Did you recently get your PSAT score back and are wondering if your score qualifies you for a scholarship?
In this blog post, we’re talking about the 2020-2021 PSAT cut offs and our predictions for the National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist qualifying score.
What is the National Merit Scholarship Competition?
The National Merit Scholarship Competition is held each year for high school juniors who are U.S citizens/ permanent residents. You can qualify for a scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation by scoring high on your PSAT. The program awards about 7000 scholarships each year from about 15,000 finalists.
Students who score approximately in the top 1% of their state on the PSAT (or alternatively SAT if they submit alternate entry for class of 2022 only; see end of this blog) automatically qualify to be National Merit Semifinalists. From there, they fill out an application, submit the grades, and take an SAT to prove their score was accurate (this “confirmation” SAT / ACT score is waived for the class of 2022 due to COVID 19). Then, most semifinalists become finalists and potentially earn scholarships. Since qualifying depends on states, it is harder to become a semifinalist in a competitive state like California than it is in a state like North Dakota.
Factors that Influence Cut Off Scores
PSAT percentiles are created by the College Board by analyzing past test taker’s scores and adjusting percentiles over three years of test takers to the PSAT scores. This is different that your National Merit cut-off, which is tabulated by comparing test-takers in your own year who are qualified juniors.
In 2019, the cut-off score for NMSC semifinalist status dropped 1-4 points. This was because students on the 2019 PSAT were scoring lower on the exam than in past years, and possibly, because the College Board may have not been as accurate in scaling the PSAT scores last year to the PSAT scores from prior years. I.e. the top percentile of fall 2019 test takers had a broader range of PSAT scores than test takers did in the past.
Given the recent fluctuations in selection indexes, it’s difficult for us to predict what the cutoff score will be this year. However, the released curve for the two October exams are much more forgiving this year, which may indicate that the selection index will not need to be as forgiving as any forgiveness of the exam forms from October has already been worked into the scoring scale.
Because of COVID-19, many students’ PSAT dates were canceled or rescheduled for January. That January test may or may not happen at many locations due to rising cases.
There will likely be fewer students taking the PSAT this year, influencing cut-off scores.
But what’s more, is that students unable to test for the PSAT may alternately enter the contest with an SAT score until June 2021. With students picking up more study time for their qualifying test, competition may stiffen as 2021 goes on, raising the bar on the selection index. For information on how to qualify with an SAT score…see the bottom of this blog post.
Our Prediction: National Merit Semifinalist Qualifying Cutoffs
Because there are fewer students taking the PSAT this year, this will likely be the easiest year to become a National Merit Semifinalist for those able to take a qualifying exam. Our predictions are based on the fact that fewer students are taking the PSAT this year and COVID-19 is depressing grades overall in the US (reducing the cutoff), that the scale is already forgiving on the October test (increasing the cutoff, but not the difficulty level of becoming a semifinalist), and that last year’s index cut offs were uncharacteristically low (increasing the cutoff). Thus we’re weighting last year’s cut offs as most important (a lower than normal cutoff), but also factoring in 2018-2020 cutoffs given the curve released thus far.
National Merit Selection Index Cut-offs & Class of 2022 Predictions
|State||Class of 2018||Class of 2019||Class of 2020||Class of 2021||Class of 2022 (Predicted)|
|District of Columbia||223||223||223||222||222|
How are the Finalists Chosen?
With their PSAT score, every student also receives a selection index score. This score determines who qualifies for the National Merit competition. The competition adds your math, reading, and writing section scores (the scores go from 8-28). Then, your total score is multiplied by 2 to get your selection index (ranges from 48-228).
It’s unknown whether, because of the lower number of students taking the exam, if the selection index will increase or decrease.
It’s also unknown whether the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will offer fewer scholarships this year to maintain their top ~1% qualifying measure or if they will select approximately 16K semifinalists as they have in years past, regardless of qualified participants taking the PSAT.
This year, it may be easier to become a national merit finalist, especially with the forgiving curve. Because of COVID-19, you may find selection index numbers decrease. This could be due to COVID-19 related test anxiety or the drop in GPA due to online learning.
Additionally, COVID-19 has suppressed the test prep industry, leading to fewer prepared students. For those who did study. there is more opportunity to do well and become a National Merit Finalist.
So start studying now, it may pay off more than it ever has before.
Alternate Entry ! How to Qualify for NMSC programs with an SAT Score (Class of 2022).
To enter the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program based on your SAT scores in lieu of PSAT/NMSQT scores, you must:
1) take an official administration of the SAT given from August 2020 to June 2021;
2) request that College Board SAT Program send an official report of your SAT scores to NMSC (code 0085). The SAT Program will not report your scores to NMSC unless you request it. You cannot use a photocopy of the score report sent to you or to your high school as a substitute for the official report; and
3) visit forms.nationalmerit.org/alternateentry immediately to complete the Alternate Entry Form. You cannot be considered in the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program unless you complete this online form no later than Thursday, April 1, 2021.