What Is A Good PSAT Score?

Photo of a ninth grader in a stripey t-shirt taking the PSAT for the first time
May 19, 2022
How the PSAT Is ScoredPSAT PercentilesWhat Is a Good PSAT Score?What is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Score? What’s Your Ideal PSAT Score?


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/19/22

Let’s talk about what it means to have a “good” PSAT score. Generally speaking, the definition of a good PSAT score varies depending on your personal goals. To further answer this question, we have to take a look at how the PSAT is graded, PSAT percentiles, and the PSAT grading scale.

 This article will look at what the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) is, the PSAT grading scale, how percentiles for PSAT scores are calculated, and  what scores you need to receive the National Trust Scholarship, and discuss what is a good PSAT score. 

To get a solid understanding of what PSAT to score aim for, let’s start by taking a deeper look at how the PSAT is graded.

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PSAT Scoring

Let’s take a look at the PSAT scoring system. The PSAT’s scoring system is complicated, and you may want to re-read this section once or twice! However, we’ll provide you with a brief overview of how the PSAT is scored

PSAT Scoring: 8/9 

Here is a breakdown of the score structure for the PSAT 8/9: 

Table outlining the PSAT 8/9 Score Structure and Score Range

Scoring of the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT

The PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT variants follow the same PSAT scoring structure

Table outlining the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT Score Structure and Score Range

Now that you know all about PSAT scoring, the PSAT grading scale, and how the PSAT is graded, let’s talk percentiles. 

PSAT Percentiles

PSAT percentiles are used to compare your overall scores and section scores with those achieved by other students. The percentiles also show what percentage of students have scores that are equal to or lower than yours. 

For example, if your total PSAT score falls in the 70th percentile, you have achieved equal to or higher than 70% of test-takers, and the remaining 30% of students scored higher than you. 

Your PSAT percentiles are split into two categories: your PSAT total scores to percentiles and PSAT section scores to percentiles. The former is used to see how your overall score ranks among everyone else who took the test, and the latter is used to see how your specific section scores rank. 

PSAT Total Scores to Percentiles

Your PSAT total scores to percentiles are derived from the sum of your two scaled section scores, as described in the scoring section above. So, if you scored 650 in Math and 570 in EBRW, for example, your total PSAT score would be:

Using the table below, which shows a selection of scores from 11th-grade students who took the PSAT/NMSQT or the PSAT 10, your score of 1220 would fall in the 84th percentile. 

Table outlining which percentile your total score on the PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10 would fall under
Source: College Board 

PSAT Section Test Scores to Percentiles

You can use your three section test scores to find the percentiles assigned to each section. The table below provides a selection of section scores from 11th-grade students who took the PSAT/NMSQT or the PSAT 10: 

Table outlining which section-specific percentile your Section score on the PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10 would fall under
Source: College Board 

What Is a Good PSAT Score?

The answer to the question “what is a good PSAT score?” depends on your goals. It also depends on whether you are applying for scholarships or simply practicing for the SAT, your definition of a “good” score may be different from another student’s.

The College Board has established benchmarks for each version of the PSAT: 

Table outlining the reading and writing section and Math section benchmark scores for the PSAT 8/9, PSAT10, and the PSAT/NMSQT

Source: U.S. News 

These benchmark scores, the College Board says, are indicators of a student’s future performance as they “predict a 75% likelihood of achieving a C or higher in related first-year, credit-bearing college courses.”

However, according to the College Board, the average scores achieved by test takers seem to be slightly higher than these benchmarks, apart from the scores achieved by eighth-graders: 

Table outlining the average scaled total score of students sitting the PSAT 8/9, PSAT10, and the PSAT/NMSQT exams

Source: U.S. News 

Again, deciding what is a good PSAT score depends on your personal goals. However, if you are aiming for the National Merit Scholarship, keep reading to determine what scores you will need to succeed. 

Next, we’ll cover what is a good PSAT score for scholarships. Specifically, the ideal PSAT score for the National Merit Scholarship. 

What is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Score? 

The National Merit Scholarship is an annual award granted to approximately 7,500 graduating high school seniors each year. Let’s talk about what is a good PSAT score for this highly sought-after scholarship.

Approximately 50,000 of the 1.5 million high school juniors who take the PSAT annually qualify for recognition from the NMSC, and around 34,000 will receive a letter of commendation for their efforts. 

The NMSC notes, “Although Commended Students will not continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, some may be candidates for Special Scholarships provided by corporate and business sponsors.” We will explore this later.  

National Merit Scholarship PSAT Score Requirements 

The 16,000 remaining students who rank in each state’s top 1% (or 99th percentile) are classed as National Merit Semifinalists. To be named a semifinalist, you must score at or above your state’s Selection Index score, which is established at the 99th percentile of scores for tests taken by a state’s students.

These cut-off scores vary by state, year, and the difficulty of the test. To take several state’s cut-off scores as an example: 

Table outlining the PSAT cut-off scores or several US states

Source: Tun 

Once each state has named its semifinalists, 15,000 finalists who meet the NMSC’s academic and other requirements will be chosen. Then, a Merit Scholarship is awarded to 7,500 students from the finalist pool. 

There are three types of National Merit Scholarships: 

However, there are approximately an additional 1,000 Special Scholarship recipients who will receive Special Scholarships provided by corporate sponsors. 

To get a scholarship, you will need to excel in every aspect of the test. You should aim to score at least five points above your state’s cut-off score to give yourself the best chance of receiving a scholarship after the Semi-Finalist round. However, if you’re worried about getting a good score, you can always reach out to an experienced admissions counselor

What’s Your Ideal PSAT Score?

The PSAT, although scored in an extremely complicated way, offers you a brilliant opportunity to understand what the SAT will require of you and practice taking an easier version.

Deciding what is a good psat score is personal; depending on your ambitions, the amount of work you have put in, your state’s cut-off score, and how your peers have done all factor into this decision. 

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