Updated Fall 2014, with National Merit semifinalist cutoff scores by state, class of 2015. The scores will apply to high school juniors who took the PSAT in October 2013. These students should have been notified in April 2014 of they are among the 50,000 students who are eligible for commended or semifinalist recognition. In September 2014, they were notified if they had been selected as national merit semifinalists, and they will learn in February 2015 if they are finalists. Since final notification for them comes in 2015, the spring term of their senior year, they are referred to as the 2015 class. The cutoff scores for them are listed below, along with SAT equivalents….
Juniors who took the PSAT in October 2014 should receive notification of eligibility for commended or semifinalist status in April 2015; notification of semifinalist status in September 2015; and then learn if they are selected as finalists in February 2016. They are referred to as the 2016 class of merit scholars. The cutoff scores for this group will not be available until September 2015.
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.
(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 are up slightly over 2013 scores.)
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=201 for 2015. (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 201 in West Virginia to 224 in the District of Columbia and New Jersey (see below). Converted to SAT (two-part) scores, there is an estimated difference of 154 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 2015 scores is 212.2, down slightly from the 2014 average of 214.1. The 2015 average score converts to an SAT score of ~1422.
Estimated PSAT Minimum Semifinalist Scores, and estimated SAT Equivalencies, 2015, by State:
|District of Columbia||224||1501|
|Commended 201 (National Cutoff)||201||1347|
|Outside United States 224||224||1501|
|U.S. Territories 201||201||1347|