The time between the release of PSAT/NMSQT scores in December of junior year and the official announcement of National Merit Semifinalist status in September of senior year can seem far longer than 10 months. Compass tries to fill that gap by providing up-to-date information throughout the process. The full set of class of 2017 cutoffs and estimates for the class of 2018 are included below.
April 12 Update
When Semifinalist cutoffs for the Class of 2017 were released in August, students finally got confirmation of how much things had changed with the new PSAT. The Class of 2018, unfortunately, is also facing uncertainty about qualifying scores. As we noted in Why National Merit Scores are Rising, it was clear that PSAT scores from the October 2016 tests were coming in higher than those from the previous year. Recently we received confirmation that the Commended Student cutoff moved from 209 to 211.
Expected Changes to NMSF Cutoffs
A simple response to a 2-point increase in the Commended Student cutoff would be to assume a 2-point increase in state Semifinalist cutoffs. It turns out that things are far from simple. Based on our research, we are predicting that the most common state cutoff changes will be +0, +1, and +2. We expect that a small number of cutoffs may drop a point or go up by 3 points. It is essential for students and parents to understand that predicting the distribution of changes is not the same as knowing which states will see those changes. College Board no longer publicly releases state data for the PSAT.
Consider the Range
When using the table below, we encourage students and parents to focus on the range of predicted scores. We have provided a “most likely” figure, but our research consistently shows that a single point prediction will be wrong more often than it is right. Cutoffs are not announced until late August, when National Merit Scholarship Corporation begins notifying schools. We will, of course, continue to update this page as we receive additional information. Students interested in a deeper exploration of what underpins these estimates can see Researching National Merit Cutoffs. Compass’ National Merit FAQ also addresses many of the questions parents and students have during this period. You may also want to look at the more recent comments on this page or on the other National Merit posts. We try to answer every question.
Class of 2017 Semifinalist Cutoffs and Estimated Range for Class of 2018
|State||Class of 2017|
|Class of 2018|
|Class of 2018
|District of Columbia||222||222-224||223|
|U.S. Citizens Studying Abroad||222||222-224||223|
The reason we emphasize the prior year’s scores is that our analysis has shown that they are the best predictors of future cutoffs. The chart below is based on restated historical cutoffs and new PSAT cutoffs for the class of 2017. It shows that, when viewed across all years in the 2009-2017 period, cutoff changes have a roughly normal distribution. The story gets more complicated when drilling into years with specific changes in Commended Student cutoff. See Researching National Merit Cutoffs or the previous year’s Methodology Update for more information.
Parents familiar with old PSAT cutoffs may need help getting their heads around the more compressed range of cutoffs on the new test. The New PSAT Score Compression post gives a thumbnail sketch of how the changes have impacted cutoffs.
The state-by-state allocation of Semifinalists can also confuse parents and students. In addition to the National Merit FAQ, you may want to see information about how many students qualify in each state. For a truly deep dive, you can get see how California Semifinalists have been distributed by school and geography over the last three years.
Compass cautions juniors about overemphasizing National Merit at this point in their testing process. The PSAT is not an admission test and, for juniors, results are now in the rearview mirror. Performance on the SAT and ACT matters far more than making any cutoff. Having a sense of National Merit status is not without value, however. To proceed to the Finalist or Scholarship portion of the National Merit program, students must obtain a minimum qualifying score on the SAT. The shift among high scoring students to the ACT has complicated the process. Fortunately, Semifinalists have until December of senior year to take the SAT as a qualifying score for Finalist status. Taking the SAT is not a requirement for Semifinalist recognition.