PSAT Score Needed for National Merit Scholarship

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Each year about 1.6 million juniors take the PSAT in the hopes of qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program. But what score do you actually need to earn Semifinalist distinction? In this guide, we’ll tell you what PSAT score you need in order to qualify for Semifinalist status in your state and potentially move on to win a National Merit scholarship.

 

What’s a Good Score for the National Merit Scholarship?

The exact PSAT score for National Merit consideration varies from year to year and by state, but it’s always the top 1% of students (about 16,000 juniors) who qualify as Semifinalists. Around 15,000 students in this group then move on to become National Merit Finalists, and about 7,000 of these students eventually win scholarship money.

To be named a Semifinalist, you need to score in the top 1% of your state—not the whole country. So what scores do you need to qualify?

To answer this question, you must first understand how the PSAT is scored.

The PSAT is scored on a scale of 320-1520. In addition to that composite score, your score report will tell you your individual test scores for the Math, Reading, and Writing and Language sections. These scores fall between 8 and 38. For National Merit eligibility, these section test scores are the most important score types.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation adds each section test score together and then multiplies that sum by 2 to create a National Merit Selection Index Score. The resulting Selection Index score determines your National Merit eligibility.

For example, let’s say you got a 31 on Math, a 32 on Reading, and a 30 on Writing and Language. The sum of these scores comes out to 93. You would then multiply this by 2 to get your Selection Index Score: 186.

In equation form, it looks like this:

(31 + 32 + 30) * 2 = 186

Unfortunately, a Selection Index of 186 would not qualify you for National Merit Semifinalist status. What score do you need, then, to achieve this recognition? Read on for the full list of National Merit cutoffs in each state!

 

 

Qualifying Score for National Merit Semifinalist by State

We’ve compiled a list of the qualifying Selection Index scores for National Merit Semifinalist by state. These cutoffs applied to students who took the PSAT in the fall of 2021.

State

Selection Index

Alabama

212

Alaska

210

Arizona

214

Arkansas

210

California

220

Colorado

217

Connecticut

221

Delaware

218

DC

s

Florida

216

Georgia

218

Hawaii

215

Idaho

215

Illinois

219

Indiana

214

Iowa

212

Kansas

214

Kentucky

212

Louisiana

213

Maine

215

Maryland

222

Massachusetts

220

Michigan

218

Minnesota

216

Mississippi

210

Missouri

213

Montana

207

Nebraska

212

Nevada

210

New Hampshire

213

New Jersey

223

New Mexico

208

New York

219

North Carolina

217

North Dakota

209

Ohio

216

Oklahoma

211

Oregon

216

Pennsylvania

218

Rhode Island

216

South Carolina

213

South Dakota

212

Tennessee

215

Texas

219

Utah

211

Vermont

213

Virginia

221

Washington

220

West Virginia

207

Wisconsin

213

Wyoming

207

Average Score

215

 

As you can see, qualifying scores vary depending on where you take the test. National Merit Index Selection Cutoffs regularly vary a few points between years, so aim to achieve a score at least 2-5 points higher than the predicted cutoff for your state.

 

What Should Your Target PSAT Score Be?

If you haven’t taken the PSAT yet, then you can use the above chart to set target PSAT scores.

Let’s say you live in Texas. To be named a Semifinalist, you’ll need a Selection Index score of 219. What score do you need on each section of the PSAT to achieve this score?

As you read above, your Selection Index equals the sum of your three section test scores (each on a scale of 8-38) multiplied by 2. To figure out what section test scores you will need based on your state’s cutoff, simply work backwards.

Since you’re a Texas resident, your first step will be to divide Texas’ cutoff score by 2:

219 / 2 = 109.5

Next, all you need to do is divide 110 by 3:

109.5 / 3 = 36.5

To get a Selection Index of 220, you’d need a 37 on each of the three sections (Math, Reading, and Writing and Language).

Of course you don’t have to set your target scores equally among the three sections. If you have especially strong verbal skills, for example, you could instead aim for a 39 on both Reading and Writing and something lower like a 32 on Math.

Once you have a sense of what scores you’ll need to meet your state’s cutoff score, distribute them however you like based on your own academic strengths and weaknesses.

As mentioned above, the state cutoffs vary slightly from year to year depending on how students do on the PSAT. If you’re really serious about getting named National Merit Semifinalist, then you should aim to score a little higher than the most recent year’s cutoff.

By setting a goal for each section and devoting some time each week to prepping for the PSAT, you can achieve your goals and put yourself in the best position to earn a National Merit distinction.

 

What’s Next?

Are you taking the PSAT this year or next year? Learn all about the structure of the test.

Hoping to become a National Merit Scholar? Get expert tips on how to become a Semifinalist and how to win the scholarship.

Are you interested in applying to other college scholarships? Read about how to get merit scholarships at state schools, how to win a Walmart Scholarship, and how to win these unusual scholarships.

 

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