National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2023

By October 3, 2021 National Merit, PSAT
National Merit Semifinalists

The National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs for the class of 2022 are final. Now the question becomes how high members of the class of 2023 will need to score on the October 2021 PSAT in order to qualify for next year’s National Merit honors. [For a general overview of the National Merit process, see our FAQ. An archive of our post on the lead-up to the class of 2022 cutoffs can be found here.]

Students typically look to the prior year’s cutoffs for guidance, but juniors are likely to be disappointed if they set their expectations based on the pandemic-impacted numbers from the class of 2022. More than 40% of students missed the PSAT/NMSQT last year. Even after National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) changed its policy to factor in SAT scores from Alternate Entry candidates, cutoffs were among the lowest ever recorded. With most schools back to in-person instruction and admission testing returning to normal, PSAT volume should be closer to the historical norms. The class of 2023 will likely see a “bounce back” year where cutoffs resemble those from the classes of 2019 and 2020. See our full analysis below the table. [For a look at cutoff trends going back to the class of 2008, see Historical National Merit Cutoffs.]

StateClass of 2023
(Est. Range)
Class of 2023
("Most Likely")
Class of 2022
Class of 2021
Class of 2020
Alabama211 - 216214212212216
Alaska209 - 216213208212213
Arizona217 - 221219218218219
Arkansas210 - 216213211212214
California221 - 224222221221222
Colorado217 - 222219217217220
Connecticut219 - 222221220220221
Delaware218 - 224220220219220
District of Columbia222 - 224223224222223
Florida216 - 220218217216219
Georgia217 - 221220219219220
Hawaii216 - 220219217217219
Idaho213 - 218215214214215
Illinois217 - 222220218219221
Indiana214 - 219217215215218
Iowa211 - 217215211212215
Kansas213 - 219217215214218
Kentucky212 - 218216212214217
Louisiana212 - 218215213212215
Maine211 - 217215211213215
Maryland220 - 224222224221222
Massachusetts220 - 224222221222223
Michigan215 - 220218217216219
Minnesota217 - 221219218218219
Mississippi210 - 216213213211214
Missouri213 - 218216214214217
Montana208 - 215212208210214
Nebraska210 - 216214210213216
Nevada213 - 219216214215218
New Hampshire213 - 219217214215218
New Jersey221 - 224223222222223
New Mexico210 - 216213210211213
New York218 - 222221220220221
North Carolina216 - 221219218217219
North Dakota207 - 213211207209212
Ohio214 - 220217215215218
Oklahoma210 - 217213210211214
Oregon217 - 222220220217220
Pennsylvania217 - 221219218217220
Rhode Island213 - 220217213216218
South Carolina212 - 218215213212215
South Dakota209 - 216213210209214
Tennessee214 - 220218215215219
Texas218 - 222221220219221
Utah211 - 217214212212215
Vermont211 - 218215211212216
Virginia220 - 223222221221222
Washington219 - 223221220220221
West Virginia207 - 213211207209212
Wisconsin213 - 218216214213216
Wyoming208 - 214211208209212
​U.S. Territories207 - 213211207209212
​U.S. Abroad222 - 224223224222223
​​Commended207 - 213211207209212

Consider the Range
Although we provide a “most likely” estimate for each state, Compass encourages students to think of cutoff targets as a range of possibilities. As the historical data show, states — especially ones with fewer PSAT takers — can see significant swings in cutoffs from year to year. Until scores become available in December, our estimates are based on historical trends. We will refine the projections as data become available.

Commended versus Semifinalist, National versus State
The Commended cutoff is determined by looking at the top 50,000 scorers nationally. That typically represents the top 3% of test takers. 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 1,000 Semifinalists. NMSC determines the Semifinalist cutoff that comes as close as possible to producing 1,000 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 methodology also means that state cutoffs can move in opposite directions. The colors in the chart below show how many states saw increases, decreases, or no change from the prior year. Although there are the occasional all-or-nothing years (recently, the class of 2020), most classes see a variety of results (red, blue and gray).

How Much Do Semifinalist Cutoffs Change?
The chart below shows the distribution of year-over-year changes in state cutoffs over the last 10 years. While “no change” is the most common result, it only happens 1 time out of 4. Variability is the one certainty.

Compass expects 3 factors to play a significant role in determining Commended and Semifinalist cutoffs for the class of 2023: test scaling, test taker volume, and Alternate Entry policies.

The Role of Test Scaling
The PSAT is usually taken by 1.7 million students each year. The pool is 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 gets it wrong. The class of 2020, for example, had an “off” test, which meant far lower cutoffs than in the previous year. Further confusing matters is that several different test forms are used each year, and some prove easier than others. We should know in December how the overall numbers lean this year.

Below is a chart of the Commended cutoff and the average Semifinalist cutoff for the last 6 years. Imperfections in PSAT scaling account for a significant portion of the swings. The Commended cutoff has ranged from 207 to 212. The average of the 50 state cutoffs has ranged from 215 to 218.


The Role of Test Taker Numbers
In some states, the majority of juniors take the PSAT, which makes the competition more intense for Semifinalist spots. In states where the focus is more on the ACT than the SAT, on the other hand, PSAT participation and cutoffs tend to be lower. Participation rates are not static, however. Schools, districts, and entire states make decisions about what test to offer and to which students. For example, when Illinois and Michigan shifted from the ACT to the SAT, they saw higher cutoffs as an offshoot. Changes at the school and district level may have a less pronounced effect, but they can still shift the cutoffs.

The Role of Alternate Entry
NMSC does not want to disqualify students who miss the PSAT because of extenuating circumstances such as illness or storm closures, so it has an Alternate Entry procedure to allow students to submit an SAT score, instead. In the past, students who missed the PSAT needed to apply, receive their counselor’s authorization, and be approved by NMSC. The number of entries was small enough that qualifiers could be considered as “bonus” Semifinalists, and their SAT scores were not used in calculating cutoffs. The volume of test cancelations was so unprecedented in October 2020 and January 2021 that NMSC dropped the authorization requirement. Further, the number of PSAT takers declined so much in some states — an 87% drop in California! — that NMSC felt that it had to factor SAT scores into cutoff calculations. This prevented cutoffs from plummeting, but it meant that PSAT takers were competing directly against SAT takers for the first time. The most notable problem arose in Maryland, where mass PSAT cancelations and record Alternate Entry qualifiers produced a 3-point jump in the Semifinalist cutoff (to 224). There has never been a cutoff that high nor a jump that large in the 220+ range. As the state with the highest cutoff in the class of 2022, Maryland also set the bar for the District of Columbia, students studying abroad, and many boarding school students.

NMSC has not announced how it plans to handle Alternate Entry for the class of 2023 or whether schools voluntarily opting out of the PSAT represent an “extenuating circumstance.”

Why does Compass expect higher cutoffs for the class of 2023?
The down year for the class of 2021 was caused by an oddly scaled exam and would normally have been followed by a bounce back year. Instead, the pandemic kept cutoffs low for a second year in a row. We don’t expect that trend to last, so the class of 2023 should look to earlier years as targets. We eagerly await test results in December. At that point, we’ll know how many students were able to take the PSAT (although we won’t know those figures by state), and we should have a more refined take on where the Commended cutoff will end up.

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.


  • Ben says:

    Hi Art,
    Have you heard that the University of Oklahoma has sent its National Merit Scholar Family Guide to NMSF before the the lists are released on September 15? Is it true? If so, how does OU get the NMSF lists so early? Thank you.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I did hear that. A few possibilities:
      1) Oklahoma is buying lists from College Board just like every other college and is setting the parameters to approximate expected cutoffs. I had always assumed this to be the case.
      2) As a major sponsor of NM, they get advance notice from NMSC.
      2a) They mail the guides whenever they want after receiving the list from NMSC. [A bit odd, since NM makes a big deal about the information not becoming public before the press release.]
      2b) Someone messed up this year.

      • Ben says:

        I’m inclined to believe #2a is more possible. My son’s PSAT score is one point lower than last year’s state cutoff. We thought that fat chance he had of being a NMSF this year. When we received the NMS family guide from OU two days ago, I was not sure if it was a good news or not. Today it turned out that my son’s score is just exactly the cutoff. Therefore, I assume OU gets advance notice from NMSC rather than approximating cutoffs.

        • T.B. says:

          FYI: there are reports scattered around r/psat of that mailer going to people who did not qualify and how angry they are about it. So my *guess* is 1) AND 2b).

      • AL says:

        We also got the guide and my son is one point below your cutoff. His school has not notified anyone yet.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Coming close can sting, but your son is clearly a great test taker. Best of luck to him during application season. Thank you for sharing information about the OK guide. It does seem like the university uses score ranges rather than a list of Semifinalists.

  • Rick says:

    Looks like there is going be sharp drop off in cutoff scores especially as compared to 2018-2020 scores (2021 seems to have been anomalous) except in those states that there was mass cancellation of the PSAT and heavy use of AE, meaning that in those states PSAT takers were penalized.

  • H.S. says:

    Hey, student from Wisconsin here. I just found out today that I qualified with a 216! Wanted to pass it along since I haven’t seen any Wisconsin info yet. Thanks for all you’re doing, I spent all of last weekend anxiously reloading the page😂

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Congratulations, H.S.! I’m glad that you’ll be able to relax this weekend. Adding the WI information now.

      • Seacy says:

        Update from Virginia:

        Email from college counseling office today to high-scoring sophomores mentions a Commended cutoff of 207 and NMSF cutoff of 221 for Virginia “last year”, which seems to me to be confirmation it is indeed 221 for the c/o 2022.

    • MIa says:

      Booklets delivered to HS
      Wisconsin went 214

      Here is finalized list:
      Alabama- 212
      Arkansas -211
      New Hampshire-214
      New Jersey-222
      New Mexico- 210
      New York-220
      North Carolina-218
      North Dakota-207
      Rhode Is.-213
      South Carolina-213
      South Dakota-210
      West Virginia-207

      • Art Sawyer says:

        Thank you, Mia! We’ve been working to get this list. I’ll get this in the main post, but I won’t want to wait. That Maryland number stings. Not sure how NMSC explains that without AE. That cutoff also pushes DC and International to 224. Most unfortunate.

        • Beth says:

          The MD number is truly galling. This is clearly a function of AE (most high performing districts in MD did not administer PSAT) and has unfairly advantaged high-performing districts. This seems like a major equity issue. Do you think there is any possibility of movement on the part of NMSC? Is it worth protesting?

          • Art Sawyer says:

            If nothing else, some pressure might at least force NMSC to explain the impact of AE in Maryland. I’ve never seen them bend, though. What’s odd is that this only happened in Maryland (Oregon saw a 3 point increase, but that fell in line with its historical norms).

        • Dakota says:

          It looks like Oregon was +3 from last year as well.

          While I didn’t think AE would play a significant role, is it possible that smaller states (with fewer semifinalists traditionally) were more susceptible to this type of variance?

          • Art Sawyer says:

            Historically, smaller states are more susceptible to variance of all kinds. New schools opting into the PSAT. An oddball exam. Small shifts in population. Etc. Alaska bounces all over the place. Oregon and Maryland certainly aren’t CA and TX, but they aren’t particularly small, either. Maryland usually sees about 300 Semifinalists.

  • Ron says:

    Hey Art,
    Sorry if this question may have already been answered, but I was just wondering with alternate entry this year since the AE scores are not put towards cutoffs and AE students can have until October to submit their SAT scores, will this dramatically increase the amount of total NM students above 16,000? If so, how much do you think they will go up by, and will this potentially alter some universitys’ outlook on the value of this year’s national merit semifinalist/finalist total and decrease the scholarships they are willing to give for NM students?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Interesting take, Ron, but I think it’s a non-issue from both sides.

      Even if I didn’t take NM at its word that only about 1% of NMSFs are AE, it’s hard to imagine the profile of a late-entry qualifier. You’d need to have missed both PSATs, been on top of what AE even is, sent in your application by April, taken the SAT by June, scored at Semifinalist level, and then not bothered to send your scores until Sept/Oct. I’d be surprised if that describes a set greater than low double digits. Single digits? The typical NMSF total is 16,500, so it’s a rounding error.

      The other side is that universities won’t care. There are some scholarships that are capacity constrained, but usually colleges offer NM scholarships in order to brag about how many NM Scholars they’ve enrolled. If the pool is a little bigger, more opportunity!

    • MIa says:

      There were 16,740 semi-finalists in total this year.

  • Manisha says:

    218 in CA is a commended student, not semi-finalist.

  • Ryan says:

    California : Just informed by my counselor that I made it with Score of 221.

  • Mom says:

    Since nobody else from AZ has chimed in, my daughter qualified with a 218. The principal called her in to the office and told her a week ago. He also called me to congratulate us. He didn’t give her the letter that everyone else is getting, but did mention that they couldn’t really say anything until September 15. I appreciate the thorough blog and checked it frequently while waiting for decisions. We were all quite surprised she made it – her SAT was significantly better than her PSAT and we were kicking ourselves that we didn’t do AE.

  • S says:

    Hi Mr. Sawyer,
    I applied AE, with a breakdown of 760R, 780M. Do you know what index score that would be? Thank you so much.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      It depends on how your 760 is split between reading and writing. You should have two 10-40 scores that add up to 76. But each of those gets capped at 38 when computing your Selection Index for AE. So if your 760 is split evenly as 38 and 38, you don’t have to worry about the cap. If it is split 36 / 40, then NM uses 36 and 38 for your reading and writing scores. Since your Math score is 780, I know that your section score is 39. That gets capped at 38.

      To calculate your SI, cap each of the three 10-40 scores (R/WL/M) at 38. Sum them. Double that.

  • AZ mom says:

    Any new on Arizona?

  • OneAndDone? says:

    Hi Art – if a student qualifies through AE, that SAT score also serves to confirm, right? Thank you for being our trusted resource!

  • VAMom says:

    My son got notified by his school that he made it in Virginia at 221.

  • Rick says:

    Will we ever find out what the distribution of semi-finalists qualified through the AE and the PSAT test itself is in each state? It could be that a much higher proportion qualified through AE in a state like CA where there was mass cancellation of the PSAT. It looks like trying to qualify through the PSAT tests in October or January is really going to hurt CA students who didn’t have an SAT result that they could qualify with. There could be a shockingly low percentage of qualifiers via the PSAT test in CA.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I can’t imagine that NM has any interest in publishing this data. One way of looking at the fairness issue is what PSAT students needed to achieve versus prior years. On that score, it doesn’t seem like things are changing much. In some of the highest scoring states the cutoffs are down from an already record low year for the class of 2021. I think the number of PSAT qualifiers will be shockingly low only in rough proportion to the shockingly low percentage of PSAT takers. How is this result possible given qualifying via SAT score should have been a bit easier? Those who were able to take the PSAT benefitted from the fact that there was likely a group of high-caliber student who missed out on the PSAT and didn’t bother to apply AE or weren’t able to get in an SAT by June. There were concerns that an AE blend would greatly distort the cutoffs on a historical basis. That doesn’t seem to have happened. I will be curious to see how many students qualified in each state. Was NMSF able to stick to its targets?

      • Rick says:

        Before you could not use a SAT score for AE if you had a PSAT score, no? Now many more people could use AE via a SAT score because the PSAT was cancelled for them. We don’t know how much AE via SAT scores have pushed up cutoffs because we don’t have data yet from states where there was heavy use of AE due to mass cancellation of the PSAT. It could be that with these PSAT’s in Oct and Jan the cutoff would have dropped to 217 in, say, CA had there not been mass cancellations and few AE’s. Let’s say my kid now gets a 1590 after having finally been able to take the SAT; five were cancelled in the Spring semester. Her school instead chose to give the PSAT, not the SAT. Dumb, in my opinion. She just took a test on 8/28. She can’t use that SAT score for National Merit qualification.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          I agree that we would likely have seen a healthy decline in CA were it not for AE. My only point is that the standard CA PSAT takers needed to meet (still unclear whether it was 220 or 221) was not that different from what CA students have needed in the past.

          The most sensible thing would have been to allow AE for all students. NM’s AE policy effectively assumes/maintains two things: (1) PSAT and SAT are interchangeable as long as the score capping standard is applied. [We can debate that, but AE is built around that assumption.] and (2) Score Choice is OK with SAT scores for AE. If students can choose their best SAT score, why not allow them to choose their best PSAT/SAT score? They are interchangeable, right?

          On a practical level, NM may not be setup to handle such a flood of potential scores. Conceptually, however, it seems like it would have been fairer and involved less gaming of the system.

          • Rick says:

            I am raising the counterfactual that there would have been a sharp drop-off in the CA qualifying number even if there was heavy participation in the Oct and January PSAT’s. Why? It was hard to study for the PSAT without in-person group work and tutoring. We are seeing drop-offs in states where PSAT scores were heavily used. But we may not see a sharp drop-off in CA because so many people not having taken the PSAT will qualify with SAT scores that are only in the 96th percentile (or perhaps lower), as Howard has astutely pointed out. In Silicon Valley there was a smart decision to drop the PSAT and give SATs that served the dual purpose of being used for AE and college applications.

          • Art Sawyer says:

            I tend to push back when percentiles are used to make comparisons across tests. The test-taking pools for the PSAT and SAT are different. Entire districts, for example, take the PSAT. SAT taking (although there is some state and district testing) tends to be for those applying to 4-year colleges. What we see more than anything when comparing PSAT to SAT is academic growth — similar to what we see between 10th grade PSAT and 11th grade PSAT. College Board uses students final SAT when calculating percentiles across 3 prior academic years, so those scores, on average, probably come 8 months after fall PSAT. Even among top-scoring students, timing matters. Among the many oddities this year, we have entrants taking the PSAT in October, entrants taking the PSAT in January, and entrants taking the SAT anywhere from August of sophomore year to June of junior year.

          • Dave says:

            Art I understand what you are saying but a 221 SI PSAT does not equal a 221 SI SAT because as Howard pointed out they are not scaled properly. Prior to the pandemic about 3.5 million students took the PSAT whereas 2.2 million took the SAT in an average year. Yes the composition of the PSAT test takers is different from the SAT test takers as you indicate. Scores should follow a normal distribution. A (37, 37, 37) 221 on the PSAT is 99.3% or in a state with 10 million people is top 700 whereas that same (37, 37, 37) 221 on the SAT is ~ 97% or top 2000. SI’s may be ‘generally’ the same but they are mixing apples and oranges in those states that had high cancellations. Composition and sample size can’t make up for this large difference. Higher quality PSAT takers will be bumped by lower quality AE’s.

            You make a very good point, if they are scaled differently and you can take the SAT multiple times then for this year and the special circumstances they should have let kids choose or simply let in more semifinalists in those affected states. There seems to be little harm in that.

            This may not seem like a big deal but considering how competitive this is and what an honor it is to make NMSF it is a very big deal for those kids that are affected.

          • Art Sawyer says:

            It is a big deal to many students, and I hope I don’t come off as dismissing the concerns of those who missed out on qualifying. I also don’t want to minimize the achievement of any NMSF. Through no fault of their own, AE students were not able to take the PSAT. They followed rules set up by NMSC, and they qualified.

            We’re in agreement that the timing of SATs versus PSATs matters. My point is that this plays a much larger role than scoring differences between the two exams. Maybe it’s mixing Macintosh with Red Delicious. A side note for the testing aficionados: Neither the PSAT or the SAT have normal distributions. They were originally created that way, but College Board abandoned the concept with the revised SAT. The distributions are colloquially referred as normal, but they don’t fit the conditions for normality.

      • CA Mom says:

        Hello Art,
        On the same note, if the cut off and the # of semifinalists is calculated based on PSAT and AE scores submitted through June, what will happen to the AE entrants who submit their scores between June and October and qualify?

        • Art Sawyer says:

          My understanding is that they will qualify as NMSFs, although I’m not sure how things will get handled in order to meet the October Finalist application deadline. I think NM is assuming that the number of students in that category is small, since students needed to test by June. It would have represented an interesting case of mass altruism (or self-interest depending on the point of view) if every AE applicant waited until September to submit scores. NM would not have been able to blend AE scores in calculating cutoffs and, in theory, even more Semifinalist would be named.

    • Sonia says:

      I called National Merit again this morning. They told me nationwide AE was just over 1% . I asked them to give me the numbers for Ca- the supervisor refused to give me the numbers. In states like Ca where PSAT was widely canceled I have to believe that AE was much higher and that is totally unfair for students that had qualifying SAT scores but took the PSAT anyways and missed out. She explained how she gets calls from parents saying how the SAT is harder and how it’s unfair. I don’t even see how anyone would think that. I asked if we can send an appeal letter in to count SAT scores instead and she obviously said no to that as well.

      • Art Sawyer says:

        That’s interesting information, Sonia. Yes, the percentage likely skewed higher in states such as CA. One factor may be that we overestimate the use of AE because we are in an echo chamber. Those of us posting on this site and others are highly attuned to these things. Many students would not have known about AE or may have missed the deadline.

        Alternatively, the 1% figure is wrong.

        • Dakota says:

          I think the more likely answer is the former – that we are wildly overestimating the use of AE. (with the caveat that states like California might be exceptions to that rule) The fact that cutoff scores haven’t dramatically increased from 2020 would seem to be an indicator that AE isn’t playing a major role.

          My guess is that the majority of students that would most likely have used alternate entry would be the same universe of students that would’ve scored well on the PSAT anyway. The number of students that entered the semifinalist pool solely due to being able to take the SAT multiple times should be a relatively small number.

          There is of course the question of fairness, but in a pandemic year with multiple test cancellations there wasn’t going to be a perfect system.

    • Howard says:

      Hi Rick – I doubt NMSC will publish any of that information because it shouldn’t paint a pretty picture.

      Based on last years information, a 760 on the SAT math corresponds to the 96th percentile (which according to the SAT SI calculation for AE would be a 38). A student that scores a 760 on the PSAT math corresponds to the 99+ percentile (also a 38). If AE SI were combined with PSAT test taker SI by NMSC it is heavily biased towards AE as you indicate. Kids that took the PSAT are clearly punished because NMSC or College Board did not perform proper scaling/normalization. Art has a voice and does a great job, it would be appreciated by many if he could find out what NMSC did.

  • Mathew says:

    Hi Art, just letting you know that I made it in Illinois with 219.

  • Impatient says:

    My child asked at school and was told that nothing can be shared until September 15. This is a school that does not regularly have NMSFs. Can I assume the fact that they knew the date of release was September 15 means that this year they do have one? Schools without any NMSF don’t get that letter, do they?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t know the answer to that. It seems unlikely that they are mailing to every school in the country, but they may also notify schools with Commended Students (the Commended letters themselves don’t go out until Sept 15th, but there is not much mystery there given the known cutoff).

      The school is incorrect that nothing can be shared, but I’d advise putting up with another week of anxiety rather than pushing that point. Fall of senior year is a bad time to run afoul of a counselor!

  • Cyndi says:

    Hello! I was wondering if the SAT confirming index is state dependent? Or will it be a single index for everyone no matter which state you are in? If it’s just a single number for everyone, doesn’t it have to be at most the lowest qualifying PSAT index of all states (which this year so far is 210 (OK))? Our qualifying score is just above the commended level which is why I ask. Thanks, Art!!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The confirming score is a single national number. Oklahoma is the lowest confirmed cutoff, but it’s extremely rare — to the point that I can’t come up with an instance — where at least 1 state’s Semifinalist cutoff falls at the Commended level. This is because no Semifinalist cutoff is allowed to fall below the Commended cutoff. I would recommend calling NMSC and seeing if they can give you any guidance. There are still a number of test dates on which to qualify, but I’m sure your student has better things to do than retesting.

      • Cyndi says:


        Thanks so much for this. I took your advice and called the NMSC with the question. The answer was: The NMSC will not release the number that is needed for the confirming score cutoff (ugh). However, she said that the confirming score cutoff will NOT be higher than the lowest qualifying score, which she said was 207 (!!!). So as long as you score at least 207 on the ACT/SAT, your score will be enough to confirm.

  • Amani says:

    Hello Mr. Sawyer!
    I’ve done the alternate entry, but I’m getting a different SSI depending on whether I use the raw test scores (capped at 38) or the section scores (capped at 760). I am not sure which one I should lean towards… I got a 1530 on my SAT, 730 in Reading/Writing and 800 in Math, and my raw score are 33, 38, 38. So with one method, my SSI is 222 and with the other, it’s 218. Which one is more likely to be the one NMSC considers?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The correct method is to cap your R/WL/M scores at 38, add, and double. With a 730 RWL and 800 M, I assume your section scores are 33, 40, and 40. So 2x(33+38+38) = 218.

  • Texan says:

    My student asked the school today if they got the list and was told they have not received the Semifinalist list yet. Is that even possible considering NMSC mailed the letters August 24? And yes, we expect 6-10 Semifinalists from this Texas school. Thank you.

  • Heather says:

    When will the press release go out notifying the list of semi finalists?

  • Faris says:

    Hey Art, is Texas now fully confirmed at 220?

  • Utah says:

    In Utah, My son with a 213 was just notified that he is a Semifinalist.

  • VAmom says:

    How is it possible not to have any news from a state as big as Virginia? Going crazy with a 221.

  • Ross says:

    Hi Art,
    How late do you suspect reports arrive at schools here in PR? I imagine it would take longer due to having to be shipped over water.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t know about the typical mail delivery to PR, but I do know that the cutoff for U.S. Territories has never been above the Commended level (at least in the last couple of decades). I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the cutoff is 207.

  • David says:

    Hi Art – I am curious about the blending of alternate entry (AE) and those that took the PSAT. I don’t think if they were blended it is appropriate to do so. The initial reports were that they would use the pool of people who took the PSAT and determine the cutoffs as normal, but then allow “no excuse” AE to supplement the number of semifinalists. Since the semifinalists are then cut down basically in half to achieve finalists, there is no harm in this approach as they would end up trimming low scoring semifinalists from the finalists. It sounds like NMSC changed what they said they were going to do partway through the process.

    In my daughter’s state there were a large number of PSAT cancellations, which would then depress the cutoff (maybe substantially). Kids, especially these kids, are smart. They know that using the SAT scores results in a higher selection index (SI). Many were forced to go AE, but many opted for that route. The PSAT SI is based on a maximum of 38 for each subject. The SAT is based on 40. It is technically wrong to calculate the SAT SI by simply capping the SI subject score at 38. A 38 on the PSAT represents a much higher percentile than a 38 on the SAT. The college board has all this data, they could do a proper scaling of SAT scores to equivalent PSAT scores but they apparently didn’t. An organization (NMSC) that is representing technical excellence should do better.

    This doesn’t even get into the other issues about taking the SAT multiple times, it coming later in development, etc. My daughter’s PSAT SI was 219 (didn’t have a great day) and she probably won’t make the cut but she scored 1580 on the SAT and would have easily made the cut.

    Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You’re correct that NM had, in the past, treated Alternate Entry scores in that way. I think there was hope that the January PSAT would save them from needing to alter that strategy. The pandemic had other ideas. In my state, California, I doubt that we were able to achieve even 1/3 of the usual volume of test takers. Had NM set the cutoffs based on the PSAT alone, they would have had 2x to 3x the targeted number of Semifinalists in the state. A state where most students were able to take the PSAT, on the other hand, would have been about normal and had 1x the target. I can see why NM felt that that was not an ideal outcome.

      The PSAT and SAT are vertically scaled, which means that a score on the PSAT should represent the same level of achievement on the SAT. I’ve written before about why this is not really true, but percentiles are also a flawed way of comparing the tests because the pool of students varies. And College Board has no incentive to undermine its claim of vertical alignment.

      I was worried that the inclusion of AE scores might distort the cutoffs and push them far higher. Fortunately, we are not seeing that. Yes, cutoffs would have been lower if there had been no blending, but they at least aren’t falling outside of historical norms (if anything, they are below them).

      Yes, one strategy would have been to allow all students the option of submitting SAT scores.

      Congratulations on your daughter’s 1580, btw!

  • Maryland Mom says:

    Any news on Maryland?

  • Sonia says:

    Hi Art,
    I spoke to a manager in charge of scholarships at National Merit and I was informed that they waited for a good number of alternate entry scores to be submitted and then created the semifinalist cutoff. She would not comment on the cutoff number for California. I feel like kids were penalized for taking the PSAT’s.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Thanks, Sonia. That confirms what we’ve heard regarding how AE scores were used this year. NMSC had to pick some point (July, let’s say) and close the books. NM stays mum about things until the press release date.

      It was certainly an unfortunate situation. With all of the SAT cancellations this spring in CA, getting in a January PSAT was still probably the safest way of entering the competition, even if it’s easier to score well on the SAT.

      • James says:

        Hi, Art. When you do have confirmation on whether a score of 221 meets the cutoff in New Jersey, can you let us know? On pins and needles here.

      • Kailie C says:

        Hey Art,
        Do you have any information on Louisiana? Also, how does the “press release” on September 15th work? Will NM post an official list of cutoffs on their website?
        Thank you for any help or advice!

        • Art Sawyer says:

          No news on Louisiana. The September 15th date is helpful in some cases and totally useless in others. NM does not release the cutoffs. Instead, they send the list of NMSFs in a state to media outlets in that state. The problem is that many media outlets aren’t interested in publishing a list of hundreds of names outside of their coverage areas. So we’ll see lots of partial lists: Semifinalists in XX County or YY City. Some areas won’t be published at all. It’s better than nothing! Some schools also interpret the 15th as when they can announce results to students. In actuality, they can tell students earlier. Most students will learn their status by or on the 15th, but it is not universal.

      • Rick says:

        Kudos to the school administrators who if they had to choose between giving a PSAT and SAT in the Spring of 2021 chose the latter. Not only would their students get a crack at the test that matters for college admissions, those students would still be able to enter the National Merit competition with the ‘easier’ SAT test. Crises reveal decision-making skills. Some school administrators knew what they were doing, others didn’t; as a consequence, some students had better opportunities than others.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Given the tradeoffs administrators had to make, I’m willing to cut them some slack. At many schools, NM would just have been one element in the decision to offer the PSAT. And an SAT was far from guaranteed in some areas.

  • Senior Mom says:

    Alabama official cutoff 212, have paper in hand

  • Kevin says:

    I have seen on another site that Georgia may be 219. What are your thoughts at this point?

  • HI- do you know how many test takers sat for the PSAT in Oct 2020 and Jan 2021 by state?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Traditionally, College Board releases state-by-state numbers is the fall (October, I believe). There is a possibility that they’ll avoid doing so this year because of the dreadful SAT and PSAT figures. I highly doubt that they will break out October versus January. While interesting to testing geeks like me, the PSAT figures don’t tell us much about National Merit because of the way NMSC blended in Alternate Entry figures this year.

  • Eileen says:

    Any information on Idaho?

  • Kemper says:

    Is there any more information (even if unconfirmed) on Delaware? I have a SI of 220 and I’ve been refreshing this page constantly for the past few days hoping the cutoff will drop by just one more point.

  • OhioStudent says:

    Any news from Ohio. I am at a 215 and am scared about qualifying and if i will.

  • JJ says:

    Hi Art,
    Any official news on NJ? Will a 222 make it?


    • Art Sawyer says:

      Nothing beyond the student reports. I don’t think there is any question that it’s going to be <=222. The only remaining question is whether or not it hits 221.

    • Melanie says:

      Is the amount of “early data” you are receiving less this year than in the past ? If so, is it perhaps because fewer students tested due to Covid cancellations? Did home school students have a more difficult time finding “in person” sites to test?
      Thanks for all of your insights,
      Melanie Sawyer

      • Art Sawyer says:

        When depending on student reports, I’d say it’s about usual. We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years to eventually get counselor reports in large gulps (last year NMSC accidentally released the cutoffs on its website).

  • Ryan says:

    What is r/psat? Any confirmation on California score yet? I asked my counselor on Friday and she doesn’t information yet.

  • Bron says:

    Hey Art,
    Did you have exact confirmation on 220 not making California? I’m currently sitting at a 220 right now and I’m really nervous about what is actually right-220 or 221.

  • Sam says:

    Can you share your data from New Jersey? Thanks for doing this!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I had a student report of qualifying at 222. Reddit has had a student reporting 221, but I haven’t gone through all of the reddit reports yet and don’t want to mischaracterize anything.

  • ungo flungo says:


    I was wondering on how credible your reports were that 220 qualified for NMSC Semifinalist status in New York State. I myself got a 1480 (760 mathematics, 720 English) with a 220 index in New York State, so I was wondering whether these are confirmed or they are just Reddit comments and such. Additionally, is it true that to advance to Finalist status, the SAT/ACT scores should approximately confirm the respective PSAT scores by being at least equivalent to them (so for me, it would be a 1480 SAT or I suppose, a 32 to 33 ACT)?


    • Art Sawyer says:

      I received a report from a student qualifying at 220. I believe there are also reports on Reddit. I’ll be sure to note further confirmation, but for now most of us are working off of student information. We won’t hear much over the long weekend.

      No, that’s not correct about confirming scores. It’s a misleading name. The confirming score is a baseline level that all Finalist candidates must achieve and is usually set at the Commended level — 207 this year. There have been years where NMSC has set it just above the Commended level, I believe, so I’m recommending that students have at least a 210 SAT SI or ACT equivalent. The ACT conversion does not use the Composite score. For more information, see the Compass National Merit FAQ.

  • Adi says:

    What does the timeline look like for international students? I haven’t really seen much about international cutoffs or heard of any international students receiving a semi-finalist notification yet. Will a 224 cut it? Thanks in advance!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The notifications go out at the same time, but they may take longer to get to international schools. The international cutoff is basically the highest state cutoff. This year it doesn’t look like that will go above 222. It certainly won’t go as high as 224, so you should be a Semifinalist. Congratulations!

  • Indymom says:

    Any news from Indiana? My student is on the borderline with a 214, fingers crossed!

  • Matt says:

    Hey, thanks for this list. I just wanted to let you know that I was accepted as a semifinalist in Kentucky with an index score of 208. Hope this helps.

  • Colorado Mom says:

    Hi Art – How comfortable are you with Colorado at 216 or 217? My daughter has 219. Try not to get too excited just in case.

  • Heather says:

    Can you share your data from Massachusetts? Thanks so much for this resource!

  • Megan says:

    Hi Art,

    I do not know this first hand but some kids in Missouri are getting word from their counselors that they qualify and they have a 214, so may be a good sign for those hoping Missouri didn’t increase from last year.

  • Jonathan says:

    Hi Art,

    Many thanks for compiling all of this information. I’ve heard from multiple friends that 219 did not qualify in TX, but 220 did. Thanks so much!

  • Rheo says:


    Any word on Virginia cut off score? Your prediction please?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t have any student reports from Virginia. There was early word on r/psat of this year’s cutoff being 219. I just don’t have confirmation.

      • Steve says:

        I have a feeling that Virginia is going to be high, perhaps 223 or 224. Each year, about 1/3 of Semifinalists come from a single high school (Thomas Jefferson HS for Science & Technology). Those kids almost certainly took the PSAT while, I’m guessing, the kids that didn’t take the PSAT come from more rural areas of VA. I think the scores are going to be seriously skewed.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          It doesn’t work that way. Virginia gets the same number of NMSFs if 10,000 students test or 100,000 students test. Taking kids out of testing can only lower (or leave unchanged) the cutoffs. The students at TJHSST with 223s and 224s have always made SF, and that will be true again this year. There is nothing that indicates a huge influx of new 223+ scorers in Virginia, and no reason to think VA will shake the trend of the top scoring states having modest cutoffs this year. I think it will be in the 219-221 range. If it hits 223, I’ll come out and wash your car or your dog. 😉

  • NY Parent says:

    Is there still a chance 219 will make the cut in New York?

  • Ann says:

    My student has a 215 in MI. What are the chances of making the cut 0ff? I do not see MI listed here

  • Finch says:

    Is it possible that because of the fat distribution in CA some may have got in with 220 and others may have not? For instance, if they needed to include 220 to get past the 1600-2000 students they let in, but 220 actually included an excess amount of students. What does national merit do in this case? Do they go local and give select individuals the semi finalist status because they compared well in their area or???

    • Art Sawyer says:

      No, cutoffs are all or nothing for a state. They try to get as close as possible to the target number.

      • Sonia says:

        Do you have any confirmation of a student making it with 220 in Ca? Is it possible that my son was accidentally left out by college board in the letters? I know that my son’s school wouldn’t make that mistake and since there are conflicting reports I’m trying to figure out how he would be left out.

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Thanks for following up. As you’ve probably seen, there is a lot of angst about the 220/221 divide. The possibility that your son’s school overlooked a letter does seem remote. I assume that there were other NMSFs at the school.

          A few ideas: Did your son take the Oct/Jan PSAT or did he enter via Alternate Entry? If the latter, did he get the paperwork done in time? Are you sure of his SI? If he took a PSAT, there is a section in his online score report with the Selection Index. Does the score report indicate that he is National Merit eligible (sometimes a class year is incorrect). If he entered via AE, do you know his breakdown on Math, Reading, and Writing (these are on 10-40 scales).

          Thank you!

          • Sonia says:

            Hi Art,

            Yes, he took the PSAT’s at his school in January and his selection instead is on the score report. 2 (37+37+36)=220 – Also checked the entry requirements on report and it says he does.

            Thank you for your help in answering questions!

          • Art Sawyer says:

            We’re trying to get confirmation from counselors. I want to hold out hope that there was a mistake until we hear otherwise. Thank you.

  • Maya says:

    I’m just checking how you heard about TN? I got a 216 and want to just make sure I made that 215 mark.

  • Ragin' Cajun says:


    Thanks for ALL the information! Sitting LA with a 216 and wondering are WE usually lagging behind as a state with release of scores???

  • WDCAZ2009 says:

    Any word on cutoff for Arizona?

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