National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2020

By December 3, 2018National Merit, PSAT
National Merit Semifinalists

As students in the class of 2020 receive their PSAT scores, the discussion among high-scorers usually turns to National Merit Semifinalist cutoffs. Unfortunately, the calendar used by National Merit means that students will not be notified by their high schools about their status until September of 2019. For a number of years, Compass has tried to bridge this 10-month gap by providing research and discussion on the most likely outcomes. We update this page as new information becomes available. Students can view our other National Merit pages here. The National Merit FAQ is recommended reading.

A common misperception is that there is something on the PSAT/NMSQT score report or in the explanatory materials that will help students determine whether or not they will be Commended Students or Semifinalists. No such information exists. Instead, students can use the National Merit Selection Index on the score report and the information below to assess where they stand.

National Merit Semifinalist Class of 2020 Estimates

StateClass of 2020
(Most Likely)
Class of 2020
(Est. Range)
Class of 2019
Class of 2018
Class of 2017
Typical # of
Alabama216214 - 218216216215225
Alaska215213 - 21821521721340
Arizona220218 - 222220220219300
Arkansas214212 - 216214215213140
California223221 - 2242232222212050
Colorado221218 - 222221220218245
Connecticut222220 - 223222221220185
Delaware222219 - 22322222121845
District of Columbia223222 - 22422322322250
Florida219217 - 221219219217810
Georgia220218 - 222220220219460
Hawaii220217 - 22122022021765
Idaho214213 - 21621421621485
Illinois221219 - 223221221219735
Indiana219217 - 221219219217335
Iowa216214 - 218216216215170
Kansas218216 - 220218219217155
Kentucky218215 - 219218217215215
Louisiana217215 - 219217216214210
Maine217214 - 21821721521475
Maryland223221 - 224223222221315
Massachusetts223221 - 224223222222345
Michigan219217 - 221219219216565
Minnesota220218 - 222220220219300
Mississippi215212 - 217215213212135
Missouri217215 - 219217217216335
Montana214211 - 21621421421050
Nebraska216214 - 218216215215100
Nevada218215 - 219218217214100
New Hampshire219217 - 22121921721675
New Jersey223222 - 224223223222520
New Mexico215213 - 21721521521390
New York221219 - 2232212212191010
North Carolina220218 - 222220219218440
North Dakota212211 - 21421221120930
Ohio219217 - 221219219217615
Oklahoma215213 - 217215216213185
Oregon221219 - 223221220219180
Pennsylvania220218 - 222220219218680
Rhode Island220216 - 22122021621755
South Carolina216215 - 218216217215200
South Dakota215211 - 21621521520945
Tennessee219217 - 221219218218325
Texas221219 - 2232212212201340
Utah215213 - 217215216215155
Vermont216215 - 21821621721540
Virginia222220 - 223222222221390
Washington222220 - 223222222220330
West Virginia212211 - 21421221120975
Wisconsin216214 - 218216217215330
Wyoming212210 - 21421221320925
​U.S. Territories212211 - 214212211209
​Outside US223222 - 224223223222
​Commended212211 - 214212211209
Did scores on the October 2018 PSAT change significantly from those on the October 2017 PSAT?

The percentiles and average scores shown on the PSAT/NMSQT score report and in the Understanding Scores publication do not actually pertain to the class of 2020. All of the normative data are from previous class years. Instead of using these sources, Compass has turned to the score information made available to schools.

College Board does not report information for Selection Indexes, but it does reveal the number of students scoring in the 1400–1520 total score range. This range is useful in gauging upward pressure in scores—especially near the Commended level.

Both the percentage of test-takers and the absolute number of test-takers in the 1400–1520 score range increased this year. We expect the Commended level to fall at 212 or 213 for the class of 2020.

National results do not determine the state cutoffs.

While there is a rough correlation between upward movement in the Commended level and upward movement in state cutoffs, it is not a one-to-one relationship. Additional students taking the PSAT in Illinois or more top scorers in New Mexico—as hypothetical examples—have absolutely no effect on the cutoffs in California or Florida.

Why do states have such different cutoffs?

Cutoffs vary across the country because the approximately 16,200 Semifinalists are allocated proportionally to states based on the total number of juniors in a class. A state’s cutoff is derived by finding the score that will produce, as closely as possible, the targeted number of Semifinalists. Students in any given state are competing only against fellow residents. The test is national; the competition is local. Boarding school students are a special case and must meet the highest state cutoff in their region.

The best estimate is still a weak bet.

Compass has repeatedly shown that, in the absence of definitive movement in the Commended level, the best estimate of a state’s future cutoff is the current cutoff. However, even that best estimate is only correct 28% of the time. The chart below reflects historical changes in cutoffs over the last decade (adjusted for the scaling change of the new PSAT).

Changes are not equally distributed across all states. High scoring states tend to have more stable cutoffs than those with cutoffs near the Commended level. States with fewer Semifinalists represent almost all of the largest jumps.

Will this year be like all of the others?

National score changes from the October 2017 PSAT to the October 2018 PSAT are reminiscent of changes seen between 2016 and 2017. Last year saw all but one state cutoff staying within 2 points of its previous level. Overall, the upward movement of scores meant more states saw increases (20 states) than decreases (10 states). Twenty states had no change in cutoffs from the class of 2019. A similar outcome would not be surprising for the class of 2020.

So which states cutoffs will increase this year and which will move lower?

Historical data cannot answer that question, which is why it is so important that parents and students look at the estimated ranges rather than simply the “most likely” value. If this year is, indeed, like last year, that most likely value will be correct no more than 40% of the time.

The high-water mark is likely to remain at 223.

We believe that a 224 cutoff is a remote possibility. New Jersey is the state that has traditionally had the highest cutoffs, although it was joined at 223 by California, Maryland, and Massachusetts for the class of 2019. New Jersey has the highest probability of an upward shift in this group. A cutoff higher than 224 is, simply, not a possibility in any state or selection unit.  The cutoffs on the redesigned PSAT reach a natural limit. There are few score combinations that can even produce 225–228 Selection Indexes and not a sufficient number of students hitting those combinations.

The “alternate” date of October 24 had a form with an extremely harsh scale. Will this impact cutoffs or National Merit eligibility?

Two test forms are never completely identical. To smooth out any variations, tests are equated. A slightly harder test will have a slightly easier scale, for example. The October 24 test, however, was a bizarre anomaly that was easier than any PSAT ever given. In short, College Board made a horrible test. In order to account for the easy questions, the scale had to be made particularly harsh. A single Math mistake lowered a student’s score from 760 to 710. A second mistake meant a 670. A single mistake in Reading or Writing lowered a student’s Selection Index by 4 points. It would be extremely unlikely that a student missing just 2 problems over 139 questions would qualify as a Semifinalist in the most competitive states.

If the October 24 form does give an unusual distribution of scores, won’t that change the state cutoffs?

Only about 10% of students take the alternate date. This means that the impact on the cutoffs as a whole will be muted. The impact on individual test-takers, though, could be profound. Because Semifinalist status is based entirely on PSAT scores, there is, at present, no means to redress any problems the October 24 exam may cause.

If I think that I’ll be a Semifinalist, do I need to take the SAT to qualify as a Finalist?

The class of 2020 is the first group of students that will be able to use ACT scores as “confirming scores” in the Finalist round of the competition. This is a long overdue change, as many high-scoring ACT students have had to take the SAT for no reason other than National Merit’s rules. This does not apply to members of the class of 2019, who must still take the SAT if they want to move from Semifinalist to Finalist status. We will be updating our National Merit FAQ as more information becomes available over the next year. We expect that students will need to earn a 31 or 32 to serve as a confirming score.

A note about comments

We try to respond to every question. Please note that there is a bug in the button to view older posts. A reader contributed the following hack: Put in the page # of the comments you would like to see: https://www.compassprep.com/national-merit-semifinalist-cutoffs/comment-page-29/, for example.

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.


  • Vidya says:

    My son has an index of 226 and took his SAT in August of his Sophomore year and scored 1560. Is he going to be okay

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The 226 means that he will be a Semifinalist. Unfortunately, a confirming SAT score to proceed to the Finalist stage must be no earlier than October of sophomore year (it’s possible that NM will change this rule, but I consider it highly unlikely). If making it to National Merit Finalist is important to him, then he will need to retake the SAT. Congratulations on his scores!

  • Lori says:

    Hi Art, My son scored a 223 in NY. Do you think he will qualify for National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist? Thanks!

  • Sachin says:

    Hello Art: Thank you so much for such an informative site. Kudos to all your hard work. My son is a Junior in Virginia (class of 2020), and has PSAT score 1510, SI 226 (Oct 10, 2018), and SAT score of 1580 (Aug 25, 2018). I believe he will make the semi-finalists cutoff for Virginia. What else do we need to do, to make it to the finalists. I am still trying to figure out on how to apply for NMSC. Thanks again and best regards.

  • Paige says:

    Is there an estimate of how many testers had a perfect score on the 2018 PSAT?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      College Board doesn’t release any information that allows us to know that — particularly in a given year. My estimate would be between 1000 and 1500 students — under 0.1% of testers.

  • Beth says:

    My son took the Oct 24 test and scored a 1380 in the 99th% but only a 209 for NMSC selection. The following month he took the ACT with writing and scored a 35. Is this “bad” October test going to ruin his chances for National Merit in Arizona as comparing the scores it is obvious the test had issues.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Unfortunately, the initial stage of National Merit is determined exclusively by junior year PSAT score. His 209 will miss the cut. The good news is that his 35 is excellent and puts him in great shape for college admission.

  • Brian says:

    Hi Art,
    Thank you for this great resource. What are the chances of AZ jumping 2 points? My son scored 221 and AZ seems to be fairly stable.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Your son’s chances are excellent. While I expect to see at least a few states going up 2 points this year, it gets less likely the higher the cutoff. I don’t think Arizona will reach 222, but it can’t be completed excluded.

  • Magally says:

    Hello, first of all, I want to thank you for the work you do. It certainly helps clarify a lot!. I have two questions:
    1. What will be the score required in the ACT to become a semi-finalist?
    2. My daughter got the results of her PSAT last week, even though she got a total score of 1310, she is still under the index. Can she sign up for PSATs again or are those only administered in the schools?

    She is class of 2021.

    • Art Sawyer says:


      1) The ACT is not used to qualify as a Semifinalist. It is used as a “confirming score” that is one of the conditions for Semifinalists to qualify as Finalists. NMSC has not released the confirming score, but it sounds like it won’t apply to your daughter for at least another year.
      2) Only the junior year PSAT is used for National Merit. If your daughter took the PSAT as a sophomore, she will have another chance in October. Most schools offer the PSAT to juniors. If your school doesn’t, you would be able to enroll your daughter to take the test at another school. The latter must be arranged well in advance.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks Art for a great article!
    My sons index score is 225 we live in Washington State .
    Looks like his index score is high enough for NMSF but his national percentage is 98
    99 % in reading/ writing and 96% in math
    Does his percentage score need to be 99 to qualify?
    Thanks so much

    [Edit]: Sorry was reading last years percentage scores . This year he did score in 99% overall but 97% on his User percentage. Not sure what that means?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The percentiles have no impact on National Merit, but those numbers do seem a little off for a 225 SI. What were his ERW and Math scores? Because the ERW has twice the weight of the Math, his higher ERW score benefits him. A 760/730 or 750/750 would produce a 225 SI.

      The User percentile — as opposed to the nationally representative percentile — gives a more accurate picture of how he stacks up against college bound students, but only the SI matters for Semifinalist selection.

      • Diana says:

        Hi- since it appears the index score is based on the raw results, wouldn’t the “easier” test impact this index number dramatically? Students would have a higher raw score on an easier test right? If I am incorrect could you please explain?

        • Art Sawyer says:

          The Selection Index is based on scaled scores. It just happens to use a slightly different definition than the “Total Score” of 320-1520 because it doubles the weight of the ERW. On a test with easier questions, a less forgiving scale makes sense. Students at a given ability level should answer more questions correctly on an easier exam. That logic breaks down, though, when you are talking about the extreme end of the range (and we are) and a test extremely out of synch with prior tests (that’s what we have). With large gaps in the scale created by a missed question or two, there will be a very uneven distribution of scores on the 10/24 exam. It’s not definitive that they will be lower, but I think it is likely. Since the 10/24 test represented about 10% of test-takers, we don’t really know what overall impact it might have.

  • Mary says:

    My son took the Oct 24th PSAT earning a score of 1490 and a 222 index. We live in Colorado. I’m concerned that Colorado will jump 2 points if many kids in the state took the easier test that day. Thoughts?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You’re right that the Oct 24 may create more chaos in cutoffs, although my thinking is that it is more likely to skew scores lower than higher. I still believe a 222 is pretty safe in CO.

  • Michelle says:

    My son scored a 218 in Alabama- what do you think his chances are?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      A 3-point cutoff increase is highly unusual, so his chances are very, very good. That sort of increase has happened, though, so it’s not absolutely out of the question that Alabama moves to 219.

  • Lisa says:

    Hi Art: Thank you for the great information. My son has a score that is well above the qualifying National Merit cutoff and an ACT score of a 35. How accurate is the projected SAT score? Is there any reason that he should still take the SAT?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sorry, I don’t understand the first question regarding projected SAT score. NMSC has not given any guidance as to exactly what ACT score will be a confirming score, but it’s inconceivable that a 35 would not be sufficient.

      There is no reason for him to take the SAT. Your son is exactly the sort of student for whom NMSC changed the policy. In past years he would have needed an SAT score.

  • N. Amin says:


    My daughter scored at 1460 NMQ 216 in her Junior year 2019. She got a score of 33 on her ACT. Graduating class of 2020. Does this mean she will get a commended recognition or will she be a semi-finalist/finalist? Also from what I am reading she does not need to take the SAT correct.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The cutoffs are determined by state. I believe you are in WA, where a 216 will not be high enough for NMSF. Students’ ACT and SAT scores are only looked at after they have qualified as Semifinalists.

  • Natalie says:

    Hi Art,

    Thank you so much for all of the great information and resources! I’m wondering if there is average number of points you typically see a student’s score increase from 10th grade to 11th grade year. If I have a sophomore who scored a 1240, what advice can I give her about a realistic expectation for a score next year with test prep?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The average growth between sophomore and junior year is about 70-80 points. That means about 10-11 average improvement in Selection Index. Focused test preparation, of course, means that students can do much better than average. A fairly typical improvement would be in the 150 point range, which would likely mean an SI improvement of about 20 points. The catch is that it is much harder to go from a 1400 to a 1500 than it is to go from a 1200 to a 1300. In Texas, a student qualifying for NMSF will need to hit in the 220-222 range for a Selection Index (depending on the ERW/M split, that’s around 1450-1500). For a realistic expectation, I’d say that’s above where most 1240 scorers will get to. For a big reach goal? I wouldn’t say never.

      • Lynn says:

        I just want to give your daughter some hope! My daughter (Class of 2018) took the PSAT as a 10th grader and scored a 1230. The following year she took it again as an 11th grader and scored a 1470, which qualified for NMF status with a 220 SI. She took the SAT twice and scored a 1450 (fall of 11th grade) and 1540 (summer before 12th). I can say honestly that she didn’t study a lot between her 2 PSAT tests, but she did work her way through one prep book. I think the biggest thing for her was becoming familiar with the test format and types of questions. Good luck to your daughter!

  • Sid says:

    Hello Art,

    I am from the class of 2019 and made Semifinalist status in TX with a 221. My confirming score is a 1470 SAT. Do you think this will be high enough for Finalist status?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      NMSC uses an SAT Selection Index to set the “confirming” score, so your 1470 would be different depending on your ERW/M split. The confirming score cutoff is usually right around the Commended cutoff, so I expect anything above an SAT SI of 213 to be safe. Even at the least favorable split of 670/800, a 1470 gives a 214 SI. Keep in mind that a confirming score is only one of the factors for Finalist qualification.

  • Julie says:


    My son lives in Texas and scored a 1480 on PSAT as a junior. 720 EBR and 760 math. What is the cut off to make it? thanks

    • Art Sawyer says:

      National Merit doubles the weighting of the ERW score, so your son’s Selection Index is 220. Last year Texas’ cutoff was 221. I don’t expect more than 10-15 states to see a decline in cutoffs this year, so let’s just hope that TX is among them.

  • Maggie says:

    Hi Mr. Sawyer,
    I am in Indiana and got an index score of 219 on my PSAT. I know that’s right on the edge of making the cut so I was wondering what the odds are that I’ll make it or when I will know for sure?
    Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Based on historical patterns and what limited information we have about scores this year, I expect anywhere from 25-35 states to see cutoffs that fall at last year’s level or below. As long as Indiana is in that group, you will be a Semifinalist! Unfortunately, those odds are far too close to know much until results are actually released in September.

  • Doris says:

    Hi Art,

    First, thanks for the great web site. My daughters are class of 2020 and we live in FL. Their indices are 222 and 224 this past October so I think we are in good shape for them both to make the cutoff this year. My question was about the application for finalist. There is supposed to be a section where you rank the schools you are interested in applying. If they list one of the FL state schools as #1 and they attend that school, their undergraduate degree will be fully covered. Do you know if the ranking of the schools for this application has any impact on their application to other colleges? My daughters are also interested in applying to other schools such as GA Tech, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc… Can this college ranking be changed after they decide what college they attend? It’s hard to pass up a free undergraduate degree but at the same time, they are also interested in other colleges in additional to the state schools.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Thank you. The Finalist ranking is always a bit confusing. The ranking would not impact their chances for admission at other schools. In fact, students often hurt their NM options by using the first choice incorrectly. Let’s say that a student’s top choice in the real world is Berkeley. That’s great, but Berkeley doesn’t provide college-sponsored NM scholarships. Putting Berkeley on a Finalist application (well, web portal) would be a wasted opportunity. It’s trickier when students are considering multiple schools that do offer scholarships. A student can only be matched with one school, so it’s important to have the right school identified when matches are made. That’s still a long way off, and a student’s choice is not final until matches are made. If your daughter’s have a clear preference for a scholarship-offering school, I would have them list that choice. If they are still uncertain, they can put a placeholder or just leave it blank, at first. Matches start happening March 1. Students can still change their first choice until May 31, but some colleges have a limited number of spots. I don’t believe that would be a problem given Florida’s scholarship system, but I wouldn’t want them to miss out on that opportunity! And in the example given above, Berkeley would be none the wiser. You can find more information here.

  • Connor says:

    Hi Art, I scored a 1430 on the Oct. 24 test date. I had a 720 in EBRW and a 710 in Math. I had only missed one question in the Math section because of a simple mistake. I live in Alabama and I have a 215 selection score. Is there a chance that Alabama will drop a point for the cutoff?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sorry to hear about your experience with the 10/24 test. Yes, there is a chance. We’ll probably have a better sense of the likelihood when the Commended cutoff becomes known in a few months. For now, my thinking is that 10-15 states will see lower cutoffs this year.

  • Rob says:

    Will a selection index score of 220 be enough for Nevada class of 2020?

  • Richel says:

    What ACT confirming score do you think will be needed for the class of 2020? My daughter had a 226 on the PSAT.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      NMSC hasn’t indicated how they will evaluate ACT scores, but I’d be extremely surprised if the confirming score is above a 32. Congratulations to your daughter!

  • Grant says:

    Hi Art, thanks for all the great info.

    I have a 216 SI in Missouri, and MO looks to be a pretty stable state. Is there any hope of the cutoff dropping by one point? Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I wouldn’t give up hope. I’d be surprised if we don’t see at least 10-15 states show 1-point drops. Some of that can boil down to nothing more than how the scores are bunched at a particular part of the scale.

  • Lorie says:

    Hi, Art.
    Thanks for this valuable information. For a kid with a 217 index score in Alabama, do you think the cutoff will increase for class of 2020?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      College Board no longer releases state-by-state performance data, so we don’t know how Alabama’s cutoff will behave versus other states. I wouldn’t expect more than 1 in 5 states to see 2-point cutoff increases.

  • Stefanie says:

    Hello! My daughter’s index score is a 222 (class of 2020) in Michigan. Do you think that will be enough to become a national merit finalist? She took the ACT in the fall of her junior year and received a 35 so I’m hoping that will be enough to be her confirming score to reach finalist status. What do you think?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, her 35 will be high enough as a confirming score if she becomes a Semifinalist. I think a 222 is safe in Michigan for NMSF selection. She also needs excellent grades and the support of the school to reach Finalist status, but her scores should not be holding her back.

  • Michelle says:

    My child in FL got a 1420 but his index is only 208. Will he be selected for anything National Merit? Thanks.

  • Bob says:

    Hi Art,

    Really like this site. My Missouri student scored 730 ERW and 700 Math as Sophomore on PSAT. Would be a 216 selection index for this year but since only a sophomore does not count. Seems like the best use of time would be to work on Math skills between now and October 2019 Junior Year PSAT. The difference as it stands now seems to be a matter of just getting 2 more questions right to qualify as NMSF. Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Thank you, Bob. Great scores for a sophomore! I wouldn’t neglect the ERW by any means. It has twice the weight, and you certainly don’t want your student losing any ground there. Good luck to your student in October.

  • Tia says:

    I don’t understand why our children are being made to pay a price for the college board screwing up on a test that was given in October. Our son only missed 3 questions on the entire test, scored a 1440 but has a composite score of 217. That looks to kiss the Georgia cutoff by 1-3 points. How is that fair to the kids? They didn’t mess up. Is there any recourse for them or for parents? He has been straight A honors and AP al the way through high school. Shame on the college board.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I won’t try to defend College Board on this one. They used a bad test. Shame, indeed. The problem is where you go from here. NMSC is completely independent of College Board, but they have been using the PSAT as a qualifying test for 60 years. There is no fair backup plan. One option would be to allow students to use “alternate entry” and submit an SAT score in lieu of the PSAT. This would disadvantage students who took the Oct 10 PSAT, though, and students who weren’t planning on taking the SAT. It would represent a change in procedure that NMSC would not be able to efficiently cope with. If I were a parent or student unhappy about the October 24th test, that would the only option for recourse that I can think of.

      • julie says:

        just an fyi regarding some of the posts about alternate entry:
        a student must submit the request for alternate entry to the NMSC by a certain date. this year, the date was november 15, 2018. the date is always prior to PSAT scores coming out.

        alternate entry is not meant as a recourse for students unhappy with their SCORE on the PSAT. it’s meant as a recourse for students unable to take the PSAT or students unhappy with their PERFORMANCE on the PSAT (based on the student’s personal assessment immediately after taking the PSAT) due to circumstances beyond the student’s control, such as illnesses or distractions.

        hope this helps someone. thanks for all you do.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Thank you for the information. I believe that deadline applies to students who took the PSAT. For students who missed the PSAT entirely, NMSC says the deadline is April 1.

          I didn’t mean to imply that students will actually have this option. But if NMSC were to view the Oct 24 as so beyond the pale that the results could not be used, then alternate entry would be the only option to “fix” things, since repeating the PSAT is a non-starter. I don’t think NMSC will do such a thing. There have been bad PSATs in the past. Their authority is too tied to maintaining the sense that the PSAT is infallible.

  • Hamza says:

    My index is a 221 in VA so just gonna have to cross my fingers. Thanks for this article, it was super helpful!

  • Thomas says:

    Do you have the total number of students who became semifinalists for each state for the classes of 2018 and 2019?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I have the 2019 figures, but I don’t have them handy in a spreadsheet, so I have not posted them online. If you are curious about a particular state, I can post that. The class of 2017 figures can be found in the NMSC Annual Report, but I do not have the class of 2018 figures. They won’t tell you much versus the “typical” numbers in my post, because the fluctuations are generally not due to changes in targets but the discrete nature of cutoffs. Let’s say the target number for California is 2,000 students. If 1920 students scored 223 and above and 2090 students scored 222 and above, the cutoff would be at 223 with 1920 Semifinalists. If 1920 scored 223 and 2070 scored 222, then there would be 2070 Semifinalists — a swing of 150 Semifinalists with no change in the target.

  • suma says:

    Hi Art!
    My son scored 1500 from PSAT, in junior year.He will graduate in 2020. He is from Oregon.He gave SAT – and scored 1530 .He gave SAT 2 times, first time in 10th grade, during october and 2nd time in Junior, November.He can use super scores?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The first stage is qualifying for Semifinalist based on his PSAT score. His 1500 should be high enough in Oregon (actually, qualifying is based on the Selection Index, but any SI from a 1500 score should be high enough). From there, he will apply to be a Finalist. As part of his application, he needs a “confirming” SAT or ACT score. His 1530 is, again, more than high enough. NMSC does not superscore, although they will consider a students highest score from a single sitting.

  • Ali says:

    If my daughter scored a 216 in NC is that plausible for any benefits of the PSAT and National Merit? Thanks.

  • Suresh says:

    Hi Art,

    My daughter is expected to graduate High school in 2020. She scored 1450 in PSAT (99 percentile) and 218 index in Texas. Will she be selected for National Merit scholarship?

  • Louis says:

    Hi Art,

    Thank you for all the valuable advice you have been giving .

    My Son is a Junior and has a perfect unweighted GPA , and a perfect weighed GPA . All his grades to this point is an A ( 5 semesters ) .
    He will be done with 8 AP exams by May of this year . He has already taken 2 AP exams and has a 4 in both , and hopefully if he gets a 4 or 5 and able to keep up his current grades .

    He got a 1560 on his SAT . On PSAT he got a 1450 .

    I know he can improve his SAT score , but not by much

    If you were under his situation , would you recommend taking the SAT again , or is it better to take it once and get a good score . Or do you think it is worth trying for 1580 or 1590 taking the exam 2 or 3 times .

    Thank you


    • Art Sawyer says:

      A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even hesitated at telling your son to move on from testing. My advice is a little more nuanced these days. First, make sure he has Subject Test scores in place. This spring (May or June) is perfect timing. Top scores there will help round out his test portfolio. I’d prioritize that over retaking the SAT. He has a lot of work remaining this year with his APs. For some students, the thought of re-testing after a 1560 is just a non-starter. If that’s your son, I wouldn’t press the issue. If, on the other hand, he is self-motivated and interested in seeing how he can do, there isn’t much downside. A fair number of schools will superscore, so he has the opportunity to raise his net score even if he doesn’t improve his 1560. Some colleges do expect a student to submit all scores, so there is some risk — his scores could go down.

  • Kat says:

    Hello Art,
    Thank you so much for all this detailed and helpful information. Quick stats on my daughter: Junior in HS in Illinois, very high unweight and weighted GPA, ACT of 35, and PSAT of 1520. Is it safe to assume she will be a National Merit Finalist? Is there much risk she wouldn’t get it? And if so what would/could cause a rejection? Also do you have information on the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program and how one is selected for that? We have read the official website, but looking for any insight no how they really select the kids in each state, especially Illinois. And is there anything she can do to try to get on the selection list? Any info on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you very much,

    • Art Sawyer says:

      From the measures that we know are fixed, the 1520 (!) will qualify her as a Semifinalist, and the 35 will be a valid confirming score. NMSC does not publish specific standards on GPA, but it sounds like your daughter has not problem there. She will need the recommendation of her school, and she’ll need to complete the Finalist application when it is available in September. It certainly seems like she will be a Finalist.

      The first stage of the Presidential Scholars Program is identifying the top 30 male and top 30 female scorers in each state. It’s likely that a 35 will not be high enough to fall in that group. I know very little about the actual process.

  • Nina says:

    Hi Art,
    I am really thankful for your blog. I was reading a post where one semifinalist posted in mid- January that she got a disqualified letter from nmsqt. I thought they send out letters only in early February. My son is a semifinalist.

  • TS says:

    My son received a 1470 on his PSAT with a 221 index. Do you think a 2 point drop is possible in California so that he might qualify as a semi-finalist? And when do you recommend he take the ACT as a junior?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      That big of a move would be unlikely in a state as large as CA. I wouldn’t say it is impossible, though.

      As soon as he is ready. I don’t know if you mean in addition to the SAT. Since he did quite well on the PSAT, I wouldn’t ignore the SAT. The best situation for students is to have nailed the scores they want by the time application season starts in earnest. I recommend trying to tie things off by the September date and leave any later sittings as emergency backup. Most students benefit from 2 or 3 testings, so it’s important for your son to start thinking about April and June. July is not available in California.

  • Kay C says:

    HI Art.
    My daughter got 223 PSAT and 34 ACT her junior year.
    Can we expect to be National Merit Scholarship Finalist for 2020?
    We are from Texas and cutoff 221

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Your daughter’s 223 will be high enough to qualify as a Semifinalist in Texas. What happens after that is a little more complicated. Most Semifinalists do become Finalists. Your daughter has nailed down one important aspect — the “confirming” score. Her 34 ACT will be high enough. The other pieces are grades and a recommendation from her school (she’ll need to also complete the Finalist application in the fall). There are no set standards for GPA. A student must show “a record of consistently very high academic performance in all of grades 9 through 12.” So the only thing that your daughter needs to concern herself with right now is doing well in her classes this spring.

  • MLR says:

    Art, thanks for your help. My daughter took the October 2018 in OR as a sophomore. With no test prep she scored 1380 (700 Math and 680 ERW) with a selection index of 206. She says she made some careless errors on the ERW part. What is going to be the best approach to test prep for her? What do you think her chances are for increasing her score enough to be a NMS? Thank you.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      On average students see improvements of 30-40 points on each side of the test. The key, in your daughter’s case, will be bringing up the ERW. In a highly competitive state such as Oregon, the doubled weight of ERW makes a good score essential. She is going to need an index of at least 220 — possibly as high as 222. That’s definitely achievable given your daughter’s starting point.

      I own a one-on-one tutoring company, so I’m not an unbiased when it comes to preparation. 😉 With that disclaimer out of the way, there are many paths that students take. In addition to companies like mine, there are classroom, self-paced online courses, and websites and books galore. While starting early never hurts, students usually do the bulk of their preparation over the summer. Self-prep requires a lot of motivation, since let’s face it, not everyone enjoys doing hour after hour of PSAT problems. Preparation can take many forms, but the only materials I trust for actually gauging progress are the practice tests released by College Board (and also found on Khan Academy). If you think tutoring is something that could benefit your daughter, a Compass director would be happy to talk to you. 800-685-6986.

  • Diana says:

    Our son received a 1470 on his PSAT in Illinois October of 2018. His score qualified him for the National Hispanic Recognition Program but do you think it will qualify him for National Merit Scholarship Program too?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Unlike NHRP, National Merit uses a “Selection Index” to determine Semifinalists. Because the SI doubles the weight of the ERW portion of the exam, not all 1470s are equal. For example, a 760 ERW / 710 M gives an index of 223 [76×2 + 71]. That’s high enough to qualify. A 710 ERW / 760 M gives an index of 218 [71×2 + 76]. That would not be high enough in IL. I expect IL’s cutoff to be in the 220-222 range. You can calculate the Selection Index as I’ve done above, and it can also be found on your son’s PSAT report.

  • Sanso says:

    Hey Art – you have been mentioning that possibly 10-15 states will see a drop in National Merit Semifinalist cutoffs. What are the chances that one of those states is Illinois? My junior son achieved a score of 220, while the score for Illinois last year was 221 and you’re estimating it to be that again for the class of 2020. However, Illinois was 219 just a few years ago, and I also keep hearing you say that this year’s test was kind of messed up? Is it possible to regress in Illinois back to a 220? Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Because College Board doesn’t release state-by-state data, we can’t really say much about Illinois’ chances. I don’t expect NJ’s cutoff to decline, and I doubt that the Commended cutoff will go down this year (which means that students in West Virginia and North Dakota are unlikely to see lower cutoffs). Otherwise, every state is in the mix. I don’t put much stock in IL’s older cutoffs. First, most states have seen increases as scores settled in after the change to the new PSAT. Second, IL saw upward pressure because of its change from being an ACT state to an SAT state. More PSAT takers meant more high scores. I’m not trying to convince you that a 220 is not possible! I’m just pointing out that the class of 2019’s 221 is probably the best indicator of where things are at.

  • Lisa says:

    Hi, Art, Do you know when the announcement for National Merit Finalists comes out?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Announcements were mailed to principals on 2/4. Announcements went out today to students. NMSC still uses snail mail, so it’s hard to say when the announcements will actually arrive. Your best bet is seeing if the principal has already received word.

      • Steve says:

        Hello Art. Do they publish an SAT cutoff score needed to achieve finalist status ?

        • Art Sawyer says:

          They do not. If you (or your student) are in the class of 2019, NMSC will usually tell you in a call. AFAIK, the cutoffs are not yet set for the class of 2020. It usually falls right around the Commended cutoff.

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