If your student is in 8th, 9th, 10th or 11th grade, then he or she likely took the PSAT exam this past October. While the PSAT has been a mainstay for high school students, interpreting the scores can be challenging. College Board has made sweeping changes to both the SAT and PSAT, so understanding your student’s score report may be more difficult than in the past. This post is an attempt to help you understand the new changes.
The New PSAT
In an effort to make the PSAT more meaningful, College Board is now offering different tests for 8th/9th graders and 10th/11th graders. Basically the material on the 2 exams is different so that it provides a better grade-level representation. In short 9th graders are no longer being compared to 11th graders. There are pros and cons to this system, though I think it is more fair for a 9th grader to be judged against his peers rather than compared to students 2 years older.
Accessing the Score Report
Students who took the PSAT in October 2015 should now have online access to their score reports. You can access these through collegeboard.org. If you have not already registered on College Board’s website you will need to create an account. You will need your student’s unique passcode to set up this account. If you do not have a passcode you should see your student’s counselor to obtain it.
Once you register on College Board, you will have access to anything your student takes that College Board offers. This includes PSAT, SAT and AP exams results. Currently you should be able to access the PSAT score report.
Interpreting the Score Report
The PSAT score report is a 3-page document that provides some useful information and some useless information. I want to focus on the useful information.
The PSAT no longer has a writing section, so there are only 2 subscores and 1 composite score. You will find these scores on the top of page 1. This in the only useful information on the entire page, so just focus on these numbers.
The score range on PSAT is different than most people are used to. You will not see a perfect score of 800 on a subject nor a perfect composite of 1600. Rather, you will see the following:
8th/9th graders: Subject scores range from 120 – 720; Composite scores range from 240 – 1440
10th/11th graders: Subject scores range from 160 – 760; Composite scores range from 320 – 1520
While these scores are somewhat arbitrary, the percentile rank directly underneath the scores will tell you how your student compares to his or her peers. You will also notice a colored bar underneath those percentages that tell you whether or not your student is “on track for college readiness”. Don’t read too much into this…PSAT scores are not a good indicator of college readiness!
The second page of your report is different for 8th/9th graders and 10th/11th graders. The PSAT is used to select National Merit Scholars for 11th graders. Thus, the PSAT for 10th and 11th graders will include an index score (NMSC Selection Index) that will give you a good idea of where your student sits for National Merit Scholar, which is announced next September. This award only applies to 11th graders, although 10th graders get an index score to see where they are.
In order to calculate the index score (which 8th/9th graders can do), you simply take the 3 scores (ranging from 8-38) for each subtest on page 2, multiply them by 2, and add them up. For example:
Reading Test: 27
Writing and Language Test: 25
Math Test: 26
To calculate the index score (which is already given on the top of Page 2 for 10th/11th graders):
27 x 2 = 54
25 x 2 = 50
26 x 2 = 52
54 + 50 + 52 = 156
Your index score is 156.
Interpreting the National Merit Scholar Index Score
So what does this score mean? Since College Board uses the top 3% of students for National Merit Scholar selection, it’s impossible to say exactly what the cutoff score will be until all scores are reported. However, according to my colleagues at The Princeton Review, the score for National Merit Scholar will be somewhere around 207-210. For current 11th graders, if your score is close to this you should touch base with your counselor in September to see if you are selected.
If you are currently in 10th grade, you should consider preparing for next year’s PSAT over the summer if you are above a 180. With a little preparation you may boost your score into the selection range and end up a National Merit Scholar. This is a huge accomplishment and recognition!
If you are in 8th or 9th grade and your score is within this range, you should continue to monitor this score as you take it during 10th grade.
Remember, only the PSAT taken during 11th grade officially counts for National Merit Scholar.
The third page of your score report gives you a breakdown of every question and answer on the PSAT. If you access your report online you will actually be able to click on those and see the question. This is actually a very useful tool and can help students single out the concepts they most struggled on. This will allow them to prepare more efficiently for the PSAT or SAT in the future.
Much is made of the importance of the PSAT. After all, schools basically shut down for half the day in order to administer it. However, this test is really just an indicator of how well you are prepared for this particular type of test. Just because you did not score as well as you had hoped does not mean you are not ready for college. It might just mean you have not mastered the test-taking strategies that are necessary for standardized tests. This is a skill you can learn.
Don’t stress over your scores. There is plenty of time and resources to help you get the score you need to get into the school you want. Seeking out a reputable test prep company can definitely help. If you are in range of National Merit Scholar, then I would highly recommend prepping for the PSAT the summer before 11th grade. This is a potential life-changing recognition and one that will get you a ton of money for college.
These reports can be confusing, so if you need help interpreting, don’t hesitate to leave me a message!