Making Sense of the PSAT Score Report

Making Sense of the PSAT Score Report

For sophomores and juniors who took the PSAT this year, the countdown to the dates they can expect to get their results is in full swing.

While this “pre” exam isn’t required and has very little bearing on college applications, it can be an important benchmarking tool for the standardized testing preparation process.

Each year, Signet receives questions from parents about what the report means and how it can best be used. We’ll take this opportunity to highlight what you need to know.

Understanding the PSAT Score Report

When a student’s scores are available, they’ll receive an email with a unique access code. Or, they can always visit Either way, they’ll need a free College Board account to see their scores.

Here’s what students can expect to see on their score reports:



  • Total Score. The first thing a student will see is their Total Score, which is the combined score of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections. They’ll also be able to see the individual scores for each of those sections.


  • Test Scores, Cross-Test Scores, and Subscores. These scores provide more details about how a student performed in specific areas. Scores are color-coded in green (meet or exceed benchmark), yellow (approaching benchmark) and red (need to strengthen skills) so that students can easily identify where to focus their studying.



  • NMSC Selection Index Score. The National Merit Selection Index is derived by doubling the sum of a student’s individual test scores. Each state has a different cutoff. Students above the cutoff score will receive additional information about an application for the scholarship program.



  • Test Questions and Skills Insight. Students can use these sections of the score report to look even deeper. They can identify the exact questions they missed and learn what their scores say about their skills.



Understanding the percentiles on the report 

Beneath their scores, students will notice text stating, “You are in the [insert number] percentile.”
The percentile rank signifies the percentage of students with scores equal to or lower than the student represented on the score report

For example, if a student is in the 51st percentile for their Total Score, they can deduce that about 51% of a comparison group achieved scores at or below their score. The higher the percentile rank, the more competitive the score. 


PSAT Next Steps for Students

With the PSAT behind them and their score report in hand, students can keep up their momentum and continue preparing for the SAT or ACT. Next steps include:


Reviewing and analyzing the report

Have your student make a list of the questions they missed or skipped. We also recommend reviewing the more challenging questions in each section whether or not the student got them wrong. (They may have guessed and gotten lucky!) Encourage your student to take notes on each question and help them identify any patterns that emerge.


Taking an ACT diagnostic test

Students have the option to submit either the SAT or the ACT to all 4-year U.S. colleges and universities. Colleges don’t care which test a student submits and each one is weighted equally high—truly! Comparing ACT practice scores to PSAT scores will help students determine which test to focus on.


Setting a goal score

Establishing a goal score gives students a concrete target to work toward as they study for the SAT or ACT. Start by looking up the average test scores for admitted students at the schools on your student’s college list. Average together the test scores from the top schools to set a baseline target score. Typically, students can expect to increase their SAT scores by 100-200 points or their ACT scores by 3-4 points with diligent preparation. It’s possible to achieve a greater increase, but doing so will likely require the support of a dedicated test prep tutor.


Picking a target test date

Students should plan to spend 2-4 months studying for the SAT or ACT. The exact time frame varies depending on how close a student is to their goal score already. Most students take whichever test they select 2-3 times.

Developing a comprehensive study plan

Use your student’s PSAT or ACT diagnostic score, goal score, and test date to help your student build a week-by-week test prep plan. We advise students to study at least 1 hour per day 3x per week. Check out Signet’s Guide to SAT/ACT Preparation for more helpful information on developing a study plan.


Preparing for the SAT or ACT: Principles of Good Preparation

Importantly, students should follow the principles of good preparation throughout the entirety of the SAT or ACT prep process: 

  • Put in consistent effort over time, committing time to standardized test preparation daily or every other day over the course of several months—not a few weeks.
  • Emphasize skills in addition to knowledge, practicing consistently to build test-taking skills and periodically taking full-length exams to improve endurance and focus.
  • Use quality materials sourced directly from SAT or ACT sites supplemented by trusted third-party resources like Barron’s only as needed.
  • Analyze results, allocating 50-100% of the time they spend doing practice questions to reviewing their work and noting areas for improvement.
  • Work on the hard stuff, carving out specific study times to focus on challenging areas. 


So much needs to happen between now and the date of the SAT or ACT. Understandably, many students (and parents, too!) find this process to be extremely overwhelming. If your student could use extra support preparing for either of these exams, Signet’s test prep tutors are here and ready to help. Connect with us today to learn more!

Picture of Signet Education

Signet Education

More Resources