checklistPSAT scores will be officially released by College Board December 11-13 based on which region of the country you’re in. Some students have already figured out how to get their scores using a glitch they discovered in the College Board website and sharing it through the various channels where teenagers share such things these days.

For the rest of you, you’re waiting until Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week. Once you get your PSAT scores back, you might not be sure what you should do next. Here’s a list.

Calculate your NMSI

For the purpose of National Merit Scholarships, you might want to know how well you did. The composite score isn’t what they use to determine eligibility. It’s actually the National Merit Selection Index (NMSI) that determines if you qualify. You can find your NMSI a couple of pages into your score report. It’s a 3-digit number instead of the 4-digit composite score. If you don’t have your score report but remember your scores, you can double your Reading and Writing score, add it to your Math score, and drop the zero at the end.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) calculates NMSI differently to balance out the three sections of the test. The 4-digit number gives the Math section a 50% weight against the other two. The NMSC wants to see a more balanced performance.

The cutoff for Commended for the class of 2018 is 211, up 2 points from the class of 2017. The cutoff for semifinalist varies by state. If you want to see how you compared, Compass Education Group does a great job of keeping track of the information. You can get an idea of what’s going on for your state here.

Figure out if you should prep for the next PSAT

This is really for sophomores more than juniors since, for juniors, the National Merit ship has sailed. For some sophomores, it could be valuable to start preparing for the PSAT your junior year. Just keep in mind that, when it comes to college admissions, the significance of National Merit Scholar and  Commended are a little overblown. They are both significant achievements, and if you’re applying to particularly elite schools with low acceptance rates, they’ll put you on a more even playing field; however spending hundreds of hours preparing for a one-shot test may not be the best use of your time.

If your NMSI is a 190 or better, you might consider specific preparation for the PSAT. We see students consistently improve their scores 120-150 points in as little as 6 weeks. For the PSAT, that could be a 18-22 point improvement. If you started preparing in the Spring, you could see even greater improvements. We’ve seen students make 30-plus point gains, and if you’re already at 190 you have the foundation you need to make those improvements. Regular prep could get you to an exceptional score.

Compare your score to the colleges you’re interested in

If you’re a junior, it’s time to get focused on your list of colleges,m and sophomores should start at least thinking about some schools. The two most important things schools will look at are GPA and test scores, so one of the first things you should look at is how those two criteria for you fit with the schools you’re considering.

You want to look at the middle 50%–the 25th to 75th percentile. If you’re on the downhill side of that curve (50-75), consider the school a “target”. If you’re on the uphill side, you might consider the school a reach, especially if both scores land on that arc.

If you’re not inside the middle 50 percent and you don’t hit hard out of the backfield, you probably want to look at other schools.

Come up with your test prep plan

When you finish Algebra II is the most important factor in deciding when to take the SAT or the ACT. If it’s your junior year, plan on the SAT or ACT in the Spring of that year. If you finish the class your sophomore year, plan on the tests in the Fall of your junior year.

Once you know when you’re going to take the tests, work backwards 6-8 weeks to start serious preparation. If you’re a sophomore preparing for the PSAT your junior year, plan on the 

November or December SAT as well. You’ll already be rolling toward it. Stay away from the October SAT, though. You can take it, but it can interrupt your preparation for the PSAT. If you’ve committed to prep for that test, stay focused on that test.

Ask a professional for advice

Most college prep professionals offer something like our free introductory consultation. Bring your test scores and sit down with them to help come up with a plan. Even if they charge a fee for the hour, it can be well worth it to help map out the plan that’s going to work well for you.

Or email me. I’m happy to answer what I can and research what I don’t know.