What Your PSAT Score Really Means

on February 2, 2017

If you recently took the PSAT, you’ve been introduced to the confusing world of standardized test scores. Even though scores come with explanation cards, the information provided leaves many in the dark. We’ve broken down the significance of each number and what you should do now.

Scaled Total Score

Your PSAT scores came with a lot of numbers, but here's one of the most important: your scaled total score. Ranging from 320-1520, the scaled total score is a combination of your math, reading, and writing and language scores. This is an equated score, meaning the various levels of test-difficulty have been adjusted. If you happened to get a slightly more difficult test, overall scores from other days will hold the same weight, which is good.

Section Scores and Selection Index

You’ll also find your section scores, which are three numbers from the math, reading, and writing and language sections, worth 8-38 points.

Next, you’ll see the selection index (the sum of the section scores multiplied by two), which is the score the National Merit Scholarship Distinction uses to determine commended students and semi-finalists. Typically, the semi-finalist numbers range from around 209-222 (depending on the state), with the average being 216.

These qualifications also stem from your percentile, or the ranking of your score compared with other scores. If you score in the 80th percentile, for instance, that means you scored higher than 80 percent of all students who took the test.

You’ll also find scaled section scores, sub-scores and raw scores (or the literal number of questions you answered correctly per section). These are explained more in depth on the scorecard provided by the PSAT Board. Think of them as further insight into your test taking strengths as well as the areas you can improve on.

So, How Did I Do?

If you’re wondering what equates to a good score, remember that no matter what you scored, there's always room for improvement. One helpful number is the benchmark score, or an average number that indicates college preparedness. For a PSAT 10 (or 10th-grade score), this was 430 in reading and writing and 480 in math for the 2016 tests. If you scored around that level or above, it means you're right on track for college.

If not, don't worry every year in high school should result in improvements to your test scores, and there’s still plenty of time to prepare for the SAT or ACT.