*This post was last updated in November 2017.
PSAT scores are out!
But what does this mean for your student?
On the surface, not very much. The PSAT does not get sent to colleges (though colleges may use PSAT information to target where to send promotional materials), and its only official use is as a qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship. However, the PSAT can be much more useful than this; I’ll share three ways in this post. But before we get to that, let’s talk about how to understand the scores themselves.
Your student will have a score from 160-760 on Math and 160-760 for Reading & Writing. These scores are meant to indicate how a student would score on those sections of the SAT, which uses a scale of 200-800 for Math and Reading & Writing.
It’s important to keep this information in context. Most students have not learned all the math they need for the PSAT in 10th grade. If their schools offer the PSAT in 10th grade, students are likely seeing the PSAT for the second time in 11th grade, so combined with the additional content they have learned, 11th graders also have the benefit of knowing what to expect.
Similarly, students who then go on to take the SAT later in their junior or senior years have the benefit of having taken the PSAT (maybe even twice) and having learned even more material relevant to the test. It makes sense that national averages for the SAT for each subject are slightly higher than the 11th grade PSAT averages. So it’s likely that your student will do better on the SAT than he or she did on the PSAT.
How to make the PSAT useful for you.
The PSAT provides a great opportunity to ensure that your student does significantly better on the actual SAT: its detailed score report will pinpoint areas for improvement, topics the student should study, and types of questions to practice. (Students can access a copy of the test through the CollegeBoard site, see what they got right or wrong, and re-do those questions and seek out similar ones.)
The PSAT can also help students figure out whether the SAT is the right test for them. As you may know, the ACT is just as acceptable a college admissions test as the SAT for virtually every college in the U.S. If a student performs poorly on the PSAT, specifically when it comes to vocabulary or tricky math questions, the ACT may be better-suited to their abilities. It is by no means an easier test, but it is more accessible to many students simply because of its format.
And finally, the PSAT can serve as a useful wake-up call to students who may not be thinking about their prospects for college yet. Use it to start conversations about what types of colleges the student may want to attend and encourage him or her to start the process of planning and studying for an actual college admissions test so that he or she does not need to take it multiple times.
One last note: Some parents will want to compare students’ PSAT scores to their dream colleges’ average SAT scores in order to show students how hard they still need to work. While this may be effective motivation for some students, I encourage you to remember two facts: test scores are not the most important factor in college admissions (in fact, according to NACAC, they are only the third-most important factor), and secondly, some students will feel defeated by their scores instead of motivated to improve. Use your best judgement here.