Test Prep

Average Soph PSAT Scores

Question: What are the average PSAT scores for sophomores? How much improvement is normal between sophomore and junior year? My son's initial scores were low, with a total in the low 120's. What is the best way for him to improve? I should add that his standarized test scores have always been on the low side, yet he manages to get mostly A's & B's in a highly ranked high school.

Below is some data on soph PSAT results from the College Board Web site. You also ask about the best way for your son to improve. Well, one tried and true method is to to urge him to read, read, read. It's not too late to encourage him to turn off the TV and put down that joy stick and instead grab a book or even a newspaper or magazine. This won't help his math scores a lot, of course, but even math questions require some reading, and if he builds his overall academic confidence, he'll probably do better in everything he tackles.

In addition, while we're reluctant to admit it because the price tags are so high, professional coaching courses can make a difference. It may be more the confidence-building thing again rather than the "test-cracking" strategies that such programs often claim to provide, but they do seem to work for many kids. Of course, before shelling out any big bucks, ask around for suggestions on which test-prep outfit has the best reputation in your community. Princeton Review and Kaplan are the "Coke and Pepsi" of test preparation, but there may be other local options (less expensive ones, too) where you live. It's a buyer-beware situation. The success of the program is linked to the quality of the instructor, and that can vary widely.

Depending on your son's study habits and probably on family dynamics, you may be able to also do some test preparation on your own, using one of the many books or software packages available. The College Board and ACT folks both rack up plenty of profits by selling study aids that are geared to their own tests. If you do spring for home-study materials, make sure the ones you buy include complete practice tests along with explanations of the correct answers.

As you forge ahead, however, you need to weigh the value of promoting test preparation with the amount of stress it will put on your son. Some kids are simply not good testers, and you don't want to make him feel that he's let you down if his scores aren't up to snuff. There are plenty of great colleges that aren't as score-oriented as the Ivies and their equivalents, and a growing number of top colleges don't require standardized tests at all.

Now, here's the info about soph scores. You can also find it yourself by going to:


and there is a state-by-state report on soph statistics from 2002 at

http://www.collegeboard.com/research/html/2002_psat_pdf_soph.html )

Highlights of 2002 Sophomore Data

54.4% of sophomores who took the PSAT/NMSQT were female.

Of those noting racial/ethnic background, 37.2% of sophomores indicated a category other than "white."

Sophomore average scores for 2002 (with comparison to 2001 data):

Verbal: 44.4 (0.7 decrease)

Math: 45.5 (no change)

Writing Skills: 45.9 (0.3 decrease)

By way of comparison, the Junior average scores for 2002 (with comparison to 2001 data):

Verbal: 48.0 (0.3 decrease)

Math: 49.2 (0.2 increase)

Writing Skills: 48.8 (0.1 decrease)

We couldn't locate any information on the current 10th-grade class (your son's) but the numbers are probably comparable.