PSAT Scores What You Need to Know

PSAT scores will be available on CollegeBoard starting the week of December 10th. If you’re a Junior, I am sure you just tensed up a little bit. Take a breath. The best way to navigate the college admission process is to arm yourself with information…the correct information and necessary information. This process can be a bit convoluted and albeit intimidating. Let’s add a little ease.

Before we dive into the nitty gritty test scores, it’s important to consider context. What are colleges really looking for? The National Association for College Admission Counseling polled colleges all over and asked for the top factors in admission decisions for first-time college students. Drumroll please…. “Grades in high school have been among the top decision factors for first-time freshmen for decades. Total GPA and grades in college prep courses were each rated as considerably important by 77 percent colleges. Admission test scores and strength of curriculum were also rated considerably important by more than half of colleges (54 percent and 52 percent, respectively).” Source

So your day-in and day-out work that you put into your classes is one of the most important factors. Remember, not all high schools, teachers and curriculum are the same. So a 4.0 at a comprehensive college prep high school will look a little differently than a 4.0 at a high school that, say is unable to offer as many AP, Honors and options to its students. So how do admissions level that? Standardized tests. The SAT and ACT are helpful academic indicators that add context to the grades and coursework a student is already completing. It’s an added factor in the admissions decisions. Not necessarily THE factor, but an added one.

Okay, so we know the SAT and ACT is one component, but I’m a Junior and just got my PSAT results back…what do I do? Well 1. Not panic. 2. Create a game plan. Are we all not panicking? Great. Let’s move on to number 2 and create a game plan. Here it is folks….

  • Take a practice ACT if you have not already done so, companies will typically offer it for free with a comprehensive score report
  • Use your scores and feelings to decide which exam to take (yes feelings, I’ll talk more about this in a little…)
  • Remember, it does not matter which one you take…SAT…ACT…take your pick
  • After you have decided which exam you’d like to take, choose an official test date to register for and create a consistent test prep plan leading up to the test date (about 3 to 5 months prior)
  • Take the exam! If you need to retake it you certainly can…just don’t go signing up for 5 or 6 or 10 of them…focus on fine-tuning your test prep and playing up your weaknesses for the next exam
  • While you’re at it…make sure to take the optional essay…some colleges will require it, so why take yourself out of the running by not signing up for it

Okay, let’s go back to feelings. Students should have buy-in on the test prep process.

This means, if you are a Junior and you took the ACT and just “felt” more confident on the ACT, well then go for it! Parents, please do not sign up your son or daughter for a boat-load of test prep and the exam without their knowledge or against their will. Help give them the power of owning this process. 

*Are you a student who has an IEP or 504 in school and would like to request accommodations for the SAT/ACT, please find an extensive blog post HERE from Compass Education Prep. Start the accommodation request process early!

PSAT Scores compared to SAT Scores

Each section of the PSAT is out of 760. Each section on the SAT is out of 800. These scores live on the same scale. So essentially, if you scored a 500 on the Math section, your score will probably be around a 500 on the SAT. On the flip side, a perfect score on the PSAT does not automatically mean you’re looking at a perfect score on the SAT. The ceiling is lowered. The PSAT is shorter and offers less complex questions.The percentiles on your score reports are helpful to give you a rough estimate of where you are compared to your peers, however we still encourage you to take a practice ACT and see which test you do better on.

National Merit Scholarships

The top 1% get to participate. If you are a Sophomore and scored in the 90% percentile or more threshold, you might be in the running as a Junior. Work with your counselor on an appropriate prep plan. Sophomores who scored high, before you get egregious and start studying for the PSAT now, there are a few things that are already happening just by being in school.

  1. You will grow and mature in a year. Just that alone will be helpful in testing. These are intense tests that require focus and attention to sit for a long time.
  2. If you really feel you want to do some prep before the October PSAT as a Junior because of National Merit, use some helpful online resources and take a practice exam. Kahn Academy has prep on CollegeBoard!

For more information, please visit: National Merit Scholarship Program

Lastly, according to NACAC, there are about 2,278 degree-granting, nonprofit, four-year college options in the U.S. Better yet, over 60% of four-year colleges accepted two-thirds of freshman applicants on average. Amazing! With so many choices you have the opportunity to explore colleges that not only fit you, but colleges that will accept you. So take the time, visit college campuses, ask questions, see your counselor, do well in your classes and relax….because college is coming!

  • Find videos, information and prep at CollegeBoard.
  • SAT Test Dates & Registration HERE
  • ACT Test Dates & Registration HERE

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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