Test Prep

How to Get the Most Out of Your PSAT Scores

iStock

So, you recently received your shiny new PSAT score report! Now what? Buried somewhere in that data is the secret to nailing the SAT, even if the report itself looks like a test at first glance. (You’ll see a lot of numbers!) And while you can download a free sample score report from The College Board beforehand, there’s still some deciphering to do in order to fully understand your scores.

(Be advised: Some of these scoring details are only available on your online score report, so don’t just look at your paper results.)


Big Three

The first thing you’ll see on your report is a breakdown of three scores:

- Evidence-Based Reading

- Math

- Total Score (a sum of the first two)

Along with these, you’ll see a percentile comparing your score to the scores of everyone else who took the PSAT on your test date. (A 70th percentile would mean you scored equal to or higher than 70 percent of the students who took the PSAT during your administration).

These big scores offer a general overview of how you’ll score on the actual SAT, but you’ll want to keep digging, because the score report offers other specifics to help optimize your SAT prep. I want to make this as easy as possible for you, so instead of getting bogged down in numbers — only the Big Three really matter — here are the other pieces of data you should focus on.

College Benchmarks

Some of the less-important numbers on your report are accompanied by color-coded college benchmarks. These are set by what’s considered “on track” for select first-year, credit-bearing college courses.

Forget the numbers and focus on the colored bars beneath each score and subscore. They gauge where your test scores fall when being held against the benchmarks. The subscores are specific subjects like Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, Expression of Ideas and Words in Context.

The report breaks down the colors like this:

- Red = Need to strengthen skills

- Yellow = Approaching benchmark

- Green = Meet or exceed benchmark

Green is good! Red is, well, not as good. But red can be good for a different reason! These represent areas that you now know will need additional attention when you put together your SAT prep plan.

Test Scores

Similar to the Big Three scores, you’ll also see a breakdown of individual test scores. (I wasn’t kidding when I said there would be a lot of numbers!) These three scores include:

- Reading

- Writing and Language

- Math

These scores are used to calculate the Big Three, but they offer something unique from the rest of the score report: “Next Steps.” These steps include skills you’ve already demonstrated and some you might want to consider working to develop. Here are some example suggestions you might see:

- Focus on how a single sentence or phrase relates to the purpose of a text.

- Work on eliminating wordiness or redundancy within a sentence.

- Practice using function notation to represent dependent relationships.

If you’re already scoring well, these targeted suggestions can help you grab those few extra points you may be missing before the time comes to take the SAT.

Question-Level Feedback

Another even more focused piece of info these scores can offer is to show you exactly where you went wrong on the test. Your score report gives you each question you answered incorrectly, along with its level of difficulty and the appropriate subscore. Depending on how specific you want your SAT prep to be, or how far along you already are in the process, you can use the details in your PSAT score report to help improve in these areas.