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PSAT National Merit FAQ

By August 24, 2020 National Merit, PSAT


National-Merit-FAQ
Below we cover the the most frequently asked questions about the National Merit Scholarship Program. Please see our National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs page for the latest information on actual and projected Selection Index cutoffs by state.

What is the National Merit Scholarship Program and how do you enter?
The NMSP is a program administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in cooperation with the College Board to recognize high achieving high school seniors. Some recognition levels are based purely on junior PSAT/NMSQT scores, while other levels have additional qualifications (explained below). The NMSC gives out approximately $50 million in scholarships each year, and some colleges provide lowered—or even free—tuition to recognized students, multiplying the net impact of National Merit severalfold.

You must take the PSAT/NMSQT as a high school junior and either attend high school in the United States or U.S. Territories or be a U.S. student studying abroad. On your PSAT score report, you will see a section with your Selection Index and how you answered the questions about your entry eligibility. If there is an asterisk next to your Selection Index, it means that NMSC believes that you are ineligible.

What is the Selection Index?
The Selection Index is a weighting of your PSAT component scores to determines the level of your recognition within the initial stages of the National Merit program.

How is the Selection Index calculated?
The Selection Index is double the sum of your Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test Scores. For example, a student with scores of 34, 35, and 36 would have a Selection Index of (34+35+36)x2 = 210. Most students remember their section scores (160–760) rather than their 8–38 test scores. The Selection Index is still easy to calculate. First, ignore the final zero in your scores; then double your ERW score; then add your Math score. For example, a student with an ERW score of 690 and a Math score of 720 would have a Selection Index of (69)x2 + 72 = 210. The two methods will always work because of the fixed relationship between test scores and section scores. You cannot directly calculate a Selection Index from a total score (320–1520).

Why is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) twice as important as the Math?
The emphasis on “verbal” skills has a long history with the NMSP. Even when there was no Writing section on the PSAT or SAT, the Verbal section was doubled and added to the Math score for a 60–240 Selection Index range. Also, College Board considers Reading and Writing and Language to be separate tests.. In short, the “doubling” is nothing new.

I’ve already received my PSAT scores; how can I find out whether I will qualify for recognition?
Although you can use the Compass projections to estimate whether you are likely to qualify as a Commended Student or Semifinalist, there is no way of knowing your official status until high schools are notified by NMSC in early September of your senior year (sometimes schools hear by late August). Compass has published the cutoffs for the class of 2021. The Commended cutoff for future classes becomes unofficially known in the April after the PSAT. Compass will report this score and how it may impact Semifinalist cutoffs on our regularly updated cutoffs post. NMSC does not publicly publish state cutoffs, so Compass provides this information to students. For the class of 2022, the Semifinalist cutoffs can only be estimated until September 2021.

Will I qualify as a Semifinalist if I am in the 99th percentile for Selection Index according to my score report?
Although approximately 1% of test takers will become Semifinalists, there are a number of reasons why percentile scores are far too inaccurate to determine eligibility, especially since cut-offs vary dramatically from state to state. The Compass projections are better estimates, but they are still just estimates.

Why do some states have more Semifinalists and Finalists than other states?
Although Commended Scholars are honored based on a single, national cutoff, NMSC distributes Semifinalists proportionally to states (and District of Columbia and U.S. Territories) based on the number of graduating students in the state. For example, California sees approximately 2,100 Semifinalists each year—the most in the country. It gets 13% of Semifinalists because it produces approximately 13% of high school graduates. Mississippi, on the other hand, typically sees about 135 National Merit Semifinalists, because the state produces a bit more than 0.8% of U.S. graduates. The distribution is completely unrelated to the number of students taking the PSAT in the state.

Why are Semifinalist cutoffs so much higher in some states than in others?
Two things that have impact on cutoffs are participation rates and demographics. In some states, ACT is the dominant test and not as many students take the PSAT. This leaves some students out of the competition and will tend to produce lower cutoffs. Some states have large pockets of extremely qualified students and are particularly competitive. For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey have class of 2021 cutoffs of 222. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had NMSF cutoffs of 209 for the class of 2021. The minimum Semifinalist cutoff for a state is the national Commended level. If, for example, the Commended cutoff is at 210, no state can have a Semifinalist cutoff less than 210.

How are Semifinalists set for homeschoolers, boarding school students, or U.S. students studying abroad?
Homeschoolers are treated no differently than other students in a state. U.S. students studying abroad will have to meet the highest state cutoff in the country. For the class of 2021, that was 222. Boarding school cutoffs are the most complex to calculate. Instead of being set at the state level, they are determined regionally. A Northeast boarding school student, for example, must meet the highest cutoff of any state within the Northeast region. NMSC defines boarding schools as schools with predominantly out-of-state students. NMSC considers your state to be where you went to school when you took the PSAT, not your state of residency or the state of your new school.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to participate?
NMSC has made this part of the process easier to understand than it was in the past. Students at high school in the U.S. or in U.S. Territories are eligible. Period. Students studying abroad are eligible as long as they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. (“green card”) or or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become U.S. citizens at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.

Will NMSC notify me if I become a Semifinalist?
No. NMSC provides information only to schools until a student becomes a Finalist. Homeschoolers are the exception.

When will my school tell me?
NMSC mails information to schools in late August. Some schools let students know their status in early September. Many schools wait until NMSC officially releases student names to the press in the second week of September. Compass will track all of the latest news on our Semifinalists cutoff page.

Will being a Semifinalist help get me into my first-choice college?
While Semifinalist status is a nice award to list on your application, you should not expect it alone to have a significant impact on your admission chances at most colleges. The recognition tells college that you did well on the PSAT. Your SAT and ACT scores are far more important to colleges; your National Merit status does not add much new information. However, having a high number of enrolled Semifinalists is seen as a badge of honor at some colleges and will factor in their admission decisions. Some colleges have programs specifically to attract National Merit Finalists and offer large merit awards.

Do I need to take the SAT to become a Semifinalist?
No. Commended Student and Semifinalist recognition are based only on your Selection Index and your entry eligibility.

What happens after I am named a Semifinalist?
Semifinalists will receive login credentials for the Finalist application portal. You will need to provide background information and an essay. Your school will need to provide its recommendation and electronically submit your application in the second week of October,

What is the National Merit Finalist essay prompt?
NMSC may change the prompt in future years, but it has been the same for several years. It is broad enough that most students are able to use or slightly rework their Common App essay. For the class of 2020, the prompt was:

“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.”

There is not a word limit specified, but the essay must fit within the provided space. Expect to keep your essay to 600–650 words.

Do I need to take the SAT or ACT to become a Finalist?
Among the requirements to proceed from Semifinalist to Finalist is that you receive a “confirming score.” This score helps validate that you can, on an official SAT or ACT test date, achieve a high score and confirm your testing skill.

Can a high ACT score be a confirming score?
Yes, the ACT can be used to confirm PSAT results.

How high of an SAT score do I need for a confirming score?
The confirming score is determined each year by NMSC and is calculated in the same way as the PSAT Selection Index. The confirming score is set nationally, so it does not matter what Semifinalist cutoff you met. The confirming SAT Selection Index (SSI) generally falls at or near the Commended cutoff. NMSC has not yet announced whether there will be any change to policy because of COVID-19.

The easiest calculation of the SSI is from your section scores. Drop a zero, double your ERW, and add your Math score. For example, Student X might have a total score of 1450, with section scores of 720 ERW and 730 M. Student X’s SSI would be 2(72) + 73 = 217. It’s possible for a student with a lower total score to have a higher SSI. Student Y has a total score of 1430, with section scores of 750 ERW and 690 M. Student Y’s SSI would be 2(75) + 69 = 219. The ERW score has twice the weight because it is made up of two test scores—reading and writing.

You cannot determine your SSI directly from your total score. One student scoring 1400 might have a high enough SSI, whereas another student with a 1400 might fall short. You must know your ERW and Math scores.

How high of an ACT score do I need for a confirming score?
NMSC wants to have a level playing field, so it converts components of the ACT score into an SAT Selection Index. In order to do that, you need to use the official concordance tables published by ACT/College Board. There is no SAT Science, so NMSC does not look at ACT Science. Throw it out. Further, the SAT Essay and ACT Writing Test are never considered at any stage of the competition.

Step 1: Add your ACT English and ACT Reading scores
Step 2: Use the ACT E+R to SAT ERW concordance table to find the concordant SAT ERW score based on the sum in step 1. Be sure that you are going in the correct direction when using the concordance tables. ACT E+R to SAT ERW is not always the same as SAT ERW to ACT E+R.
Step 3: Use the ACT M to SAT M table to find the concordant SAT M score based on your ACT Math score.
Step 4: Calculate your SAT SI: drop the last zeros (i.e. divide by 10), double your ERW, and add your Math score. You want this number to be at least 212.

Example:
A student has ACT scores of 32E, 34M, 33R, and 31S. Science is not used. The sum of E and R is 65. In the concordance tables, this is equivalent to a 700 ERW. The 34 Math is concordant to a 760. This student’s SAT Selection Index is 70×2 + 76 = 216.

When do I have to take the SAT or ACT for the score to be ‘confirmed’?
You can use any SAT or ACT score from the fall of your sophomore year to December of your senior year. This means that you could have received an SAT confirming score even before taking the PSAT/NMSQT. NMSC recommends that you not wait until the December test date.

How do I submit scores to NMSC?
NMSC does not automatically know your SAT and ACT scores. You must submit them just as you would to a college. The College Board code for NMSC is 0085. The ACT code is 7984. Please verify these codes before submitting. Since NMSC will use your highest scores, there is no penalty for choosing them as one of your free score recipients when you register for the SAT or ACT.

Can I superscore SAT or ACT dates in order to reach the confirming score cutoff?
No. NMSC will use your highest scores, but will not superscore across test dates.

If I have achieved a confirming score, is there any reason to shoot for a higher score?
The requirement for a confirming score is simply true or false when applying to become a Finalist. However, your test scores are used to evaluate you during the scholarship phase of the competition. Depending on your goals, you may want to optimize your score.

Can sophomores qualify for National Merit recognition?
No. Even if your scores are high enough, you will not be eligible for National Merit as a sophomore unless you will be graduating a year early. In that case, you should contact NMSC or your principal about next steps as NMSC has no way of automatically knowing your eligibility.

Is it hard for a Semifinalist to become a Finalist?
Of the 16,000 Semifinalists, 15,000 become Finalists. You most go through an application process to proceed to Finalist level and then to compete for National Merit Scholarships. As part of the application, you must meet citizenship requirements, have a satisfactory academic record, achieve a confirming score on the SAT or ACT (and submit the scores to NMSC!), write an essay, and receive a recommendation from your principal. More information can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide. In the Semifinalist letter from your school (it will NOT come from NMSC unless you are homeschooled), NMSC will provide details about how to begin the process online.

When will I find out if I am a Finalist?
You will be notified in February of senior year.

Do all Finalists receive scholarships? What is a National Merit Scholar?
Only about half of Finalists become National Merit Scholars and receive a National Merit Scholarship. There are three types of scholarships for Finalists, each with its own criteria. A student can only receive one type of scholarship. Approximately 4,000 Finalists receive scholarships from sponsoring colleges with renewable stipends of $500–$2,500 per year. Students must be accepted by a sponsoring institution and list the college as first choice in order to receive a college-sponsored award. These awards are not transferable to another college. Corporations sponsor approximately 1,000 awards for Finalists each year with a minimum one-time value of $2,500 or $1,000 renewable. Most of these awards are to Finalists who are the children of employees. Approximately 2,500 students receive awards of $2,500 directly from National Merit. These awards are highly competitive and are allocated proportionally by state. A list of sponsoring colleges and corporations can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide.

I’ve heard about colleges that provide full-ride awards. Why are college-sponsored awards only listed as $500–$2,500 per year?
Colleges can also choose to provide additional awards to National Merit Finalists. These are not technically National Merit Scholarships, but they can be the most important awards for many students. Which colleges offer these awards and how much they offer can change from year to year. In recent years, Florida has had a generous scholarship program for National Merit Finalists, and schools such as UT-Dallas and Texas A&M also provide substantial awards. Compass does not maintain a database of scholarships. The National Merit forum at collegeconfidential.com is a useful resource.

Are scholarships available to Commended Students and Semifinalists?
Technically, these students cannot be National Merit Scholars, but approximately 1,100 of them will receive Special Scholarships from sponsoring corporations. As with other corporate-sponsored awards, these are predominantly for the children of employees, although companies can also identify students in a particular region or field of study.

When will I find out if I receive a scholarship?
You will be notified of scholarship status sometime between March and June of your senior year. In order to receive a college-sponsored scholarship, you must note the college as your first choice on the National Merit application. It can be to your advantage not to immediately choose a first-choice college—you can leave it as “Undecided.” You do not want to miss out on a large scholarship because you have listed the wrong college.

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.

397 Comments

  • Avatar Rosie says:

    Dear Art,

    Thank you so much for the very informative posts.

    I am in Texas. My kid had PSAT 221 (730/750) today. What is your projection for the 2019 semifinalist cutoff for Texas?
    Because we are right at the border line, any insight is greatly appreciated!
    Many thanks!
    Sincerely,

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Rosie,
      I just posted a few thoughts regarding TX, so pardon me if I am repeating myself (the student also had a 221).Texas had been nipping at the heals of the highest scoring states in recent years but held steady last year. Does that mean TX is likely to play catch-up this year or that it has plateaued? I think there are better than even odds that it is the latter. Unfortunately, that still leaves the possibility that Texas will move up to 222 this year.

  • Avatar Micheal says:

    Do you believe Oregon may have a cutoff of 220 this year? Chances of this happening? Additionally, do you know the date cutoffs per state are released? Thank you!!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I expect 10-15 state cutoffs to decline this year. Since Oregon was at 220 as recently as the class of 2018, it’s definitely possible that Oregon would be among those states.

      NMSC doesn’t publicly release the cutoffs. Instead, schools will be notified of their Semifinalists in late August. Students are usually notified by high schools soon after that. Compass usually learns of the cutoffs by Labor day.

  • Avatar Paige says:

    Hi, I just received my PSAT scores today. As a junior who got a 217 in PA, do you think that I have a shot?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Paige,
      While 217 is an excellent score, I’m afraid that it will not be high enough this year to be NMSF in Pennsylvania. I say that only based on prior results and not as someone who has a sneak peek at the scores.

  • Avatar Mak says:

    Hello, is 222 a good score for PA? Thanks

  • Avatar Christina says:

    Hello! Results were just released for the juniors who took the 2018 PSAT, and my daughter scored a 1470 (720 in ERW, and a 750 in Math). I believe that equates to a 219. We are in Ohio – do you see Ohio staying with the 219 cutoff for Semi Finalists and her having a decent chance of achieving that status? Thanks so much.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Christina,
      Nationally, I expect class of 2020 cutoffs to behave similarly to what we saw last year when about 60% of states saw cutoffs hold or move lower. I’d consider that a “decent chance,” but it’s far from clearcut. I’m afraid that she’ll be waiting until September to know anything certain. The 219 is correct for a 720/750.

  • Avatar Sriuni says:

    Hello Wondering if 223 is a good score for Michigan? Your input please..

    Thank you,
    Sriuni

  • Avatar Jake says:

    Hi, Our daughter in TX just found out her PSAT score will be 222. Is it safe for TX national merit

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Jake,
      I usually reserve “safe” for situations where there is essentially 100% certainty. I’d say that there is at least a small, small chance that TX could move to 223. Did I mention how small the chance is? Your daughter is in a great position for NMSF.

  • Avatar Sarah says:

    Hello, my son received a 1430- 710 on reading and 720 the math. That comes out to be an index of 214. Is this good enough to get him the commended status?

  • Avatar Madhavi says:

    Hi,
    My daughter is a sophomore and took the PSAT as a dry run in October in Colorado. She got a 1470(710 on R/W and 760 on Math) with a SI of 218. Do you think that she did good?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Madhavi,
      She did extremely well for a sophomore. Improvement of 30-40 points is common on ERW between sophomore and junior year — granted, that becomes harder to achieve when starting at 710. Your daughter is well-positioned to score at NMSF level next year.

      • Avatar Madhavi says:

        Art,
        Thank you so much for the reassuring words. Should she take the SAT in March 2019.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          I would normally recommend that she wait until fall of her junior year. She may do well in March, but chances are that she’ll do even better in October 2019 or March 2020, for example. Since there are still colleges that ask for all scores, it’s sometimes wise to wait. It’s certainly not a requirement to wait, though.

  • Avatar Dylan says:

    Hello,
    I received my PSAT scores back from my school (they have them even though they’re not available for students on College Board yet). I got a 1480 (730 on Reading/Writing and 750 on math), with a selection index of 221. I live in Florida- do you think that’ll be high enough for SemiFinalist?
    thanks

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Dylan,
      Congratulations on great scores. You look solid for NMSF in Florida. Only one large state’s cutoff has moved up by 3 points in our entire database of historical scores, and that was due to Michigan changing from the ACT to the SAT.

  • Avatar Robert says:

    Hello,
    I received my PSAT scores back from my school (they have them even though they’re not available for students on College Board yet). I got a 1480 (730 on Reading/Writing and 750 on math), with a selection index of 221. I live in Florida- do you think that’ll be high enough for SemiFinalist?
    thanks

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Robert,
      Congratulations on your scores and on being the first member of the class of 2020 to post results. It is highly unlikely that Florida would move to 222. A 3 point rise — especially at that part of the curve and in a large state — would be just a shade over impossible.

  • Avatar Virginia D says:

    Just got my son’s test scores back. He made a 1410 on the SAT. I took his EBRW score and multiplied it by 2 Then I added his math score and got 215. That is really close to your “safe” score. Wondering if he should take the SAT again on December 1st. We have a Presidential Scholar Weekend at a college on December 1st to try and compete for more scholarship money, so we have to take that in to consideration. What are your thoughts?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Virginia,
      I haven’t seen NMSC set the confirmation score above the Commended level and don’t expect that it will happen this year. I’d recommend calling NMSC to see if they can provide more specifics. I don’t see the need to retake on Dec 1 in order to make Finalist.

  • Avatar SANTIAGO says:

    Isn’t it actually the year before the graduation year? While that is typically junior year, if a student graduates in three years, I think the sophomore year could qualify.

    https://nationalmerit.imodules.com/s/1758/images/gid2/editor_documents/merit_r_i_leaflet.pdf

    Thanks,

    S.V. Mejia

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      This is correct. Sophomore year does qualify in those circumstances. However, a second year student often doesn’t note their special status on the PSAT/NMSQT registration form, so these unusual cases can slip through the cracks. The best advice for students on non-traditional paths is to stay on top of the process from start to finish. First, check your status on the score report. if you score well, check with your counselor in the spring to verify that you show up on the April eligibility list.

  • Avatar Chris says:

    I am a commended student. Is it a good idea to put this on my college applications, or will it just remind colleges that I wasn’t good enough to be a semifinalist?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Chris,
      I would list it. If you extend your reasoning, the college already knows that you didn’t make NMSF (since you wouldn’t fail to mention it), you might as well let them know that you didn’t miss Commended. SF cutoffs vary so much by state; Commended Status is something you should be proud of.

  • Avatar Robbie says:

    Great information! Do you know how about many students get a perfect 1520 each year? Is this published somewhere?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Robbie,
      College Board does not publish this information (and NMSC publishes almost nothing regarding scores). My somewhat educated guess is somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 students or about 0.1% of test-takers.

  • Avatar N says:

    I took the PSAT last year as a junior, and received an index score of 219 but no commendation letter. Should I have received a letter and if so is there any way to access it electronically or check if I received one?
    Thanks

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      N,
      You would not receive a letter directly unless you are homeschooled. Be sure to check with your college counselor. Your score certainly was high enough. You might also try contacting NMSC at (847) 866-5100.

  • Avatar shital says:

    I am sorry but just have this question in my mind. Does everyone take the exact same test for PSAT/NMSQT National Merit or different versions of the PSAT test within each state?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      shital,
      The forms are the same nationally. College Board generally provides two or three dates on which schools can offer the PSAT. Each of those dates has a different form.

  • Avatar Charles says:

    Thank you for this informative piece. My daughter is homeschooled and just took the PSAT. She wanted to enter the homeschool district code for our state but was told by the proctor to leave it blank. The site coordinator said that homeschool equals no code. Does this do anything to the test if they are incorrect? Thank you for any help you can give.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Charles,
      The site coordinator appears to have followed proper procedure according to the PSAT/NMSQT Coordinator Manual. The script reads: “If you are homeschooled, leave field 4 [the school code] blank.” I believe the question before that asked if the student attended the school where the test was being administered. Presumably your daughter chose, ‘No, I am homeschooled.” I don’t think you have any reason for concern.

  • Avatar Daniel says:

    HI! I’m a student who just submitted the Finalist application but now I have to send SAT scores. Do I use score selection and just send my highest score, or do I send every score including subject tests?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Daniel,
      You are welcome to do either. Because NMSC uses your highest score — not your superscore — it doesn’t matter whether you send them one score or many. They will ignore your Subject Test scores. Sending everything makes for a couple fewer clicks on the College Board website, but it’s completely up to you.

  • Avatar Tim says:

    To be a Commended Scholar, do you also have to take the SAT or is it solely based on the Selection Index of the PSAT alone?

  • Avatar EB says:

    Hi Art,

    I have a daughter who is a current h.s. sophomore and will take PSAT 10 along with everyone else in her IB programme later this week. As concerns preparation for PSAT in fall of 2019, when do you recommend that a student register for 1-on-1 coaching?

    Kind regards,

    EB

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      EB,
      For students looking to prepare for the PSAT — which we usually only recommend for students thinking about National Merit — we recommend starting approximately 3-4 months prior to the exam. This can be fine-tuned depending on whether the student wants to finish prep entirely over the summer or lead right up to the exam. Prep can be done in a shorter period, but having at least 12 weeks gives more scheduling flexibility when the inevitable life conflicts arise! Some students prefer to do some preparation prior to the PSAT but have the SAT as the ultimate goal. Your daughter definitely does not need to start thinking about prep until the end of her sophomore year at the earliest.

  • Avatar John says:

    My daughter is a semi-finalist and has SAT II scores available to send. Should she send these in addition to the SAT? What about AP scores?

  • Avatar W says:

    If a student takes the PSAT at one high school, then transfers to another school after the administration date and becomes a semi finalist, will that student still be able to achieve finalist status? How would that work out?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      W,
      Yes, the student can still be a Finalist. I have not heard exactly how this is handled. I believe the Semifinalist would have received notification through the original school. Finalist applications are also sent back to NMSC by schools. I’m sure this comes up frequently. I would recommend that the student contact NMSC to figure out the next step. (847) 866-5100

  • Avatar Nm says:

    My daughter missed the enrollment for upcoming PSAT Oct’2018 which is her junior high school year . Please suggest if there is any way she can still enroll for the exam to qualify for National Merit scholarship.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Nm,
      I don’t know the answer to this one. Schools are supposed to finalize their orders September 12. Have you confirmed with your school that they will have no test available for her? College Board recommends that homeschoolers contact nearby schools, but that’s usually done months in advance. NMSC does allow students to compete via “alternate entry” by taking an SAT, but that is usually for hardship cases.

      • Avatar NM says:

        Thanks allot for your response ! I checked with the school and 12th Sep was last day as you said . She will only get a chance now on PSAT day at school only if they find any empty spot ( any couldn’t make it for exam …etc) . This does not assures me that she will get a chance. There are still 4 weeks left for the exam and I am looking for some way to enroll.

  • Avatar SY says:

    I am wondering if SAT serves its role as confirming PSAT only, or it plays a role for finalist selection too.

  • Avatar Celin says:

    To qualify as a Finalist, do you have to take the SAT with writing, or is the SAT without writing accepted as well?

  • Avatar Anne says:

    Do you think my son has a high enough confirming SAT score? We are from Florida and homeschool. He has a SI of 224 on PSAT and 1460 on SAT with 40/39/33.5 for reading, writing and language, and math. If I have calculated correctly, his has a SI of 225 on SAT. Is that correct, and do you think it is enough for a confirming score? Is this the only time SAT scores will be used in the application process or will the scores also be considered in finalist to winner round too? If so I just wondering if he should take the SAT again to try for a higher score. Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Anne,
      The confirming score usually comes in close to the Commended cutoff, so your son’s 225 — yes, you calculated it correctly — is well above what is required.

      SAT scores are considered during the scholarship portion of the competition. If he is already satisfied with his score for his college applications, I generally wouldn’t recommend retesting just to improve one’s chances for a National Merit sponsored scholarship. Let me explain. Much of what will be considered — grades, PSAT score, essay — won’t be changed by an SAT retest. Is a slightly higher chance at one of the $2,500 awards worth it? Maybe. The bigger factor for many students is the possibility of a large college-sponsored award. Your son’s SAT score is important there only to the extent (or almost only) that it gets him admitted. Since you are in Florida, you may already be thinking of the Benacquisto Scholarship Program. As far as I know, a higher SAT score does not increase one’s qualifications for the award. There is not a wrong choice in your son’s situation. It’s just a matter of what his goals are and how he thinks he can best spend his time over these next critical months.

  • Avatar PZ says:

    Hi, my son is a semifinalist, and has conflicts on both the October and November SAT adminstration dates. What is the reason that it is”urged” to take before December? If he does take in December, what will / may he risk by doing so? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      PZ,
      The December test is perfectly acceptable, but it leaves less room for error. College Board will have most scores available for students by December 19. If your son takes only the multiple choice portion, he’ll get his scores back a few days earlier. Scores are reported to colleges (or other organizations such as NMSC) within 10 days. In order to be eligible for “full award consideration,” scores must be received by NMSC by December 31. You can see why things are tight. Should your son’s scores be delayed for some reason, it’s possible that he would miss this deadline. I don’t think it is likely, but it is possible. Taking the last available date also leaves him without options should he get sick. If he has conflicts, then December is a viable option. It’s just not a date I recommend when students are able to take October or November. Should your son miss the Dec 31 deadline, he is still eligible to be a Finalist as long as his scores are received by Jan 31. Do make sure that NMSC is designated as a score recipient when your son registers. The full set of requirements and instructions for Semifinalists can be found here.

  • Avatar RRR says:

    Will the NMSC SAT SI vary by state? I have a student with a 210.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      RRR,
      The confirming SAT score is the same for every state. A 210 may be enough, but if making Finalist is important — and it is not important to everyone — I recommend signing up for an upcoming exam.

  • Avatar Steven says:

    How do we find out the Selection Index? My son took the SAT as a junior (not PSAT) and scored 1540. We contacted NMSC and they sent the documents for an alternate entry. But we haven’t heard anything since we did that in October. Thanks…

  • Avatar Kay says:

    I read on many forums that if you are a semifinalist you must wait to be told what date to take the confirming SAT to proceed, because just any SAT score is not accepted. Is this true? Also, if you leave your 1st choice as undecided, when must you name it and how is that done?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Kay,
      Students can earn a confirming score on any SAT between the October test of sophomore year and December test of senior year. NMSC must receive scores by Dec 31 for full consideration, so the November test is the safer bet. There is absolutely no reason students must wait for further instructions.

      Once you receive the Semifinalist paperwork, you will create an online account to submit your application. You will later be able to use this account to change your first choice school. Referrals to colleges happen between March 1 and May 31. To receive full consideration — since some colleges have a limited pool of scholarships — you should probably have a choice in by Feb 28. You can, however, change your choice up until May 31. You’ll get more information about this in the Requirements and Instructions for Semifinalists.

      • Avatar Christine says:

        You’ve mentioned that the SAT score counts from October of Sophmore year. Since we now have August SAT, wouldn’t they change to August? It would make sense to include August.
        It is important to us because my daughter, Sophomore, finished SAT in one seating in August this year (760 eng 800 math) and not planning to take any more.

        Please confirm and advise.

        Thank you so much in advance

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Christine,
          NMSC changes *very* slowly, so I would not count on the August score being accepted. There is still plenty of time, though, so there is no reason to act now. Your daughter has more than two years before she will have her last chance at a confirming score, and she is still a year away from the junior PSAT/NMSQT. Let’s hope things are changed by then. The fact that your daughter was already able to get a 1560 means that earning a confirming score at any point will not be a problem.

  • Avatar Lee says:

    Hi Art,
    When will we find out if our student is a semifinalist? He has not taken the SAT yet but dd well on his ACT. Are the scholarships significant? Do you recommend that he take the SAT? Thank you for your reply.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Lee,
      Schools have been notified, but each high school decides how and when to notify students. Some wait until the public release date of 9/12. “Significant” is in the eye of the beholder. Awards directly from National Merit are for $2,500. Corporate-sponsored awards can be one-time or renewable for multiple years. Some colleges provide large awards to National Merit Finalists. You and your student would need to decide whether or not the chance at these awards is worth the distraction of taking the SAT. Your student doesn’t need to decide right away. National Merit will accept scores through the December date.

  • Avatar Kris says:

    I have noticed in a few older articles that Commended Students could have their scores sent to two schools, by the College Board I gather is that still the practice? If not, when did that stop, after 2010? If so, do you know what the process is for that? Would the College Board website have details or on the National Merit Corp. site? Perhaps I am remembering this wrong, my last go around was a while ago with my older daughter. Thank you.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Kris,
      I am not aware of that practice. AFAIK, College Board and NMSC operate independently other than their joint sponsorship of the PSAT/NMSQT. I don’t believe that Commended Students or Semifinalists get to have College Board send out scores except under the same terms as for everyone else.

  • Avatar Anon says:

    Hi Art,

    What are the best programs for Illinois residents, with a National Merit Semi/Finalist status?

    Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Most of the college-sponsored scholarships for National Merit Finalists are available to out-of-state students, since the colleges want to draw in top students from around the country. Florida just opened up a great new set of options. There are far too many scholarships for me to keep track of. I recommend the forums at College Confidential for this topic. Helpful parents facing the same decisions.

  • Avatar Anonymous says:

    My son took SAT twice, and first one had – Reading 760 /Math 790/Writing 6/6/8,and second one had Reading 750 /Math 800/Writing 7/7/8.Which score should be send to NMSQT?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      You can send all of the scores. NMSC does not super score, but they will take the highest score. In terms of a confirming score, the higher ERW is better, but both tests are well above what is needed. NMSC does not use essay scores.

  • Avatar Maria says:

    Hi Art – Is is ok to do really well on PSAT (222 – possibly National Merit Scholar for CT) and submit ACT to college rather than SAT. My SAT should certainly qualify for NAtional Merit confirming score but my ACT of 35 is a better overall score….so it seems. In other words, to get into a highly competitive school, does it look bad to have National Merit Scholar Status and then submit ACT instead of SAT?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Maria,
      Absolutely. A school is not going to think less of you for doing well on both the PSAT and ACT and deciding to skip the SAT. However, I want to make sure that you understand the implications for National Merit. It sounds like you will make the Semifinalist cutoff. To proceed to the next stage, though, you would need a “confirming” SAT score taken no later than December. Without that score, you will not be able to continue to the Finalist or Scholar portions. That may not matter. Schools such as Harvard and Yale don’t offer NM scholarships and don’t put much stock in NM (you can’t throw a stick in Harvard Yard without hitting a couple of Semifinalists).

  • Avatar Sarah says:

    Would an 800 on Math and 760 on reading be a confirming SAT score?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Sarah,
      Yes, that is *well* over what will be necessary as a confirming score. That’s an SAT Selection index of 226. I expect the confirming mark to come in somewhere around 211-213 this year.

  • Avatar Heather says:

    Can a student qualify for National Merit Scholar consideration by taking the SAT, or is the PSAT the only way to be considered? My son will be a junior in high school this fall. His SAT score from June 1, 2018, was 1460 (760 EBRW, 700 math).

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Heather,
      An SAT can be substituted only by applying for an exception, and exceptions are normally granted only in situations where a student had no alternative — for example, being hospitalized during the PSAT/NMSQT administration.

  • Avatar Autumn says:

    Just a comment: I’m reviewing your site and noticing that my son’s index score of 214 probably won’t qualify him for much more than commended student. He scored in the 99th percentile plus mostly due to his perfect math score of 760. Unfortunately, the formula used leaves him out.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Autumn,
      Yes, the weighting of the Selection Index does no favors for students stronger in math. The half-full glass is that the new 400-1600 SAT puts strong math students on better footing for college admission than the old 600-2400 SAT.

  • Avatar Angela says:

    Thank you for the great article! My son has a combined score of 215 in Oklahoma. Will he make National Merit Semi-Finalist or do you think 216 will be the cut-off again? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Angela,
      While it is more likely that the cutoff will be at 216 or above, I believe that we will see a number of states with declines this year. College Board has not released any data specific to Oklahoma.

  • Avatar Anna says:

    Good morning. My daughter received a 215 on the PSAT . Her SAT was SI of 211. She has been focused on AP exams and the ACT. Is the 211 enough for a confirmation score for 2019 year?
    Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Anna,
      I don’t know why NMSC can’t just set a confirming SAT score well in advance. It usually falls around — or just under — the Commended level. That leaves your daughter a bit vulnerable. There is absolutely no reason to panic, though. Students have until December to earn a confirming score. For some students, I recommend signing up for the October SAT and seeing how things play out. If she qualifies as a Semifinalist, then she can go ahead and try to raise her score. In fact, she might get word before the registration deadline for the test. The August exam is an option for students who don’t want to test during the school year.

  • Avatar Sara says:

    If I take the SAT before the PSAT, will I be disqualified from the PSAT?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Sara,
      No, definitely not. You can take the SAT whenever you choose.

      • Avatar Radu says:

        My 7th grader, Paul, scored EBRW – 670 and Math -770 on the Nov 3 SAT sitting. For how long will NMSC accept this score for “confirmation”? Thanks.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Radu,
          Confirming scores must be from SATs between October of sophomore year and December of senior year. If your son is planning to graduate early, things change a bit. I would plan on Paul taking the test closer to when he takes the qualifying PSAT in a few years. I’m sure that his scores will be even higher. Amazing results for a 7th grader!

  • Avatar Maureen says:

    My son got at 1470 on the PSAT in PA. 710 English and 760 math. I believe this adds up to be a 218. Will he make National Merit Scholar?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Maureen,
      Your math is correct. I expect 10-12 states to see lower cutoffs this year, which is what would be required for your son to be a Semifinalist. If he makes Semifinalist, then he would continue on to the Finalist portion and then the Scholar portion of the competition.

  • Avatar Renee says:

    Hello,
    We are in Florida and my son scored a 218.
    Best guess? Will 219 be cutoff for finalists?
    Thank you for all the advice.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Renee,
      Yes, my best guess is 219, but we will see a fair number of states (I think 10-12) with lower cutoffs this year. So your son is not out of it.

  • Avatar Anna says:

    Thank you for the very informative article! I am comfortable in the Finalist range (currently a junior) and using your formula have an SSI from the “confirming SAT” test of 214. Do you think I am relatively safe with this? I have focused on the ACT — which is the prevalent test at my school. I haven’t prepared to retake the SAT.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Anna,
      Yes, I think your 214 is safe. To my knowledge, there has never been a confirming score that much higher (it is often lower) than the Commended cutoff. Good luck on the ACT!

  • Avatar Steven says:

    If my son take the PSAT in Florida, but we move to Texas shortly after that, will his SSI cut off be evaluated in Florida or Texas?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      In the National Merit Scholarship Program, a student’s state is defined based on the school at the time of the PSAT. Your son will be qualifying for Semifinalist based on the Florida numbers. It’s not a bad idea to check in with your son’s former school since notifications will flow through them (NMSC has no way of knowing your son’s current school).

  • Avatar marina says:

    IF ONLY PERMANENT RESIDENT CAN GET A SCHOLARSHIP?
    THANK YOU

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Marina,
      The full version is that a student must be “be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.”

  • Avatar Darcey says:

    Hello Art,
    Very helpful article. I’m wondering if you are for hire to help with college applications and advisement? Our daughter is a junior with a 34 on the ACT, and a 218 on the PSAT from AZ. We are starting the college app process and realize we need to maximize her chances with some expertise in the application process.

    Thanks,
    Darcey

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Thank you, Darcy. Compass specializes in test preparation, but we work with many independent college counselors. If you call our office, a director will be able to provide a referral.

  • Avatar Tina says:

    When should a student take the PSAT? 10th grade? 11th grade?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Tina,
      Only the junior year PSAT counts toward National Merit, but the sophomore PSAT can be an excellent learning experience. Most students follow what is being offered by their school.

  • Avatar Ethan says:

    I’m from Utah, and I got a 1460 on the PSAT (760 math, 700 english, and 216 Index). What’ll that get me?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Ethan,
      My working hypothesis is that about half of cut-offs will remain unchanged (or lower) this year. We don’t have any specific reason to view Utah as out of the norm, so I’d call it 50/50.

    • Avatar NMSQTeager says:

      How does the state cut off determined ? It is based on number of seats each state can have ? If so, how the number of seats are calculated ? ( Total students who took NMSQT/PSAT in that state / National Total NMSQT/PSAT students ) * 16000 ?

      Thanks

      • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

        NMSQ,
        Your formula is correct except that the number of juniors is used rather than PSAT takers. That gives the target value for a state. The target will almost never be hit exactly. If the target is 500 NMSFs in a state and there are 475 who have 218 or better and 540 that have 217 or better, then the cutoff would be 218.

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