How to Use Your PSAT Score to Prepare for the SAT

Most students take the PSAT, but I have found through talking to students and parents that many do not fully understand how to use the PSAT to prepare for the SAT. The PSAT score report can be one of your most useful tools when preparing for the SAT. You spent the time taking the test, now use those results!  PSAT score reports were available starting December 12th.  Make sure to go online and login at the College Board site to check out your online score report.  This report contains tons of useful information!  Here are five simple ways that you can use your PSAT feedback to prepare for your upcoming SAT:

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  1. Look at the Scores and Percentiles

The SAT is scored on a scale from 400-1600 but the PSAT is scored from 320 to 1520.  This is confusing to people sometimes, but the scores are like this because the PSAT is a little less challenging than the SAT.  So, a perfect score on the PSAT is not quite the same as a perfect score on the SAT.

Your Total Score on both the PSAT and the SAT is the sum of your two section scores: (1) Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and (2) Math, and you can use that to roughly predict how you will do on the SAT.  So, for example, if you get a 500 on the PSAT Math section, you would probably make around a 500 on the SAT Math section with no additional practice.  If you then take the SAT and make a 550 on the Math section, that means that you improved your score by 50 points. Your total PSAT score shows how you would have done on the SAT if you took it on that same day.  

The percentiles below the scores contain useful information as well. You can use the percentile to see how you measure up against other test-takers.The Nationally Representative Score Percentile compares your score to a national sample of test-takers. The User Score Percentile compares your score to SAT test-takers in a certain grade. For example, if you are in the 90th percentile, then you scored higher than 89 percent of people who took the test. You can use your raw score to see how many questions that you got correct.  Also look at the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math score; these are scored between 160 and 760.  Look at each subtest score. These range from 1-15.  

Ask yourself these questions: How do the three main section scores compare to each other?  Which do I need to work on? From the subtest scores, which questions am I struggling with? Looking at the cross-test scores, am I having more trouble analyzing history/social science passages/questions or science passages/questions?


  1. Look at Color-Coded Information

Each section score, subtest score, and cross-test score is color-coded.The section scores are color-coded red, yellow, or green based on how you did. Red means below grade level by at least one year; yellow means below grade-level by one year or less; and green means at or above grade level. However, being on grade-level isn’t the only consideration.  Look up the colleges that you would like to attend. Find out what the average scores looked like for freshman who were admitted last year.  Use this information to set specific goals for your SAT preparation.

Ask yourself these questions: Are there any areas that I am below grade level? How do my scores compare to the average freshman who was admitted to my colleges of choice?


  1. Review the “Your Scores: Next Steps” and “Skills Insight” Sections

These parts of the report tell what you are likely able to do and what you probably need to work on based on your score range in each section of the test.  Make a checklist of the skills that you need to work on.

Ask yourself this question: What are they suggesting that I work on based on my current scores?


  1. Carefully Examine the Question-Level Feedback

This section shows which questions you missed along with some important information about those questions. Look at the level of difficulty of each question that you missed or skipped in each section. Look at the column labeled “subscore”, that shows the question type. The cross-test score column shows whether the passage was asking about a history/social science passage or a science passage.  Below this information is an access code and a link to view the questions and answer explanations online. Review each question that you missed. This is the only way to learn from the mistakes you made on the PSAT so that you don’t make them again on the SAT. Unfortunately, the majority of students don’t use this free resource!  

Ask yourself these questions: What was the question asking? Since you missed this question, what skill do you need to practice? Is there a certain question type you are struggling with?  Are you struggling more with history/social science passages or science passages?


  1. Link Your Scores to Khan Academy

The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free practice for the SAT. You can link your PSAT scores and any SAT you take to Khan Academy.  This will provide you with customized practice based on the items that you missed on your test.  Here is a video that shows you how.  

Ask yourself these questions: How much practice do I need to do to make the score improvements that I want? How much time do I have before I need to take the SAT? What is a realistic plan that I can make?


I hope that these five simple steps help you to make a realistic plan for how you can use your PSAT score information to prepare for your SAT.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

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