National Merit Semi-finalist cutoff scores on the PSAT appear to have risen dramatically this year. It’s not just because kids are getting smarter (they are, Why Smart Kids Worry, page 5), or students do more prep for the SAT, but also because the College Board has not managed the redesign well. Many, many, many kids will miss the cutoff that deserve to have their hard work recognized. How you think about this “win” or “loss” can be important emotionally.
Knowing some limitations to the test can help you frame what missing – or surpassing – the National Merit Cutoff score means.
The SAT and PSAT were dramatically redesigned in 2015/2016. There were multiple problems with the 2015 PSAT and the release of the scores. And there were still problems in 2016.
Among other changes, I read somewhere that the Math Without Calculator section of the PSAT was originally intended to have 20 questions. But most of the kids couldn’t finish it. (I can’t find the source again, but this kind of issue is not covered well in the media, as you’ll see with the next issue.) Of the options they could have considered for correcting that problem, they chose to cut the number of questions to 17.
Then on the 2016 PSAT, Math Without Calculator section on one test had two problems that got thrown out as un-scorable.
I have worked in educational textbook and test writing. That is inexcusable, especially on a test of this magnitude.
Again, you will not find this well covered in the media. It appears that only a handful of students who were in the running for National Merit Semi-finalist, the ones who were affected by the mistake, noticed it.
But the hard fact is that this years class was left with only 15 math questions in that section when there were intended to be 20. And students could lose valuable time on the two faulty questions. Sure, most of them had the same faulty questions. (Not all, there were two test versions.) But, depending on where a student’s strengths lie, there is luck of the draw whether or not it tripped you up, or spent valuable time on them. And being at the top it is a matter or luck in so many ways.
If you, or your child didn’t make the National Merit cutoff score (and even if the did), it’s important to think about whether or not National Merit means anything and put it in perspective.
National Merit Qualifying Scores on the 2016 PSAT for 2018 Graduating Seniors are unpublished
It appears that the qualifying scores for 2018 National Merit Semi-finalists went up anywhere from 1 to 6 points. (Only one state went down.)
I say appears, because the National Merit Scholarship Corporation is secretive about the way it selects finalists, even though it is well known that selection is based entirely on your PSAT National Merit Selection Index score and the state you live in. They notify the schools and put out a press release with names of Semi-finalists (hiding the names on the press release published on the internet), but do not release any official cutoff scores. This means that if a school fails to notify a student, they have no way of knowing they are a finalist.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to see a list of qualifying scores that was released by state. I haven’t seen a similar list this year, so I don’t know if one was released. They may have quit doing that as well.
What’s next after National Merit Semifinalist determination
Did you (or your student) make the cut? Congratulations! Remember you will need a National Merit SAT confirming score.
Did you miss the cut? Remember that while making semi-finalist is an honor, missing the National Merit cut doesn’t really mean anything about your intelligence, and there are still good merit scholarships you will likely qualify for.
If you missed the cut-off score, please remember that there are many paths to success. In fact, I’m beginning to think that if you expend a lot of energy trying to attain success as the way education defines it, you may actually hurt your chances for success. Check out my posts about hugely successful people described in the book Outliers.
Ways to find out the National Merit Qualifying Scores on the 2016 PSAT for 2018 Graduating Seniors
There are fewer places on the internet where you can find the National Merit Qualifying scores for 2018 than in past years. I suspect that the College Board and the National Merit Corporation are withholding more and more information. One can only hope that as they continue to be less and less reliable, colleges and universities will put less trust in them. Let’s hope the merit aid scholarships don’t disappear with that trust, but instead are determined in alternate, more fair ways. It’s a shame, because the ACT and SAT can be one way of equalizing opportunities for students who have found they are tired of working the system to get to the top of the GPA class ranking mess caused by the College Board AP classes.
Here are some places where they have done the work of aggregating results and making deductions about the likely 2018 National Merit Qualifying scores by state. If you are looking to figure out what types of scores will be needed on the 2017 PSAT for the National Merit Qualifying Cutoffs scores be state for the Class of 2019, Art Sawyer at Compass Prep Education Group does an extensive and thorough analysis the data before making predictions.
Read more about the SAT redesign and National Merit
Scores for new PSAT are finally out. What to know about them (and what they mean for redesigned SAT). Highlights some of the issues with the newly redesigned PSAT the year before.