National Merit Semifinalist PSAT score predictions
National Merit Semi-Finalist qualifying scores won’t be announced by the National Merit Corporation until the September the year after the October PSAT. The best predictor is often the scores from the previous year, but scores do go up – and sometimes down. A year is a long time to wait! So if your score is close, you can’t help but try to figure out what the National Merit qualifying score for your state might be. This will help you know if you need to prepare for the next step in the competition, like achieving a National Merit confirming SAT score.
Have National Merit PSAT scores gone up or down from 2015-2016?
Since National Merit Semi-finalist cutoffs are higher than the top 99th percentile (more like the 99.5th percentile), you can’t tell if you’re going to qualify on percentile alone. To complicate matters, the College Board publishes a National Representative Sample percentile AND a PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT/10 User National Sample (this means the population of students that age in the entire United States vs. students who actually took the test.)
To complicate it further, they publish this chart for the 1520 scale score, not the National Merit Selection Index score, the 228 score scale.
You can find the chart for 2016, the class of 2018, here at the College Board: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2016.
Unfortunately, the College Board has taken down the Percentile charts for 2015! (Class of 2017, taken last year.) If you do a search, the Google link will take you to this year’s scores.
However, I was able to find a partial chart for 2015 here: PrepScholar New 2015 PSAT Percentiles and Selection Index
I am not a SAT PSAT National Merit Scholar tutor or test prep professional. However, when I compare these two charts, here’s what I see.
If you look at the Percentiles for 2016 PSAT, College Board: PSAT/NMSQT Understanding Scores 2016., for the National Sample, 1440 = 99+ percentile, 1430 = 99+ percentile, 1420 = 99 percentile… all the way down to 1360. 1350=98 percentile. But for the User sample, 1490 = 99+, 1480 = 99+ and the break point is 1470 = 99.
If you look at the percentiles for the 2015 PSAT, PrepScholar New 2015 PSAT Percentiles and Selection Index, on the chart for 2015 (maybe, this is not an official chart) 1440 = 99+ percentile but 1430 = 99 percentile, all the way down to 1390 percentile = 99 percentile. 1380 = 98.
So it depends on which chart you use. User, the scores look higher this year. National Representative sample, they look lower this year.
Then there is another wrinkle. Like mentioned, the percentiles are published for the 1520 score. The percentiles are not published for the selection index, or 228 score, which is used for National Merit. The scores are calculated differently, with different weights to math, reading, and writing, so the same 1520 score can give you different selection index score.
1440 can equal index 215.
1440 can equal index 219.
1470 can equal index 219.
So, 1440 and 1470 will show different percentiles on the percentiles for total scores chart, but the percentiles for index scores (which we have no chart for) will be the same.
Has the National Merit Scholar cutoff score gone up or down in 2016?
It turns out, based on the fact that the chart from last year has been unpublished, I can’t tell. Also whether or not the National Merit Scholar cutoff score goes up or down depends on the state where you live.
In the end, it all depends on the state and it’s all still just a guess. We won’t even know in May when they release Commended scores, but there will be more guesses. Does anyone know legitimate reasons why the Semi-finalists aren’t announced until September?
Also, remember, if you miss it by just a few points, there are still good scholarships to be had if you can score well on national tests. And there are many paths to success! Also, see my earlier posts about National Merit here and here.
For a prediction of 2018 National Merit Semifinalist cutoff scores by someone who does this professionally, see Compass Prep Predictions National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2018. You will notice there’s a range. Like the say, the best prediction is last year’s cutoff scores. But if you’re right there, or plus or minus one point, you can’t help but get your hopes up.
UPDATE 3/30/2017 – The best analysis I’ve seen is predicting cut-off scores will rise: Why National Merit Scores Are Rising