PSAT Scores and National Merit Qualifying Scores: How to Make Sense of Them
10/27/2017 SAT, ACT & High School News

It’s been a couple of weeks since you took the PSAT, and by now you’ve probably even forgotten about it. Soon, however, you will be receiving your score report from that test. (Your school should receive them sometime in early December) And since the PSAT and SAT were redesigned this year, the scores don’t look the same as PSAT scores in the past.  So now you have to figure out exactly what it all means. Confused? Well, let us help.


Understanding your PSAT scores

You will receive an Evidence Based Reading and Writing score on a scale from 160-760. You will also receive a Math score on a scale from 160-760. These two scores are then added together, resulting in your Total score, on a scale from 320-1520. Each score will also be tied to your Nationally Representative Sample Percentile. This simply means that if you scored in the 60th percentile, you scored higher than 60% of the other high school juniors who took the PSAT. If you are a sophomore, then your scores are compared only to the other sophomores who took the exam. What’s a good PSAT Score for a sophomore? Check out this good post from PrepScholar.

Why aren’t the PSAT scores out of 800?

Ah, you noticed. You may have already heard that the scoring for the SAT was changing this year. Beginning with the March SAT, the new maximum reverted to 1600, down from 2400. Well, the CollegeBoard didn’t stop there. They tinkered with the PSAT scores as well. Instead of a maximum of 240 on the PSAT, as in past years, or even 1600, to match the SAT, the new PSAT is out of 1520. Why? In the past, students were told that if they received a 190 on the PSAT, they could simply add a zero to that score to estimate their SAT score. In this case, 1900. Well, the CollegeBoard didn’t think that was entirely accurate, and the PSAT scores were not entirely predictive in that way. So now, a “perfect” PSAT score of 760 on the Math would translate to a “not-perfect” 760 Math on the SAT. This new vertical scaling paradigm supposes that the SAT will be more difficult than the PSAT. Will it? I guess we will find out in March.

How does each PSAT Score add up to the total?

What about the National Merit Selection Index?

The NMSC selection index is still based on the PSAT scores and serves as an initial screen for the National Merit Scholarship Program. In the past the index was the same as the PSAT score, out of a total of 240. In California, for the class of 2015, a score of 222 was needed to qualify. Beginning this year, however, the maximum index is just 228. This score is calculated by adding together the Reading score, the Writing and Language score, and the Math score, and then multiplying the total by two. A Reading score of 33, a Writing and Language score of 35, and a Math score of 30 would yield a NMSC selection index of 196. While the score needed on this new scale to qualify for National Merit is unknown, one can surmise that it will be 210 or higher. But this is just the beginning: qualifying students have a long path to get to the coveted National Merit Scholarship Finalist round. Check out the National Merit site for full details on what to expect.


About the Author

Matt Larriva, Founder/ Tutor,  Powerful Prep.  University of Pennsylvania (Ranked 9th US News & World), B.SE., Economics

Matt is the founder of Powerful Prep. After working for a major test prep company for 2 years, and surveying the test-prep landscape, he found the industry was largely confused and cluttered. Some companies offer guarantees but don’t show results—others brag about long hours in the classroom every day. Matt believed a good test-prep program should have only one goal: to produce the highest point-gains possible in the least amount of time.

Matt comes from a background of finance and computer science, and he approaches test prep with the same analytical mindset. When not working, he loves throwing the Frisbee for his Corgi, Summer, and traveling.

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