How To Read And Use The 2018 PSAT Score Report

Scores from the PSAT/NMSQT will begin posting on December 10th: check here for when your scores will be released.

While many students will be eager to see their scores, the score report can be overwhelming. The College Board, writer of the PSAT and SAT, provides a lot of information: some of it is very helpful, but much of it is useless. There are Scores, Test Scores, Cross-Test Scores, Subscores, and a bunch of opaque category titles. The most important features are the Scores, Test Scores, and the Question-Level Feedback on the back page.


Look to the top of the first page of the report for the most important data: in order from left to right, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score (scale of 160-760), the Total Score (scale of 320-1520), Math Score (scale of 160-760), and the percentiles of each.

Test Scores

Look to the left column in the middle of the page for the Test Scores: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math, each on an 8-38 scale. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score (EBRW) is the sum of the Test Scores of Reading and Writing, with a zero thrown on the end. For example, a 26 Reading Test Score and a 27 Writing and Language Test Score would yield a 530 EBRW Score. The Math Score is double the Math Test Score, with a zero thrown on the end. For example, a 25.5 Math Test Score would yield a 510 Math Score.

The Total Score is the sum of the EBRW and Math scores.

Ignore everything else. From the category names to the numbers, the Cross-Test Scores and Subscores are confusing at best and meaningless at worst. The facing page contains expanded definitions of the skills and content behind the categories for the three tests. It may sound impressive but is of little practical value.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation

The NMSC index reflects the PSAT’s use as the Qualifying Test for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Thus the difference between the PSAT 10, administered in some districts to sophomores, and the PSAT NMSQT, administered in some districts to all grade levels: only PSAT NMSQT scores for juniors are used for the NMSC Index.

The Index is twice the sum of the three Test Scores. Using the example scores above, a student with a 26 Reading, 27 Writing and Language, and 25.5 Math = (26 + 27 + 25.5) × 2 = 157. The cut off for Semi-Finalist for the Class of 2020 will be released in September 2019, but the cut off for Class of 2019 was 220 or greater (out of a possible 228) for 21 states and the District of Columbia. In other words, a near-perfect score. Even the score for Commended Student rose to 212 for the Class of 2019. Thus, for most students, it’s emotionally healthy to think of National Merit like the lottery: someone will win it, but it probably won’t be you. Save your energy to focus on the SAT or ACT.

Question-Level Feedback

The back page features the answers and your responses to every question on the test. Along with your score report, you should receive the same test booklet you worked on in October. Reviewing what you got wrong (and what you got right by luck) will help enormously, regardless of what tests you take next.

Next Tests and Next Steps

PSAT scores are not used for college admissions, but these scores can help you confirm or determine the path you take for the SAT (PSAT’s bully elder sibling) or ACT, an entirely different test (the SAT’s bully foe). You need to take either the SAT or ACT for admission to most schools. While many states and school districts offer one or both tests on an additional test date—more on this below—you don’t have to take both tests for admissions, and the PSAT scores can help you decide which one to prepare for. You should pick one and focus your efforts on earning your best score rather than divide that effort and risk earning half your best score on each.

The SAT and ACT are similar, but different enough that a precise comparison of the scores is difficult. If you’ve taken either a real or practice ACT, compare the percentiles of the ACT composite to the Total Score on the PSAT. Is one substantially higher than the other? Consider too your personal impression of each. Which test did you dislike least, the PSAT or ACT? You need to devote a significant amount of time to preparing, so your personal take on the tests matters.  

If you haven’t taken an ACT, the PSAT scores can give you a general idea of your SAT scores. The SAT scale uses Test Scores 10-40 and EBRW and Math Scores 200-800 (400-1600 for the Total). On the first page of the PSAT score report, the blurb below the Total Score tells you that the PSAT and SAT are on the same scale and that “your score shows you how you would have scored that day on the SAT.” The College Board hasn’t released any data to back up that misleading and confusing nugget. Take the advice seriously but not literally, and use your PSAT scores to set a goal for SAT and prepare accordingly. If the scores are well below what you need for colleges on your radar, make a plan to prepare. You can also take a practice ACT to see if that score is higher or if you find it more palatable than the SAT.

State SAT or ACT

Many states and school districts offer juniors an additional SAT or ACT. The tests are given in school and usually at no cost to students. The states, districts, and schools that offer these tests vary, so check with your school to find out if there is an additional opportunity to take a test outside of the national test dates.

On balance, an extra test at no cost is a good thing, but keep in mind both the timing of the test and the reporting of the scores. In some states, the extra test may fall in the same week as a national test date for the other test: for example, some states administer the state SAT days before the April 13th ACT, while others give a state ACT a week before the March 9th SAT. Such scheduling is hardly coincidental: College Board and ACT are fully aware of each other’s national dates, but each wants to win students away from the other. Don’t let outside organizations dictate which test is best for you and your schedule.

In addition, a state- or district-administered test may be mandatory, and your  score on it may be automatically listed on student transcripts. Check with your school: parents may need to request that the score be omitted if the district follows a default policy of reporting scores for all students.

So what to do if a state test is mandatory and is given the same week as the test you’ve chosen to focus on? Don’t steal time or mental energy from that preparation. Do your best on the first test, clear your mind after that test, and make sure you block the score from your transcript.

When it comes to picking any date for any test, think about your academic and extra-curricular commitments in the two-month period prior to a given date. No part of junior year is easy, but try to identify the least busy time to add SAT or ACT prep to your full plate. Keep in mind that both ACT and SAT have added summer test dates. See below for a table of all test dates and regular registration deadlines.

2019 Tests and Registration Deadline

**Anticipated, with registration deadline not yet released.


Noodle Pro Melissa Hendrix is a premier tutor of the SAT and ACT in Chicagoland. She has been a national leader in SAT and ACT preparation for 20 years, developing curriculum and strategies for national test prep companies.