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How to Interpret Your PSAT Results

On December 7th, the College Board began to release PSAT scores for students who were able to take the test on October 14th*. For sophomores and juniors, the PSAT is the symbolic start to test preparation and, in turn, the process of finding their right-fit college at which to spend their formative years. While that may sound daunting (deep breaths, parents!), the reality is that the PSAT ultimately matters very little in the overall college process. However, if used correctly, it can be very helpful in planning for things that matter a great deal, such as the official ACT/SAT and developing a college list. Here are four pointers to help you get the most out of your results: 

*Because of testing difficulties due to Covid, there is also an alternate test date on January 26, 2021. If you were not able to take the PSAT in October and cannot take the test in January, we highly recommend that you take a diagnostic SAT and ACT at your earliest convenience. Please contact for more details.

1. Don't obsess over your scores, but use them proactively! 

It's very important to remember that the PSAT is a PRACTICE test. The reality of the matter is that unless you achieve a near-perfect score that qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship Program, your score on this PSAT does not hold much, if any, weight. So, just because you scored highly on the PSAT does not mean that you will automatically score as highly on the SAT this spring. On the other hand, failing to achieve the score you were hoping for on the PSAT doesn't mean you won't reach your goal on future tests (this is especially true for sophomores)! No matter what your score is on the PSAT, you'll have to work hard in the coming months to improve your test-taking skills and mindset.

This doesn't mean that the scores are completely useless, however. For sophomores that score very well on the test, you may want to consider moving up your testing timeline to the spring or summer of 2021 (as long as testing is available in your area due to Covid). If you can finish testing early on in junior year, you can free up your time to focus on your extremely important junior-year grades. For juniors, you can use your PSAT scores to help you create your initial college list. Schools usually post the range between the 25th and 75th percentiles from the last class admitted on their admissions website. You can use these ranges to see where you stand now and then set a goal score that makes you competitive at your dream school and turns reach schools into target schools.

2. Review Your Question-Level Feedback!

Too many students that take the PSAT simply look at their scores and then toss their reports aside without carefully examining how they arrived at that score. Don't be one of these students! Reviewing your answers can be extremely helpful in identifying what you need to work on in the coming months to prepare for the SAT or the ACT.

You can look at every question from the test on your College Board PSAT Dashboard. After logging into your account, click the yellow "View Details" icon under your overall score. Next, click the "Test Questions" link above your score. Meet with your ESM mentor to go through EACH question, both correct and incorrect, to develop an idea of what concepts were easy, what concepts were hard, where you dropped easy points, and how you can improve in the short and long term.

3. Don't just focus on HOW, but WHEN

When students review their answers on standardized tests, they usually spend most of their time looking at the questions they answered incorrectly to see what mistakes they made and how they should have arrived at the correct answer. While this is useful, it is not the only vital information you can get out of reviewing your answers. Try to see when you are answering questions incorrectly. Are you missing a number of questions early on in sections when questions are generally easier? If so, you may be rushing and misreading key information. Do you notice that you tend to miss questions in bunches of two or three? You may be letting your hesitation about one question carry over into the next question or questions. Try taking a deep breath after questions you find difficult to reset and regain your focus. If you are missing most of your questions at the end of sections, then timing might be your biggest issue on the test. All of these things are extremely important to know as you begin to prepare for the SAT and the ACT.

4. Next Steps - Take a Diagnostic ACT!

No matter what your score was on the PSAT, it is always a good idea to take a practice ACT and compare not only your scores but also how you felt about each test. Barring a huge gap between the two scores, you should usually take the test with which you felt most confident and comfortable. ESM hosts virtual practice tests via Zoom almost every Saturday, which you can sign up for by emailing

Once you take the ACT, you can compare your scores using The College Board's SAT to ACT Concordance Table (Table 7). You should also meet with an ESM mentor to discuss various aspects of the tests before making a final decision.