National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs class of 2024 (2023)

Compass has analyzed the October 2022 PSAT/NMSQT results to see how the results will impact the 2024 class of national earnings hopes. Nearly 1.5 million juniors have passed the National Merit Scholarship Program eligibility test, and more than 54,000 of them will receive some form of honors or scholarships.

The continued decline in high scorers
Students compete for national awards of merit. The more competitive the class, the higher the qualifying scores (“cutoffs”) required. How well did the students do this year?

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In the Class of 2020, more than 70,000 students scored over 1400 on the PSAT. This year the number is under 45,000. This year looks surprisingly similar to last year. Test-taker volume is still more than 13% below pre-pandemic levels, and only 3% of those testers achieved a top score. Results over the past two years may reflect pandemic-related learning losses. Alternatively, the College Board scaled recent PSATs more unfavorably than in the past.

What is a selection index and why is it important?
Rather than using the PSAT scores directly, NMSC calculates a selection index (SI), which can be found in the online PSAT report.[For a general overview, including information on the selection index and the different stages of the selection process, see ourFrequently asked questions about national merits.]A student with 720 ERW and 680 Math has an SI of 212. A student with 680 ERW and 720 Math has an SI of 208. On average, students with 1400 and above have Selection Indexes of 210 and above. Using this information, we can estimate where the recommended level will be based on how many students achieve a score of 1400 or higher.

Years in which a large number of students scored high are associated with recommended cut-offs above 210. Years in which fewer than 60,000 students achieved top grades are associated with recommended cut-offs below 210. Compass expects this year's recommended limit to be somewhere between 206 and 209, with 207 being the "most likely".

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Recommended vs semifinalist, national vs state
The relationship between national performance and semifinalist cutoffs is more complex. The recommended cutoff is determined by looking at the top 50,000 goalscorers nationally. Semifinalist cutoffs, on the other hand, are determined state by state. Student performance in Georgia or Michigan does not affect New York or Ohio cutoffs. NMSC sets a target number of semifinalists based on the high school population in each state. California, for example, has a goal of about 2,000 semifinalists. NMSC will determine the semifinalist cutoff, which is as close as possible to producing 2,000 semifinalists in the state. While this method ensures a national spread of semi-finalists, it means some states are far more competitive than others. The following table contains Compass's estimates for the semifinalist cutoffs.

StateClass of 2024
(estimated range)
Class of 2024
("Most Likely")
Class of 2023
Class of 2022
Class of 2021
Alabama210 - 215212212212212
Alaska208 - 213209210208212
Arizona214 - 219216214218218
Arkansas209 - 213211210211212
California219 - 222220220221221
Colorado215 - 219217217217217
Connecticut218 - 221220221220220
Delaware217 - 221219218220219
District of Columbia221 - 224223223224222
Florida214 - 218216216217216
Georgia216 - 220219218219219
Hawaii214 - 218216215217217
Idaho212 - 216214215214214
Illinois217 - 220219219218219
Indiana213 - 218215214215215
Iowa210 - 215212212211212
Kansas213 - 217215214215214
Kentucky210 - 215212212212214
Louisiana211 - 215213213213212
Maine210 - 216213215211213
Maryland220 - 223222222224221
Massachusetts219 - 222221220221222
Michigan215 - 219217218217216
Minnesota215 - 219217216218218
Mississippi209 - 214211210213211
Missouri212 - 217214213214214
Montana206 - 211208207208210
Nebraska209 - 215211212210213
Nevada210 - 215212210214215
New Hampshire212 - 216214213214215
New Jersey221 - 224223223222222
New Mexico208 - 213209208210211
New York217 - 221219219220220
North Carolina215 - 219217217218217
North Dakota206 - 210207209207209
Ohio214 - 218216216215215
Oklahoma209 - 213211211210211
Oregon216 - 220218216220217
Pennsylvania216 - 220218218218217
Rhode Island213 - 217215216213216
South Carolina211 - 215213213213212
Heart house208 - 213211212210209
Tennessee213 - 218215215215215
Texas218 - 221219219220219
Utah210 - 215212211212212
Vermont210 - 215212213211212
Virginia219 - 222221221221221
Washington218 - 221220220220220
West Virginia206 - 210207207207209
Wisconsin212 - 216214213214213
Wyoming206 - 210207207208209
United States territories206 - 209207207207209
Study Abroad221 - 224223223224222
Recommended206 - 209207207207209

Consider the range
Government limits vary from year to year - even if the recommended limit remains the same! Rather than expecting a single score to be the correct estimate, Compass encourages students to consider the possibility that a state's cutoff falls within the estimated range. Over the past decade, only 27% of semifinalist cutoffs have remained the same from one year to the next. [Compasshistorical archive of National Merit Cutoffsfound from 2008here.]

(Video) 2021 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists

Compass expects this year to be more stable than most due to similar national performance compared to the class of 2023. However, in Compass's 15-year database, there has never been a year in which the majority of state limits have remained the same. So while "no change" is usually the best bet to make, it's also a bad bet. Instead, look at the estimated range.

Small shifts can be important
It doesn't always require a large change in test behavior to postpone the shutdown of a condition. NMSC has no ability to make subtle distinctions within a state. Anyone with a certain score is either a semi-finalist or not. The organization tries to get as close as possible to the state's allocation of semifinalists (a number it doesn't report directly), but the nature of the selection index means small deviations can push a limit up or down.

Let's say the target number of semifinalists for a state is 300. If 282 students had a selection index of 220 or higher and 315 had a score of 219 or higher, then 219 is closest to the target and is set as the cutoff. If only 5 students at 219 had correctly answered 1 additional question, 287 students would have been at 220 or higher and NMSC would have chosen a 220 cutoff. Small differences in class composition, the difficulty of the test form, or a few extra students guessing correctly on a problem can move the semifinalist cutoff by one point.

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Your selection unit is not a condition
The semifinalist cutoff for each of the 50 states is calculated independently. However, some cutoffsNotindependently. NMSC considers boarders, students studying abroad, and students in the District of Columbia and US Territories or Commonwealths as separate "selection units" that follow specific rules. The net effect is that limits for the District of Columbia and students studying abroad are always set at the level of the highest state limit. The boundary for US territories is at the committed student level (like some states). The limit for a boarding school is set at the highest state limit within the region of the boarding school.

The role of test scaling
The PSAT is typically taken by about 1.5 million students each year. The pool is (or was) large enough and consistent enough that the top 50,000 students' scores shouldn't change significantly. And yet they do. This reflects a shortcoming of the PSAT/NMSQT - it is well designed to measure the average student's performance, but is more prone to error on the fringes. The College Board attempts to scale each PSAT so that a given score represents the same level of achievement. In practice, we see clear examples of where the College Board numbers are "off." The 2021 vintage, for example, had an unusual test form that produced significantly lower cutoffs than the previous year. It is also confusing that several different test forms are used each year. Compass analysis shows that this year's PSAT - or at least the primary form taken by more than 1 million students - was difficult. This difficulty can occur across the range of thresholds, but lower-scoring states tend to follow the recommended level more closely than higher-scoring states.

updates and comments
Compass will update this post as new developments emerge. We try to (eventually) answer all questions in the comments, but please note that comments are moderated and will not be shown until approved.

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