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

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.

(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=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:

Alabama 211/1414
Alaska 212/1420
Arizona 214/1434
Arkansas 205/1374
California 223/1494
Colorado 215/1441

Connecticut 221/1481
Delaware 218/1461
District of Columbia 224/1501
Florida 214/1434
Georgia 217/1454
Hawaii 215/1441

Idaho 211/1414
Illinois 216/1447
Indiana 215/1441
Iowa 210/1407
Kansas 216/1447
Kentucky 211/1414
Louisiana 209/1400

Maine 215/1441
Maryland 223/1494
Massachusetts 224/1501
Michigan 210/1407
Minnesota 215/1441
Mississippi 207/1387
Missouri 213/1427
Montana 207/1387
Nebraska 209/1400
Nevada 212/1420
New Hampshire 214/1434
New Jersey 224/1501
New Mexico 210/1407
New York 219/1467
North Carolina 215/1441
North Dakota 204/1367

Ohio 215/1441
Oklahoma 210/1407
Oregon 218/1461
Pennsylvania 217/1454
Rhode Island 216/1447
South Carolina 210/1407
South Dakota 206/1380
Tennessee 212/1420
Texas 219/1467
Utah 208/1394
Vermont 217/1454
Virginia 222/1487
Washington 220/1474
West Virginia 203/1360
Wisconsin 210/1407
Wyoming 203/1360

Commended: 203/1360
International: 224/1501
U.S. Territories 203/1360



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