Lots of students (or their parents) will be looking at their 2015 PSAT score and trying to guess if they’ll make the National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist Qualifying Score, or to see how much they need to study to take the test their junior year. It’s always a guessing game, but this year the change in score scales has made it even more difficult.
The PSAT isn’t just a “practice SAT” or a “preliminary SAT.” The score on the PSAT is used by the National Merit Corporation to select National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalists. Scores vary by state. (Click here to see the list of the National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist qualifying scores for the 2014 PSAT by state.) Semi-Finalists then submit an application for the second round of competition. Finalists can win scholarships from the National Merit Corporation, but the biggest scholarships are awarded by individual universities and other corporations.
This year, you don’t just need to guess what the new qualifying scores will be; you have to convert your score to the old scale.
How to guess what 2015 PSAT score will qualify for National Merit Semi-finalist
- First need to know how to interpret the new 2015 PSAT scores.
- Then you need to convert your 2015 PSAT score to the equivalent of a PSAT scores in past years.
- Then compare your predicted range of converted scores to the last years National Merit Semi-finalist qualifying scores.
* For an update on why converting scores is so complicated, see the update below.
On a previous post, a reader asked how to predict if his score was likely to qualify for National Merit Semi-finalist, so I’ll use his numbers to go through an example.
The scores are 37, 36, and 32.5, which I’ll assume corresponds to Reading 37, Writing & Language 36, and Math 32.5.
Using the PSAT/NMSQT Preliminary 2015 Concordance Tables, I located the equivalent scores below.
2015 Reading 37 = previous years’ 75-77
2015 Writing & Language 36 = previous years’ 70-73
2015 Math 32.5 = previous years’ 66
Add them up, and the score total is the equivalent of between 211-216 in previous years.
That is in the range to be a National Merit Semi-Finalist in several states last year! As one, he would qualify for the next round of competition and be eligible to qualify for National Merit Scholarships from lots of colleges and universities. Unfortunately, I don’t know which state this reader lives in. Keep in mind that even before the changes, qualifying scores could change from year to year and can go up or down, usually up. And I noticed that the College Board has given themselves a lot more variation in the upper range of scores, so they have lots of room to adjust. So at this point, it’s all still just guesswork.
Often, not much separates the kids at the top. Sometimes it looks like a pretty good score gap, but in the upper range, one missed question can be worth multiple points. Scores that even approach the National Merit Semi-Finalist level are just as difficult to achieve, and a difference of a few of points on a standardized test doesn’t mean that one student is smarter than another, even if it looks that way. The good news is, even if he doesn’t make the National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist qualifying score, his SAT is still bound to be high enough to qualify for good scholarships at lots of schools on the basis of his SAT score alone.
If it looks like you’re going to miss 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 Outliers.
For some more information on just how little we really know about National Merit Scholar qualifying scores, Can You Trust Your PSAT Score?
For tips to improve your SAT score and PSAT score, see my post about the best tools to improve your SAT score. I’ll be updating with a post for the new SAT, but this will get you started.
New PSAT Score Compression – the best explanation I’ve seen about why the new score don’t directly correlate to the old scores. It sounds to me like it is going to make it even more difficult between students at the top.
National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2017 – A very informed attempt to predict cutoff scores. The analysis that went into this is impressive!