We received the PSAT score. What does that mean and what do we do now? Part 1

The results from last October’s Revised PSAT results are out, and it’s causing our parents and students a lot of anxiety, especially as it relates to the National Merit Scholarship and college admissions testing.

All students graduating in 2017 or after will take the “Revised PSAT” in October of their junior year. We will try to answer all the lingering questions about the test through the next series of blogs:

Part 1: What is the PSAT, and how should I interpret the PSAT results?

The PSAT is a practice test for the real SAT, one of the two most widely used standardized college admissions test. For most students, it’s a chance to practice for the SAT, to see whether SAT is right for you (compared to the ACT), and to assess strengths and weaknesses in your learning. There is a PSAT 8/9 given to 8th & 9th graders, and PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 given to sophomores and juniors. They are “easier versions” of the SAT, which is typically taken by juniors and seniors for college admissions. About 3.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT each year in the United States (source: NMSC).

The NMSQT part of PSAT/NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. National Merit Scholarship is a national competition to find the top PSAT performers in each state. Students’ PSAT results are compared to other students’ results in the same state, so different states have different “cutoffs” for the National Merit Scholarship. We will talk more about this in the next blog.

The SAT family of tests are scaled to produce results that are consistent across all three tests. The below figure (Figure 1) shows the relative scoring scales of the three tests mentioned above. For example, a student who scored 600 on PSAT 8/9 would also score 600 on PSAT/NMSQT and 600 on SAT. However, assuming that a student progresses in his or her learning in school, a student who scored 600 on PSAT 8/9 as a 9th grader would reasonably be able to score 640 on the PSAT as a 10th grader, and be able to score 680 on the SAT as an 11th grader.

Figure 1: PSAT 8/9, PSAT/NMSQT, and SAT Scales

Source: Collegeboard

Source: Collegeboard 

How should I interpret the PSAT results? What is a good score?

Each student who took the PSAT should have received a four-page Score Report. Students can also download it from studentscores.collegeboard.org using their unique access codes. The first page is a cover page and has your access code:

Figure 2: Your access code on the Score Report cover sheet

Source: Collegeboard

Source: Collegeboard

The second page has the actual results. The PSAT has three sections: Reading, Writing & Language, and Math. The middle of page 2 shows the student’s score on each of these sections, called Test Scores with scores ranging from 8 to 38. The individual Test Scores are used to find a student’s “Reading and Writing Score” and “Math Score,” which are then combined to find one’s “Total Score.”

Figure 3: Sample result from one of our students

Source: Collegeboard

Source: Collegeboard

Notice the colors in the horizontal bars. The color bar shows “College and Career Readiness Benchmark” — a college-bound student would want to be in the green section, if at all possible. The mark shows test scores (and relative college and career readiness) of the student. Also notice how these test scores are broken down into Sub-Scores, which are useful for figuring out a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Reading and Writing Score is calculated by adding a student’s Reading Test Score and Writing & Language Test Score and multiplying it by 10. So our student above will have received 690 points (34 + 35 = 69 → 69 x 10 = 690). The Math Score is calculated by simply doubling the Math Test Score and multiplying by 10. So our student above will have received 740 points (37 x 2 = 74 → 74 x 10 = 740). These scores range from 160 to 760. These two scores are then added for your Total Score, with a range of 320 to 1520. So our student above will have received 1430 (690 + 740 = 1430).

Figure 3: Sample result from one of our students

Source: Collegeboard

Source: Collegeboard

 

These three scores reflect the same set of scores that are reported to colleges from the SAT test later on. (PSAT scores are not sent to colleges as part of your official transcript.) Your Total Score is also significant because it is used to determine the “cutoff” for National Merit Scholarship — more on this in the next blog.

Notice there is a “Your Nationally Representative Sample Percentile” for each of the scores. This shows you how well you have done compared with everyone else who took the test that year. So for example, our student has scored in the 99th percentile, which means he is in the top 1% of the test takers.

Now that we have made some sense out of the test scores, we will consider the implications of these scores on our next set of blogs.

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