UPDATE 2: 2016 National Merit Semifinalist Cutoff Score for Texas – NEW ESTIMATE

Based on an analysis of nearly 10,000 students, Testmasters has updated our prediction for the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff score in Texas to be as high as 219.

To understand how we got this number, you first need to understand how the National Merit Scholarship Corporation determines who gets to be a semifinalist. Every year, approximately 16,000 students become National Merit Semifinalists. Every state in the country is allotted a number of those 16,000 students proportional to the number of graduating high school seniors in that state. They then “fill in” that allocation starting with the students from that state with the highest scores. The lowest score in that allocation is the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff score for that state.

Distribution of NMSQT Selection Index, TexasUsing new data from roughly 10,000 Testmasters students and other students who took the PSAT in Texas, we reproduced this process. We know from historic data that of these 10,000 students, approximately 60 will become National Merit Semifinalists. Applying that number to our data, we have revised our estimate of the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff for Texas to be as high as 219.

Picture3Our previous estimate of 217 was based on linear regression done on the concordance tables released by the College Board and historical cutoff scores. This new estimate includes 10,000 students – a sampling of Testmasters students and beyond – and is more accurate because it’s based on real, actual scores from students who took the new test and have scores using the new selection index. Even though the cutoff score is higher, the number of students who will become National Merit Semifinalists stays the same.

But what about the sliding-scale estimates?

They were our best guess before the concordance tables came out. We update our estimates when we receive new data.

What does this mean for other states?

It’s important to note that this data is only representative of Texas and cannot necessarily be extrapolated to the cutoffs of other states. However, what the 219 shows us is that our concordance table estimates are in the right ballpark–though we won’t know for sure until August/September.

Please note that this post is an update to previous posts on the topic. You can find those previous posts here:

UPDATE: What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?

What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?

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I Got a “C” in One of My Classes! Can I Still Get Into an Ivy League?

Grab a towel, and don't panic! A B or C won't sink your Ivy League application

Grab a towel, and don’t panic! A B or C won’t sink your Ivy League application

Hello readers! Today we’ll be talking about a topic we get asked quite frequently here at the Testmasters blog: “I got a B/C/D/F in one/two/three of my classes! Can I still get into an Ivy League?!” Fear not! We’re here to reassure you that a bad grade or two isn’t going to sink your application — as long as the grade is an anomaly, not a trend.

“I got a B in Underwater Basket Weaving! I have A’s in everything else, can I still get in?”

We first want to address the more mild of the cases we hear– a B. All of you shooting for Ivy League schools are undoubtedly gifted and highly motivated students, so earning a B in a class might come as a shock to you. However, Don’t Panic! Though you might think otherwise, a B is not in fact a bad grade. It’s an average one! I know most of you have excelled in school, so the mere word “average” might scare you off, but don’t let it. There’s no shame or fault in being average in certain respects, and Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, certainly don’t expect perfect students to be masters in every single subject. They just want high-achieving students who on average are excellent students. The emphasis is on “average” because remember your GPA? Remember how that stands for Grade Point Average? Yeah, it’s called that because schools want to see how you’re doing across the board, and as long as that GPA is generally pretty high, you don’t have to worry too much. You’ll still be okay with that B in Flower Crown Construction.

“I had a really bad semester and got a C/D/F in a class!”

Schools want to see your Grade Point *Average*. As long as the overall average is excellent, you're in the clear, even with the odd discrepancy or two.

Schools want to see your Grade Point *Average*. As long as the overall average is excellent, you’re in the clear, even with the odd discrepancy or two.

This is admittedly a more serious case than a simple B or two, but again, the advice here is to Not Panic! Admissions officers are human too, and, even in the Ivy Leagues, they understand that people make mistakes or that people have unfortunate circumstances that might have made a semester worse than is typical. The key here is to prove to admissions officers that the C was just a fluke and not indicative of your academic performance as a whole. Unfortunately, your GPA will take a bigger hit than if you earned a B, but again, your GPA tracks your performance across the years. If you can smooth out that bump in the road and pull your GPA back up by crushing your classes with A’s, everything will be okay! A single C or two won’t bar you from MIT or Stanford, but you have to prove to admissions counselors that you do have the knowledge and fortitude to attend their schools.

“Should I mention why I got a B/C/D/F on my application?”

For B’s- NO. B’s again are not a huge deal, so if you make excuses for a B or two, you’re just going to sound neurotic. Relax about it!

For C’s/D’s/F’s- it depends. If you had a serious medical condition or a traumatic life experience, then I think it would be worth mentioning in whatever supplemental essays the schools offer, the ones that ask “Is there anything else you would like to talk about that you haven’t gotten a chance to already.” Succinctly explain what happened, but importantly, emphasize how you bounced back from this! It’s much better to read an essay about adversity and triumph than just adversity. However, it’s important to note that you SHOULD NOT write your primary essay on this event, unless it truly has had a life-shattering impact on how you developed. Especially in this case, if you choose to write your primary or cover essay on that, make sure to emphasize the triumph; don’t go into detail about the effect on your grades. Emphasize your strong suits, not your moment of weaknesses!

If you don’t have a good explanation for that bad grade, and no, having a bad teacher doesn’t count, just don’t mention it. It’s entirely possible that admissions officers won’t even notice a solitary C, especially if your GPA is relatively high. Remember that these admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications a day – they certainly don’t have enough time to carefully skim every single transcript, hawkishly looking for every single discrepancy. Though schools may use a computer program to flag applications with C’s or F’s, it’s unlikely that many do so, and as long as your overall GPA and SAT/ACT score are high, it likely won’t be a big deal.

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August SAT starting in 2017

College Board has released the anticipated SAT test dates for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 calendar years, and, with little fanfare or notice, it appears that they intend to phase out the January SAT test date by 2018. Let’s take a look at the respective test dates for 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019.

2016 2017 test dates2017 2018 test dates2018 20198 test dates

(SOURCE: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/dates-deadlines)

If you read through the test dates above, you can see that the January SAT test date will be replaced with a new test date in August. Specifically, in 2017 College Board will offer both a January and an August test; in 2018, and presumably going forward, College Board will offer a test date in August but not January.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, why is this significant?

If you follow education trends, you may know that two years ago the ACT supplanted the SAT as the most frequently taken college entrance exam. From a big picture perspective, this change in available test dates represents yet another savvy decision by College Board in their effort to recapture their status as the number one college admission exam.  Historically, the ACT has done very well with its September test, with that exam being popular among high school seniors scrambling to take one last standardized admission test before the early application deadlines come up. By moving the January test date to August, College Board should now compete more effectively with the ACT for high school seniors who waited to prepare for standardized entrance exams.

From a more micro perspective, in terms of how this change might affect you – the test taker, or the parent of a test taker – this is actually good news. Regardless of the large-scale significance of College Board’s aggressive attempts to recapture their lost market share, which reportedly includes everything from inflating PSAT percentile ranking to underbidding the ACT on state-level contracts, having one more test available in the fall should allow for more flexibility in planning your college admission timeline and test preparation.

One other interesting note: college application deadlines are implicitly determined by the national college admission test dates. A change in the available test dates may result in a change in the early application or regular application dates. In that regard, we’ll just have to wait and see; this is a recent announcement that won’t take effect for a couple of years, so it’s too early to make assumptions about how the deadlines might change, but that is certainly something to watch out for.

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Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt III

Stethoscope

In this post, we’ll discuss the implicit extracurriculars needed for applying to medical school.

In today’s installment of Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Pre-Med, we’re going to be talking about the extracurriculars you’re expected to complete. These aren’t as absolutely necessary as the Big Two of shadowing and clinical volunteering, but they are needed to show admissions counselors that you’re a well-rounded and interesting individual.

Before we dive into the three extracurriculars of general volunteering, leadership experience, and research experience, I just want to caution y’all on a trend I see too often with premeds and high-achieving students in general: Don’t pad your resume! Don’t do activities just because you think admissions counselors might like it because it’s only going to hurt you in the long run. These admissions officers have been in the game for years, and they can smell fakeness a mile away. Further, during medical school admissions, you will be asked to interview, and if you can’t talk at length about an activity you put on your application, be it a leadership role in a club or an organization you were a part of, you’re going to be in for an awkward ride.

Continue reading “Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt III” »

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Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt. II

As mentioned earlier, there is no set path to becoming a pre-med; medical schools accept a wide range of students. However, there is a “core curriculum” that pre-meds are expected to have completed, which we’ll be covering in this post.

Academics

There are a few courses every premed is expected to complete, but otherwise, there is no "premed degree" you need to worry about.

There are a few courses every premed is expected to complete, but otherwise, there is no “premed degree” you need to worry about.

Quite possibly the most important part of being a pre-med is keeping your grades up. GPA is one of the most important factors that admissions committees consider when you submit your application, and it’s for good reason too—you don’t want someone who’s lazy and inept to be in charge of saving your life, after all. While medical schools don’t necessarily expect you to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA, the median GPA of a med school matriculant is still pretty high (around a 3.7 for Texas medical schools). One or two B’s won’t sink your application, but always try and do your best and limit how much of a hit your GPA will take.

Continue reading “Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt. II” »

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UPDATE: What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?

We want to provide an update on our previous post: What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016? Our initial estimations were based on a “sliding scale” method. Because the National Merit Scholarship Corporation is not using your PSAT score (i.e. the score ranging from 320 to 1520) and is instead converting to a Selection Index Score which ranges from 48-228, we made those estimations with the mindset that the choice to use a convoluted Selection Index was so that these scores could more easily be compared to previous PSAT scores. The maximum Selection Index Score is only 12 points fewer than the previous maximum score, therefore it is reasonable to expect cutoff scores to be shifted by this amount.

Additionally, we have just computed a new set of Projected Cutoff Scores based on College Board’s Concordance table. Continue reading “UPDATE: What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?” »

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What Extracurriculars Do Ivy League Schools Like Harvard Want?

 

Harvard University

Interested in attending Harvard or an Ivy League? Fear not about your extracurriculars!

We recently stumbled upon a series the New York Times did with the Harvard University Dean of Admissions in 2009. You can read the full interview here, but there were a few paragraphs that stood out to us that we wanted to share with y’all.

 

When students ask about how to get into Harvard or a similar Ivy-League school, they’re undoubtedly told to excel academically but also to make sure to be “well-rounded” and to “stand out” with extracurriculars and leadership abilities. With so many admissions committee members and school counselors advising students to be well-rounded, the term seems to have lost some meaning. In describing his thoughts on well-roundedness and extracurriculars, Dean Fitzsimmons notes: Continue reading “What Extracurriculars Do Ivy League Schools Like Harvard Want?” »

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What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?

UPDATE: Many commenters have asked about College Board’s Concordance Table. You can find an estimation that incorporates the Concordance Table here.
Now that PSAT scores have been received, the question that most people want answered revolves around the cutoff scores for National Merit Semifinalist standing. In other words: What is the minimum score that will qualify me to be a National Merit Semifinalist? This is certainly an immensely significant cutoff, mainly due to the benefits and scholarships that come with being a National Merit Scholar. The 16,000 National Merit Semifinalists from the class of 2017  will be notified sometime in September. As you eagerly await this announcement, here is some context for determining how close your score might be to the cutoff (and which side of it you may find yourself). These are the qualifying scores for each state from the past several years (note that each state is different): Continue reading “What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?” »

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What Does My New PSAT Score Mean?

PSATWith New PSAT scores just released for the Class of 2017, we wanted to give a quick rundown of what your New PSAT scores mean, how the scoring works, and which one the National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses to determine National Merit Semi-Finalist and National Merit Finalist eligibility. Continue reading “What Does My New PSAT Score Mean?” »

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Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt. I

 

This week we’ll be starting a new multi-part series that explores what exactly you need to do to become a physician. Today we’ll begin by talking about what a pre-med actually is and what the difference between an MD and

What is a Pre-Med?

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The road to becoming a physician is long, but hopefully this series will help illuminate how exactly one does become a doctor.

Pre-med is short for pre-medical student, and in general, pre-med refers to students who are interested in pursuing a medical doctor degree, MD or DO. The other allied health professions have their own “pre” terminology, such as pre-dent for those hoping to become dentists or pre-pharm for those hoping to become pharmacists.

Luckily, “pre-med” only designates what you’re hoping to do in the future—it does not necessarily limit what you are doing in the present. A common misconception is that in order to become a medical doctor, you must “major in pre-med.” This is completely false, and in fact, most schools don’t even offer a pre-med or pre-health degree. Medical schools accept a wide range of majors, and STEM fields only compose approximately 60% of all admitted medical students. So go out there and major in what you love!

Continue reading “Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt. I” »

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