Does the PSAT even really matter?

This week, the nearly two-month-long wait came to an end as October PSAT scores were released.

But many parents and students don’t know what their scores even mean. Are the scores good, bad, ugly? Do they even really matter?

Let’s go into it.

OVERVIEW

  • What is the PSAT?
  • How do PSAT scores compare to SAT scores?
  • Does the PSAT really matter?
  • What is the PSAT really about?
  • Should your child prep for the PSAT?

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT (Preliminary SAT) is extremely similar to its big brother, the SAT. It has the same sections as the SAT (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math), but most of its sections are shorter in time and contain fewer questions.

It’s offered as early from 8th to 11th grade, but the one parents are most interested in is the PSAT 11, since that test will give a select few students the opportunity to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.

How do PSAT scores compare to SAT scores?

Probably the easiest way to compare scores between the PSAT and the SAT is through the use of percentiles.

This is a table I sourced from Brooke Hanson at SuperTutorTv.com. I love her work and all of the resources she provides through her organization.

ACT Score

SAT Score

PSAT Score

SAT & 11th Gr PSAT User Percentiles

PSAT 10th Gr Users

36

1600

1520

99

99

36*

1590

1520

99

99

36

1580

1510

99

99

36

1570

1510

99

99

35

1560

1500

99

99

35

1550

1490

99

99

35*

1540*

_

99

-

35

1530

1480

99

99

34

1520

1480

99

99

34

1510

1470

99

99

34*

1500*

1460

99

99

34

1490

1450

98

99

33

1480

1440

98

99

33

1470

1430

98

99

33*

1460*

1410-1420

97

99

33

1450

1400

97

99

32

1440

1390

96

99

32*

1430*

1380

96

99

32

1420

1370

95

99

31

1410

1360

95

98

31*

1400*

1350

94

98

31

1390

1340

94

98

30

1380

1320-1330

93

98

30*

1370*

1310

92

97

30

1360

1300

92

97

29

1350

1290

91

97

29*

1340*

1280

90

96

29

1330

1270

89

96

28

1320

1260

88

95

28

1310

-

88

-

28

1300

1250

87

95

27

1290

1240

86

95

27*

1280*

1220-1230

84-85

93-94

27

1270

1210

83

93

27

1260

1200

82

92

26

1250

1190

81

91

26*

1240*

-

80

-

26

1230

1180

79

90

25

1220

1160-1170

77-78

88-89

25*

1210*

1150

75-76

87

25

1200

1140

74

86

24

1190

-

73

-

24*

1180*

1130

72

85

24

1170

1120

70

84

24

1160

1110

68-69

83

23

1150

1100

67

81

23*

1140*

1090

65

80

23

1130

1080

63

78

22

1120

1070

62

77

22*

1110*

1060

60

76

22

1100

1050

58

74

21

1090

1040

56

72

21*

1080*

-

54

-

21

1070

1030

52

71

21

1060

1020

51

69

20

1050

1010

49

67

20*

1040

1000

47

66

20

1030

990

45

64

19

1020

980

43

62

19*

1010

960-970

41-42

58-60

19

1000

950

38-39

56

19

990

940

37-38

54

18

980

930

36

53

18*

970

920

34

51

18

960

910

32

49

17

950

900

31

47

17

940

890

29

45

17*

930

880

27

43

17

920

870

26

41

16

910

860

24

38

16

900

850

22-23

36

16*

890

840

21

34

16

880

830

19-20

32

15

870

820

18

30

15

860

810

16-17

28

15*

850*

800

15

26

15

840

790

14

24

15

830

-

13

-

14

820

780

12

22

14

810

770

11

18

14*

800*

760

10

18

14

790

750

9

16

14

780

740

8

14

13

770

730

7

12

13*

760*

720

6

10

13

750

710

5

9

13

740

-

4

7

13

730

700

4

7

12

720

690

3

6

12*

710

680

3

5

12

700

670

2

4

12

690

660

2

4

11

680

640

1

3

11*

670

630

1

2

11

650-660

620

1

2

10 & Below

640 & Below

610 & Below

1

2

Important Questions to Ask

Was your child really trying? Were they tired because they stayed up late the night before? Did they have an anxiety attack?

Having an honest conversation about whether your child really performed their best and provided you with a true baseline is important. That 950 might be a true 950, but it might not as representative of your child’s abilities as it might seem.

 

Do your child’s PSAT scores really matter?

In one sense, yes. In another, no.

In a predictive sense, if your child has not taken an SAT diagnostic or practice test, your child’s PSAT scores can give you an idea of their starting point on the SAT.

For most students, though, the answer is an overwhelming no. There are two main groups who can benefit from the PSAT: students taking the November or December SAT and students who might qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.

For students taking the November or December SAT, the PSAT is great practice for the real thing. Besides taking a proctored mock test, it’s a great opportunity to build stamina and calm nerves before test day.

The highest-scoring high-school juniors will have an opportunity to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, but very few students will ultimately qualify for these awards. Out of the 1.5 million students who take the test, 7500 will receive an award. That’s just 0.5% of test-takers across the country.

What is the PSAT really about?

So if the PSAT is truly meaningless for most students, why has it gained such a prominent place in our culture?

Let me preface this by saying this is pure speculation, but this makes the most sense to me.

It is GENIUS marketing.

While the SAT and ACT are incredibly useful as a sorting tool for colleges and universities, it’s important to remember that they are products of two competing companies. Just like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, The College Board and ACT, Inc. compete for market share. The more registrations and students who sign up for their particular test, the more money the company makes.

If you’re trying to encourage more students to sign up for your test, why not prime them by having them obsess over a PSAT first? When the time comes to have them decide between the SAT or ACT (both of which are accepted universally by all 4-year colleges and universities in the country) most students probably will have been swayed to take the former.

This unfortunately works against many students who would be better geared towards taking the ACT. We avoid this particular pitfall by having all of our students take full-length SAT and ACT diagnostic tests at our offices in Wayne, PA to see which test they have an advantage on.

Should your child prep for the PSAT?

Most students should not prep for the PSAT. However, if your child scored in the 99th percentile on their 9th or 10th grade PSAT, and you’d like them to have a better shot at qualifying for a National Merit Scholarship, test prep might make sense.

Our offices are in Wayne, PA (where we work with students both virtually via zoom tutoring and in-person) and we know how to help students achieve their potential in their SAT prep. If you’d like to discuss your child’s tutoring options, please do not hesitate to reach out for your free consultation. We would love to hear from you.

Does your child need expert guidance to master the PSAT, SAT, or ACT? We would love to discuss all of your child’s options and answer any question you might have.

I can’t say enough terrific things about Critical Point Test Prep! They helped my daughter with valuable test taking skills and time management. Her SAT test scores improved after working with them. They are professional and timely. The tutors are friendly and approachable. I will be using them again for my other student.

Kathy Henderson

Mother of Radnor HS Student

The highest rated SAT tutoring service on the Main Line

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