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PSAT Score Needed for National Merit Scholarship

Posted by Dora Seigel | Oct 9, 2017 12:00:00 PM

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Each year more than 1.5 million juniors take the PSAT in the hopes of qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program. But 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 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: (30 + 31 + 32) * 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.


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 2016.

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 2016 or will be taking it in 2017 or later, you'll need to score at or above the Selection Index cutoff for your state. 

State Selection Index Cutoff
Alabama 216
Alaska 217
Arizona 220
Arkansas 215
California 222
Colorado 220
Connecticut 221
Delaware 221
District of Columbia 223
Florida 219
Georgia 220
Hawaii 220
Idaho 216
Illinois 221
Indiana 219
Iowa 216
Kansas 219
Kentucky 217
Louisiana 216
Maine 215
Maryland 222
Massachusetts 222
Michigan 219
Minnesota 220
Mississippi 213
Missouri 217
Montana 214
Nebraska 215
Nevada 217
New Hampshire 217
New Jersey 223
New Mexico 215
New York 221
North Carolina 219
North Dakota 211
Ohio 219
Oklahoma 216
Oregon 220
Pennsylvania 219
Rhode Island 219
South Carolina 217
South Dakota 215
Tennessee 218
Texas 221
Utah 216
Vermont 217
Virginia 222
Washington 222
West Virginia 211
Wisconsin 217
Wyoming 213
Average 218


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 2017 or later, aim to achieve a score at least 2-5 points higher than the predicted cutoff for your state!


What Does This Mean for 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 Louisiana. 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 Louisiana resident, your first step will be to divide Louisiana'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 set your sights a little lower on 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. 


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? Get expert tips on how to become a Semifinalist and how to win the scholarship

Are you interested in applying to other college scholarships? Read about 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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