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PSAT Score Needed for National Merit Scholarship

Posted by Dora Seigel | Oct 17, 2015 1:00:00 PM

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Each year over 1.5 million juniors take the PSAT in the hopes of qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program. What do they need to score to earn Semifinalist distinction? In this guide, we'll let you know what PSAT score you need to qualify for Semifinalist status in your state and potentially move on to win a National Merit scholarship.


Score for National Merit Scholarship

The exact PSAT score for National Merit consideration varies from year to year and state by state, but it's always the top 1% of students (about 16,000 juniors) who qualify to be Semifinalists. About 15,000 students in this group move on to become National Merit Finalists and win scholarship money. 

To be named Semifinalist, you need to score in the top 1% of your state, rather than of the whole country. What scores do you need to qualify? To answer this question, you first need to understand how the PSAT is scored. 

The PSAT is scored from 320 to 1520. In addition to that composite score, your score report will also tell you your test scores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language between 8 and 38. For National Merit eligibility, those are the most important score types

NMSC adds each section test score together and then multiplies by 2 to create a National Merit Selection Index Score. The resulting Selection Index score determines your National Merit eligibility. 

For example, let's say you got a 31 on Math, a 32 on Reading, and a 30 on Writing and Language. The sum of these subscores comes out to 93; then, multiply by 2 to get your National Merit Selection Index Score - 186. In equation form, it looks like this (30 + 31 + 32) * 2 = 186.

A Selection Index of 186 wouldn't qualify to be a National Merit Semifinalist. What score do you need to achieve for this recognition? Read on for the full list of National Merit cutoffs in each state. 


Qualifying Score for National Merit Semifinalist by State

We've compiled a list of the qualifying scores for National Merit Semifinalist by state. These cutoffs applied to students who took the redesigned PSAT in 2015.

While the National Merit Scholarship Corporation hasn't released exact data yet, we gathered these cutoffs from individuals across the country. If you took the PSAT in 2015 or will be taking it in 2016 or later, then you'll need to score at or above the Selection Index cutoff for your state. 

State Selection Index Cutoff
Alabama 215
Alaska 213
Arizona 219
Arkansas 213
California 221
Colorado 218
Connecticut 220
Delaware 218
District of Columbia 222
Florida 217
Georgia 219
Hawaii 217
Idaho 214
Illinois 219
Indiana 217
Iowa 215
Kansas 217
Kentucky 215
Louisiana 214
Maine 214
Maryland 221
Massachusetts 222
Michigan 216
Minnesota 219
Mississippi 212
Missouri 216
Montana 210
Nebraska 215
Nevada 214
New Hampshire 216
New Jersey 222
New Mexico 213
New York 219
North Carolina 218
North Dakota 209
Ohio 217
Oklahoma 213
Oregon 219
Pennsylvania 218
Rhode Island 217
South Carolina 215
South Dakota 209
Tennessee 218
Texas 220
Utah 215
Vermont 215
Virginia 221
Washington 220
West Virginia 209
Wisconsin 215
Wyoming 209
Average 216


As you can see, scores vary depending on where you take the test. National Merit Index Selection Cutoffs regularly vary a few points between years, so if you're taking the PSAT in 2016 or later, aim to achieve a score at least 2 to 5 points higher than the predicted cutoff for your state!


What Does This Mean for Your PSAT Testing? What Should Your Target PSAT Score Be?

If you haven't taken the PSAT yet, then you can use this chart to set target PSAT scores. Let's say you live in Michigan. To be named Semifinalist, you need a Selection Index score of 216. What scores do you need on each section of the PSAT to achieve this score?

As you read above, your Selection Index equals the sum of your section scores (between 8 and 38) multiplied by 2. To figure out what PSAT scores you need based on your state's cutoff, you can simply work backward.

As a Michiganite, your first step can be to divide Michigan's cutoff score by 2:

216 / 2 = 108

Now, split 108 into three.

108 / 3 = 36

To get a Selection Index of 216, you would need a 36 in each of the three sections of the PSAT, Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. Of course, you don't have to set your target scores equally among the three sections. You might be especially strong in verbal, so you aim for top scores of 38 in both Reading and Writing and Language and set your sights a little lower in Math. 

Once you have a sense of what scores you need to match your state's cutoff score, you can distribute them as you like based on your own academic strengths and weaknesses. Again, you can set target scores on the PSAT by dividing your state's cutoff in half and then splitting that quotient into three. 

As mentioned above, the state cutoffs can vary from year to year depending on how students do on the PSAT. If you're really serious about getting named National Merit Semifinalist, then you should aim to score a little higher than this year's cutoff.

By setting a goal for each section and devoting some time each week to prepping for the PSAT, you can achieve your goals and put yourself in the best position to earn National Merit distinction. 


What’s Next?

Are you taking the PSAT this year or next? Learn all about the newly redesigned test.

Hoping to get the National Merit Scholarship? Learn how to become a Semifinalist and how to win the scholarship

Are you interested in applying to other college scholarships? Learn how to get merit scholarships at state schools, how to win a Walmart Scholarship, and how to win a Gates Millennium Scholarship.  


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

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