Understanding Your Child’s PSAT Scores

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Every October, millions of U.S. and international students, mostly those in 11th grade, take the PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT is not used by colleges in the admissions process, but the results can help you better understand your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and suggest those academic skills that need to be developed for college readiness and in preparing for the SAT and other college entrance exams.

The PSAT currently has three sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Each of the three sections has a possible score ranging from 20 to 80. The PSAT Score Report provides a score for each section, as well as a total exam score that is the sum of all three sections with a maximum score of 240.

Most parents find it helpful to consider their child’s PSAT scores in the context of national averages for students taking the PSAT at the same grade level.

According to the College Board, the mean scores (averages) for the 2013 PSAT were:

Section 11th-Grade Mean 10th Grade Mean
Critical Reading 47.7 43.1
Mathematics 48.6 43.6
Writing Skills 46.5 41.8

National averages vary slightly from year to year. In addition to scores, students receive percentiles between 0 and 100 showing the percentage of students in a particular grade whose score is below the student’s score.,

If your child is scoring at or above these national averages, then he or she is developing the requisite reading, writing, and math skills to be successful in college-level work. Don’t panic, however, if your child’s scores are below these scores in one or more sections. That just indicates that your child may need extra help to get ready for more advanced high school classes, standardized college en-trance exams and college-level academics. Don’t blow the scores out of proportion: It does not mean your child won’t be able to go to college! Your child is still in the 11th Grade and is actively developing college preparatory skills.

What Do PSAT Scores Indicate About Your Child’s Future SAT Scores?

For students in 10th grade and below: A new version of the SAT will launch in March 2016; the 2015 PSAT will be redesigned to reflect the new SAT. Therefore, this year’s PSAT is likely a less reliable indicator of eventual SAT scores for those taking the SAT in March 2016 or later. However, sophomores will have the option of taking the current version of the SAT until January 2016, so, for sophomores, 2014 PSAT scores will provide some indication as to which SAT version would best benefit your child. Additionally, this year’s PSAT will give parents insight into their child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. This will be helpful in choosing the most appropriate high school courses for college readiness and for preparing for the new SAT.

11th grade PSAT results: For high school juniors, who will not be taking the new version of the SAT, this year’s PSAT scores can suggest where a student’s future SAT scores might fall. However, most students should expect higher SAT scores because of more focused SAT preparation and, more importantly, they will experience additional academic growth in high school. When comparing PSAT scores directly to SAT scores, keep in mind that the SAT and PSAT differ in their content and level of difficulty. The SAT includes questions on more advanced concepts; students are also asked to write an essay for the writing section.

The scaling of the PSAT and SAT are different. Each section of the PSAT is currently scored from 20 to 80 while each section of the SAT is scored from 200 to 800. PSAT scores can be roughly compared to SAT scores by adding a “0” to the end of each PSAT score section. On the PSAT Score Report, you’ll notice that, in addition to the actual scores, a range of scores is indicated for each section. These ranges give a more accurate assessment in showing where your child’s scores might fall if he or she retook the PSAT without any additional test preparation or academic growth and development.

The College Board has studied the link between junior year PSAT scores and junior year SAT scores and found that on average:

  • 60% of students earned higher scores on the Critical Reading section of the SAT than on the PSAT, with the average increase across all students being a gain of 17 points on the SAT.
  • 58% earned higher scores on the Math section of the SAT than they did on the PSAT, with the average in-crease across all students being a gain of 16 points.
  • 62% earned higher scores on the Writing section of the SAT than they did on the PSAT, with the average in-crease across all students being a gain of 22 points.

In general, students with lower scores saw the largest gain between their PSAT scores in the fall of junior year and their SAT scores in the spring of junior year.

Note, however, that these data are based on broad averages. Averages do not indicate what improvements any particular student will achieve. For example, many students are “late bloomers” in their academic ability. Also, the importance of standardized test preparation should not be discounted. Regardless of individual variances, the data suggests that many students earn higher scores on one or more sections of the SAT in comparison to their equivalent scores on the PSAT.

As you review your child’s PSAT scores and think about future SAT scores, keep in mind that test scores, while important, never trump grades when it comes to college admissions. So, high PSAT scores, which may well indicate high SAT scores, are not a replacement for consistently good academic performance. By the same token, students with excellent grades will not be out of the running for great colleges if their test scores are slightly lower than expected. These tests are merely one component used by colleges in determining a student’s qualifications for admissions and college admissions tests can not automatically guarantee or deny acceptance.


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