The PSAT can be a valuable benchmark for students—if they can accurately interpret the information the test provides.
First, let’s back up a bit. The PSAT is a standardized test that students typically take in junior year (although the test may be offered earlier, junior year is the one that counts). It’s important to note that the PSAT does not affect a student’s chances of being accepted to college. It’s worth repeating: the PSAT does not play a role in college admissions. It is, however, the National Merit Scholars Qualifying Test, which some colleges may use to award scholarships.
Apart from the possibility of scholarships, the PSAT is useful because it gives students the chance to see how they handle 1) a standardized testing environment and 2) the types of questions they will see on either the SAT or ACT.
A few things to keep in mind about the PSAT:
- The PSAT is scored differently from the SAT. The highest possible PSAT score is 1520, while the SAT is scored out of 1600. However, you might expect to score roughly the same on the SAT as you do on the PSAT.
- The PSAT is designed to be slightly easier than the SAT. This is due to the intended grade level of each exam: the PSAT is for first-semester juniors, while the SAT is for juniors in their second semester as well as seniors.
- The percentile matters as much as the number itself. Students should pay attention to their percentile ranking, which indicates how their score compares with other students their age who took the exam. In fact, the PSAT is intended to directly compare students to one another, not to objectively measure a student’s knowledge.
- The subscores provide valuable data. A student’s PSAT report will include a number of subscores for different areas, including Math, Reading, Writing and Language, Analysis in History/Social Studies, and Analysis in Science. These scores can help students identify areas of weakness, so take note of any scores that seem unexpectedly low compared to the rest of the exam.
- Your score is not written in stone! At Signet, we don’t recommend that students undertake much prep for the PSAT beyond familiarizing themselves with the format of the test. So if your PSAT score isn’t particularly high, don’t worry—you have plenty of resources available to boost your score for the test that matters: the SAT or ACT.
For a deeper dive into this topic, check out our guide on making sense of the PSAT score report.