The PSAT is a two-hour standardized test that is almost identical in format to the SAT (the Scholastic Aptitude Test). Like the SAT, it includes critical reading, math and writing sections. However, unlike the SAT, there is no timed essay. Each section is worth 80 points, and PSAT scores range from a 60 to a 240. Most students take the PSAT during their sophomore and/or junior years of high school, prior to taking the SAT. Students should evaluate their PSAT scores, because they predict SAT scores and establish eligibility for National Merit recognition.
Examine the test questions and score report. You will receive an official score report, which shows your answers and the correct answers by it. The score report also details how well you performed in comparison to others through a percentile. For example, if you score in the 88 percentile on the math section, it means you scored the same or higher than 88 percent of test takers in the math section. Check the score report for your Selection Index, which is the sum of three sections.
Study the test booklet that comes in the mail with your score report. This contains the test questions from your session. Look through the questions and try to understand why you missed certain questions.
Gauge how well you may do on the SAT from your PSAT scores.. Colleges do not see your PSAT scores. Math, writing or critical reading SAT scores range from 200 to 800. So, to predict your SAT score, multiply your PSAT score by 10; a 68 on the math section, for example, corresponds to a 680 SAT math score.
Recognize the limitations of PSAT scores. Although they correspond to SAT scores for most people, the College Board acknowledges that 33 percent of test takers see significant improvement in their SAT scores. According to the College Board, these changes occur when students take rigorous academic courses, participate in problem-solving activities, do extensive outside reading and writing, and familiarize themselves with the SAT.
Find out if your scores qualify you for National Merit recognition. To compete for a National Merit Scholarship, you must be a junior, and your must score in the top 1 percent of all test-takers in your state. Visit the National Merit’s website to determine what the qualifying score was for your state. National Merit also recognizes test-takers who place in the top 5 percent, or "Commended Students," who may qualify for scholarships from prospective colleges. National Merit has another program for African American students, which is called the National Achievement Scholarship Program. African American students who place in the top 1 percent of all black test-takers may be eligible for scholarships, while black students who place in the top 5 percent are commended.
- Use your PSAT scores to create a SAT study plan. Find out your weak areas and work on them. The score report includes personalized advice about how to succeed on the SAT. Look through it and speak to your high school guidance counselor if you need help with designing a study plan.
Therese Rochon is a college student and freelance writer from St. Louis. She is studying English and Spanish literature at Washington University and plans to attend law school in the future. She speaks two languages and, in 2011, will au pair in Europe to learn two more languages. She has been writing online since 2005.