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PSAT Score Needed for National Merit Scholarship

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Posted by Dora Seigel | Sep 19, 2021 12:00:00 PM

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Each year about 1.6 million juniors take the PSAT in the hopes of qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program. But what score do you actually need to earn Semifinalist distinction? In this guide, we'll tell you what PSAT score you need in order to qualify for Semifinalist status in your state and potentially move on to win a National Merit scholarship.


What's a Good Score for the 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. Around 15,000 students in this group then move on to become National Merit Finalists, and about 8,000 of these students eventually win scholarship money.

To be named a Semifinalist, you need to score in the top 1% of your state—not the whole country. So what scores do you need to qualify?

To answer this question, you must first understand how the PSAT is scored.

The PSAT is scored on a scale of 320-1520. In addition to that composite score, your score report will tell you your individual test scores for the Math, Reading, and Writing and Language sections. These scores fall between 8 and 38. For National Merit eligibility, these section test scores are the most important score types.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation adds each section test score together and then multiplies that 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 scores 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 would not qualify you 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 Selection Index scores for National Merit Semifinalist by state. These cutoffs applied to students who took the PSAT in the fall of 2020.

State Selection Index
Alabama 212
Alaska 208
Arizona 218
Arkansas 211
California 221
Colorado 217
Connecticut 220
Delaware 220
DC 224
Florida 217
Georgia 219
Hawaii 217
Idaho 214
Illinois 218
Indiana 215
Iowa 211
Kansas 215
Kentucky 212
Louisiana 213
Maine 211
Maryland 224
Massachusetts 221
Michigan 217
Minnesota 218
Mississippi 213
Missouri 214
Montana 208
Nebraska 210
Nevada 214
New Hampshire 214
New Jersey 222
New Mexico 210
New York 220
North Carolina 218
North Dakota 207
Ohio 215
Oklahoma 210
Oregon 220
Pennsylvania 218
Rhode Island 213
South Carolina 213
South Dakota 210
Tennessee 215
Texas 220
Utah 212
Vermont 211
Virginia 221
Washington 220
West Virginia 207
Wisconsin 214
Wyoming 208
Average Score 215


As you can see, qualifying 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 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 Texas. To be named a Semifinalist, you'll need a Selection Index score of 220. What score 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 three section test scores (each on a scale of 8-38) multiplied by 2. To figure out what section test scores you will need based on your state's cutoff, simply work backwards.

Since you're a Texas resident, your first step will be to divide Texas' cutoff score by 2:

220 / 2 = 110

Next, all you need to do is divide 110 by 3:

110 / 3 = 36.6

To get a Selection Index of 220, you'd need a 37 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 have especially strong verbal skills, for example, you could instead aim for a 39 on both Reading and Writing and something lower like a 32 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.

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 the most recent 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 year? Learn all about the structure of the test.

Hoping to become a National Merit Scholar? 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 these unusual scholarships.


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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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