The PSAT that high school juniors take every October offers more than just a glimpse at the actual SAT. This test may not directly impact college admissions, but top scorers can earn special recognition and even scholarship. That is why that 11th grade test (not the PSAT 10 or PSAT 8/9) is known as the PSAT/NMSQT.
Students who take the PSAT/NMSQT are automatically screened for the National Merit® Scholarship Program, an academic competition for recognition and scholarships. All kinds of opportunity is on the table for students who score high enough. Thus, the obvious question is, “How high do I have to score for National Merit Scholarship recognition?”
If only the answer was that easy.
National Merit Scholarship recognition is based on a student’s Selection Index, which is based on a student’s PSAT score, which is similar but not the same as an SAT score. Simple, right?
The SAT is scored on a 1600 scale: 200-800 for Reading and Writing plus 200-800 for Math. But this is not how PSAT scores are scaled.
The PSAT is scored on a 1520 scale (even though the digital PSAT has exactly as many questions as the SAT): 160-7600 for Reading and Writing plus 160-760 for Math. But this is not how the Selection Index is calculated.
The Selection Index is derived from the PSAT, but based on a different weighting of test sections. On the PSAT, Math represents 50% of the total score, while Reading and Writing each represent 25% of the total score. The Selection Index emphasizes verbal ability by doubling the Reading and Writing score, adding that value to the Math score, and dividing the sum by 10. The result is a Selection Index score of 48-228.
For example, consider a student who earned the following scores on her 11th grade PSAT:
Reading and Writing: 730
Her total PSAT score would be the sum of the two scores: 730 + 700 = 1430.
Her Selection index, however, would be [730 (Reading and Writing) x 2 + 700 (Math/2)]/10: 216
Clearly, this calculation does not seem as simple as the one that determines the PSAT score, which can be hard to understand itself. The question still remains: “How high do I have to score for National Merit Scholarship recognition?”
According to National Merit Scholarship Corporation, some 50,000 of the approximately 1.3 million students who take the PSAT have high enough Selection Index scores to qualify for recognition in the National Merit® Scholarship Program. This represents nearly 4% of testers. However, the calculations above mean that not every student who earns a PSAT score in the 97th percentile or higher will have a Selection Index in the 97th percentile or higher. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the Selection Index always varies from year to year and state to state. Some states like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut historically have extremely high indexes relative to other states, but even that is not always assured.
So, how high do you have to score for National Merit Scholarship recognition? Very high, for sure, but you never really know.