Sophomore and Junior PSAT scores were released this week, and our phones started ringing with questions about them.

What’s a good score?

Should I start practicing now?

Which test do I take: the ACT or SAT?

If you are a junior or the parent of a junior, and haven’t started working with us yet, please call either of our offices to arrange for a 20-minute FREE PSAT Evaluation. My colleagues and I can answer many of your questions during this session. If you cannot make it into our office, then please read on.

First, let’s talk about some national trends. This year, the national combined average on the PSAT dropped by four points from a 1019 in 2016 to a 1015 in 2017. This is still up from the inaugural “Redesigned PSAT” which debuted in 2015 and had a national average of 1009. I do not view the drop from last year as hugely significant. I do think the jump of 10 points from 2015 to 2016 showed that students utilized more available practice PSATs and became familiar with the test.

Next, let’s talk about the National Merit Scholarship aspect of the junior PSAT. As a company based in New Jersey, we have mixed feelings when we talk about New Jersey remaining at the high end of the national merit index predicted requirements. More information about cutoff scores can be found at this website: New Jersey ties with DC and American students abroad as having the highest index requirement at a whopping 223. This is good; it means New Jersey is full of high scoring students and may reflect that we have a stellar public school system (IMHO). It’s bad for those kids who would get National Merit recognition in a less populated, less competitive state like, oh, say Wyoming. But we love the Garden State, and that’s why we’re here. One of our tutors (a math and statistics guru) predicted that (in NJ) even if you get a 720 on the Reading/Writing section and a perfect Math section score, you’re not scoring high enough to get near National Merit finalist standing!

Let’s talk about what YOU should do next. If you are a sophomore or a junior, please do not get discouraged or overly confident from these scores. I encourage students not to get discouraged because you probably haven’t had all the math yet if you feel like your math score was low and you are still in Algebra II. I warn against becoming overly confident because the actual SAT is longer and you’ll need to continue practicing to improve your score and maintain your percentile ranking. For the verbal sections on the SAT or the ACT, you have time to continue to read good books and scholarly articles, and to increase your vocabulary knowledge. We do NOT suggest that sophomore students begin standardized test prep in earnest until after completing 10th grade (unless there are extenuating circumstances such as athlete recruitment).

And this brings up another point: which test should you take–the ACT or SAT?  This is a worthwhile question we can address during an evaluation or during one of our Diagnostic Tests, which we begin offering in spring at the end of sophomore year. While much of the content is the same, there are significant differences in terms of timing and format, and completing some ACT questions will help you figure out which test is a better fit.