You’ll see your NMSC Selection Index on page 3 of your PSAT Score Report. We’ll cover more about National Merit in a minute!

Can the PSAT Predict Your SAT or ACT Score?

From our experience, most students improve their score by about 30-40 points from the PSAT sophomore year to the PSAT junior year if no preparation beyond attending school and being a year older and wiser occurred. If a student practices or participates in a PSAT preparation program, that increase is likely higher. However, PSAT scores don’t necessarily predict SAT or ACT scores. The best way to see where your student stands is to take mock tests—preferably, one of each. You can set SAT and/or ACT score goals by looking at universities’ class profiles: in particular, the middle 50th percentile of incoming students. These ranges can vary widely depending on the university’s rank, class size, and many otherfactors.

Will my student qualify to become National Merit Semifinalist?

  • The junior year PSAT is the only route to qualifying for National Merit. The sophomore PSAT is just for practice.
  • There are two levels of National Merit Recognition: Commended and Semifinalist—either one is an honor!
    • The top 16,000 students of the more than 1.5 million students who take the PSAT are named Semifinalists. 15,000 of these fill out an application to attempt to move on to the Finalist round, some of which are offered scholarships directly from the National Merit Corporation, some of which are offered scholarships by U.S. companies, and some of which are sponsored by institutions.
    • The next 34,000 students are named Commended students. 50,000 students receive National Merit Recognition.
  • To become a National Merit Semifinalist, you have to score above your state’s cutoff, which corresponds to the top 1% of students in your state—but this can vary by a few points each year and by state! (For reference, in fall of 2021, Georgia students needed a score of 218 or higher to be named Semifinalists.) Students who score highly enough will be notified of their Semifinalist status in September of 2023.
  • For most National Merit recipients, the National Merit award is more of an honor than a financial benefit. The scholarship money awarded to the top students directly from the National Merit Corporation is nominal compared to merit aid that a high SAT or ACT score might earn. However, there is one big exception: there are over 25 colleges who give full tuition all the way up to a full ride (and dozens of others who give smaller amounts) for National Merit Finalists who indicate that school as their first choice on the National Merit application.
  • Unless a student is starting at a very high Sophomore PSAT score, far more money is likely to be earned via merit aid from the real SAT or the real ACT than from the PSAT at 95%+ of colleges.

Auburn Case Study:

National Merit Semifinalist requires a top 0.5% score, and at most colleges would earn a student $2,000-4,000 per year. However, at Auburn, students who earn a 29 ACT (a top 10% score) can save $11,000 per year (300- 500% as much, with 2000% as common of a score), and those with a 33 ACT (a top 2% score) can earn $16,500 per year! The bar is far lower and the rewards many times higher via merit aid from the SAT and ACT.


So what do I do now?

If you’re a junior:

If you are taking Algebra II as a junior and just got your junior year PSAT back, now is the time to begin SAT/ACT prep in earnest, since Early Action deadlines loom and there are just 3 test dates left of each exam before senior year. Just reach out and we can advise you on SAT vs. ACT (you can take a mock ACT ASAP if you don’t have any scores yet).

If you’re a sophomore:

First, don’t start SAT or ACT preparation too early. If you’re a sophomore in Algebra II, focus on your grades for the next few months, and then take mock tests late sophomore year of each test so you can map out a summer/fall/winter testing plan. A high GPA is even more important than extracurricular involvement, leadership opportunities, volunteer hours, and the like. If you’ll be taking Algebra II junior year, check out the flowchart below!

Should I practice for next year’s PSAT?

To qualify for National Merit Semifinalist as a junior, you can only miss 4-7 questions on the entire test. Out of our more than 7,000 students who have shared their PSAT scores with us since 2016, only one has had a “cold” sophomore PSAT score below 1300, but earned National Merit Semifinalist status in their junior year.

  • If your “cold” sophomore year PSAT is at least 1300, prepare for next year’s test and make a run at National Merit!
  • If your “cold” score is below 1300, the PSAT should be viewed as low-stress practice for the SAT, and you should focus on GPA, your extracurriculars, and the actual SAT and ACT.

When should I map out a preparation plan?
When should I take mock tests?

Here’s a helpful flowchart!

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