PSAT Scores – A Roadmap to Scoring Big on the New SAT in March

By Sam Rosensohn

The PSAT (Preliminary SAT) scores are in and first reports indicate test scores were lower than many students had anticipated. Is it because this latest PSAT reflects the New SAT questions, people have asked?

While there’s no fast, satisfactory answer to that question, I do know that this practice test no matter what a student scored offers valuable information that can be used to improve scores.

Many students recognized that it was the clock that hurt them on the math. They knew the math; they just weren’t able to do it fast enough.

The S in SAT stands for speed. Think of speed chess. Students have to learn to break the questions down faster to find a starting point. Practice is a solution for that one.

Three students shared how they happened to look up and make eye contact with each other after they reviewed the five answers to the first sentence completion question on the PSAT. Slack-jawed, they shook their heads. Tough vocabulary forced them to guess on the first question.

For the students who didn’t score as high as they would have liked, the PSAT is a wake-up call. There’s still plenty of time before the March SAT so get cracking.

For the students who did as well or better than they had hoped; don’t get cocky. The PSAT, according to the College Board, is a junior-level test. The New SAT is going to be harder.

So let’s get to how to take the score a student received, make sense of it, and then improve it.  The test results came home on a valuable and often overlooked map that will help students to improve their scores – the map is called Score Report Plus.

Score Report Plus breaks down how each student did, question by question, on each of the 125 questions on the two hour and ten minute test.

There’s an enormous amount of information on the multi-colored report issued by the College Board, and I’d encourage you not to get bogged down by the scores at the top of the page, but rather to review the section, Improve Your Skills.

This section lists activities and skills for students to work on based on their test performance. Let’s take a random look at some of the comments my son, Zac, received on his Score Report.

For Critical Reading, Zac was advised to read editorials that take opposing views on an issue. He was told to look for differences and similarities in tone, point of view, and main idea.  This was based on his answers to questions 13 and 31 in the critical reading section. It’s a solid suggestion for test prep, his general education, and it might also make for conversation at the dinner table.

For Math, Zac was advised to recognize patterns and equivalent forms. He was told to recognize a pattern by considering a simpler pattern. He was referred to questions 13, 16, and 36 and told to rewrite and rearrange the given expressions in a different form.

Once the skill suggestions are reviewed, students should review the questions they answered wrong in each section. As they go through the test, which was returned to them at school with answers, they should star the questions they can’t figure out, and ask their teachers for help.

There were 48 questions in the critical reading section on the PSAT. The score card notes there were 14 easy questions, and how many the student got right; 21 medium questions and how many were answered right, and 13 hard questions and how many were answered correctly.

Each of the other two sections on the PSAT, math and writing, offer the same breakdown. This information will help students to create a study plan.

I suggest students purchase the book, The Official SAT Study Guide: For the New SAT by the College Board and do as many tests in the book as possible. This will help them to build their stamina and to practice the 25-minute essay.

While the PSAT is called a practice SAT, it only takes two hours and ten minutes. The New SAT is three hours and forty-five minutes and fatigue stands to be a factor.

The new, longer SAT will work to a student’s advantage if he can stay focused for nearly four hours. Many students are going to run out of gas round about hour three, and the test is graded on a curve.  Scores reflect how long and well a student can concentrate.

It’s also good to go through the eight official tests issued by the College Board, since the PSAT didn’t have the students write an essay. This is a lot easier to do, if a student has done it eight times and is crystal clear on how to approach, plan, write and edit the essay.

The SAT essay is not the basic CMT, CAPT or traditional spool essay. Students are expected to write essays that grow, build and are full of surprise. A conclusion should be more than a summary of the essay.

Each test in the official guide is made up of nine math and verbal sections, there used to be six. Familiarity with the different sections helps students to pick up speed, to spot the helpful clues and to identify the ubiquitous traps.

At the top of the multi-colored score report are the scores for the critical reading, math and writing sections. Each of the scores is somewhere on the scale of 20-80 (200-800). Underneath the score is the Score Range, which projects how students would score if they took the SAT without learning additional skills.

As you’ll notice the score range may span 100 points, sometimes 140 points. The PSAT is at best a very general indication of how a student will do on the SAT. That’s why it’s important not to give the test too much credit.

Next are the percentiles, which compare the student’s performance with all the other students who took the test in that particular grade. Sophomores are compared to sophomores and juniors are compared to juniors.

Here’s an easy suggestion that will result in more practice and more points – get the official SAT guide and incorporate the book into your daily homework routine. You haven’t got a routine, you say, then establish one. And at the end of your math homework do some math on one of the SAT practice test. Do the same for the verbal. What you don’t get have your Language Arts or math teacher clarify the following day in school.

And if you aren’t taking math you don’t get a free pass. Still do some and seek out a math teacher you know. So get a handle on this test, start practicing and the scores will go up. That’s as sure as more snow is coming.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at