Average PSAT Scores

Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT

The PSAT is short for the “Preliminary SAT.” It’s a standardized test taken by many American students in October of their junior year. Some younger students may also take the PSAT.

In our decades of test-prep experience, we’ve seen that the PSAT is an under-utilized opportunity to not only get a key data point about a student’s readiness for the SAT, but also to win big scholarships!

The average score on the PSAT is about 960 (nationally representative sample) or 1010 (user group). To score in the top ten percent of test-takers, students need to score at least 1280 on the PSAT.

However, a deeper dive into the data can give us powerful insights into test prep strategy and potential scholarship opportunities.

Download a Free 30-minute Sample PSAT

In this post we’ll cover:

What is the PSAT?
Average PSAT scores
What’s on the PSAT?
How is the PSAT scored?
Do PSAT scores matter?
What’s a good score on the PSAT?
What score do you need on the PSAT to qualify for National Merit scholarships?
How to improve your PSAT score

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT taken in a student’s junior year is more fully named the PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. That’s a mouthful!

The PSAT is sometimes also called the “practice” SAT. That’s because it’s basically a marginally shorter version of the SAT. They’re both made by the College Board.

The SAT is one of the two main standardized tests that students use to apply to colleges in the US (and sometimes universities outside the US as well!).

Along with the ACT, the SAT is one way that students can demonstrate their readiness for college-level courses. Even with the new test-optional policies implemented by some colleges since 2020, strong test scores still give students a definite advantage in college admissions. High scores on the SAT or ACT can also be used to qualify students for special honors programs, scholarships, or financial aid.


Because the SAT can be so important for college admissions, students often prepare substantially for the test. The PSAT can be a great tool for SAT preparation — and it can also be a chance for students to win some impressive scholarships.

Students take the PSAT in October of their junior year through their high school. (Homeschooled students can contact their nearby school to register for the test.) 

Some students may take the PSAT as a sophomore or younger. This is great practice, but these scores can’t be used to win scholarships (more on that below). Students may also take the PSAT 8/9 or the PSAT 10, which are created by the College Board specifically for students in 8th, 9th, and 10th grades.

We introduce the PSAT in more detail here.

Download a sample of the PSAT to try it today!

Average PSAT Scores

We can learn a lot about average PSAT scores from the percentile rankings published by the College Board. Percentiles show how an individual student performed compared to other students. For example, scoring in the 65th percentile means that a student scored better than 65% of other students.

Percentile rankings tell us immediately whether a student’s score is average, above-average, or below-average. An average PSAT score is the in the 50th percentile. Above-average PSAT scores are 51st percentile and up, while below-average PSAT scores are 49th percentile and below.

The average score for the total PSAT is 1010 for students who actually took the SAT (user group), or 960 for students in the US as a whole (nationally representative sample).

The first percentile ranking (“User Group Percentiles”) compares how students did to other students taking the PSAT. This tends to be a more competitive group of students, since students who are taking the test are more likely to be on a college track.

The second percentile ranking (the “Nationally Representative Sample”) compares how students hypothetically performed compared to typical US students in their grade, regardless of whether they took the test. Students will receive both percentile rankings in their PSAT Score Report, but colleges tend to look at the User Group Percentiles (the tougher ones).

The College Board publishes tables with percentile rankings each year for students who took the PSAT in 11th or 10th grade:

table PSAT percentiles

It’s also possible to view percentile scores for the individual PSAT sections on the College Board site.

Excitingly, we can use the percentile data to visualize the distribution of scores for the PSAT.

This allows us to make some deeper observations about the data.

We can see that there’s a classic “bell-shaped curve” for the PSAT scores: most students score in the middle. Only 1% of students score below 630, and only 10% of students score below 750.

At the opposite end of the curve, very few students score very highly on the PSAT. Students need a 1280 to be in the top 10%. In order to be in the top 3% of test takers, students need to score a 1400 on the PSAT. The top 1% is even tougher: students need a 1450 on the PSAT to make the top percentile. These are the high scores that students will need to win important scholarships through the National Merit program.

When we look at the graphs for the individual sections, we see that the curves look a little different.

The 70th percentile starts at 550 for Math, but 580 for Reading & Writing — so if we’re looking at above-average on the PSAT, more students have moderately strong scores on Reading & Writing than on Math.

However, this is flipped when we look at the very highest scores. More students earn very high scores on the PSAT for Math than for Reading & Writing. That means that students need a near-perfect score on the PSAT Math (a 750 or 760) to be in the top 1% for Math. It’s a little easier to reach the top 1% for Reading & Writing; the top percentile starts at 730.

We can also compare the average PSAT scores to the average SAT scores. Check out lots more data and insights about average SAT scores here!

The PSAT can serve as a benchmark for how a student might do on the SAT without further study. We can see that the average scores and percentile rankings for the tests are a little different, so students will need to score higher on the SAT than on the PSAT to keep the same percentile ranking!

Our Ivy-League test prep experts use in-depth knowledge of testing data to help students craft individualized test prep strategies. Schedule a free short consultation to be matched with the tutor who best matches your specific needs!

What’s on the PSAT?

Like the SAT, the PSAT is designed to measure general college readiness. The test is under three hours long and covers reading comprehension, clear writing, grammar, and math skills from Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.

The PSAT will be significantly different in fall 2023, because the PSAT is changing to match the new digital SAT that will be launched for US students in spring 2024.

Students will take the new digital PSAT on tablets or laptops instead of with paper and pencil.

The structure of the PSAT is also changing. The old PSAT separated the Reading and Writing questions into two separate sections, which were later combined for a “Reading & Writing” score:

Old PSAT (through fall 2022) test structure:

SectionLength (minutes)Number of questions
Writing & Language3544

The new PSAT will combine the Reading and Writing questions together.

The new PSAT (starting fall 2023) test will likely look like this:

SectionLength (minutes)Number of questions
Reading & Writing ITBATBA
Reading & Writing IITBATBA

One big change with the new digital PSAT is that it will be adaptive, which means that the questions will adjust in difficulty based on the student’s performance. If the student performs more strongly on the first part of the test, they’ll get harder questions.

These changes mean that many published PSAT prep books and resources are now out-of-date. Students who are preparing for the PSAT should make sure that they are preparing for the new 2023 version of the test!


A top-notch test prep tutor can help students make sure they’re practicing the correct version of the test and using the most up-to-date strategies.

How is the PSAT scored?

The PSAT is scored very similarly to the SAT, just with slightly lower numbers. 

The two sections of the PSAT, Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, are each scored on a scale from 160–760. This means that a “perfect” PSAT score is 1520

Meanwhile, the corresponding SAT sections are scored from 200–800, so a perfect SAT score is 1600.

The score will depend on how many questions students answer correctly. On the current PSAT, each correct answer on each section counts as one point towards a student’s raw score. The new digital PSAT launched in fall 2023 may calculate scores slightly differently — the College Board hasn’t yet announced the exact mechanics of how they will calculate scores with the new adaptive style of testing. On the new adaptive PSAT, higher-performing students will get a harder version of the test, so the scoring calculations will have to be more complex to take this into consideration.

On the PSAT, there are no penalties for incorrect answers. One strategic consequence of this is that students should never leave a question blank. Even if they’re completely stumped, it’s always strategic to guess!

Students will also receive subscores and cross-test scores that can provide additional insight into areas of strength and weakness. For more guidance on how to interpret the PSAT Score Report, check out our guidance here.

PSAT SectionScore Range
Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW)160–760
Reading (Test Score)8–38
Writing and Language (Test Score)8–38
Command of Evidence1–15
Words in Context1–15
Expression of Ideas1–15
Standard English Conventions1–15
Math (Test Score)8–38
Heart of Algebra1–15
Problem Solving and Data Analysis1–15
Passport to Advanced Math1–15
TOTAL (EBRW + Math)3201520
Cross-Test Scores:
Analysis in History/Social Studies8–38
Analysis in Science8–38
Selection Index (used for National Merit)48228

The PSAT subscores range from 1 to 15 and indicate student abilities in specific areas like Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.

The PSAT cross-test scores for Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science range from 8 to 38. For example, the Analysis in Science subscore will indicate how well students can handle reading about science, analyzing graphs and charts about science, and solving math word problems about science.

An experienced tutor will be able to help students use these subscores to develop a customized plan for their SAT preparation. The SAT has the same subscores and types of questions, so PSAT scores can be a powerful tool for crafting a roadmap for SAT practice. Our Ivy-League SAT tutors are experts in using this student-specific data to improve scores on the SAT.

Do PSAT scores matter?

PSAT scores matter for two things: test prep planning and scholarships.

For most students, it’s fine to use the PSAT as a “practice” SAT that more closely mimics the actual testing conditions. 

The PSAT is a good chance for students to get familiar with the test structure and question types they’ll see on the SAT. Students can find out whether they get nervous on test day and score lower than they do on practice tests at home. If that’s the case, they can work on strategies to reduce test anxiety — a thoughtful SAT tutor can also help students to develop methods to lower their testing anxiety.


The PSAT will give students an idea of how they might score on the SAT, which is the test they’ll submit to schools as part of their college applications. The College Board says that “the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT are very similar tests, so your score on the PSAT/NMSQT can give you an idea of how you’ll do when you take the SAT.”

Of course, many students want to score higher on the SAT than they did on the PSAT! Fortunately it’s absolutely possible to raise your scores significantly with the right practice and study.

Students can use their detailed PSAT score report to craft an individualized plan for SAT prep. They’ll be able to see what their weaknesses are and target their practice accordingly. One-on-one tutors are great at helping students to use their PSAT scores to make a customized plan for SAT prep, but students can also make this plan on their own.

The second way that PSAT scores are used is to earn big scholarships and advantages in college admissions.

Now, colleges do not see PSAT scores directly — only SAT scores can be sent to colleges (along with ACT scores and AP subject test scores).

However, the top-scoring students on the PSAT win recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top 3% of students on the PSAT can win Commended Student recognition awards, and the top 1% of students can become National Merit Semifinalists and go on to compete for scholarships.

Princeton University
Princeton University

These National Merit awards are a big deal. Many colleges compete to recruit National Merit students, and it’s an immediate signal to schools that you’re a top-tier student.

Even more importantly, there can be big money at stake. The direct scholarships from National Merit range from $2,500–$10,000 (annually or one-time), but some schools also offer additional scholarships to National Merit students. Some schools even offer automatic full-ride scholarships to National Merit Finalists!

It’s hard to think of another situation where you can earn $300,000 in three hours. That’s how much a full-ride college scholarship might be worth.

That’s why we advise students who typically score highly on standardized tests (in the top 5% or so) to really take the PSAT seriously. While other students can use the PSAT more as practice, top-scoring students have a real chance at earning some significant prizes.

If you’re not sure if you might be a high-scoring student, try taking a practice PSAT or practice SAT. You can even start with our short 30-minute sample of the PSAT — we’ll break down this 28-question quiz to give you a rough idea of your score. If your initial scores are in 95th percentile or above, then yes, you should definitely take the junior-year PSAT seriously.

What’s a good score on the PSAT?

The definition of a “good” PSAT score depends on your goals.

If you’re aiming at an Ivy-League or highly-competitive school, we know that you’ll need SAT scores that are at least 1450 (that’s the 25th percentile) in order to have a shot, and at least 1550 (that’s the 75th percentile) to be a strong applicant.

Harvard University
Harvard University

In order to be on track to achieve Ivy-League scores on the SAT, students would have to earn a near-perfect score on the PSAT, which is a little shorter and easier than the SAT.

But there are many fantastic colleges and universities where lower scores would still be competitive. In this post, we explain how to find the “middle 50” for each school and use this data to craft a balanced college list and strategize test prep.

Here are a few quick benchmarks:

PSAT 1450–1520 (top 1%): these students are contenders for National Merit scholarships and are on track to be strong applicants at top-tier schools, including the Ivy League, if the other elements of their applications are also outstanding

PSAT 1400+ (top 3%): these students may be able to win “Commended” recognition through National Merit, and are also on track to be strong applicants for top schools

PSAT 1280+ (top 10%): these students are in the top decile of all of the students in the US, and are on track to be able to apply to excellent colleges

PSAT 1160+ (top 25%): these students are in the top quarter of students in the US and have shown potential for college admissions

PSAT 1020+ (top 50%): these students are above-average

If your PSAT score is lower than you hoped, don’t worry! It’s absolutely possible to raise your scores through the right studying and practice. We find that many of our students improve their SAT scores by as many as 300 points after working with our top-1% tutors.

What score do you need on the PSAT to qualify for National Merit scholarships?

In order to earn recognition and scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Program, students typically need to score about a 1400 on the PSAT (for Commended letters) and about a 1450 (to win scholarships).

We explain the National Merit competition and the PSAT scores needed to win in more detail here

National Merit diagram

The exact scores needed for National Merit vary a little from year to year. The cutoffs are different depending on each state, with the toughest states in the US being Washington DC, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Connecticut:

map PSAT Selection Index cutoffs by state

In addition, the National Merit cutoffs are not calculated with a student’s PSAT score out of 1520. Instead, the cutoffs are calculated by something called the Selection Index, which goes from 48 to 228. We explain how to calculate your Selection Index score here

A student with a Selection Index score of 225–228 is virtually guaranteed to get National Merit Semifinalist, regardless of the state. A student with a Selection Index score of 218 may win Semifinalist status in some states like Montana or Florida, but not in more competitive states. Check out our table of Selection Index cutoff scores here.

Only 16,000 students across the US achieve National Merit Semifinalist status and go on to compete for Finalist and Scholar status, so this is a very elite competition.

As we’ve mentioned, there are big prizes at stake for the students who win, including full-ride scholarships to college!

That’s why we advise students in the 95th percentile and above to take it seriously. If that might apply to you, set up a free test prep consultation with our team here.

How to improve your PSAT score

Students only have one shot at taking the PSAT for National Merit. Whereas the SAT can be taken multiple times and is offered year-round, the PSAT only happens once a year in mid-October. Only the PSAT taken in a student’s junior year counts for National Merit.

Students can absolutely improve their PSAT scores with the right practice. We recommend downloading our 30-minute micro PSAT to get a taste of the PSAT first. Then get started with studying or set aside a three-hour block to try a full-length practice test.

There is some fantastic free practice material available from the educational non-profit Khan Academy. All of their practice is geared towards the SAT, but since the tests are almost identical it will also work for the PSAT.

Make sure that if you’re taking the PSAT in fall 2023 (and the SAT from March 2024) you’re using the new digital SAT practice materials. The old paper SAT is going to be out of date!

Use your practice test scores to identify any weak spots. Many students have more weak areas than usual after the interruptions to their schooling that occurred during the pandemic. If there’s material that you haven’t yet learned or don’t feel confident with, then now is a good time to learn it. Use the short videos available for free on Khan Academy, or work with a tutor for more individualized attention.

Remember that if you’re a student who typically performs well on standardized tests (scoring in the top 5%), you’ll want to really focus on the PSAT, since you have a serious chance of winning big scholarships through National Merit.

Regardless of your specific goals, make a plan for how you’ll practice and strengthen your weak areas with targeted exercises and drills. By practicing with the right materials, we’ve seen students improve their PSAT and SAT scores by as much as 300 points!

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Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT


Emily graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.