As many of our students and other students around the country begin to receive their PSAT scores, we have put together a Q & A to help demystify the process. If you have questions that we don’t address here, feel free to reach out to Peak Performance Prep at firstname.lastname@example.org!
1. How are the PSAT scores and National Merit Selection Index calculated?
The PSAT reports a total score that is the sum of two sections: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (160-760) and Math (160-760). Your total PSAT score can range from 320 to 1520.
To determine your section scores, first look at your three test scores--Reading, Writing & Language, and Math. The score range for each test is 8-38. Calculate your Evidence-Based Reading & Writing section score by adding your Reading and Writing & Language test scores together and then multiplying by 10. Calculate your Math section score by multiplying your Math test score by 20.
To determine your National Merit Selection Index ("Index"), add your three test scores together and then multiply by 2. This will give you an Index score in the 48-228 range.
Here is an example...
Paolo's three test scores are as follows: Reading-30, Writing & Language-25, and Math-32. His Evidence-Based Reading & Writing section score equals (30 + 25) x 10 = 550. His Math section score equals 32 x 20 = 640. Thus, his total PSAT score equals (550 + 640) = 1190. Paolo's Index score--which will be used to consider him for National Merit status (see questions below)--is (30 + 25 + 32) x 2 = 174.
2. Is my PSAT score good enough to earn me National Merit Commended or National Merit Semifinalist status?
The benchmarks for Class of 2021 Commended and Semifinalist will not be published until September 2020, so you will need to wait until then to get an official answer. Unofficially, however, you can bank on the following estimates…
•Semifinalist status (~ top 1%) varies by state. In Connecticut, the National Merit Selection Index (“Index”) threshold has been 220, 221, 222, and 221 for the classes of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. In New York, the Index has been 219, 221, 221, and 221 over these past four years.
•Commended status (~ next 2-3% after the semifinalists) is uniform throughout the country. For the Class of 2021, the required Index will likely be 212.
3. What do my PSAT scores indicate about my potential on the SAT?
The PSAT is scored out of 1520 and the SAT is scored out of 1600. Since the SAT is slightly more difficult, the College Board believes that a perfect score on the PSAT (1520) is the equivalent of an SAT score of 1520—not 1600. There are still “80 points worth” of more difficult material that a 1520 student will need to acquire or demonstrate in order to achieve a 1600 on the SAT.
This all means that your PSAT should indicate the exact score you would have earned on the SAT had you taken it the next day. For example, a student who scored 1300 on the October PSAT would be expected to score 1300 on the October SAT. Keep in mind that by the time you received your PSAT scores in early December, you may have put forth a considerable amount of effort and improved your SAT trajectory. The PSAT is a snapshot of where you were in early October, and it is not intended to be predictive of your exact finishing point.
4. Do my PSAT scores reveal anything about my potential on the ACT?
The PSAT does not give us as much information about what your ACT performance would have been in early October. The PSAT and ACT contain different sections, are scored on different scales, and require different approaches to time management.
Nevertheless, the PSAT and ACT are both standardized tests. The skillset required to succeed on one overlaps significantly with the skillset needed to succeed on the other. At this point in the process—with much time left to address any weaknesses in your testing—we recommend taking a positive approach. Feel confident that a strong PSAT is a sign of good things to come on the ACT. And acknowledge that a “not-so-strong” PSAT does not have to mean a poor outcome on the ACT. Purposeful, consistent preparation can help you achieve your peak.
5. If I did really well on the PSAT and may be in line to be a National Merit Semifinalist, do I need to take the SAT rather than the ACT in order to potentially qualify as a National Merit Finalist?
No, not anymore. In the past, the answer would have been ‘yes.’ Prior to last year, students who achieved Semifinalist status needed to take the SAT in order to “qualify” as finalists. But students now have the option to take either the SAT or ACT as their qualifying exam. This is good news. If you have performed in the top 1% on the PSAT but have been preparing for the ACT these past few months, you no longer need to take the SAT simply for the sake of trying to become a National Merit Finalist.