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Riding the Academic Bike: Navigating the PSAT

Updated: Mar 15


Each version of the PSAT has no negative impact on any future college admissions experience so students should assess each administration’s results with open arms. The scores and specific score report will help students navigate the academic terrain, offering insights into their readiness for the grander expedition – the SAT.

The feeling of the wind through your hair as you close your eyes and sail down the hill. Crisp and cool. You let the two wheels under your bike frame rotate along in complete harmony with each other. The free feeling is irreplaceable after months of work trying to graduate from your training three wheeled bicycle to this two wheeled balanced masterpiece you have conquered today. Embarking on the journey of college admission testing is akin to learning to ride that bike. 


The recent PSAT students took in the latter half of the fall semester serves as the initial set of training wheels, providing stability, guidance, and immediate feedback as they pedal their way through the world of college admission testing. 


Each version of the PSAT has no negative impact on any future college admissions experience so students should assess each administration’s results with open arms. The scores and specific score report will help students navigate the academic terrain, offering insights into their readiness for the grander expedition – the SAT.



Assessing the Score Report


Assessing the journey begins with assessing the immediate feedback the PSAT is providing. First, students want to access their PSAT scores through the College Board website. 

After logging in they'll find a detailed report in numerical form called the Score Report. This is their roadmap, showing where they've pedaled smoothly and where they might need to refine their skills. 


The PSAT NMSQT and PSAT 10 are divided into two main scored sections each scaled between 160-760: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math with a total score range between 320-1520.


The Score Report includes something towards the bottom of the page called “Your Test Score" that is scaled between 8-38. This number breaks down each of the 3 scored sections to include the Reading Test score, the Writing and Language Test score, and the Math Test score. This at a glance will give insight and breakdown within the 3 separate areas of the exam. Whichever Test Score is the lowest was the weakest section on administration day and will need the most amount of effort to overcome. 


Lastly included on the Score Report is something called the “Sub Score”. There are multiple subscores for Reading, Writing and Language, and Math, all ranging from 1 to 15 points that give more specific feedback into the individual skills that were included on the test. This is the most important breakdown to pay attention to since if gives the exact topics of improvement needed to increase a score on the next administration. Think of these subscores  much like the immediate feedback you receive when you fall off that two wheeled bike for the first time. Knowing which direction you fell will help you correct your balance when you get on again. Some of the subscores include: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and the Passport to Advanced Math. 



college admission testing navigating PSAT

What is a good score? 


To know if you have a “good score” or not on the PSAT 10 or PSAT NMSQT will depend on the year you took the exam and the scores of your peers. You will see a percentile rank on your Score Report that will give you a numerical percentage of the people you score higher than. For example, if your score report indicated you are in the 75th percentile that means you scored higher than 75% of students who took the same assessment as you. The higher the percentage the better, since you will be competing with those same students one day in the college admissions arena! 


If you score exceptionally high on the PSAT NMSQT in 11th grade you can possibly qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. This  program uses a calculation they call the “Selection Index” to determine eligibility within each state. To determine your Selection Index score you will need to follow the following equation: (Sum of your Reading and Writing (RW) score multiplied by 2 & Math score) divided by 10. This number will fall somewhere between 48-228 with the cut off to qualify for the program fluctuating from year to year and state to state. The cut off this past year for the Class of 2024 National Merit Comended status (the first level of recognition) was 209 with the Semifinalist status (second level of recognition) scoring at or above a 219. 


As students transition from the PSAT to the SAT, they need to remember the feeling of confidence and joy of first conquering riding a bike without training wheels. The SAT is their opportunity to showcase the skills they've developed over several years of preparation and just as they once shed the safety of those wheels to explore new horizons, students can confidently use the PSAT experience to embrace the challenge of the SAT ahead. Happy riding!

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