PSAT National Merit Scholar Qualifying Scores and SAT Equivalencies, by State

Updated September 8, 2015, with National Merit semifinalist cutoff scores by state, class of 2016.  The scores will apply to high school juniors who took the PSAT in October 2014. These students should have been notified in April 2015 of they are among the 50,000 students who are eligible for commended or semifinalist recognition.  In September 2015, they will be notified if they had been selected as national merit semifinalists, and they will learn in February 2016 if they are finalists.  Since final notification for them comes in 2016, the spring term of their senior year, they are referred to as the 2016 class.  The cutoff scores for them are listed below, along with SAT equivalents….

Students who will take the PSAT in October 2015 will be the “Class of 2017” with timetables patterned after those listed above.

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.

Students are classified according to the state in which they attend high school, not the state of actual residence.

(Note: The average 2014 National Merit Scholars’ SAT critical reading score was 751, and the average mathematics score was 746; the average writing skills score was 737.  All were up slightly over 2013 scores.) Please note that ACT scores are not used to “confirm” PSAT scores. For more information about confirmation scores, please see The National Merit Journey: What You Need to Know, Part One and The National Merit Journey Part Two: The Parent’s Role.

(See also Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Funding and Merit Aid: Publics that Fund at least 50% of Tuition and Fees.)

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=202 for 2016.  (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 202 in West Virginia to 225 in the District of Columbia and New Jersey (see below).  Converted to SAT (two-part) scores, there is an estimated difference of 155 points between the SAT scores required in West Virginia, and those required in the District of Columbia and New Jersey.

The mean of state minimum semifinalist PSAT 2016 scores is 212.67, up slightly from 2015 but down from the 2014 average of 214.1.  The 2016 average score converts to an SAT score of ~1425, up from ~1422 in 2015.

PSAT Minimum Semifinalist Scores, and SAT Equivalencies, 2016, by State:


StatePSATSAT Equiv
Alabama  2091400.3
Alaska  2061380.2
Arizona  2151440.5
Arkansas 2041366.8
California 2231494.1
Colorado 2151440.5
Connecticut 2201474
Delaware 2161447.2
District of Columbia2251507.5
Florida 2141433.8
Georgia 2181460.6
Hawaii 2141433.8
Idaho  2081393.6
Illinois  2151440.5
Indiana  2131427.1
Iowa  2081393.6
Kansas 2131427.1
Kentucky 2101407
Louisiana 2111413.7
Maine 2111413.7
Maryland 2221487.4
Massachusetts  2231494.1
Michigan  2101407
Minnesota  2141433.8
Mississippi  2091400.3
Missouri  2091400.3
Montana  2041366.8
Nebraska  2091400.3
Nevada  2111413.7
New Hampshire  2131427.1
New Jersey  2251507.5
New Mexico  2081393.6
New York  2191467.3
North Carolina  2151440.5
North Dakota  2021353.4
Ohio  2151440.5
Oklahoma  2081393.6
Oregon  2151440.5
Pennsylvania  2171453.9
Rhode Island  2121420.4
South Carolina  2111413.7
South Dakota  2021353.4
Tennessee  2121420.4
Texas  2201474
Utah  2061380.2
Vermont  2141433.8
Virginia  2221487.4
Washington  2191467.3
West Virginia  2021353.4
Wisconsin  2081393.6
Wyoming 2021353.4
Outside United States2251507.5
U.S. Territories2021353.4

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