What do Your PSAT Scores Mean?

Marks Education breaks down what your PSAT results mean and how you can use them.

This month, most high school sophomores and juniors will receive the results of the PSAT they took in October.  For many juniors, receiving their PSAT results marks the beginning of a concerted push to get ready for the SAT or ACT.  For sophomores, PSAT results provide insight into areas where they can improve.


PSAT scores give students a reasonable idea of how they would perform on the SAT without preparation for the test and can highlight areas for improvement.  A lower Evidence Based Reading and Writing score might mean it’s time to start a reading program, like reading several newspaper articles each week.  A lower math score might mean that reviewing geometry and algebra content from earlier grades would be helpful.  For juniors who believe they did poorly on the PSAT overall, taking a practice ACT might help them see if they are better suited for that test.  Marks Education provides free proctored SATs and ACTs at our Bethesda location every weekend, and students can compare ACT and PSAT/SAT scores using our SAT-ACT concordance tool.

Once juniors have decided on the ACT or the SAT, Marks Education can help develop a testing schedule to plan their prep accordingly.  When choosing a test date, we consider factors including sports, drama, or other major extracurricular and academic commitments, such as AP exams in May or final exams.

Our test prep tutoring clients generally work with us for 2-3 months before their first test and take the test at least twice. If you are a junior and have not yet begun test preparation, your junior year testing schedule might look like this:

ACT Prep Timeline:

  • Begin test preparation in January
  • First test date: April
  • Second test date: June
  • Third test date (if needed): July or September

SAT Prep Timeline: 

  • Begin test preparation in January
  • First test date: March
  • Second test date: May or June
  • Third test date (if needed): August

National Merit Scholarship Program

Extremely high scoring juniors may be in the running for the National Merit Scholarship Program, which recognizes top performing students based on their junior PSAT scores.  About 50,000 students are selected for this program out of the 1.6 million who take the PSAT as juniors. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) recognizes students at several levels: Commended, Semifinalist, and Finalist.  Commended scholars generally score in the top 3% of all students in the state. Semi-finalists must score in the top 1% of all students in the state. Scores required to be eligible for semi-finalist status vary on a state-by-state basis and are announced in early September.

National Merit cutoff scores are determined according to the state where a student attends school, not the state in which a student lives.  If you live in Virginia, for example, but attend school in Washington, DC, you must meet the higher DC cutoff.  Similarly, if you attend boarding school, your selection numbers for the NMSC will be based on those of the state where your boarding school is located, not those of the state where you live.  About one third of the 50,000 high scorers will be notified that they have qualified as semi-finalists.  Semi-finalists must then apply for finalist status.  For more information, check out our blog on the NMSC.


Sophomores can also use their PSAT scores to guide their decisions on when to begin testing. If they receive a high score and are in advanced math classes, they could prepare for the SAT or ACT in the summer before 11th grade and take their first test in the fall of their junior year. If their scores are not where they’d like them to be, then the summer before 11th grade offers an ideal time to work on improving reading speed and comprehension and brushing up on key math skills before taking the test.  Sophomores interested in brushing up their math and reading skills before beginning test prep in earnest should consider our summer reading and writing and math intensive programs.

Not sure where to start or how to proceed?  Take advantage of our free 30-minute consultation with a Marks Education professional who can answer any questions about the test prep process that you might have. Contact Marks Education by clicking here.

For more information on our test preparation packages, click here.

We also recommend listening to our podcast on choosing between the SAT and the ACT.




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