To qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT must be taken in the student’s junior year of high school. Many parents may not be aware that there is no single nationwide score on the PSAT that will qualify a student to become a NMS semifinalist, a critical preliminary step on the way to becoming a finalist and then perhaps a merit scholar.
Semifinalists emerge from the top 3-4% of students (50,000 or so) taking the test, by virtue of the PSAT score alone. The top 3-4% of students earn “commended” status, and there is a national uniform score for commended students=203 for 2014, higher than in the past. (See below for SAT equivalent.) Semifinalists, on the other hand, account for only a bit more than 1% of all students, or about 16,000 nationwide.
From these students, the merit scholar foundation, using state allocation levels, selects about 15,000 to become finalists; and from this group, about 9,000 are actually selected as merit scholars, based on both PSAT and SAT scores and a letter of recommendation from the high school principal. Therefore, many students who meet the semifinalist thresholds listed below do not go on to become finalists or merit scholars (two different things, though for some schools being a finalist is sufficient to earn support). We speculate that meaningful improvement on the SAT, taken in the spring of the junior year, relative to the PSAT score from the preceding October, may help in identifying students who go beyond finalist status and become merit scholars.
Each state has its own threshold PSAT score, which is the baseline for students to be considered as semifinalists in a given state. The scores vary widely, from 203 in West Virginia and Wyoming to 224 in Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey (see below). Converted to SAT (two-part) scores, there is an estimated difference of 141 points between the SAT scores required in West Virginia and Wyoming, and those required in Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey.
The mean of state minimum semifinalist PSAT scores is 214.1. This converts to an SAT score of ~1434. The mean score of all 11th grade PSAT test takers in 2012 was 142.8, equivalent to an SAT score of 957.
(To obtain an approximate conversion of PSAT to SAT, you can multiply the PSAT by 10.0= SAT three-part score; and then multiply by 0.67 to obtain the two-part SAT score.)
Estimated PSAT Minimum Semifinalist Scores, and SAT Equivalencies, 2014, by State:
District of Columbia 224/1501
New Hampshire 214/1434
New Jersey 224/1501
New Mexico 210/1407
New York 219/1467
North Carolina 215/1441
North Dakota 204/1367
Rhode Island 216/1447
South Carolina 210/1407
South Dakota 206/1380
West Virginia 203/1360
U.S. Territories 203/1360