The Preliminary SAT is a standardized exam students may take during their junior year of high school to prepare for the SAT, which counts toward college admission and qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship competition. Defining what constitutes a "good" score requires understanding how the PSAT scoring process works and how scores are distributed.
How PSAT Scores Work
The PSAT consists of three sections, each of which is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points with 80 being a perfect score. A perfect composite score would be 240, while the worst possible composite score is 60. Like all standardized tests, the PSAT doesn't care how many questions you answer right or wrong in a vacuum. Instead, the test pits you against other students and measures how many questions you get right compared to others. The scores are also curved, so missing a single question could cost you two standardized points if you were almost perfect, but might cost you zero points if you were near the middle of the pack.
A good score on the PSAT means you answered more questions correctly than a majority of your peers. The 50th percentile of PSAT scores for high school juniors was 141 out of 240 in 2014, so if you scored higher than that you beat at least half the field. A score of 163 would place you in the 75th percentile, ahead of three-quarters of the field. A lofty 184 would place you in the 90th percentile, while an almost perfect 213 would put you in the 99th percentile, better than 99 of 100 randomly selected test takers. These scores can vary a few points from year to year, however. For instance, the median score for juniors in 2013 was 142, slightly better than 2014's median of 141.
National Merit Scholarship Scores
Another way of defining a "good" PSAT score is to look to the National Merit Scholarship competition. The competition is based almost entirely on PSAT scores. Of the roughly 1.5 million high school juniors who take the test each year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation names students with the top 50,000 scores semi-finalists for the award. The score required to qualify varies from year to year and state to state, but in the 2015 competition the average cutoff point was 212.2. That means a score of 213 or better would place you among the top 50,000 in the nation.
PSAT scores aren't set in stone, and the meaning of the word "good" is relative. Sophomores who take the test tend to score lower than juniors. For example, the median PSAT math score for sophomores is 43, but for juniors it's 48. That means a "good" score for a sophomore could be much lower than a "good" score for a junior. It also means that students who are dissatisfied with their scores can improve. The typical junior retaking the exam can expect their math, critical reading, and writing scores to rise by three to four points each, for total gain of more than 10 points.
Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.