PSAT Score Ranges

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The PSAT is an important standardized test taken by many US students as a junior, and sometimes also as a sophomore.

The PSAT stands for “Preliminary SAT,” and it’s essentially a slightly shorter and easier version of the SAT. The SAT is the key test (along with the ACT) that students use to apply to colleges — strong scores on the SAT can help students to get into competitive colleges and universities.

Many students don’t know that the PSAT can also be used to win big scholarships! Students should check carefully to see if they have a shot at scoring highly enough to win a prize, and then prep accordingly.

In this post, we answer a frequently asked question about the PSAT. Many families are confused by the score ranges for the PSAT, which are different from those of the SAT.

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We’ll cover:

What is the PSAT?
What are the PSAT score ranges?
PSAT and SAT percentile scores
PSAT vs SAT score ranges
What’s a good score on the PSAT?
How do students earn a score on the PSAT?
Do PSAT scores matter?
Next steps

What is the PSAT?

Some people refer to the PSAT as the “practice” SAT. That’s because it’s a slightly shorter version of the SAT, one of the two main standardized tests that students use to apply to US colleges and universities.

Stanford University
Stanford University

It’s worth taking these tests seriously. Even with the test-optional policies implemented by some colleges since 2020, strong SAT or ACT scores will almost always still give students an admissions advantage. High test scores can also be used to qualify students for special honors programs, scholarships, or financial aid. 

We introduce the PSAT in more detail here.

Download a 30-minute sample of the PSAT to see what it looks like!

What are the PSAT score ranges?

The PSAT score ranges are similar to those of the SAT. Students may be familiar with SAT score ranges, where students can strive for a “perfect 800” on each of the two sections, and a 1600 is a “perfect score” for the test as a whole.

The PSAT scoring is similar, just slightly lower. 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

PSAT score range

The main scores that students should pay attention to are the numbers for Reading & Writing and Math, which add up to the total PSAT score.

  • For example, Madison scored a 690 Math and a 610 Reading & Writing, so her total PSAT score is 1300. 
  • Parker scored a 530 Math and a 620 Reading & Writing, so his total PSAT score is a 1150. 
  • Shawn scored a 460 Math and a 450 Reading & Writing, so his total PSAT score is a 910. 
  • Parul scored a 720 Math and a 750 Reading & Writing, so her total PSAT score is a 1470 — and this score won her a prestigious scholarship, including full-ride offers to Fordham and UT Dallas!
PSAT high scores

Students will also get subscores and cross-test scores for the PSAT that provide additional information about areas of strength and weakness:

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.

For more guidance on how to interpret the detailed PSAT Score Report, check out our advice here..

An experienced PSAT and SAT tutor will be able to help students use these subscores to develop a customized plan for their SAT preparation. 

Because the SAT has the same subscores and types of questions, PSAT scores can be a powerful tool for creating a SAT prep plan. Our Ivy-League SAT tutors are experts in using each individual student’s data to improve their scores on the SAT. 

A student’s scores on the PSAT gives an indication of how they might score on the SAT without additional preparation. However, don’t be worried by a low PSAT score, because these numbers can change drastically with the right practice!

Some of our students have improved their SAT scores by over 300 points by learning material they missed on the PSAT and practicing effectively.

PSAT and SAT percentile scores

There’s a second important way that students may get a score for the PSAT.

In addition to a PSAT score from 360 to 1520, students will also get a percentile score

Percentiles show how students performed compared to other students. For example, scoring in the 65th percentile means that a student scored better than 65% of other students.

These percentile rankings indicate whether a student’s score is average, above-average, or below-average. 

table PSAT percentiles

To revisit our example students from above:

  • Madison scored in the 95th percentile for Math (690) and in the 79th percentile for Reading & Writing (610). Her total PSAT (1300) is in the 91st percentile — she’s in the top 10% of students! She’s on track to apply to some competitive schools, especially if she can raise this score a bit on the SAT.
  • Parker scored above-average for Math, in the 63rd percentile (530). His Reading & Writing score (620) is in the 81st percentile, in the top 20% of students. Meanwhile, his total PSAT score (1150) is in the 74th percentile. He’s definitely above-average, and on track to apply to college. He may want to target his Math score to see if he can improve that on the SAT.
  • Shawn scored in the 37th percentile for Math (460) Math and in the 29th percentile for Reading & Writing (450). His total PSAT (910) is below-average, in the 32nd percentile. Right now, he’s in the bottom third of students in the US, but he can improve this score with the right practice.
  • Parul scored in the 97th percentile for Math (720) and in the top fraction of a percentile (99+) for Reading & Writing (750), so her total PSAT score (1470) is in the top 1%. She’s on track to be a competitive applicant at the top schools in the US, especially if her grades and extracurriculars are equally impressive. Her high PSAT score will also make her eligible for the National Merit scholarship competition, one of the nation’s most well-known and prestigious awards for high school students.

Note that students will receive two different percentile rankings for their PSAT score. 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. Colleges and scholarship competitions tend to use this score.

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.

The average PSAT score is the 50th percentile, so 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).

We explore PSAT score distributions in much more detail here, and we dive into SAT score data here. We regularly use this information to make data-driven customized study plans for our PSAT and SAT prep students. We provide one-on-one tutoring with Ivy-League instructors for students at all levels, as well as limited small-group classes with our founder, Kevin.

PSAT vs SAT score ranges

We can use the percentile data to compare the difference between PSAT score ranges and SAT score ranges.

The score distributions for both the PSAT and the SAT make a bell-shaped curve, which indicates that most students score about in the middle on both tests.

However, students need to score higher on the SAT if they want to maintain their PSAT percentile ranking.

For example, the top 10% for the PSAT is students with the score range 1280–1520, but the top 10% for the SAT is students with the score range 1350–1600.

Similarly, the top quarter of students on the PSAT is students with the score range 1160–1520, but the top 10% for the SAT is students with the score range 1200–1600.

The PSAT can serve as an indication of what score a student might get 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!

What’s a good score on the PSAT?

We explore what it means to get a “good” score on the PSAT in more detail here. Because this one of the most frequently asked questions, we’ll give a few quick benchmark score ranges here:

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.

How do students earn a score on the PSAT?

Students earn points on the PSAT by answering questions correctly. The questions will cover material from Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, in addition to English grammar and vocabulary and reading comprehension and analysis.

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!

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. We explain these big changes here.

Importantly, 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.

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.

The top-scoring students on the PSAT win recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Program. 

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. 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.

Next steps

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 great free practice material available from the educational non-profit Khan Academy. Their platform is for the SAT, but students can use the same materials to prepare for the PSAT.

Regardless of what program you follow, it’s important to make sure that you’re preparing for the correct version of the PSAT

If you’re taking the PSAT in fall 2023 (and the SAT from March 2024 onwards), you need to use the new digital SAT practice materials. The old paper SAT is going to be out of date!

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 — you’ve got a real chance of winning big scholarships through National Merit.

Whatever your 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 significantly!

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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.