PSAT Score Reports are Back: Embrace Them

Just a few days ago (or maybe even today), your students received their PSAT score reports online. The timing of the annual score return is, put simply, not ideal: the fast approaching holidays––paired with the long school break that accompanies them––serve as a big distraction. Furthermore, the sheer amount of time that has elapsed since your students sat for the PSAT back in October means that their PSAT scores can seem like an afterthought. Because it’s so easy for your students to ignore their reports, it is imperative that counselors have a plan for maximizing the relevance and impact of the data the reports contain.
What does such a plan look like? The first phase is messaging. To get the word out, some schools distribute paper-based reports; others mail letters containing information about the scores and how to interpret them. Emails to families may not have the greatest impact, but they’re better than nothing at all. The ideal way to make it clear that scores are back is to meet with your students in person to briefly discuss the return. Several schools organize meetings of small groups (4 to 6 students) with their counselors to cut down on the time it would take to meet with students individually. Still other schools have a “PSAT Night” in December or January to hand back and discuss results. Obviously these last two options do not allow for a detailed rundown with each student, but they do allow counselors to review the structure of the report and what the different metrics mean. (If your school does not or cannot organize meetings with your students, consider having them sign up for our free “Understanding Your PSAT Results” webinar on January 3. Go to to sign up.)
The second phase is analysis. Past the big scores and percentiles on the first page, the PSAT report contains valuable information about students’ strengths and weaknesses. These are featured in the Subscore section of the report. Students should be encouraged to look at these numbers carefully, as the metrics can help students discern particular broad areas on which to focus their SAT prep. Too many students are distracted by their total scores, which are more exciting than they are revealing; students need to be shown that the Subscore numbers are where the valuable information lies.
The third phase is action. Included on the final page of the PSAT report are the student’s answers, along with the correct answers and difficulty levels, to every question on the exam. Using the exam booklet, students should dedicate about two hours of their time to sift through the test and highlight the particular questions they still cannot answer upon review. This will help make the results real: once they identify concepts that pose a significant challenge, students can formulate a plan for addressing them. This might include self-paced review on a program like Method Test Prep, taking a prep class, or working with a tutor. It all depends on two things: where a student’s skills are, and where the student wants his or her skills to be. Setting a goal of a 150-point improvement is realistic, but the path to achieving it will vary widely between students based on their learning needs and work habits. Encourage students to speak with their parents and with you to establish a goal score, a first test date, and a means of preparation. Once a concerted plan is in place, it’s far easier (and less overwhelming) to achieve real improvement.
In all, students should view their PSAT score reports as helpful indicators of future SAT scores only if they were to do nothing more to prepare. Sometimes, students get discouraged when they see lower scores than they wanted or anticipated. It is therefore up to counselors and other educators to highlight the fact that PSAT scores represent a starting point––not a final result. Like anything else worth doing in life, improving standardized test scores requires persistence and consistent work. If your students walk away from the PSAT with this message in hand, they will find the test preparation process much less stressful and much more productive.
Evan Wessler is the VP Education of Method Test Prep. He can answer any questions you have about the SAT or ACT by e-mailing him at or visiting the Method Test Prep website at