How to Interpret PSAT Scores in the College Admissions Game and What They Mean for your Standardized Test-Taking Future

cpeMike030310-C-2It’s been about a month since your PSAT scores came back, so it’s high time you stepped out from the darkness of denial and into the light of Holy crap! Can I still get into college? Do they count? What do they mean? What’s with the funny scale? How do they translate to SAT scores? To ACT scores? Can I use them to decide whether I’d be better at SATs or ACTs? Am I having fun yet?

Settle down, young grasshopper. We got you.

Most importantly, the PSAT only counts if you do well :-). There’s no downside, no way it can work against your application to anywhere. Woot woot! On the other hand, should you happen to do well, i.e., commensurate with SAT and ACT numbers that would put you on the dance floor of a given school (at CPE we define “dance floor” as the 25th to 75th percentile for incoming freshpeople, numbers that are publically available on the web), then PSATs can be reported to your benefit.

Ok, so how do you interpret scores and scales? Basically, add a 0 to a PSAT score et voila, you’ve got an SAT score. In other words, a 47 on the PSAT translates roughly to a 470 on the SAT. National median for college bound students is 500 per section on the SAT, or 1500 total. So if your PSAT score was 150, you’re right in the middle of the pack. Below 140, you got some work to do, yo; above 1800 your future looks bright. Above 2100, stop reading right now and spend some time at something you’re not freakin’ awesome at (maybe send it to someone who needs it first ;-)).

So how did I do? Are my scores good enough? That all depends on where you want to go. Type the name of a prospective school and the word “profile” into your favorite search engine. You will get hits to sites that will show how your PSAT scores compare to the SAT/ACT and sometimes other standardized test scores of typical incoming freshman. Then you’ll know how well you did and how much work is cut out for you this spring.

HOT TIP: If you got below expectation or below what you need in MATH, then you should absolutely, 100% take Dr. Yo’s 4-in-1 Super-Value Math Class, even if you’ve taken it before. It’s a colossal bang for the buck. In 4, 2-hr sessions, we cover all the most important math topics, concepts, facts, and tricks you need to know for ALL your standardized test prep (well, not for math level 2, but let’s be honest: geeks who take that test don’t typically need much help ;-)). There are three sections of this popular class scheduled for the spring:

  • 4 Saturdays, 3:00-5:00PM, 2/28, 3/7, 3/14, 3/21
  • 4 Saturdays, 2:00-4:00PM, 4/4, 4/11, 4/18, 4/25
  • 4 Saturdays, 2:00-4:00PM, 5/9, 5/16, 5/23, 5/30

Details here. Register here. Watch this video first; it’ll fire you up.


A Look Back on PSATs and any Fall SATs and/or ACTs

One of the best ways to raise standardized test scores is to take actual standardized tests, i.e., under time and other pressure conditions. Then, afterward, ASSESS THE EXPERIENCE. 1) How do you think it went in general? 2) Were there any particularly tricky sections? 3) How was your CONCENTRATION? 4) How was your time management? 5) What questions do you remember studying in advance that actually showed up on the test? 6) What prep time was wasted? 7) What can I learn from the experience? Self-assessment is CRITICAL to future higher scores. Duh.

PSATs, SATs, and ACTs

The CollegeBoard has been using the 200-800 scale for years. Ditto the ACT folks with their 1-36 scale. Why, I ask you, why???? Do they hate us that much that they have to invent two totally DIFFERENT scales nobody else on the planet uses, ever? What the hell’s wrong with 1-100? That scale, we all get. Don’t get me started.

To get a sense of what your ACT scores might be like based on your PSAT, or to compare your PSATs to a fall ACT exam you may have taken, you can do what admissions committee members do, namely, use an ACT/SAT conversion chart, like this one. Compare the PSAT Critical Reading and the ACT Reading scores; the PSAT Math and the ACT Math score; the PSAT Writing and ACT English scores; and most importantly, the PSAT TOTAL score and the ACT COMPOSITE score. Here are some other general guidelines: If you did better on ACT math than PSAT math and about the same in the verbal sections, you’re likely an ACT student. Conversely, if your best PSAT section was Critical Reading, then you’re likely an SAT candidate. Again, every case varies, so why not send CPE all the intel and we’ll try to help you make sense of it?

In terms of prep, the key big difference between the SAT and ACT is vocabulary. The same idea of studying material and practicing timed test sections applies to the SAT (we’ve got lots of blogs on this, like Dr. Yo’s Short- and Long-Term Steps to Higher SAT Scores and SAT and ACT Prep: Peaking at the Right Time), but you also need to allow lots of extra time to study vocab words.

General recommendation: Unless your scores indicate differently as per above and you’re not already prepping for the 1/24/15 SAT, I would plan to take the ACT on 2/7/15 and the SATs 3/14/15. In terms of working with CollegePrepExpress, and if you haven’t been paying attention on FB (shame on you!), you will see CPE is having its best year EVER in terms of college acceptances (with students already into Cornell, Georgetown, Emerson, Northwestern, NYU, Barnard, UVM, Notre Dame, Fordham, CCSU, ECSU, and others)—so why wouldn’t you be working with CPE?—the next two classes are all outlined here:

Don’t forget for every friend/schoolmate/acquaintance you refer, you get a smooth $30 cash as part of our Referral Rewards program :-).

Finally, the biggest bang for your CPE buck, and what I am convinced is THE BEST deal in the entire college prep industry, is CPE’s CommonApp Boot Camp, an intense 15-hr course where you bang out your entire application in one Mon-Fri sprint over the summer. Smart Summer Sessions have already been scheduled for the summer of 2015, so sign up early in case they sell out. We don’t take more than 8, cuz we care more about results than money. For real.

No wait, one more thing: Twice in February, Dr. Yo will be giving his “College  Admissions Secrets for Parents and Teens” PowerPoint presentation at Max Fish in Glastonbury and Max a Mia in Avon. If you haven’t been, you need to come. Please share that imperative/advice with friends ;-).



SUNDAY, February 8, 10:00AM-12:00PM: Max Fish, 110 Glastonbury Blvd, Glastonbury, CT 06033. Tickets $25 – includes brunch, plus 20% discount off entrees on the day of the event. 

Eventbrite - College Admissions Secrets for Parents & Teens at Max Fish



Max-a-MiaSUNDAY, February 22, 9:00AM-11:00AM: Max a Mia, 70 E Main St Avon, CT 06001. Tickets $25 – includes brunch plus 10% coupon for 2 entrées.

Eventbrite - College Secrets at Max a Mia




Happy 2015 to one and all! I hope you all had a well-deserved break and tons of fun!


Now let’s get back to work!

 -Dr. Yo

P.S. About Prep Books

Lots of CPE students and parents have been asking, my kid worked through the official College Board and ACT prep books; now what? Good question, glad you asked. My favorite third-party prep books are here.


See also:

Holy SAT! What to Do When Your Scores Surprise You







About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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