What do Your PSAT Scores Mean?
This week, most high school sophomores and juniors will receive their PSAT results. For many juniors, receiving their PSAT scores marks the beginning of a concerted push to get ready for the SAT or ACT. Other juniors may have already begun the test preparation process. For sophomores, PSAT scores can provide insight into areas they need to improve. What do your PSAT results mean and how can they be useful to you?
National Merit Scholar
For extremely high scoring juniors, their test results may put them in the running for the National Merit Scholarship Program, which recognizes top performing students based on their junior PSAT scores. The number of students selected for this program is about 50,000 out of the 1.6 million students who take the PSAT as juniors. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) recognizes students at a number of 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.
It is important to note that 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.
Most students are not going to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Nevertheless, PSAT scores are still instructive. PSAT scores give you a reasonable idea of how you would perform on the SAT if you did no preparation for the test, and they can inform you of areas where you need to improve. If for example, your Evidence Based Reading and Writing score is lower than what you would like, it’s time to put yourself on a reading program. If your math scores are lower than you would like, it may be because you need to review geometry and algebra content that you learned in earlier grades but have now forgotten. If you are a junior and feel that you did poorly on the PSAT overall, it would be a good idea to see if the ACT is a better test for you by taking a practice ACT test and comparing your ACT scores with your PSAT scores using our SAT-ACT concordance tool. Marks Education provides free proctored SATs and ACTs in our DC and Bethesda locations every weekend.
For juniors, once you’ve decided which test is right for you, you should begin thinking about your testing schedule so that you can plan your prep accordingly. Consider what test dates make the most sense for you and your family. When is your family going on vacation? When are your big sports tournaments or other extra-curricular commitments such as the school play? Are you taking several AP exams in May? If so, you probably want to avoid taking the SAT in May.
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 December or January
- First test date: March
- Second test date: June
- Third test date (if needed): August
If you are a sophomore, you can also use your PSAT scores to guide your decisions on when to begin testing. If you have a high score already and are in advanced math classes, you may be able to prepare for the SAT or ACT in the summer before 11th grade and take the test for the first time in the late summer or early fall of your junior year. If your scores are not where you’d like them to be, then the good news is that you have plenty of time to work on improving your reading speed and comprehension and brushing up on key math skills before taking the test.
Marks Education offers wide-ranging services in counseling and tutoring for students including students seeking admission to graduate schools.
To speak with a test prep professional, contact Marks Education.
Check out our SAT ACT Concordance Tool to compare results from both tests as you decide which is the better test for you.