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National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2024

By December 4, 2022 National Merit, PSAT

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Compass has analyzed the October 2022 PSAT/NMSQT results to see how scores will impact the class of 2024’s National Merit hopes. Almost 1.5 million juniors took the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship Program, and more than 54,000 of them will receive some form of honors or scholarships.

The Continued Drop-Off in High-Scorers
Students compete for National Merit honors. The more competitive the class, the higher the qualifying scores required (“cutoffs”). How well did students do this year?

In the class of 2020, more than 70,000 students scored above 1400 on the PSAT. This year the figure is under 45,000. This year looks surprisingly similar to last year. Test taker volume is still off more than 13% from pre-pandemic levels, and only 3% of those testers achieved a top score. The results in the last two years may reflect pandemic-related learning losses. Alternatively, College Board has scaled recent PSATs more unfavorably than in the past.

What is a Selection Index and why does it matter?
Instead of using PSAT scores directly, NMSC calculates a Selection Index (SI) that can be found with the online PSAT report. [For a general overview, including information on the Selection Index and the various stages of the selection process, see our National Merit FAQ.] A student scoring 720 ERW and 680 Math has an SI of 212. A student scoring 680 ERW and 720 Math has an SI of 208. On average, students scoring 1400 and above have Selection Indexes of 210 and above. That information allows us to estimate where the Commended level will fall based on how many students receive scores of 1400 or higher.

Years in which a large number of students achieved high scores are associated with Commended cutoffs above 210. Years in which fewer than 60,000 students got top marks are associated with Commended cutoffs below 210. Compass expects this year’s Commended cutoff to fall somewhere between 206 and 209, with a 207 being the “most likely.”

Commended versus Semifinalist, national versus state
The relationship between nationwide performance and Semifinalist cutoffs is more complex. The Commended cutoff is determined by looking at the top 50,000 scorers nationally. Semifinalist cutoffs, on the other hand, are determined state-by-state. The performance of students in Georgia or Michigan has no impact on the cutoffs in New York or Ohio. NMSC establishes a target number of Semifinalists based on the high school population in each state. California, for example, has a target of approximately 2,000 Semifinalists. NMSC determines the Semifinalist cutoff that comes as close as possible to producing 2,000 Semifinalists in the state. While this methodology ensures a national distribution of Semifinalists, it means that some states are far more competitive than others. The table below provides Compass’s estimates for Semifinalist cutoffs.

StateClass of 2024
(Est. Range)
Class of 2024
("Most Likely")
Class of 2023
(Actual)
Class of 2022
(Actual)
Class of 2021
(Actual)
Alabama210 - 215212212212212
Alaska208 - 213209210208212
Arizona214 - 219216214218218
Arkansas209 - 213211210211212
California219 - 222220220221221
Colorado215 - 219217217217217
Connecticut218 - 221220221220220
Delaware217 - 221219218220219
District of Columbia221 - 224223223224222
Florida214 - 218216216217216
Georgia216 - 220219218219219
Hawaii214 - 218216215217217
Idaho212 - 216214215214214
Illinois217 - 220219219218219
Indiana213 - 218215214215215
Iowa210 - 215212212211212
Kansas213 - 217215214215214
Kentucky210 - 215212212212214
Louisiana211 - 215213213213212
Maine210 - 216213215211213
Maryland220 - 223222222224221
Massachusetts219 - 222221220221222
Michigan215 - 219217218217216
Minnesota215 - 219217216218218
Mississippi209 - 214211210213211
Missouri212 - 217214213214214
Montana206 - 211208207208210
Nebraska209 - 215211212210213
Nevada210 - 215212210214215
New Hampshire212 - 216214213214215
New Jersey221 - 224223223222222
New Mexico208 - 213209208210211
New York217 - 221219219220220
North Carolina215 - 219217217218217
North Dakota206 - 210207209207209
Ohio214 - 218216216215215
Oklahoma209 - 213211211210211
Oregon216 - 220218216220217
Pennsylvania216 - 220218218218217
Rhode Island213 - 217215216213216
South Carolina211 - 215213213213212
South Dakota208 - 213211212210209
Tennessee213 - 218215215215215
Texas218 - 221219219220219
Utah210 - 215212211212212
Vermont210 - 215212213211212
Virginia219 - 222221221221221
Washington218 - 221220220220220
West Virginia206 - 210207207207209
Wisconsin212 - 216214213214213
Wyoming206 - 210207207208209
​U.S. Territories206 - 209207207207209
​​Studying Abroad221 - 224223223224222
​​​Commended206 - 209207207207209

Consider the range
State cutoffs fluctuate from year to year — even when the Commended cutoff is unchanged! Rather than expecting that a single score is the correct estimate, Compass recommends that students consider the possibility that a state’s cutoff will fall within the estimated range. Over the last ten years, only 27% of Semifinalist cutoffs have remain unchanged from one year to the next. [Compass’s historical archive of National Merit cutoffs dating back to 2008 can be found here.]

Compass projects this year to be more stable than most because of the similar national performance compared to the class of 2023. However, in Compass’s 15-year database, there has never been a year when the majority of state cutoffs remained the same. So while “no change” is usually the best bet one can make, it’s also a bad bet. Consider, instead, the estimated range.

Small shifts can matter
It doesn’t always require a large change in testing behavior to cause a state’s cutoff to move. NMSC has no way of making fine distinctions within a state. Everyone at a given score is either a Semifinalist or not. The organization tries to come as close as possible in meeting the state’s allocation of Semifinalists (a number it does not directly report), but the nature of the Selection Index means that small variations can move a cutoff higher or lower.

Let’s assume that the target number of Semifinalists for a state is 300. If 282 students had Selection Indexes of 220 or higher and 315 scored 219 or higher, then 219 comes closest to meeting the target and will be set as the cutoff. If only 5 students at 219 had gotten 1 additional question right, there would have been 287 students at 220 or higher, and a 220 cutoff would have been chosen by NMSC. Small differences in class makeup, test form difficulty, or a few extra students guessing correctly on a problem can move the Semifinalist cutoff by a point.

When your selection unit is not a state
The Semifinalist cutoff for each of the 50 states is calculated independently. However, some cutoffs are not independent. NMSC considers boarding school students, students studying abroad, and students in the District of Columbia and in U.S. Territories or Commonwealths as separate “selection units” that follow specific rules. The net effect is that the cutoffs for the District of Columbia and students studying abroad are always set at the level of the highest state cutoff. The cutoff for U.S. Territories is set at the Commended Student level (as it is with some states). The cutoff for a boarding school is set at the highest state cutoff within the boarding school’s region.

The role of test scaling
The PSAT is usually taken by about 1.5 million students each year. The pool is (or was) large enough and consistent enough that the scores of the top 50,000 students should not change much. And yet they do. This reflects a shortcoming of the PSAT/NMSQT — it’s well-designed to measure the performance of the average student, but is more prone to error at the edges. College Board attempts to scale each PSAT so that a particular score represents the same level of achievement. In practice, we see clear examples of where College Board’s numbers are “off.” The class of 2021, for example, had an unusual test form that produced far lower cutoffs than in the previous year. Further confusing matters is that several different test forms are used each year. Compass’s analysis shows that this year’s PSAT — or at least the primary form, taken by more than 1 million students — was difficult. This difficulty can show up throughout the range of cutoffs, but lower scoring states tend to track the Commended level more than do the higher scoring states.

Updates and comments
Compass will update this post as new developments arise. We try to (eventually) answer all questions in the comments, but please be aware that comments are moderated and will not display until approved.

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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.

2,832 Comments

  • Grace says:

    Hey Art,
    I have kind of a double situation. One of my children lives in alabama and got a 220 index and the other lives in Louisiana and got a 212. Any insight or opinions on national merit for them? thanks

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Grace,
      Your student in Alabama will qualify as a Semifinalist next September. It’s going to be a waiting game for your student in LA. While Louisiana’s cutoff has gone as low as 212 (most recently in the class of 2021), it’s cutoff usually falls higher than that.

  • KB says:

    Hi,
    Thank you for such an informative article! My child received a score of 209 in New Mexico. Do you think that will be commended or semi-finalist?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      New Mexico’s most recent cutoffs have been 210 and 208, so it is definitely possible that your student is named a Semifinalist. Your student should at least be named Commended.

  • Steven says:

    My son got 226 (Delaware), he says it does not guarantee any thing beyond becoming a semifinalist, is that true?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Steven,
      Congratulations to your son! He is correct. The Finalist stage is completely separate and depends on grades, a confirming score on the SAT or ACT (just getting an SAT score at around the Commended level), and a recommendation from his school. He will also submit an essay. Most Semifinalists become Finalists.

  • Sang says:

    Hi,
    For Illinois, my stuent has a 218 selection index. What is the likelihood of qualifying as national merit semi-finalist from Illinois? Since Illinois selection index did go up by 1 point for class of 2023 – do you think that upward trend will continue for class of 2024? Also does having a 99th percentile in both Reading/Writing and Math play a role in what the national merit semi-finalist qualifying selection index will be for Illinois?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sang,
      We can’t call a 1-year change a trend. There is a chance that Illinois’ cutoff will drop back to 218. No, the percentiles do not provide insight, unfortunately. They are based on previous years data and are estimates of a percentile rank if every junior in the country took the PSAT. We won’t know how IL students actually performed until later Aug/early September.

  • Kevin says:

    Very interesting article. Given your suggestion to use the “range” as an indicator for semi-finalist cutoff, a score of 222 in Texas has a fairly good chance. In your opinion, will that score make the “finalist” list?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Kevin,
      Thank you for thinking in terms of ranges! There is no chance that a 223 falls within Texas’s range. A 222 will achieve Semifinalist honors. Finalist is a different stage in the competition and does not involve the Selection Index. Instead, Semifinalists submit an application, including an essay. NMSC considers your grades and school recommendation. You must also obtain a “confirming” SAT or ACT score, which basically means a score at around the level of the Commended cutoff (about 1400).

  • Annie says:

    Hello Mr. Sawyer,

    With a 216 and in 99 percentile in GA, will my child has any chance to be named Commended Students by NMSC. Thank you!

    Annie

  • Laura says:

    My son took the PSAT as a sophomore with a score of 211. Unfortunately his score dropped this year to a 206…and he is looking at a school which gives full tuition for a commended scholar. That’s a hard one to take when just a couple questions could have made the difference.

  • Mel says:

    Hi Art,

    Thanks so much for your helpful blog posts! My son has a selection index of 218 and is in Colorado. Do you think it’s possible that the cutoff could increase to 219, or can we safely assume that he will be named a NMSF in Sept.?

  • Maddie says:

    Any updates or ideas on if scores are likely to drop of go up for louisiana? or are you thinking 213?

  • Nina says:

    Hi!
    I got a 222 but live in NJ. Do you think I still have a chance of being a semi-finalist?

  • Lili says:

    Hi – my daughter is a Florida junior with an index score of 218, has the index score been set for 2024? I see the chart shows range and most likely. Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Lili,
      These are only my estimates, and I am not affiliated with National Merit. The official announcements will not be made until September 2023. Very unofficially, I can say that there is zero chance that Florida’s cutoff will be above 218 this year.

  • Thomas says:

    Daughter in Ohio with index of 208. Odds of getting Commended?
    Thank you so much for this wonderful resource.

  • Anonymous12 says:

    Hi!
    I got a 219 in Texas. Should I be an NMSQT Semifinalist? Is this prediction certified?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Anon,
      I think it is likely a toss-up between 219 and 220. I am not affiliated with National Merit, so this is not at all certified. Semifinalists won’t be announced until September 2023.

  • Joseph says:

    Hi. I have a selection index score of 221 in Georgia. What do you think my chance of become a semifinalist is?

  • Amy says:

    Hi Art, My daughter is a junior in CA, with selection index score of 221. She may qualify for the selection. Do you know when she need to take SAT exam to be consider? Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Amy,
      Technically she has until Dec 2023 to take the SAT for Finalist consideration, but I would never recommend waiting that long! She can also take the ACT if she prefers.

  • AFU says:

    Hi Art,
    For some reason , user can not see older comment. We can only see the last reply to Asunator. Clicking on “Older Comment” also doesnt do anything.
    I am curious to read your response to my query but I cant get to ti.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      AFU,
      It’s a bug with our website software. If you right click on Older Comments and open in a new tab, you should be able to navigate to previous comments. Oh, and I just answered your original question!

  • Liana says:

    CT Junior here with index score of 222. What’s the chance CT cut off will go up more than 2 points this year?

  • Asunator says:

    Hi! I’m an Ohio junior with a selection index score of 220. What do you think my chances of making it to the semifinalist level are?

  • Tammy says:

    Hi Mr.Sawyer, My scored high on English but did bad on Math. Her PSAT index is 208. Does commended cutoff only look at index not the actual past score? Thanks

  • Christa says:

    After reading all of the comments, it seems like a 218 in Florida is very likely for NM. Thank you for all of this information.

  • SG says:

    Art, thank you for the clear explanation. My daughter attends international school overseas and should be in the “study abroad” group, aka, the highest national cut-off line. She got 222 (1490). Are we still looking at MD, NJ and DC this year? Any more information sharing for this special group? thank you!

  • Prin says:

    Hi,

    What is the likelihood of qualifying as a semifinalist with a 221 in California?

    Also, once a student is qualified, does a student with lower index will automatically have lesser chance to be finalist compare to someone with higher index? Or the index doesn’t matter anymore once you are qualified as semifinalist?

    Thank you

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Prin,
      I’d say that it is a a 75-90% likelihood. I don’t think California will go up by 2 points this year. The cutoff is a qualifying number and does not change one’s chances of being named a Finalist.

  • Andy says:

    Thank you for this informative article! Any chance a 218 can qualify as a semifinalist in Georgia? Would appreciate the rationale for moving the cutoff estimate up one point to 219 from 218 last year?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Andy,
      In a year where the national numbers look so similar to last year’s numbers, there is clearly an argument that most cutoffs will remain the same. So 218 is a good possibility. Why did I go with 219? I looked at the 4 years in the last 7 that are “low years.” Georgia’s cutoff was 219 in 3 of those years. That was my rationale, but I always recommend students reflect on the potential range.

  • Lizzie says:

    Hi! Thanks for this great article. I just need a quick clarification. If a cut-off for semi-finalists is, say, 221, does that mean that 222 and above qualify, or 221 and above qualify?

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