Think of your PSAT as a real-time secret weapon in your standardized test journey. Sure, colleges don’t see your PSAT results, but the score report and test booklet contain valuable pieces of information to help you prepare for success on the SAT or the ACT.
Whether you are a sophomore deciphering the acronyms for the first time, or a junior ready to execute a test prep plan, here’s our handy guide to making the most of your scores.

1. First off, take a deep breath!

For some of you, this will be your first encounter with the College Board and the world of standardized tests. You want to know what these numbers mean and it can be stressful.
The main thing to remember is that the PSAT is just a start (for sophomores) or a key test choice indicator (for juniors). Try not to focus too much on the numbers. Maybe they’re better than you thought they would be — that’s awesome but you can probably do even better with some well-timed, rigorous prep.
More often, the scores are lower than you thought they would be and that’s okay. Let’s talk about how to put a plan in action to get them moving upwards.

2. Your Score

Your Total Score, the number on the top left of the score report, is a combination of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores. Underneath, you’ll see the score breakdown with the section scores. Don’t be surprised if one is much higher or lower than the other. Many students start the test prep process this way and Carnegie Prep’s curriculum is designed to address both subject matters.

For a complete breakdown of the PSAT score report, including percentiles, answer key, and scaled scores read click here.

3. Get Online!

Your school will give you a paper score report but to really dive deep, you need to log on to your College Board account. Your account will give you access to an in-depth look at your scores. Once you log into your account, click on View Details under your Total Score.

4. The Range

Once you open the Report Details section, you will see a range of scores for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections. It’s an initial approximation by the College Board of how you might do on the SAT.

These numbers suggest the range that you might achieve on the actual test with little or no prep. They are a baseline and not a reflection of your score potential. That said, they can help you identify your goals.

Progress on standardized tests is all about taking one step at a time, prepping smart, and a plethora of patience. Allow enough time for your testing plan to unfold.

5. The Benchmark — What is this random number?

Your Benchmark is calculated by the College Board to give you a sense of where you are compared to their estimation of where you need to be to be prepared for college. Again, this is based on your performance on one test way back in October. Think about how much you’ve learned since then! Don’t let this number scare you.

6. Cross-Test Scores

Here’s where the real nitty gritty of your score report begins. This is the meaty stuff you need to pay attention to.

Cross-Test Scores show you a breakdown of each section. Here you can get a more detailed look at how you scored on the Writing portion as opposed to the passage-based Reading portion. You can also look at how you did on the different Math sections.

These numbers will give you an early indication of your strengths and weaknesses. This is vital information as you develop your testing plan and you’ll want to share this information with your tutor or teachers.

7. Subscores

Here you can see how you scored on different types of questions in each section. The question types with the lowest scores are likely the areas that you need to address first and foremost in your testing plan.

8. Scholarships and Your NMSC Selection Index

PSAT scores can allow students to qualify for a number of scholarships and recognition programs that are often related to a student’s background or other involvements. Additionally, the College Board uses junior-year PSAT scores to qualify students for National Merit Scholarships.

If your number on the selection index is above your state’s cutoff (which changes every year), you may qualify for different levels of honors and scholarships. If you have ever heard of someone being awarded a National Merit Scholarship, this is the first step towards that distinction.

Cutoffs for boarding school students are determined regionally as opposed to at the state level. For example, a student attending a boarding school in the Northeast must meet the highest cutoff of any state within the Northeast region.

Students who are homeschooled are treated like any other students in their state. Meanwhile, U.S. students studying abroad have to meet the highest state cutoff in the country.

Below are the National Merit Semifinalist and Commended Student cutoffs for recent years. To calculate the Selection Index score:

  1. Drop the zero from your scores   (ex. EBRW 620, Math 640)
  2. Double the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score  (ex. EBRW 62 x 2 = 124)
  3. Add the Math score   (ex. 124 + 64 = 188 NMSC Selection Index)

If your score doesn’t make the cutoff, don’t sweat it. Focus on building a great testing plan and go on with your life.

9. Review the Exam

When you’re ready, take an hour or so and review your test. Use the answer key to mark all the questions you got wrong in your test booklet. Without looking at the correct answers, go back and answer the questions again.

(If you look at the correct answers beforehand, you’ll have wasted a precious opportunity to differentiate between careless errors and gaps in content knowledge.)

Check your answers. If you get a question wrong for the second time, you know it’s an area you need to work on. Make sure to share this information with your tutor or teachers.

10. Plan your Prep

Khan Academy is a great free resource — you can take practice tests and target your weaknesses. That said, Khan Academy is just one piece of a strong plan.

At Carnegie Prep, we are experts on customizing testing plans. Whether you’re looking for a long-term game plan or just a chance to bounce some questions off of our incredible tutors and teachers, we can help!

To create your best testing plan, email us or call us at (203) 352-3500.

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