Understanding PSAT Scores

I am a firm believer that every student should sit for the PSAT before taking the SAT. Although the PSAT and SAT have many similarities, there are distinctions that should be considered. In addition to the PSAT being good practice for the SAT, it also serves as a qualifying exam for The National Merit Scholarship Program, which is an annual academic competition among high school students for recognition and college scholarships.

Although some colleges consider themselves "Test Optional" or "Test Blind", many schools do not, which means standardized test scores are factored into the final admission decision for a candidate. As an independent educational consultant in Franklin, TN, Brentwood, TN and Nashville, TN, I often meet students and families who are confused by what the PSAT actually means. Below is a general overview of how the PSAT is measured.

Score Range

The total PSAT scoring scale ranges from 320-1520. They are reflected in 10-point increments. The SAT score range goes up to 1600.

Initially, each section is first scored on a scale of 8-38 in one-point increments. This is known as a student’s PSAT test scores. Test scores are then converted into section scores on scales of 160-170 in 10-point increments. Combined, this gives a student a total PSAT score out of 1520.


Similar to the SAT, the PSAT tests students’ subject matter on three major sections: Math, Reading, and Writing.

To determine a student’s math section score, multiply the math test score by 20. To determine a student’s Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score, add the reading and writing test scores together and then multiply the sum by 10.

In addition to the scores listed above, the PSAT also provides subscores and cross-test scores. These scores measure a student’s mastery of a specific set of skills and understanding of each section. Subscores are scaled between 1-15. They consist of the following seven areas:

Evidenced-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)

  • Command of Evidence

  • Words in Context

  • Expression of Ideas

  • Standard English Conventions


  • Heart of Algebra

  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis

  • Passport to Advanced Math

Cross test scores apply to every PSAT section and are scaled between 8-38. They consist of the following seven areas:

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies

  • Analysis in Science

Lastly, students receive a selection index, which has a scoring range of 48-228. To calculate this score, multiply the sum of the student’s three PSAT test scores by 2. The selection index score is used solely to determine eligibility for National Merit distinction.

How Can PSAT/NMSQT Scores Be Used to Project SAT Scores?

The common score scale suggests that a student who took the PSAT/NMSQT and earned a Math section score of 500 would be expected to earn a 500 on the SAT, this also factors in a student’s projected growth that is deemed to be the result of adequate or advanced test preparation.

For a more detailed analysis of PSAT test score interpretation, please visit this link.

Understanding PSAT Scores

#PSATs #collegeadmissions

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