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.

What is the Difference Between the New PSAT Score and the PSAT Selection Index?

Upon receiving your score report, you might notice that you have two sets of scores, the New PSAT score, and the New PSAT Selection Index score. The New PSAT score is the one that ranges from 320 to 1520. This score is a sum of  your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section (maximum score of 760) and your Math Section (maximum score of 760). However, this score is NOT the one used for National Merit Scholarship selection.

The New PSAT Selection Index Score is the score used to determine National Merit Finalist and Semi-Finalist eligibility. The Index score ranges from 48 to 228, and we’ve provided an estimate of the National Merit cutoff scores in this linked post.

How is My NMSC Selection Index Score Calculated?

To calculate your Selection Index score, first locate your individual Test Scores. These are NOT the scores you see at the top of your PSAT that range from 160-760. Rather, these are the scores that range from 8-38. Once you’ve located these numbers, and you should have three of them, one each for Reading, Writing, and Math, add them together and multiply by two. This result is your Selection Index Score, which the National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses to determine eligibility for Semi-Finalist and Finalist awards.

This may seem confusing, but take a look at the example Selection Index Score calculation below!

Test Test Score Sum of Scores Selection Index Score
Reading 35
Writing and Language 38 35+38+38=111 111 x 2 = 222
Math 38
To calculate your National Merit Selection Index score, which is used to determine Finalist and Semi-Finalist positions, sum your Index scores (which are out of 38) and double that!

To calculate your National Merit Selection Index Score, which is used to determine National Merit Finalists and Semi-Finalists, sum your Index scores (which are out of 38) and double that!

For example, if you received a Reading Test Index Score of 35, a Writing Test Index Score of 38, and a Math Test Index Score of 38, College Board would add these three Index scores. Your sum (35+38+38=111) is then doubled, giving you a National Merit Selection Index Score of 222.

To see how this score might match up to our predictions of National Merit cutoff scores, again, see our post here.

Why is the Selection Index Score Calculation so Convoluted?

The reason the National Merit corporation uses the Index Score rather than the regular PSAT score is that those in charge of the National Merit competition don’t want to insert any biases into the selection process. The test is split into three topics: Math, Reading, and Writing, but PSAT scoring is split into two different sections, the Math section and the Reading/Writing section. As a result, those who are strong in math would possibly have an inflated score due to the fact that this single topic contributes 1/2 of your total PSAT points, rather than the 1/3 it would be proportionally. To combat this, the NMSC makes the Index Score calculation to more fairly equalize the contributions of the Reading and Writing Sections. This is not the first time, nor will it probably be the last time, the PSAT has changed. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the PSAT, read our article, “A Brief History of the PSAT/NMSQT.”

Why Should I Care About the PSAT?

After taking the PSAT and receiving your scores, you might be wondering “Why should I care about the PSAT? What’s the point of this test?” First and foremost, the PSAT is a good metric for predicting your actual SAT score. This is essentially the entire reason the PSAT was conceived! It was initially designed to give students an idea of how they might do on the SAT ahead of time. Since the New PSAT is scored out of 1520 and the New SAT out of 1600, you can estimate how you would score on the New SAT by simply adding 80 points to your New PSAT score!

The PSAT opens the door to University and corporation scholarships!

The PSAT opens the door to University and corporation scholarships!

However, the PSAT is more notably a way for students to earn scholarships from universities and other organizations. Those who score well enough to become National Merit Finalists are eligible for a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship, but in addition, many corporations and universities offer their own National Merit scholarships. For example, the University of Oklahoma offers National Merit scholarships where Finalists earn a 100% tuition waiver, a $2,750/semester stipend, and a sizable housing and textbook stipend.

As you can tell, scoring well on the PSAT opens many doors in terms of scholarships and college admission, but keep in mind that this is not by any means the end-all-be-all exam! If you didn’t quite make the cutoff for National Merit Commended, Semi-Finalist, or Finalist, don’t fret! You still have plenty of time to improve on the SAT before applying to college!

For estimates on New PSAT cutoff scores for the Class of 2017, check out our post

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

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12 Responses to What Does My New PSAT Score Mean?

  1. Curious says:

    So this Index calculation is going back to the old format which had three parts, math, reading and writing. Then why even bother using the new format? One could also argue that it is not fair in a way that it puts 2/3 of emphasis on English, and only 1/3 on math. Is the Index calculation predefined before the test score becoming available or is this introduced after knowing the test score distribution?

    • James says:

      Hi Curious!
      Another theory for why we have the Selection Index Score is so that the NMSC can easily compare current PSAT scores to past ones. Since this is the first year for the New PSAT, they don’t necessarily have any data on how the numbers match up, which might be why they’re using the Index. It seems to us that they use the three part formula for NMSC because that’s what they’ve done in the past, though College Board seems to want to move towards a more 50-50 split on humanities vs. math. Perhaps CB and the NMSC will reach an agreement soon in the future. As for the Index calculation, College Board uses advanced statistics to normalize each test, so in a sense, the Index score is based on the distribution of all students who took the test.

      • somebody says:

        That’s a good explanation for anyone with that kind of question:) I kinda see some addition of science to the non-humanities sections to match up the balance tho

  2. Jen says:

    How should we interpret these results for a 9 th grader? Are the percentages and indexes based other 9 th graders or everyone who took the test that day?

  3. DK21 says:

    National Merit more or less has to keep 1/3 weighting for each rather than the new 50% math / 25 % reading / 25% writing for demographic reasons. It helps smooth out the gender balance to be less disproportionately male NM winners and Asian NM winners by smooshing down the math to a smaller weighting than a 50% math weighting would be and boosting Reading and Writing. There was some blog post by a sociologist in Chicago some time back about the history of the addition of the Writing Section for that very reason, among some other reasons (can’t find the link).

    Guess it doesn’t matter to the College Board any more since the new SAT is plowing along with the 50/25/25. Should be fun times when the first score breakdown by demographic groups for the new test comes out in 2018 and David Coleman has to dance quickly at the podium! 🙂

  4. John says:

    What do you think the Commended Scholar cutoff will be?

  5. Dwan Borens says:

    My son’s index score is 200. We live in Oklahoma. This is a bit above the cutoff for Oklahoma. Are there any conclusions we can draw from this? Thanks

    • Bill says:


      We would recommend checking our Update to this post. You can find it here. This update explains how these initial projections were arrived at and includes updates projections that incorporate College Board’s Concordance Table.

  6. Ram says:


    My daughter has scored 209 in Georgia. Will she make it to semi-finalist? The estimated cutoff says 204-208.


    • Michael says:

      Hi Ram, you might be looking at the sliding scale estimate, which was our old prediction. Our new predictions are the Projected Cutoffs, which put Georgia at around a 216

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