Historical National Merit Cutoffs on Old and New Scale

By November 12, 2016National Merit, PSAT

A common mistake students and parents make when looking at historical state cutoffs for National Merit Semifinalists is to confuse old PSAT and new PSAT scores. The Selection Indexes on the two tests have just enough similarity to encourage this confusion. The PSAT has gone through several incarnations, but all classes prior to 2017 used a Selection Index ranging from 60-240. Parents may recall their own experiences when the Selection Index was twice the Verbal score plus Math. In recent years, the Selection Index was calculated by adding the 20-80 scores received in Critical Reading, Math, and Writing.

The new PSAT was an almost complete overhaul. The content changed. The scoring changed. The scaling changed. And the distribution of results changed. New PSAT scores consist of an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (EBRW) and a Math score, both ranging from 160-760. As in previous periods, the EBRW score carries twice the weight when determining the Selection Index. The index can calculated by dropping the zero from the 160-760 section scores, doubling EBRW and adding in the Math. For example, a student with a score of 720 EBRW and 740 Math has a Selection Index of 218 (72 x 2 + 74). Because of the weighting of EBRW, a Selection Index cannot be determined from the Total Score (320-1520) alone. Students with the same 1460 Total Score can have different Selection Indexes.

Once the NMSF cutoffs for the Class of 2017 were announced, Compass was able to produce an estimated alignment of the old and new scales. For several reasons, the structure of the new test compressed the range of NMSF cutoffs. Those at the lower end of the range increased significantly, while those at the high end stayed flat or went down. This created an odd situation where the highest possible score (228 versus 240) went down, but most cutoffs went up. These changes didn’t make it harder or easier to qualify as a Semifinalist (essentially the same number of students qualified in the Class of 2017 in each state as qualified in the Class of 2016). The changes did, however, make it harder to interpret scores. The impact is easily seen on a stair step plot of NMSF cutoffs from lowest to highest.

In a normal year, state cutoffs increase and decrease by small, varying amounts. One state may have a talented class or an increase in test-takers, while another has an “off” year. The scatterplot on the left shows how scores changed between 2015 and 2016 — a linear relationship, as expected.

The scatterplot on the right shows how scores matched up between 2016 and 2017. By calculating a best-fit polynomial, we produced a conversion table to translate old PSAT Selection Indexes to new PSAT Selection Indexes. As can be seen in the way that points are scattered above and below the line and curve, year-to-year matchups are never perfect. A conversion table based exclusively on the 2016-2017 score changes should not be viewed as definitive. We consider it the best available comparison tool.

Below are three tables: the conversion table between old and new scores, the old PSAT NMSF cutoffs for 2009 to 2016 classes, and the restated NMSF cutoffs for 2009 to 2017 classes.

Translating Old NMSF Cutoffs to New PSAT Scale

OriginalRestated
200207
201208
202209
203210
204211
205212
206212
207213
208214
209214
210215
211216
212216
213217
214217
215218
216218
217219
218219
219220
220220
221221
222221
223221
224222
225222
226222

National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs 2009-2016 (Old PSAT Scale)

State20092010201120122013201420152016
Alabama209208210211209211207209
Alaska212211214212204212210206
Arizona209210209213212214213215
Arkansas204203203205202205206204
California217218219221220223222223
Colorado213213212215212215213215
Connecticut218218219220218221220220
Delaware219219215217215218215216
District of Columbia221221223223221224224225
Florida211211210214211214211214
Georgia215214215218214217215218
Hawaii216214215216211215214214
Idaho208209208211207211211208
Illinois214214214216213216215215
Indiana213211212214211215212213
Iowa210209209210207210207208
Kansas211211211214212216213213
Kentucky209209208212208211210210
Louisiana208207210209209209208211
Maine212213213212210215212211
Maryland220221220221219223221222
Massachusetts221221223223221224223223
Michigan209209209210207210210210
Minnesota214215213215213215215214
Mississippi201203205205204207207209
Missouri213211210213210213209209
Montana208204208209203207206204
Nebraska206207210209207209209209
Nevada206202208209208212208211
New Hampshire211213214216211214212213
New Jersey220221221223221224224225
New Mexico209208206210208210210208
New York216218217219215219218219
North Carolina215214214217213215212215
North Dakota201202202204200204201202
Ohio213211212214212215213215
Oklahoma208207206209206210206208
Oregon213213215216213218217215
Pennsylvania213214216215214217216217
Rhode Island213217211213211216212212
South Carolina212211208211208210209211
South Dakota205205205206204206203202
Tennessee213213212214210212212212
Texas215216215219216219218220
Utah203206203208205208208206
Vermont213213212217214217213214
Virginia219218218220217222219222
Washington217217218220216220219219
West Virginia203203202204200203201202
Wisconsin210207209209207210208208
Wyoming201201202204200203204202
~Commended201201202204200203201202

National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs 2009-2017 (Restated Scale)

State200920102011201220132014201520162017*
Alabama214214215216214216213214215
Alaska216216217216211216215212213
Arizona214215214217216217217218219
Arkansas211210210212209212212211213
California219219220221220221221221221
Colorado217217216218216218217218218
Connecticut219219220220219221220220220
Delaware220220218219218219218218218
District of Columbia221221221221221222222222222
Florida216216215217216217216217217
Georgia218217218219217219218219219
Hawaii218217218218216218217217217
Idaho214214214216213216216214214
Illinois217217217218217218218218219
Indiana217216216217216218216217217
Iowa215214214215213215213214215
Kansas216216216217216218217217217
Kentucky214214214216214216215215215
Louisiana214213215214214214214216214
Maine216217217216215218216216214
Maryland220221220221220221221221221
Massachusetts221221221221221222221221222
Michigan214214214215213215215215216
Minnesota217218217218217218218217219
Mississippi208210212212211213213214212
Missouri217216215217215217214214216
Montana214211214214210213212211210
Nebraska212213215214213214214214215
Nevada212209214214214216214216214
New Hampshire216217217218216217216217216
New Jersey220221221221221222222222222
New Mexico214214212215214215215214213
New York218219219220218220219220219
North Carolina218217217219217218216218218
North Dakota208209209211207211208209209
Ohio217216216217216218217218217
Oklahoma214213212214212215212214213
Oregon217217218218217219219218219
Pennsylvania217217218218217219218219218
Rhode Island217219216217216218216216217
South Carolina216216214216214215214216215
South Dakota212212212212211212210209209
Tennessee217217216217215216216216218
Texas218218218220218220219220220
Utah210212210214212214214212215
Vermont217217216219217219217217215
Virginia220219219220219221220221221
Washington219219219220218220220220220
West Virginia210210209211207210208209209
Wisconsin215213214214213215214214215
Wyoming208208209211207210211209209
~Commended208208209211207210208209209
Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.

One Comment

  • Diotima says:

    This is extremely helpful, thank you. I feel much more secure about my son’s 223 in CA knowing that it’s roughly equivalent to a 226+ on the old PSAT.

Leave a Reply