How To Read And Use Your PSAT Score Report

As Illinois students receive their PSAT/NMSQT score reports from the College Board this month, they may find it difficult to separate the report’s useful information from the extraneous content. Here are some tips for possibly overwhelmed students and parents to understand how to read and use the best information the report can offer.


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. These results are the most significant data in the report: they serve as a reasonably accurate indicator of your progress toward readiness for the SAT.

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.

As for the other categories, 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 sure sounds 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, taken as a sophomore, and the PSAT NMSQT, taken as a junior: only the PSAT NMSQT scores 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 cutoff for Semi-Finalist for the Class of 2019 will be released in September 2018, but the cutoff for Class of 2018 in Illinois was 221 out of a possible 228. In other words, a near-perfect score. Thus, 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

This information is crucial. The back page features the correct 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 whether you ultimately take the SAT or the ACT.

Next Tests and 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 Illinois public high school juniors have to take the SAT in April—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 less, 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 would have scored that day on the SAT.” The College Board hasn’t released any data to back up that 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.

Illinois State SAT

All Illinois public high school juniors will take a state-administered SAT on Wednesday, April 10, 2018. The test is mandatory, but legislation passed this summer prevents the score from automatically being listed on student transcripts. Check with your school: local school policy may be opt-out rather than opt-in. That is, parents may need to request that the score be omitted from their students’ transcripts.

If you have chosen the ACT as your main test, take note of the terrible timing. The mandatory state SAT is administered four days before the April ACT. Consider focusing on the February ACT, the June ACT, or, the new July ACT date. If you are taking the April ACT, don’t steal time or mental energy from that preparation. Do your best on the SAT, clear your mind after the 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 extracurricular 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 busy 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.

2018 Test Dates and Registration Deadlines

*Anticipated, with registration deadline not yet released.