Predicted National Merit Scholarship Cutoffs for 2020 and 2021 (Updated)


What PSAT score is required to be considered for National Merit? The answer to this question is dependent on your location. To be eligible for National Merit Scholarship, you must meet or exceed the cutoff score in your home state.

Based on the most recent data from the fall of 2019, we’ve compiled the National Merit Semifinalist state cutoffs. Before we look at the qualifying scores, let’s talk about how the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) decides who is a Commended Student or Semifinalist.

How to Qualify for National Merit

National Merit is open to U.S. citizens who test in the United States in the fall of their 11th grade year. Only your junior year PSAT counts toward National Merit distinction and scholarships, though taking the PSAT as a sophomore or freshman can be beneficial practice, especially if you want to score high.

Students who achieve high marks may be recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. NMSC compares your PSAT results to those of other students in your state using its own Selection Index, which ranges from 48 to 228.

Commended Scholars are awarded to the top 3-4 percent of scorers. National Merit Semifinalists are selected from the top one percent of students, usually around 16,000 students. Semifinalists may apply for Finalist status and possibly win scholarship money.

As previously stated, NMSC employs its own Selection Index in addition to state percentiles. Let’s se

how your scores translate to this index.

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Understanding Your Scores on the PSAT

To determine your National Merit eligibility, you must first examine your PSAT section scores in Math, Reading, Writing, and Language. Each section receives a score ranging from 8 to 38..

NMSC adds the scores from each section and multiplies them by two. Assume you received a 30 in Math, a 31 in Reading, and a 32 in Writing and Language. When these scores are added together, they total 93. Divide the result by two to get your National Merit Selection Index score: 186.

This would be written as (30 + 31 + 32) x 2 = 186 as an equation.

According to our estimates for qualifying PSAT scores, a score of 186 would not place in the top 1%. Check out the cutoff scores in the table below.

Is your PSAT score report a jumbled mess of numbers? You only need to understand one thing for National Merit: your Selection Index.

Predicted National Merit Scholarship Cutoffs

The cutoffs shown in the chart below are for students who took the PSAT in October 2019. (In other words, these are the class of 2021 cutoffs.)

Here is the complete list of Selection Index scores for National Merit Semifinalists.


Selection Index
Alabama 212
Alaska 212
Arizona 218
Arkansas 212
California 221
Colorado 217
Connecticut 220
Delaware 219
DC 222
Florida 216
Georgia 219
Hawaii 217
Idaho 214
Illinois 219
Indiana 215
Iowa 212
Kansas 214
Kentucky 214
Louisiana 212
Maine 213
Maryland 221
Massachusetts 222
Michigan 216
Minnesota 218
Mississippi 211
Missouri 214
Montana 210
Nebraska 213
Nevada 215
New Hampshire 215
New Jersey 222
New Mexico 211
New York 220
North Carolina 217
North Dakota 209
Ohio 215
Oklahoma 211
Oregon 217
Pennsylvania 217
Rhode Island 216
South Carolina 212
South Dakota 209
Tennessee 215
Texas 219
Utah 212
Vermont 212
Virginia 221
Washington 220
West Virginia 209
Wisconsin 213
Wyoming 209

Average Score


The bar was especially high if you tested in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Washington, DC. You had to get a 222 or higher. The lowest cutoffs were 209 in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The average cutoff across all states was 215 points.

If you haven’t taken the PSAT yet and want to compete for National Merit, you should aim for a Selection Index score that is 2-5 points higher than your state’s cutoff score. Because qualifying scores can vary slightly from year to year, you should aim a little higher.

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How can you determine what section scores you need on the PSAT to qualify for National Merit based on these cutoffs?



What Should You Score on Each PSAT Section?

As previously stated, NMSC’s Selection Index multiplies your three section scores by two. Simply work backward to determine what you require for each section. Divide your state’s qualifying score by two, and then by three (or however you want based on your target scores for each section).

Consider the qualifying score of 218 as an example. If you have a selection score of 218 and a section score of 109, your total section score is 109. You could score 36-37 on each section to get this total (Math, Reading, and Writing and Language).

If you are much better at math than writing, you could aim for a perfect 38 on Math and a slightly lower score on Writing and Language. To compete for National Merit, you must have a section score in the 30s on each section of the PSAT. Again, aim for a few points above the minimum, as cutoffs can differ slightly from year to year.

If you want to be a National Merit Semifinalist, you’ll need to put in some time studying for the PSAT. Links to useful resources, such as official PSAT practice tests and sample questions, are provided below.



How to Prep for the PSAT

The most effective way to prepare for the PSAT is to become acquainted with official practice questions and self-timed PSAT practice tests. Score your attempts, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and create a study plan that focuses on your weaknesses.

Depending on where you’re starting out, you may need to put in 40 hours or more of preparation. You should become acquainted with the test content in order to review key concepts and become accustomed to the tricky wording of the PSAT/NMSQT. Simultaneously, you can experiment with various strategies for answering questions efficiently, such as recognizing answer types and employing the process of elimination.

Reviewing and analyzing your mistakes is an important part of studying. Rather than immediately moving on to the next practice test, you should take the time to deconstruct your errors piece by piece. Did you misinterpret the question, lack content knowledge, or make an unintentional error? Understanding the source of your error allows you to determine what you need to change for the next time.

All of your preparation should not only pay off in terms of National Merit recognition and scholarships, but it should also help you achieve excellent SAT scores!

What’s Next?

How do you win the scholarship if you have excellent PSAT scores and are named a Semifinalist? This guide explains how to advance from National Merit Semifinalist to National Merit Finalist and scholarship winner.

If you do well on the PSAT, you may be in a good position to get a perfect score on the SAT. To be clear, you don’t have to be a genius to get a 1600 — full scores are determined by how much and how well you prepare! Check out this guide written by a perfect SAT scorer on how to get a perfect score on the SAT.

If you’re having trouble with the PSAT and SAT, you should consider taking the ACT instead. This guide explains the differences between the SAT and ACT so you can select the best test for you.

Dissatisfied with your results? Do you want to raise your SAT score by 160 points? We’ve compiled a list of the top five strategies you should employ if you want to improve your score.