2017 PSAT Scores and National Merit Qualifying Scores: How to Make Sense of Them

Matt Larriva
Dec 24, 2017

2017 PSAT Scores and National Merit Qualifying Scores: How to Make Sense of Them

PSAT Scores Released

It’s been a few weeks since you took the PSAT, and by now you’ve probably even forgotten about it. But PSAT scores were recently released (December 11-13), so now you it’s time to figure out exactly what it all means. Confused? Well, let us help.

Understanding your PSAT scores

You will receive an Evidence Based Reading and Writing score on a scale from 160-760. You will also receive a Math score on a scale from 160-760. These two scores are then added together, resulting in your Total score, on a scale from 320-1520. These are the scores to pay attention to. For a step-by-step diagram of what each number on your score report means, see this guide.

PSAT Scores

While there are some other metrics (“Test Scores,” “Cross-Test Scores,” and “Subscores”) the number that really matters is your Total Score. Each score will also be tied to your Nationally Representative Sample Percentile. This simply means that if you scored in the 60th percentile, you scored higher than 60% of the other high school juniors who took the PSAT. If you are a sophomore, then your scores are compared only to the other sophomores who took the exam. What’s a good PSAT Score for a sophomore? It all depends on what your goals are.

If your ultimate goal is Ivy League admission, then you should aim to be in the 95th percentile or higher. If you’re looking at less selective institutions, then 80th percentile is a good benchmark. But keep in mind that 1) these are very early days, and your score can improve markedly over the next year 2) this is not necessarily an indication of what you would score on the SAT. More on this in the next section.

Why aren’t the PSAT scores out of 800?

Notice that the highest total score a student could achieve on the PSAT is 1520, but the highest total score a student could achieve on the SAT is a 1600. Why would a perfect score on the PSAT not lead to a perfect score on the SAT? Because the PSAT is easier than the SAT. Not only is it a shorter test, but also the material is not the same. The CollegeBoard is being conservative. And we agree. In our experience, PSAT scores are usually higher than SAT scores.

What about the National Merit Selection Index?

The National Merit Scholarship is a distinction and a small sum of money given to recipients. The first step of qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship is scoring well on the PSAT as a junior. How well do you need to score? That figure changes annually and is released later in the year, but for Californians (one of the most competitive states) the minimum score to qualify is usually about 220.

Your NMSC Selection Index score is calculated by adding together the Reading score, the Writing and Language score, and the Math score, and then multiplying the total by two. A Reading score of 33, a Writing and Language score of 35, and a Math score of 30 would yield a NMSC selection index of 196. But this is just the beginning: qualifying students have a long path to get to the coveted National Merit Scholarship Finalist round. Check out the National Merit site for full details on what to expect.