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.


  • 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 link ( to a page with a table from Brooke Hanson at I love her work and all of the resources she provides through her organization.

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 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.