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. An important starting point is understanding the previous year’s cutoffs and how they are likely to shift. The full set of class of 2017 cutoffs and estimates for the class of 2018 are included below.
March 27, 2017 Update
Compass has consolidated what it has learned about the October 2016 PSAT results into a comprehensive post about Why National Merit Scores are Rising. There is compelling evidence that cutoffs will increase. We look at mean scores, score distributions, sub-group scores, EBRW versus Math splits, and historical cutoffs to provide insights for the class of 2018. We expect the Commended Student level to leak out in April. Until that point, the post provides our best information as to how cutoffs may be reshaped this year. 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. I try to answer every question (sometimes more quickly than others).
Class of 2017 Semifinalist Cutoffs and Estimated Range for Class of 2018
|State||Predicted Range||Class of 2017||Volatility|
|District of Columbia||221-224||222||Low|
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 cutoff changes have a roughly normal distribution. While some of our original April 2016 on estimate methodology post applies specifically to the change from the old PSAT to the new, it also discusses some reasons why score predictions should more properly be score range predictions. We can’t say definitely that a state’s cutoff will come in at 218, for example, but we can estimate that it will fall within a given range.
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.