# What is a Good PSAT Score?

**Bonus Material: **Try a sample of the new PSAT

What’s a good PSAT score? Students and families often ask us this question.

Any score above 1010 is above-average, and a score above 1450 is a top-tier score that makes students competitive for big scholarships and admission to elite colleges.

However, the full definition of a “good PSAT score” is a little more complex, so we wrote this thorough guide. We’re Princeton grads with decades of test-prep experience, and we drew from our extensive knowledge to answer the most frequently asked questions about PSAT scores.

This post covers:

What is the PSAT?

What is a good PSAT score for a junior?

What is a good PSAT score for National Merit?

What is a good PSAT score for a sophomore?

What’s on the PSAT?

How is the PSAT scored?

Do PSAT scores matter?

How to improve your PSAT score

## What is the PSAT?

The complete name for the PSAT is the *Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test *(PSAT/NMSQT).

That name may be ridiculously long, but it accurately describes what the test is. It’s a very slightly **shorter and easier version of the SAT** — hence the “preliminary SAT” part of the name — and also the test that students take as juniors to compete in the National Merit scholarship contest.

The SAT is more well-known than the PSAT. Along with the ACT, the SAT one of the two main standardized tests that students use to apply to colleges in the US. The SAT tests students’ skills in reading, writing, and math, and gives colleges an indication of their readiness for college-level coursework.

Because the SAT can be so important for college admissions, we strongly recommend students to take the PSAT if it’s offered by their school. The PSAT is a great chance to practice the test in the same testing conditions. Students can find out if they have any test anxiety and get a sense whether they’re on track to meet their goals.

In addition, the PSAT can be a chance to win big scholarships. The highest-scoring students on the PSAT can win recognition through the National Merit competition. Winners of the competition can earn scholarships, including full-ride scholarships to some schools, and many colleges compete to recruit these elite students.

National Merit status is always impressive and gives students a significant advantage in college admissions!

We introduce the PSAT in more detail here.

Download a 30-minute sample of the PSAT to try it out today!

## What is a good PSAT score for a junior?

This is the PSAT that matters most, because only the PSAT taken in October of a student’s junior year can be used to compete in the National Merit competition to win elite scholarships.

Students can use percentiles to see how their PSAT scores compare. 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

Look up your exact score on this table to see how your score compares to other students across the US:

You can also check the percentile ranking for your section scores on the College Board website.

Of course, the meaning of a “good” PSAT score depends on your individual goals.

We’ve done extensive research and used the data to figure out what would be a good PSAT score for a junior in different situations.

### What’s a good PSAT score for students aiming at the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, and other top-tier universities?

The majority of students (over 75% of students) at the most elite colleges have SAT scores above 1450. 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 in order to have a shot, and at least 1550 to be a strong applicant.

In order to be on track for those 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. That means **a good PSAT score for students aiming at “Ivy Plus” schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, and Duke would be at least 1450.**

### What’s a good PSAT score for students aiming at a top-50 school?

If we expand our list of schools to the top 50 colleges and universities in the US, then we know that students need at least a 1390 on the SAT to apply, and a score of 1530 to be a strong applicant.

That means that **a good PSAT score for a student aiming at a top-50 school is at least a 1390.**

### What’s a good PSAT score for students aiming at the best public universities?

Most students at the best public universities in the US have SAT scores above 1320. If you’re aiming at a fantastic public university like the University of Michigan or the University of Virginia, we know that you’ll need SAT scores that are at least 1320 in order to have a shot, and at least 1500 to be a strong applicant.

In order to be on track for those scores on the SAT, students would have to score **about 1320 on the PSAT.**

** **

### What’s a good PSAT score for other students?

There are many fantastic colleges and universities that are less competitive than the top-tier schools. Students can consider factors like school size, specific academic programs, location, and campus culture to craft a college list of great schools where they could be a competitive applicant.

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.

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 PSAT and SAT scores by as many as 300 points after working with our top-1% tutors.

Plus, any practice for the PSAT applies to the SAT as well, because the tests are nearly identical. That means **students who prepare for the PSAT have a head start on SAT prep**.

We often recommend that students **take their first SAT no later than March of their junior year**, so that they can avoid the end-of-semester crunch that happens in May, when AP tests and grades for coursework are extremely important. By starting earlier, students will have plenty of time to improve their scores if necessary. And if they reach their goal score on the first try, they can relax and focus on AP tests, grades, extracurriculars, and college essays!

## What’s a good PSAT score for National Merit?

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.

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

The exact cutoffs needed for National Merit are a little complicated, because the National Merit program does not use the 320–1520 scores for the PSAT. 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 which state they live in. 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.

The Selection Index and the different cutoffs from year to year and from state to state make it a little tricky to give a short answer, but we can summarize that **a good PSAT score for National Merit is 1450 and above.**

There are big prizes at stake for the students who meet this cutoff for National Merit Semifinalists and go on to win, including full-ride scholarships to college!

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

## What is a good PSAT score for a sophomore?

Some students take the PSAT as freshmen or sophomores in high school. This is a great chance to gain familiarity with the test and practice the material.

However, remember that PSAT scores from 9th grade or 10th grade can’t be used for National Merit, even if you get a top score. Only the PSAT taken in 11th grade can be used to compete in the National Merit competition.

Students can use percentiles to see how their sophomore PSAT scores compare. Here are a few quick benchmarks:

**PSAT 1370–1520 (top 1%):** these students are on track to be competitive for National Merit scholarships and are likely to be strong applicants at top-tier schools, including the Ivy League — if the other elements of their applications are also outstanding

**PSAT 1290+ (top 3%): **if these students continue to improve as juniors, they may be able to win “Commended” recognition through National Merit; they’re also on track to be strong applicants for top schools

**PSAT 1180+ (top 10%): **these students are in the top decile of all of the sophomores in the US who take the PSAT, and are on track to be able to apply to excellent colleges

**PSAT 1060+ (top 25%):** these students are in the top quarter of sophomores taking the PSAT and have shown potential for future college admissions

**PSAT 920+ (top 50%):** these students are above-average as sophomores

Look up your exact score on this table to see how your score compares to other students across the US:

You can also check the percentile ranking for your section scores as a sophomore on the College Board website.

## 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 test structure:

Section | Length (minutes) | Number of questions |

Reading | 60 | 47 |

Writing & Language | 35 | 44 |

Math | 70 | 48 |

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

New PSAT test format:

Section | Length (minutes) | Number of questions |

Reading & Writing I | TBA | TBA |

Reading & Writing II | TBA | TBA |

Math I | TBA | TBA |

Math II | TBA | TBA |

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 PSAT or SAT 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 SAT has two sections, Reading & Writing and Math, that are each scored from 200–800. That means a perfect SAT score is 1600.

Mirroring the SAT, the PSAT gives two section scores, for Reading & Writing and for Math. Each of the two sections is scored on a scale from 160–760. This means that **a “perfect” PSAT score is 1520**.

A student’s score depends on how many questions they answer correctly. There are no penalties for wrong answers. (So one PSAT tip is to never leave a question blank, even if you simply guess!)

The College Board hasn’t yet announced the exact details of how they will calculate scores with the new digital PSAT launching in fall 2023. 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.

### PSAT Section Scores

On their PSAT Score Report, students also get 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 Section | Score Range |

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW) | 160–760 |

Reading (Test Score) | 8–38 |

Writing and Language (Test Score) | 8–38 |

Command of Evidence | 1–15 |

Words in Context | 1–15 |

Expression of Ideas | 1–15 |

Standard English Conventions | 1–15 |

Math | 160–760 |

Math (Test Score) | 8–38 |

Heart of Algebra | 1–15 |

Problem Solving and Data Analysis | 1–15 |

Passport to Advanced Math | 1–15 |

TOTAL (EBRW + Math) | 320–1520 |

Cross-Test Scores: | |

Analysis in History/Social Studies | 8–38 |

Analysis in Science | 8–38 |

Selection Index (used for National Merit) | 48–228 |

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 strong 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 each student’s individual data to create a customized plan for improving their scores. We carefully match our tutors to meet the needs and personalities of each student. Schedule a short test-prep consultation to find the perfect-fit tutor and improve on the PSAT and SAT!

### PSAT Percentile Scores

In addition to these numeric scores, students will also receive **percentile rankings**. The 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.

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.

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.

We explore this data in more detail in our post about Average PSAT Scores. In a nutshell, the data tells us that the average score for the PSAT is 1010, and the “bell-shaped curve” means that most students score in the middle, with a few students scoring very high or very low.

Our Ivy-League test prep experts use in-depth knowledge of testing data to help students craft individualized test prep strategies. See the difference that even a few hours of one-on-one tutoring can make!

## Do PSAT scores matter?

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

For the majority of 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. Test anxiety affects many students, but fortunately there are many easy tricks to reduce test anxiety, and an encouraging SAT tutor can also help students to practice methods to remain focused and confident even while taking a high-pressure test.

The PSAT will give students **a sense of how they might score on the SAT without further prep**. According to the College Board, “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.” Remember that the SAT, not the PSAT, is what students will submit to schools as part of their college applications.

Of course, many students want to score higher on the SAT than they did on the PSAT! It’s rare that students don’t need to do further preparation for the SAT. Fortunately many students** raise their SAT scores significantly** compared to their PSAT scores with the right practice and review.

In fact, taking the PSAT gives students some great tools for SAT prep. 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. Use our free resources for advice on how to use PSAT scores to make a customized plan for SAT prep, or work with an experienced test-prep tutor to take advantage of their insights.

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

Colleges do not see PSAT scores directly, but top-scoring students on the PSAT can win a definite advantage in college admissions through 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.

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, students can earn a significant amount of scholarship money by scoring highly on the PSAT. 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.

## How to improve your PSAT score

Students only have one shot at taking the PSAT for National Merit.

While the SAT can be taken multiple times and is offered seven times during the year, **the PSAT only happens once a year.** Only the PSAT taken in a student’s junior year (in mid-October) counts for National Merit.

Some students may take the PSAT as a sophomore or younger. We certainly encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to take the PSAT as a sophomore for the practice, but these scores can’t be used to win scholarships.

Students who don’t feel like they have a “good” PSAT score yet for their goals 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 jump right into studying, or try a full-length practice test to get the most accurate gauge of the current level.

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 PSAT and SAT are almost identical this prep material 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 exercises and practice test scores to **identify any weak spots**. Across the nation, many students now have more gaps in their knowledge than usual after the interruptions to their schooling that occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If there’s material that you haven’t yet learned or haven’t completely mastered, 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 elite 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 review. By practicing with the right materials, **we’ve seen students improve their PSAT and SAT scores by as much as 300 points!**

## Related Articles

What is the PSAT? A Princeton Grad Explains Why this “Practice” Test Can Matter

National Merit PSAT Scores: How to Earn $300k in 3 hours

The 15 Best PSAT Tutoring Services for 2022

How Long is the PSAT? Plus Updates for the New 2023 PSAT

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**Bonus Material: **Try a sample of the new PSAT

**Emily**

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.

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