Each year more than 1.5 million juniors take the PSAT in the hopes of qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program. But what score do they need 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.
What's a Good Score for National Merit Scholarship?
The exact PSAT score for National Merit consideration varies from year to year and by state, but it's always the top 1% of students (about 16,000 juniors) who qualify as Semifinalists. About 15,000 students in this group then move on to become National Merit Finalists and win scholarship money.
To be named a Semifinalist, you need to score in the top 1% of your state — not the whole country. What scores do you need to qualify? To answer this question, you must first understand how the PSAT is scored.
The PSAT is scored from 320 to 1520. In addition to that composite score, your score report will tell you your test scores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. These scores fall between 8 and 38. For National Merit eligibility, these are the most important score types.
NMSC adds each section test score together and then multiplies the sum 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. You would then multiply this by 2 to get your Selection Index Score: 186.
In equation form, it looks like this: (31 + 32 + 30) * 2 = 186.
Unfortunately, a Selection Index of 186 doesn't qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status. What score do you need, then, to achieve this recognition? Read on for the full list of National Merit cutoffs in each state.
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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 the fall of 2017.
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 aim to achieve a score at least 2-5 points higher than the predicted cutoff for your state!
What Does This Mean for You? What Should Your Target PSAT Score Be?
If you haven't taken the PSAT yet, then you can use the above chart to set target PSAT scores.
Let's say you live in Nebraska. To be named a Semifinalist, you'll 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, simply work backward.
As a Nebraska resident, your first step will be to divide Nebraska's cutoff score by 2:
216 / 2 = 108
Now, split 108 into three:
108 / 3 = 36
To get a Selection Index of 216, you'd need a 36 on each of the three sections (Math, Reading, and Writing and Language). Of course, you don't have to set your target scores equally among the three sections. If you're especially strong at verbal skills, for example, you could instead aim for 38s on both Reading and Writing and a 32 in Math.
Once you have a sense of what scores you'll need to meet your state's cutoff score, distribute them however you like based on your own academic strengths and weaknesses. Again, you can set target PSAT scores by dividing your state's cutoff in half and then splitting that quotient into three scores, each on a scale of 8-38.
As mentioned above, the state cutoffs vary slightly 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 a National Merit distinction.
Are you taking the PSAT this year or next? Learn all about the newly redesigned test.
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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.