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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    1. Steve,

      Great question! Our data source is confidential, so we won’t be going into details on this.

      Thanks for asking!

      (Sorry I can’t be more specific)

      1. Do you believe the number of students in your sample who received professional test preparation is consistent with the percentage of 11th graders in Texas who received professional test preparation prior to the PSAT?

        1. Steve,

          Yes. But, again, we won’t be going into details on what population of students specifically comprises this new data set.

          Hope this helps!

  1. Thanks so much for releasing this. Do you have any thoughts as to how representative this data is compared to all of Texas? Do you have any reason to think that this data is skewed toward better students?

    1. Ethan,

      We are confident that this projection is accurate. However, we do want to stress that this is still just an estimate. The actual cutoff score could be a point or two higher or lower – we just won’t know until the fall. At the very least, I can assure you that this data set did not include any type of bias toward high scoring students.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Hi,

    Thanks so much for doing such great work! Was wondering whether you still believe California’s cutoff will remain at 219 since you have now increased Texas’ SI from 217 to 219? Do you think a California SI of 221 still stands a good chance of making the cutoff in light of the data that you have analyzed?

  3. As you adjusted Texas upward from 217 to 219, do you have any further thoughts about NY – it was 219 last year and your prediction is currently 217 – any reason to that that is low or is likely about right?


    1. Hi Sally, since we don’t have any data on NY, we can’t make an official comment on how that cutoff estimation might be updated, so the previous prediction is all we have on NY at the moment

    1. CR,

      As the new data set we obtained is specific to Texas, this update is specific to Texas. As we have no new information from any other state, we are unable to change our estimates for those states. We still expect the cutoff score for VA to be around a 218.

    1. CR,

      Unfortunately, without data from that state it is hard to say. For that reason we are not updating our projections for any other states.

  4. I am confused. Is 219 the cutoff for the Class of 2017 now for Texas? If so, how comfortable do you feel with the estimated cutoff? Would you bet on it? I am just asking because so far this estimated cutoff has changed 3 times in 1 month. We have until September to prepare and it is hard for us parents to try to get a game plan when the rules keep changing. We look to Testmasters and other testing centers for knowledge and insight. Testing centers should know better than anyone what the cutoff should be. Considering standardized tests are your bread and butter. I will be honest…I don’t want to nor can I afford to pay Testmasters or any other test center to help confirm my students PSAT score if they don’t have a real shot at the NMSF. Please sell me on your knowledge of this information. My student has a 221 in Texas ……prepare to take the new SAT or not? Do we need to confirm the PSAT score or not? Please do tell?

    1. TLT,

      The reason for these revisions is pretty straightforward. It’s not so much that the rules have changed, but as we have acquired new information our projections have updated to reflect that information. The PSAT/NMSQT is a big deal and we want our publications to be as accurate as possible. As this estimate is based on the actual PSAT scores of approximately 10,000 students, we are confident it is correct; although, to be clear, this is still a projection. That said, a score of 221 is two points above our estimate, so you can be reasonably confident that your student achieved NMSF status.

      If you are worried about the cost of SAT test prep, you might just wait until the cutoffs are officially announced in the fall. Yes, you would give your student less time to prepare for the new SAT, but with a score of 221 without any formal preparation it is unlikely that he or she will need a great deal of instruction anyway. This approach would also allow you to avoid any anxiety you might experience otherwise.

      Hope this helps!

  5. This is very interesting. Makes it seem that your 1st revision might have smoothed the variation among states too much: increased the projected cutoff for traditionally lower-scoring states more than necessary while not increasing it enough for states like, you know, Texas.

  6. Thanks for all the great information. Based on your new data does the commended group still hold at 210? Also, any chance you might go through this exercise with a small low scoring state to allow us all to see both sides of spectrum.

    1. Hi Rich, our estimate for commended was likely a bit high due to the way our model was set up– commended is likely going to range between a 200-210. And unfortunately, we only have data on Texas, so we can’t run an update for other states, simply because we don’t have that information to run!

    1. Hi George from Georgia, a 216 is our estimate for Georgia’s cutoff, so your 218 is definitely in that ballpark! No one will know for sure, however, but you definitely have a good shot at NMSF!

    1. Hi Marcia, though we’re predicting a 219 cutoff, keep in mind this is an estimate and by no means definite! With a score so close, your son definitely has a chance come August/September!

  7. May I offer one last thank you before I put this subject in hibernation until September? I think you have done an excellent thing by releasing this information. To the best of my knowledge this is the only such public release of this information anywhere.

    The College Board has seemed happy to develop more and more of a “wizard behind the curtain” mentality over the years. For some strange reason, school administrators seem happy to help them keep their methods and madness secret. Given the immense influence the CB holds over secondary education with the PSAT / SAT / APs / Subject Tests, it seems unwise for educational institutions to encourage this secretive attitude.

    By releasing this information you are helping to pull back the curtain just a bit. Hopefully more school administrators will follow your lead. Thank you again.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words Ethan! We definitely remember what it was like being stressed about PSAT scores, so we’re doing our best to try and illuminate the subject as much as possible. Best of luck with the official cutoffs in August/September!

  8. This is terrific analysis, thanks for your hard work. I do have a question. Your projection of 219 for TX seems difficult to square with the PSAT/NMSQT “Understanding Scores 2015” SI chart, which places 219 well into the “99+” percentile, which is based on a national research sample. The SI chart would seem to place TX at 215-217. Can you explain the inconsistency?

    1. Hi Tim! Thanks for your kind words! There’s two things to note about the Understanding Scores chart put out by the College Board: 1) as you said, these scores are from a national sample while National Merit is awarded on a state-by-state basis. 2) it’s unclear where the 99+ scores differ, meaning no one knows where each fraction of a percent lies. A 99.5% could be just at a 214 and a 99.6% at a 215, or it could be that 214-220 could all be 99.5%. Note that the broad range of 99+’s is actually a new addition by College Board because if you take a look at this archived copy of the 2014 Understanding Guide, on page 3, CB simply lists 224-240 as 99+ without detailing each individual score in that range. I hope these two points clear up the questions you had about our post and the Understanding guide!

  9. Michael, thanks for your prompt response. I believe last year’s NMSF cutoff for Texas was 220 (below the 99+ percentile of the 224-240 range you cited). The projected 219 for this year would put Texas a number of rungs into the 99+ percentile. I can’t figure out why last year’s scores (and previous years as well) has Texas in the 99 percentile, four rungs below the 99+ mark, and this year’s projection of 219 has Texas six rungs into the 99+ percentile. That seems to be the inconsistency. Could the SI chart be wrong or somehow skewed (which would seem odd since the College Board possesses all the scores)?

    1. Hi Tim, we can’t necessarily comment on how College Board’s SI table was created, since all we know is the data we have. But if we’re speculating here, it’s possible that the SI table functions different than previous years’ because some values, namely odd selection index scores, are much more difficult to attain due to the way the selection index is set up. Because you’re summing the Reading, Writing, and Math test scores and multiplying by two, the only way you’ll get an odd value is if you got a XX.5 on the math section, which occur slightly more frequently than XX.0’s, especially near the low end. This can be seen visually in our graphs which show a “sawtooth” pattern where there are large jumps in between discrete values. As a result, the large range of SI values might be a bit more tightly grouped than it initially appears.
      Hope this helps!

  10. Interesting. I appreciate the amount of work that went into this analysis. It seems this year the scores for NM will be very high – and that even near perfect scores will not be enough in some of the highest states. What are your predictions for NJ and DC which last year were at 225?

    1. Hi Carol, since we don’t have any data on other states, we’re unfortunately unable to make updated predictions for NJ and DC

  11. Hey guys! I was just wondering if I do get semifinalist, which SAT will the College Board use to qualify my score, the new SAT, old SAT, or would they accept either?

    1. Hi Amy! We talked to the NMSC, and they said that they’ll accept either! Specifically, they said that scores from as far back as October 2014 will be accepted for this year’s competition.

      1. Hi! Michael,

        We live in TX and my daughter got 220 in PSAT.
        She took old SAT in Oct. 2015 and the score is 2150. If my daughter get semifinalist, does she need to take new SAT and get higher score to get scholarship. (She took difficult classes and has high GPA, and leadership in extracurricular activities.)

        1. Hi! First of all, congrats on that excellent PSAT SI! Historically, having >2000 has been sufficient for National Merit Finalist consideration so far, but of course, that may change this year. However, if your daughter is willing, and considering her high score on the PSAT, it might be a good idea to re-take the SAT regardless, as it seems that your student is definitely capable of scoring much higher. If you’re happy with the 2150, though, I would definitely suggest talking to your guidance counselor about if they’ve heard anything about the SAT threshold being raised.

  12. Why does the District of Columbia have the highest cutoff each year? What might we expect the cutoff to be for the class of 2017?

    1. Hi! Traditionally, the Eastern Seaboard has done exceptionally well on the PSAT, and it might be that DC does particularly well because of the high density of students and the quality of schools in the area. Our estimates for DC are located in this post, and the Projected Cutoff is our latest estimate

  13. Thanks Michael. Since you revised the Texas number up two points from the original estimate, I assumed that the DC number is likely to go up as well. There are a number of private schools in DC (attended largely by some DC residents but many from MD). The MD scores are counted as tho they live in DC. The public schools are ranked near the bottom in the country.

  14. This is somewhat confusing, the first article you published in January shows the score for Texas under Estimated Cutoff for Class of 2017 (PSAT taken in Oct 2015) as 206-210,
    but the new update says you now predict the score to be 219 revised up from your previous estimate of 217, but your previous estimate was 206-210? Can you explain?

    1. Hi Michelle, the initial “Sliding Scale Cutoff” of 206-210 was our first estimate when PSAT scores were released. We updated those estimates to our Projected Cutoff, the 217, based on additional information we received, and the final estimate, the 219, was based on further information. As of now, our Texas estimate is a 219.

  15. I have a question, when this article was first published on January 7, 2016 you listed scores for Texas under Estimated Cutoff for Class of 2017 (PSAT taken in Oct 2015) as projected to be between 206-210, your newest update says you now predict this to be as high as 219 and mentions your previous estimate was 217? I’m confused because the table shows your previous estimate was 206-210?

  16. Michael, thanks for clarification. So, just to confirm, you estimate Texas’s score to be 219 out of a max of 228? Last year’s qualifying score was 220 out of a max 240 can you explain why the margin has decreased so dramatically?

    1. Hi Michelle, you’re correct in that our estimate is 219/228. We were surprised by this too, as we’d expected scores to drop across the board (which is what led to our first estimate of the Sliding Scale Cutoff), but based on our data and College Board’s publications, we estimate that scores will hover around the same cutoffs as previous years. No one has a good explanation of this, but it might be that the NMSC made scores this way so that they could easily compare previous years’ scores to the New PSAT scores

    1. Hi Samantha, our latest estimate for California is a 219, and while your 217 is lower than our estimate, keep in mind that this is just an estimate, and you’re definitely within the ballpark!

  17. My son has taken the PSAT since he was in 7th grade to prepare for his Jr. year PSAT. He was on track for NM scholar. The new test was not like the old tests and his scores actually dropped LOTS! Math, which is his strong suit, took a huge nosedive! He is valedictorian in his class and scored extremely well on the new ACT. We are sorely disappointed in the new change to the PSAT and the fact that he is going to miss out on a great opportunity to be a finalist for this scholarship. He won’t even be commended!

  18. Do you think a 210 in Texas will still fall in the Commended range? Do selective schools like the Ivy’s give much credence to Commended status?

    1. KatieK,

      National Merit is incredibly competitive. Achieving Semifinalist status is more desirable than achieving Commended student status, but either accomplishment will make a student more attractive as an applicant to prestigious schools.

      Hope this helps!

    1. Hi David! Our estimate for Texas is a 219, so a 216 could potentially be short, though we won’t know for sure until the fall!

  19. Thank you for the information. Does a 216 on the NMSC index for a Texas PSAT and a 1530 on the March 2106 SAT put her in any category? Perhaps the comended group?

    1. Grant,

      Those are both very good scores! Her Selection Index Score should earn her commended student status, and a score of 1530 should be competitive for just about any university in the country. Congrats!

      Hope this helps!

  20. Question….after the NEW Concordance tables have came out do you still feel comfortable with Texas being a SI 219 for NMSF? I am hoping that the New Concordance tables have nothing to do with NM however that is what everyone is talking about. Any advise is welcome

    1. Teresa,

      We are still confident in our prediction and do not plan on updating it. This, of course, comes with the caveat that is only a prediction and not a guarantee that this will the cutoff score. Thanks for asking though!

      Hope this helps!

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