So you took the PSAT® (good for you, that test is long!) and now you’ve got this score report. There are a lot of numbers on it. And there are all these weird charts, and percentiles, and score ranges – honestly, this thing is almost as complicated as the PSAT itself.
But as complex as it may seem, you can learn a lot from your PSAT scores. From National Merit Scholarships to preparing for your eventual college applications, let’s go through 4 key takeaways you can get from the PSAT. Because, remember, the “P” in “PSAT” stands for preliminary…this whole thing is practice, meant to help you get better.
1. How To Set Your Goal Score
The most important things among all that nonsense on your score report are the 3 big numbers on page two: those are your scores! The middle number is your total, which is just the sum of the Math and Verbal* scores beside it. A big change from the old PSAT is that scores are no longer on a 20-80 scale, but now mirror the actual SAT®, and are graded with the exact same system – the range on the PSAT is just from 160-760 (not 800), because it’s slightly easier. This gives you a nice snapshot of how you’d score if you took the SAT® today.
Now here’s the most crucial thing for you to remember: THIS IS JUST YOUR STARTING POINT! The SAT® is a challenging test, but just like any other test, the more you study for it, the better you’ll do. Whether it’s self-study, a group class, or one-on-one tutoring, you can improve your scores dramatically with time and effort.
Ignore those national sample percentile ranges and number lines (those are really meant for policy makers and don’t align well with real national averages), and instead take a look at the score ranges for your favorite schools. Use what you know from your current score, from other practice tests you may have taken, and from what your target colleges are looking for to set a challenging yet reasonable goal for yourself. It will take some time, but most students increase their score by 100-300 points from this starting block. So set a goal for yourself, dig in, and if you ever need help, Revolution Prep advisors are always here to help you think through a plan, free of charge.
2. What You Need To Work On
Similar to what we said about those percentiles and number ranges, the sub-scores and cross-score information is a decent benchmark for how you’re doing in the various components of the test – but, again, those numbers are aimed predominantly at policy makers. A good resource that the SAT® provides is their partnership with Khan Academy. You can easily upload your score report into Khan Academy and get a breakdown of what subjects you should focus on.
Another great step is to look through all the questions you got wrong. We know, that sounds miserable – but you can get a great sense of where you have room to improve. Armed with this info, you can make a better, more focused study plan.
3. Which Test You Should Take: ACT® vs. SAT®
We get lots of questions from students and parents alike – is one test better than the other? The answer is no. Colleges view these exams equally, and the truth of the matter is that they’re pretty similar. BUT one test may be better for you. The best way to decide which test to take is to give each of them a try, and see which one you like better. Good news: you just took one of ‘em!
Now that you’ve got this PSAT under your belt, our best advice is – at some point, not necessarily tomorrow – take a practice ACT® and compare your experiences. Colleges use “Concordance Charts” like the one above to compare the two, but for most students, your scores will fall in very similar ranges, so the decision comes down to which test feels more comfortable. The ACT® tends to feel more time-constrained, but straight-forward, while the SAT® often feels a little “trickier” but less rushed. It’s all up to what works best for you.
4. National Merit Opportunities
We’re sure you’ve seen all those crazy letters next to each other – PSAT/NMSQT – and to answer your question, that stands for “National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.” The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic scholarship competition open to high school juniors based upon their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT® and other academic and personal factors. The powers that be calculate your “Selection Index” by adding your Reading, Writing, and Math subscores (the ones out of 38), and multiplying them by 2. That Selection Index is thus a score out of 228 that determines your initial qualification for National Merit Commendation.
Each year over 1.5 million high school students enter the competition; 34,000 students receive commendation, but only 7,600 students get the $2,500 scholarship. But there’s hope: many colleges will reward National Merit Scholars with their own university scholarships that can tally in the tens-of-thousands. Typically, a minimum Selection Index of 220 is necessary for National Merit Commendation, and then based on your performance compared to fellow students in your state, as well as supplemental essays and application materials, those scholarship semi-finalist and finalists are chosen.
What that means is, winning National Merit Commendation or a National Merit Scholarship is hard – but it’s a great honor, and something to shoot for. And in any case, use that target as motivation! As all of our research shows, the more time and effort you put towards these exams, the better you’ll do!
*The SAT® now refers to this section as “Evidence Based Reading And Writing,” but that’s a mouthful…so if we say verbal, we’re just using that as shorthand.