National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2020

By April 7, 2019 April 8th, 2019 National Merit, PSAT
National Merit Semifinalists

April 7, 2019 Update:
We have received confirmations that the Commended score will remain at 212 this year. While this is bad news for students hoping that the cutoff might decline, some indications were that it would go up. My own estimates had it remaining at 212, but I would not have been surprised at 213.  The flat Commended level does not change my Semifinalist estimates, which already factored in 212. It does, however, change the probabilities in a favorable direction. I had been expecting about half of state cutoffs to go up this year. Based on historical data, I now believe that it will be closer to 40%. This does not help in determining whether California, for example, moves to 224 — or 222, for that matter — because the factors that produce the 212 are different than those that impact California’s top-end scores. This is true of virtually all states. Still, it’s good news for students sitting right around last years’ Semifinalist cutoffs.

It is possible that the poorly constructed and oddly scaled October 24 PSAT had some impact on the Commended cutoff nationally — we will likely never know with certainty. If students scored lower on that exam, the state cutoffs would be influenced by the proportion of students taking that form code. The next round of hard information won’t come until the end of August when NMSC starts sending Semifinalist lists to schools.

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.


  • Avatar Charles says:


    I was wondering when we get to see the commended score cutoffs. Thanks

  • Avatar CKM says:

    Hi Art,
    Based on PSAT, ACT scores and GPA, my daughter has been receiving recruitment letters and emails from Ivies (including Yale and Harvard). This may not be a big deal, and we’re just curious about how excited she should be about that. We don’t want the recruitment letters to get her hopes up too much if there’s little chance they make much of a difference. Thank you so much for your moderation of this page.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Colleges would love it if every student with high scores and high GPA applied to their institutions. The letters that get sent out are marketing opportunities. So while it is nice to hear from colleges and receive validation of high scores and high GPA, the letters don’t reveal much about chances for admission. I’m talking here about letters generated from the lists obtained from College Board and ACT. Sports recruiting is an entirely different matter and not my area of expertise.

  • Avatar SRT says:

    Hello Art,

    My daughter scored 220 and we are US citizens currently abroad on work. I see we are off the cut-off by 3. Probably unfair that US citizens abroad need the highest score to qualify.

    Any schools that recognize the score, even if commended. We are looking for schools that recognize National Merit Scholars. Any list you could share.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t know of a list of scholarship opportunities for Commended Students. While there aren’t nearly as many as there are for Finalists, I’ve come across colleges that do provide merit aid based on Commended status.

  • Avatar Umesh says:

    Hi Art,

    Thanks for your insight into the PSAT. I am wondering when we will find out the state by state cutoff score to qualify for being a National Merit Semifinalist

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      The official announcement of Semifinalists is mid-September. Schools will start receiving lists around Labor Day, and we will often learn of cutoffs at that time.

  • Avatar Janie says:

    Do you think a SAT score of 1450 with a 38(R) 35(W&L) 36 (M) is enough to be a confirming score for 2020? Thank you!

  • Avatar Shannon says:

    Hi Art,
    Do you know what the semi-finalist essay question is? Is it the same every year?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t know that the question will be the same this year, but it has remained the same for a number of years:

      To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

      To be clear, this is the question on the Finalist application.

  • Avatar Michelle says:

    Hi Art,
    Thank you for all of this useful information. Will you be posting the commended score cutoff for 2020 once you begin to hear from schools what that number is?

  • Avatar Nancy says:

    Is the commended score for 2020 a 212? One of my students received a letter.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Is the student homeschooled? Letters don’t get sent to students unless they are homeschooled. The actual Commended letters won’t go out until mid-September, but schools typically receive a sort of advance-warning list of Commended and above around this time — since they need to work with NMSC to verify info. I’d love to hear any details.

  • Avatar Queena says:

    Hi Art, Do you think a PSAT score of 1420 is good enough to be a confirming score for 2020? Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      You may be mixing terminology in your question. Students who qualify as Semifinalists in September must receive a confirming SAT or ACT score as one of the qualifying steps to become Finalist.

      The PSAT score is only used to determine if a student is a Commended Student or a Semifinalist. So if your PSAT score is 1420, I assume that you are asking whether it is high enough to be Commended. The problem is that not every 1420 is the same. NMSC uses a Selection Index which doubles the weight of the ERW versus the Math. If your 1420 is 710 ERW / 710 M, then your SI would be 71 x 2 + 71 = 213. You will need to have an ERW score of 700 or better for your Selection Index to be 212 or higher.

  • Avatar Bree says:

    I am a junior that currently lives in Colorado. I took the NMSQT and got an SI of 222. I am concerned that I may be moving to Texas over the summer, and am wondering what effect this would have on my NMS eligibility and selection.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      National Merit is based on where you were in school when you took the test. That will stay Colorado for you, and you are fully eligible. Notifications will likely end up at your old school, so you’ll want to check with them in September. Meanwhile, we should know the cutoffs here by around Labor Day.

  • Avatar shelly says:

    I got my degree from non usa country so not familiar with the psat ranking or procedure, my son got 219 and we are from Texas, what will be his ranking?
    Commended score? based on table above not much chances to be semifinalist, right?

    thank you for all your help,

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      You are correct that it is unlikely that Texas’ cutoff will drop to a 219. At minimum, though, your son will be a Commended Student.

      • Avatar Cathy says:

        Art, We live in Texas. Our son’s score was a 1480 but his SI was a 220. Even though he got a perfect score in math and language, he had a harder time with one of the reading sections. He has a friend that got a 1470 but his SI was a 221 because he missed one more math but one less reading question. When the top 1% for a state is determined, is the SI a flat definitive score or can some students with a SI score one point lower still make the top 1% in the state if their overall PSAT score was higher and they had perfect scores in some of the sections like my son who had perfect scores in math and writing? For example, if the cutoff in Texas remains a 221, can my son still make the top 1% with a 220 by having a PSAT score higher than some with the SI of 221 if they need a few more kids to determine the top 1% in Texas?

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          The Selection Index is the only factor used in determining NMSF status — other than eligibility standards such as class year and citizenship status. Based on its population, the target number of Semifinalists in Texas is somewhere around 1350. NMSC will try to come as close to that target as possible by adjusting the SI cutoff. If 1300 students have 221 or better and 1500 students have 220 or better, the cutoff would be set at 221. They don’t try to get another 50 students included by parsing the scores further.

  • Avatar Dan says:

    I got a 1410 on my psat in October of 2018 (710 English and reading and 700 math). College board says my index is 212. Is this good enough for Commended level?

  • Avatar Marcus says:

    Thanks so much for what you do for students and parents while we wait for official word from NMSC.
    It would be my privilege to make a contribution to your company or voluntarily make a token payment to you, so please let me know if there is a mechanism for doing that.
    Here are the details for my son. His score is a 220 in Florida where 219 has been the qualifying score the last two years.
    Given that the commended cutoff is unchanged from last year, and your prior commentary that large states (Florida is 4th) and higher testing states (Florid is near the middle), I am hopeful that there will not be too much upward pressure on the state qualifying score.
    Based on the commended cutoff score, how would you rate the chances that a score of 220 will be adequate for this year?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Thank you for the kind words. So much of the knowledge I share has been gleaned over the years from parents and students, so I enjoy getting paid back in information. Let me know anything interesting you find during this process.

      I think the chances of a 2 point move in Florida are low. Unfortunately, I can’t say that there is a 0% chance. The 212 Commended level was great news.

  • Avatar Ivy says:

    Hi Art,
    Can you please explain this verbiage i found from NMSC website regarding NMSC scholarships and college-sponsored awards?
    “No student will receive more than one scholarship offer from NMSC.”
    “To be considered for a college-sponsored award, a Finalist must meet all three of the following conditions. The Finalist:
    • must have notified NMSC that the sponsor college is his or her first choice;
    • must have applied for admission to that institution; and
    • must not have been offered any other National Merit Scholarship.”

    It’s very possible my daughter will be a finalist. My company is one of the sponsored corporations. I can submit application for the corporate-sponsored scholarship by the end of April. But if my daughter gets the $2500 NMSC Merit Scholarship, or if she gets my company sponsored scholarship, does it mean that she won’t get the college-sponsored award?
    We won’t know if she will be accepted by the college until probably March next year.



    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      It’s always best to confirm with the financial aid office if one of the colleges that provides large scholarships is on your daughter’s list. My understanding is that it will not take her out of the running. One thing that makes it all confusing is that the large awards are not actually National Merit scholarships in the strict sense of being administered by NMSC. If an award would make a substantial difference to your daughter, I recommend that you not trust a guy on the internet. 😉

  • Avatar Geri says:

    Thanks for all the great info on your site! I hope you can help guide me. My daughter (class of 2020) has historic scores that indicate she has a very good chance of making semifinalist cutoff, but she’s not at the highest level. We live in SC but will be moving over the summer so she will be attending her senior year in NC; not sure if that has any impact. Our conundrum is this: she is studying abroad this year through Rotary Youth Exchange so she missed the PSAT at her SC school. She is registered for the May 4 SAT in Rome. Unfortunately, she lives on the island of Sardinia which requires flying to Rome and overnight accommodations which are proving difficult for multiple reasons. She is extremely stressed about the arrangements (and worried about the $$ we will be spending) and now wants to skip the SAT because she was told she would need to meet the highest national cutoff score versus SC (or NC if our move changes things) because she is in Italy this year and not the United States. Is this is true? In your opinion, are the benefits of National Merit Semifinalist ranking worth the trouble, expense and stress? She is not looking at Ivy League schools and I thought even Semifinalist ranking may help with potential scholarships at the state schools and/or private schools she is considering.
    Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I’m sorry to hear that this is causing your daughter stress. There are enough twists in her story that I’m not confident of giving completely accurate information. I *can* state that the NC move will be a non-issue. Students are considered based on “the high school in which the student is regularly enrolled when taking the PSAT/NMSQT.” I believe that language means that she falls into the U.S. citizens studying abroad category, which has the highest cutoff. It may be worth seeing if NMSC will give you an answer on this. Is her “enrollment” still in her SC school? The Studying Abroad cutoff will be 223 or 224 this year. The SC cutoff will be closer to 216 or 217.

      Most NM scholarships are worth $2,500, so that might not be enough to justify all of the hassles. There is a big exception at colleges that provide special scholarships to Finalists. Texas Tech, for example, covers the full cost of attendance, including room, board, books, and a personal allowance. That might be worth an overnight in Rome. I don’t know if it is exhaustive, but here is a good list of extra special scholarships. Of course, this all depends on her getting a qualifying score. She should take an official practice test to get a read on her scores. Getting a 223 Selection Index is an impressive feat.

      • Avatar Geri says:

        Thanks Art! She is not officially enrolled in SC this year, so I believe it will the national cut-off she’ll need to meet. 223 is indeed a stretch, but she’s decided to go for it anyway! Fingers crossed but if it doesn’t pan out, maybe she’ll have some fodder for a great application essay 🙂 . I’ll be visiting your site frequently for all the great info you provide. Thank again!! –Geri

  • Avatar lisa says:

    Any idea what the average 2018 PSAT score was?

  • Avatar Kristen says:

    Hello. My student missed the PSAT and has been allowed to use her SAT score as alternate entry in place of the PSAT. Is there a conversion from the March 9, 2019 SAT to the qualifying PSAT? SAT scores are as follows: Total 1490. EBRW 790. Math 700. We are in Wisconsin and are hoping she makes the cut! Thank you so much – Kristen

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      A Selection Index is calculated from your daughter’s SAT scores. I believe that NMSC will cap the EBRW at 760 in order to be fair to PSAT takers. That would give your student an SI of 76×2 + 70 = 222, which would easily qualify in Wisconsin. Congratulations to your student!

      • Avatar eliz says:

        Can anyone use their SAT score in place of their PSAT score? How do you go about submitting it? My daughter’s SAT score was considerably higher than her PSAT.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          No, the “alternate entry” option is exclusively for a student who “does not take the PSAT/NMSQT because of illness, an emergency, or other extenuating circumstance, but meets all other requirements for NMSC program participation.” The entry has to be signed off on by the school and approved by NMSC. And it must be done before April 1.

      • Avatar Kristen says:

        Thank you so much for your reply. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

  • Avatar Russ says:

    My daughter met the 212 cutoff score and we are right on the projected cutoff for our state to be a semi-finalist in Fall 2019. Everyone is telling us she should take SAT subject tests to compete well for finalist status. But now that the SAT isn’t required and the ACT is accepted, should she just submit her ACT scores? She’s taken it three times (32/34/34 last three composites). She’s tired of standardized testing and not looking forward to the SAT.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      NMSC does not use Subject Tests in evaluating students, so your daughter is off the hook. Her 34 will be high enough to serve as a “confirming score” to reach Finalist status. The jump from Finalist to Scholar is quite competitive, but Subject Tests or the lack of an SAT score won’t play a role.

  • Avatar VAL says:

    Hi, Art:
    I am hoping this information will help others out there. My daughter’s counselor told her on Friday that she is a semi-finalist with a Selection Index of 217. She is in a Florida Public school. She already took the SAT and got a 1480. Does she still need to take it again in her senior year to qualify? I think she was hoping she was done with the SAT. I am sure her counselor will tell her the info but she was asking me.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Counselors sometimes misunderstand or miscommunicate the information that they receive from NMSC at this time of year. NMSC sends schools a list of students who appear to be eligible for honors in the National Merit competition. These students have scored at or above the Commended level. This is not an official announcement, since final eligibility must be determined. Counselors are not informed of the Semifinalist level or which of their students have qualified as Semifinalists (it’s not clear that NMSC has even calculated the cutoffs).

      We’re not sure if the 217 SI will be high enough in Florida. If it is high enough for your daughter to be a Semifinalist, then she needs to have a “confirming” SAT score. Her 1480 is sufficient. National Merit uses an SAT Selection Index that — just as with the PSAT SI — doubles the weight of the EBRW score. But even worst case and she scored a 680 EBRW / 800 M, her SAT SI would be 68×2 + 80 = 216. She does not need to take the SAT again for the sake of National Merit.

  • Avatar Shan says:

    Hi! I’m a student from CA who got a 223 selection index. I’m very much hoping the cutoff doesn’t change! In some of your other comments, it seemed like you’re saying that schools now know whether or not we got commended or semifinalist. Am I understanding that correctly? I would love to know my status now instead of waiting until September 🙂

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify. Only the Commended level is known at this time. Schools receive a preliminary list of students who are at or above the Commended mark. They are not told who is Commended and who is a Semifinalist. That notification is made to schools in late August and not “public” until mid-September. You are in great shape with a 223, but there is still a lot of waiting to do. Sorry.

  • Avatar Mary says:

    We received the following email from our school back in January. The wording in this email implies that the high schools already know what the cutoffs for National Merit Semi-finalists will be and that it is higher for Colorado. Do the high schools know already? What are your thoughts on this email? (FYI: My son’s SI score is 222).

    “One final note, PSAT/NMSQT results were released before Christmas onto student’s College Board accounts. In looking at scores in just the third release of this version of the PSAT/NMSQT we would like to share a few observations. Firstly, it appears the redesigned PSAT/NMSQT is a more reliable practice test for the SAT but we have also noted that the test scores are higher than in the past. As this is also the test that identifies the National Merit Finalists – the top 1% of test takers in the nation, we have also noted that the scores necessary to reaching National Merit Semi-Finalist are also higher. This is figured on a state level and the list of those students qualified will not be released until Fall.”

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      That is a counselor trying to give helpful analysis, but not one who actually knows where the Semifinalist levels will fall. None of us know that. I’m speculating, but I suspect that the counselor was looking at something like the 99th percentile figure and assuming that scores were on the rise. That doesn’t actually provide insight into cutoffs. Percentiles look at previous years, percentiles are rounded, and percentiles are not reported by state. It’s very likely that your son will be a Semifinalist with a 222 in CO.

  • Avatar Sandy says:

    I asked this a few months ago, and will ask again now that we know the 212 is commended. We are in Mass, and my daughter’s index is a 222. As I’m sure you know, last year Mass went up to 223. Given that commended stayed the same, any way it’s more likely that Mass drops back down to 222? Thanks so much!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Schools (and homeschoolers) are notified in April of initial student eligibility. I’ve received multiple reports that the cutoff is at 212, and I believe that to be correct.

      I think the most that we can say is that the 212 cutoff is not bad news. There is correlation between the Commended level and the highest state cutoffs, but it is too weak to draw conclusions about 222/223. Good luck to your daughter!

  • Avatar Ibrahim says:

    I got a 216 as my index and I live in Michigan. I know that I will be commended, but will I be a semifinalist?

  • Avatar Tom says:

    My daughter received 216 as her index and live in WI. Last year’s semifinalist was 216 for WI. Will it remain the same/change up or down for 2020? We are hoping that it stays the same (216).

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      College Board no longer releases state-by-state data for the PSAT before the NM announcements, so we can only go by national and historical trends. So far this year is looking very similar to last year in what we have seen from overall PSAT trends, the Commended level, and the NHRP cutoffs. In “flat” years, about 60% of cutoffs remain the same or go down, so that’s the best estimate for WI.

  • Avatar julie says:

    my son is a 2020 graduate in texas. his nmsc index is 225. he has a nov 2018 sat score of 1410 (nmsc index 213). Will 213 qualify as a confirming score? it seems awfully low, so i’m nervous about it.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t believe we have seen the confirming score come in above the Commended level in recent years, but it is cutting things close (NMSC does not pre-announce the confirming score). If he was able to score a 225 on the PSAT, I’d recommend that he not settle for a 1410 on the SAT — quite apart from the NM implications.

  • Avatar Sampath says:

    hi Art
    My son from IL got an index of 221. The other day, he received an email from his school that he is qualified for National Merit consideration which I assume that he is confirmed to be commended. I am trying to assess his chances to clear the next round which is to become semi finalist. You had mentioned back in Dec’18 for my question that his chances are 50/50. Last year 135 students were qualified for consideration v/s 143 this year. Not sure if this number and any other info you might have received since Dec ’18 will give little more clarity on his chances to be eligible for semi finalist from IL.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      There is no significant change since December. It’s good news that the Commended level stayed at 212 versus jumping, say, to 214, but it’s not enough to tell us how a 221 will fare in IL.

  • Avatar BA says:

    Hi Art,

    My daughter got an SI of 218 and we are from Nebraska. Can she qualify for National Merit semi Finalist for 2020?

  • Avatar Nancy says:

    223 for CT…is there any chance it will move up to 224 for class of 2020?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Over the last decade or so, CT’s cutoff has always been a point or two off of the highest cutoff. I don’t think we’ll see anything different this year, which means that a 223 should be safe.

  • Avatar Kathy says:

    Hi Art,
    I know I saw this somewhere. But I can’t find it now. But it is required to take the SAT to be finalist right? And if so is there a certain timeline they should take it? Thanks You your time Kathy

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Until this year, all Semifinalists had to take the SAT to move on to Finalist. This class will be able to take the SAT or the ACT. Tests can be taken as late as December of senior year, but I certainly don’t recommend cutting things that close!

  • Avatar JJ says:

    We got an invite from Texas A&M to National Scholar Invitational 2-day event today. It says it’s invitation only for students who scored high on PSAT NMSQT test and on track to being recognized as a National Merit or National Hispanic Scholar. Does this mean State of Texas knows what the cutoff for 2020? Or they just invited students with 221 (last year’s cutoff) and higher? My daughter has 222. I can’t imagine getting invited with SI of 220, attend the event and not making semifinalist. Thank you for having this wonderful blog!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      No, Texas A&M does not know the actual cut-offs. They are just trying to get in front of students as early as possible. I don’t know exactly how they are setting invitation levels and agree that it could lead to some awkward situations. Not so much in your daughter’s case. Congratulations.

  • Avatar Kellen says:


    I did the Alternative Entry path because I had knee surgery. Though information is scarce, it seems there is no difference between the PSAT scale and the SAT scale, as in my 1470 on the SAT falls on the 1520 scale, because the SAT is meant for seniors and PSAT for Juniors, making the SAT harder. My index was a 221 and I’m in Missouri. Does this sound accurate to you? Do I have a chance?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      While the question difficulty is slightly higher on the SAT, that is taken into account in the scaling. In theory, a 740 should mean the same level of achievement on either exam (assuming the tests could magically be taken at the same moment). The SAT scale goes from 200-800 rather than 160-760. One way that NMSC tries to maintain fairness while allowing for Alternative Entry is to cap SAT scores at 760 when calculating an SI. It looks like you got a 740/730, so that didn’t come into play in your case. A 221 is essentially a lock to qualify in Missouri.

  • Avatar Wesley says:

    Hi Art,
    We live in Ohio & My son has a PSAT of 224 with a ACT score of 35. Hate to assume anything, but in Ohio a 224 should make him a Semifinalist. With a 35 ACT in the class of 2020 do you see any reason at all for him to take the SAT? We’re thinking a 35 ACT is probably as good or better than any score he’ll get on the SAT and won’t change his odds of getting to finalist status. Do you agree? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I agree. He would need to score a 1570 or better to improve his concordant score (and if he was really itching to do more testing, why not just repeat the ACT?). His 35 is certainly high enough to qualify as a Finalist. Congratulations!

  • Avatar Becky says:

    My son received a NMSC Selection Index Score of 220 (Utah) and we are hoping that his score will be high enough to qualify for semifinalist status. Was he supposed to have indicated a college choice on the actual PSAT test or is that something that he will be asked to do later if he makes the semifinalist cut?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      He won’t need to worry about it until he completes his Finalist application. In fact, it’s often best to leave the choice blank even then. He will have until the spring to settle on a First Choice school. An important exception is when a student knows of a specific target scholarship that may have a limited number of spots. Students can and do update their First Choice school as the admission process plays out. Keep in mind that there is no reason to list any school that does not provide National Merit scholarships. It’s just a waste of a choice.

  • Avatar sudheer says:

    My daughter scored 1430 PSAT/NMSQT with 700 ERW and 730 in Math. We live in Texas. Will she be qualified for a semi-finalist? She also scored 1540 in SAT with 790 Math and 750 ERW. She is worrying to get qualified as semi-finalist. Could you suggest?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Your daughter’s Selection Index is 213. Unfortunately, that will not be high enough in Texas to qualify as a Semifinalist. She did wonderfully on her SATs, and that’s what matters for college admissions.

  • Avatar KD says:

    Hello, Art!
    I understand that the latest test date for a confirming SAT or ACT score is December of senior year. What is the earliest accepted confirming score test date? Are scores from sophomore year or summer between sophomore and junior year accepted?
    Thank you!!

  • Avatar CMD says:

    Hi Art- Quick question. I know that the ACT exam can serve as a confirming score for the NMS program. Do you know if you have to take the writing section for the exam to serve as a confirming score? My daughter has a PSAT index of 222 which sets her up nicely for where we live and has already decided on a school for college which does not require the writing for admission purposes.

  • Avatar CMD says:

    Thanks, Art. Your information is so helpful! My daughter’s index of 222 and ACT score of 35 seem to set her up very well for the NMSC program. I just looked at the National Merit Scholarship page and there are a list of universities as sponsors for the program. If my daughter chooses a school that is not on that list and we do not have any corporate connections, does that mean there is no scholarship for her even if her application is successful? I find it all a bit confusing!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      It is a bit confusing. NMSC provides approximately 2,400 scholarships of $2,500 each year to Finalists who do not receive scholarships from colleges or companies. About 5,000 Finalists receive scholarships from colleges or companies. That means that about 1 in 4 of the other 10,000 Finalists receive one of the $2,500 awards. The awards are allocated by state, so competitiveness can vary. About half of the Finalist pool will receive the honor without receiving any scholarship money.

  • Avatar D. F. says:

    Art, thanks for all of your work. I am a National Merit Scholar from the late 1980s and then, the window of dates for confirming PSAT scores was pretty narrow. We could only submit test scores for the SAT between June of our Junior year through January of our Senior. I understand that window is much wider now wondered if you had an idea of when that happened. You will be excited to hear that both of my awesome twin daughters are likely following Dad’s footsteps into National Merit …. One got a 230 and the other a 235 on practice tests, so I suspect that they will do well enough when they attack this in the fall.

    Correction…. Those weren’t practice tests, those were full SATs that they recently took where we did the 2*V + M calculation. I know they don’t call it “Verbal” anymore, but _I_ still do!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Congratulations to your daughters on their SAT performances. Sounds like they are in great shape. The 2*V+M doesn’t work perfectly because the PSAT tops out at 760, but their scores were clearly high.

      I don’t recall when NMSC moved to the wider window. It has been more than a decade, but it could quite easily be two decades or more. NMSC doesn’t change things very often. Back in our day — my “day” is just a bit earlier than yours — students taking the SAT in sophomore year was a non-factor. I still call it Verbal when no one is looking.

  • Avatar Bryce says:

    Hi Art. From my understanding, all of the major school districts here in Arizona took the PSAT on October 24th (we were on Fall Break for the October 10th PSAT). With such a large portion of Arizona taking the PSAT with a potentially odd scoring scale, how do you this could affect the cutoff for 2020 National Merit Semifinalists in Arizona? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Anyone who predicts the impact has a 50% chance of being right. The best we can say is that the Oct 24 test is likely to increase volatility. Let’s pretend that everyone in Arizona took the 10/24 test. We still wouldn’t be able to say that the cutoff would go down (although that’s the way I’d guess), but we would know that certain scores weren’t even possible. In other words, there could be large gaps/jumps.

  • Avatar Tania says:

    I have read through all the comments, so I apologize if this has already been asked. My daughter missed the PSAT due to medical reasons and applied for an alternate entry and took an SAT June 1, 2019 as a qualifying entry for NMSC for 2020 graduates. I am wondering how they convert the SAT scores into the PSAT format to see if they qualify as a NMS semi-finalist or commended scholar? This information doesn’t seem to exist anywhere.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      When computing a Selection Index from a PSAT score, you simply double the ERW score, add the Math score, and drop a zero. The only twist with the SAT is that scores go to 800 rather than 760. In order to be fair, NMSC will cap the ERW and Math scores at 760. So let me give you a couple of examples.

      780 ERW / 720 M, Selection Index = 224 (76 x 2 + 72)
      740 ERW / 740 M, Selection Index = 222 (74 x 2 + 74)

  • Avatar Brett says:

    Hi Art,
    I think I understand most of this process so far, but it’d be reassuring to hear your input directly. I scored a 1500(740+760)224 on my junior PSAT in Texas, meaning that I am almost certainly safe for semifinalist status. However, what brought me here was the information concerning “confirming scores” on the SAT/ACT. In the December following my junior PSAT, I scored a 1470(750Reading+720math) on an SAT which would put me at a 222 for the SAT index(which would have me safe, as the latest confirming score index cutoff I’ve seen is 209). At this point I was still under the impression that my confirming score should be higher than my PSAT score (because of the slightly larger scale of SAT) and so I took the May and June SAT, both scoring 1460(730+730, 219 on index). While I can’t really explain how my score lowered, I am asking if I should submit my highest initial index SAT score from December, despite it being the most dated? From what I gathered from your posts, my SAT score shouldn’t matter for my finalist chances as long as it’s above the “confirming score” threshold, correct? At one point in the comments you mentioned improving an already high SAT score to get a better a “concordant score”, what is that about? I’m really banking on getting national merit finalist in order to get my college paid for, so I am just trying to do everything I can to max out my chances(but I don’t want to take any more SAT’s if I’m already accomplished in that criteria). Thank you for all your insight Art!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Congratulations, in advance, on making NMSF in Texas! NMSC will use your highest set of scores (not a superscore). It doesn’t matter if you send only December or you send all of your scores. As long as the test date falls in the right time period — and Dec does — the date itself doesn’t matter. Your 222 is well above the score needed to “confirm.” A higher score doesn’t help you reach the Finalist stage, because you’ve already checked off that box.

      Don’t worry about concordant scores. While I don’t know the post you are referring to, it must have been one where I was talking about ACT versus SAT scores. A concordance is used to compare ACT and SAT scores. This is the first year that the ACT can serve as a confirming score, which is probably why concordance came up. It’s not relevant to your case because you took only the SAT.

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