What PSAT Score Do You Need for a National Merit Scholarship?

Want to win a National Merit Scholarship? You'll need to meet the PSAT semifinalist cutoff score in your state. Learn more about qualifying.

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by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated September 21, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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What PSAT Score Do You Need for a National Merit Scholarship?
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The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes exceptional college-bound students. But to become a National Merit Scholar, you'll need to outscore over 99% of PSAT test-takers.

What PSAT score will you need for a National Merit Scholarship? Unfortunately, there's not a simple answer.

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Every year, the National Merit Scholarship Program sets a minimum cutoff score for test-takers around the country. This score recognizes the 50,000 top-scoring juniors. Then, to choose semifinalists, the program determines the cutoff scores for every state. A semifinalist score in one state might not qualify in another state.

Fortunately, test-takers can look at data from previous years to learn whether they might qualify as a semifinalist for the scholarship.

What Score Do You Need for a National Merit Scholarship?

The qualifying score you need to be a semifinalist will vary depending on your state. In Montana, for example, test-takers need a Selection Index of 207 to qualify, whereas test-takers in Georgia can only qualify with a score of 219 or higher.

The National Merit Scholarship Program uses a special PSAT score called the Selection Index to determine National Merit eligibility. The Selection Index ranges from 48-228 and is equal to the sum of your test scores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language.

For the 2022 scholarship cycle, 207 represented the national qualifying score cutoff. Since the program chooses semifinalists based on their state, the qualifying score depends on where you live.

What's a Good Score for a National Merit Scholarship?

For fall 2020 test-takers, the National Merit Scholarship Program recognized students with a minimum 207 Selection Index. The cutoff can change from year to year, as it's based on the 50,000 top-scoring test-takers.

In most states, you need an ultra-high PSAT score to become a National Merit semifinalist. The scholarship program sorts the 50,000 top scorers into commended students and semifinalists. Semifinalists must then complete an application process to become finalists for several scholarships, including the National Merit Scholarship.

Commended Student

Commended students meet the national minimum qualifying score. Out of 50,000 recognized students, around 34,000 fall into this category. For the 2022 scholarship cycle, the national minimum qualifying score was 207.

Semifinalist

The National Merit Scholarship Program selects 16,000 semifinalists from the 50,000 qualifying students. These students meet the qualifying score cutoff for their state. The state qualifying scores range from 207-224.

Finalist

Around 15,000 of the 16,000 semifinalists advance to finalist status. This step requires SAT or ACT scores that meet or exceed the national Selection Index cutoff. Out of the finalist group, around 7,500 become National Merit Scholars.

National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Scores by State

The national cutoff for commended students was 207 for the 2022 scholarship cycle. Test-takers with a 207 or higher became either commended students or semifinalists.

The scholarship program determines semifinalists on a state-proportional system. That means the qualifying score to become a semifinalist depends on your state.

For the 2022 scholarship cycle, the state qualifying scores ranged from 207-224. In some states, test-takers need a higher Selection Index to become semifinalists.

The qualifying score changes from year to year. Test-takers can use the following list of qualifying scores by state to get a general idea of the score they'll need to become a semifinalist in their state.


Source: National Merit Scholarship Program

How to Set Your Target PSAT Score

If you want to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, you'll need to meet your state's Selection Index cutoff.

How can you increase your chances of a National Merit Scholarship? Start by taking a PSAT practice test to get a baseline score.

Then, create a study plan to improve your score. Focus on the test format and common questions to maximize your study time. Identify your areas of strength and weakness to improve your lower scores.

Finally, practice good test-taking skills on test day. When you receive your PSAT scores around 6-8 weeks after taking the test, you'll also get your Selection Index. Compare your score to the recent minimum qualifying scores in your state to determine your chances of becoming a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.

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