If you took the PSAT in October as either a 10th or 11th grader, you should have received your scores on December 12. What do your scores mean? How do they relate to the SAT/ACT? How does the National Merit Scholarship Program work, and what are the Alaska qualifying scores? And now that you have your scores, what should you do next?
Download the 2018/19 edition of our free e-book, The PSAT Pathfinder, for a complete overview of the PSAT, Alaska-specific info on National Merit Scholarship Program, and what to do next as a 10th or 11th grader.
In this post, we’ll discuss the two basic purposes of taking the PSAT and the implications for you now that you've completed the test:
- Taking the PSAT gives you test-taking practice, serving as a “dry run” for the SAT, and providing you with one piece of information you need in order to choose between taking the SAT or ACT. Colleges do not see your PSAT scores.
- When taken in your junior year, it enters you the National Merit Scholarship Competition.
Dry Run: Choosing Between the SAT and the ACT
The PSAT reflects the format and content of the SAT. PSAT and SAT scores are designed to be directly comparable (e.g., if you earned a 1200 on the PSAT, it’s expected that you would have earned a similar score on the SAT had you taken that test on the same day). The PSAT does test a slightly less advanced domain of knowledge than the SAT, and for that reason, while your total SAT score could range from 400 to 1600, your PSAT score can range from 320 to 1520.
Now that your PSAT scores have given you a snapshot of your expected baseline performance on the SAT, you should also take a free practice ACT to determine whether you should focus on the SAT or ACT for college admissions purposes. (Have you already taken a practice or official ACT? See the PSAT Pathfinder for step-by-step guidance on what to do next.)
National Merit Scholarship Potential
If you’re a sophomore, taking the PSAT was purely for practice—but read on, because your scores this year will tell you if it's worth studying for your junior year testing attempt. If you took the PSAT as a junior, you were entered into the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Awards for National Merit Winners—and even Semifinalists and Finalists, in some cases—can include full tuition at popular colleges such as Washington State, as well as annual stipend scholarships at top-ranked institutions like Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Oregon.
The first major hurdle for recognition or scholarship earnings is achieving Semifinalist status. You must score in the top (approximately) 1% of Alaska students to achieve Semifinalist status, and the qualifying score fluctuates from year to year. For the classes of 2018 and 2019, the National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist Selection Index cut-offs were 217 and 215, respectively. (For more on how the Selection Index is calculated, see the PSAT Pathfinder.) Based on this information, for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, we estimate that the Semifinalist-qualifying PSAT score will be at least 1400 (with an Evidence-Based Reading & Writing score of at least 700).
- Juniors: You will find out in September of your senior year whether you have qualified as a Semifinalist and will proceed in the National Merit Scholarship Competition.
- Sophomores: If you scored at least 1250 on your 10th grade PSAT (or if you score at least 1250 in a free practice SAT taken anytime between now and the August immediately prior to your junior year), then we recommend that you prepare for your junior year PSAT since you may be able to improve your score to become competitive with the National Merit Semifinalist qualifying range. Start SAT Individual Prep in summer 2019. Our SAT Prep Class starting this coming May, July, or August will also prepare you for the October PSAT. For the 12 months ended November 2018, our average SAT Prep Class student improved by 100 points, with the top 25% of students averaging a 191 point score improvement. We guarantee a score improvement of at least 70 points.
Your Next Move: Get the Full Picture
For the complete Post-PSAT Action Plan for both 10th and 11th graders, download our free e-book, The PSAT Pathfinder. And, of course, feel free to contact us with any questions you have about your individual testing or college admissions situation.