While most of the attention in the upcoming weeks will be on seniors and early decision results, juniors and sophomores have some news of their own to process as PSAT scores were released online on December 12. While the scores have no effect on college admissions, the numbers are useful in revealing where in the spectrum of applicants your child lies.

What do the numbers mean?

There are a whole lot of numbers on the score report, but the three numbers that matter the most are the total score and the two section scores. They’ll be in giant font on the score report so you know they’re the most important. The total score ranges from 320-1520 and is the sum of the two section scores. The two sections are Evidenced Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math, each of which is scored from 160-760. The scoring is confusing because the sections aren’t out of 800 like the SAT, but the scores are intended to be a direct predictor of SAT scores. In other words, a 700 on the PSAT equals a 700 on the SAT. The two tests are pretty much the same (the PSAT doesn’t have an essay and is marginally shorter - 5 fewer reading questions and 10 fewer math question) so I think PSAT score is an accurate predictor of SAT score.

What’s a good score?

It depends on the student and the college he or she aspires to attend. For reference, in 2015, a 540 in each section placed you at the 70th percentile. That’s like a C. But answer a few more questions right in each section to earn 570s and you’re at the 80th percentile.

Will my child do better on the SAT if he or she takes it many months after the PSAT?

Without any special prep, generally, no. The math score may go up by virtue of having completed whatever math class they were taking, but it’s unlikely the EBRW will improve because reading comprehension and grammar are not taught in high school.

Should I get test prep?

The short answer is almost every student will benefit from test prep. Here are some exceptions I can think of:

  1. Your child got a perfect score or very close to it. Woohoo National Merit!
  2. Your child already knows what schools he or she is applying to and is already scoring better than the 75th percentile mark for those schools. (To find the 25-75th percentile SAT data, you can Google “[college name] average SAT score.”)

Most sophomores and juniors don’t get perfect scores and most don’t know what colleges they’re applying to, so...

What are my options for test prep?

  1. Khan Academy. It’s free. Yay! But really only useful for self motivated students. There are also other paid online prep courses, but again, only useful for self motivated students. Seriously, if you know your child is bad with unstructured study, don’t believe for a second he or she will study on her own.
  2. Take a class. Classes are offered by big box test prep companies. Some high schools farm it out to companies and then offer it to their students at a reduced rate. Classes are economical but teach to the middle, so if your child is advanced or remedial it’s likely they’ll be bored or lost much of the time. And did I mention how long those classes are? Classes are often 2-3 hours and follow a rigid schedule so they can be brutal to busy students. Also, the quality of the class depends on the quality of the teacher which is luck of the draw.
  3. Private tutoring. It’s flexible, time efficient, and can be tailored to focus on weak areas. It’s pricey but can make up for the money in efficiency.

The Least You Need to Know

That was a lot of information, but here’s the least you need to know: Know your 3 PSAT scores (total, EBRW, math), look into test prep options now (the sooner you start the more options you have), and figure out your SAT testing schedule. And of course if you have any questions, reach out to us at Essaywise!