National Merit Scholarship 2020 Class Update

Again brings to you Ntational Merit Scholarship 2020 Class Update

September 4, 2019 Update

Florida is now confirmed at 219!!!

Just heard from a student (224 in MS) whose friend at 214 also qualified. (10:20 AM PDT). Received additional confirmation of the 214. AZ has now dropped to no greater than 219. OK has been updated to <= 214. Idaho has been added at <= 218. MA is now reported as <=223. Will it move lower? NY is now narrowed to <=221. There will be no increase this year. First report from WV puts it as <= 216. NV now down to <=222, but I’m sure that it will go lower. A new Georgia report puts it at <=220. SC is <= 219 and word from Hawaii has come in as <= 221.

Keep in mind that we only know the exact cutoff for Florida. We know that the cutoffs can be no higher than the ones listed below.

AL <= 216 (two reports)
AZ <= 219
CA <= 222 (two reports)
CO <= 220
FL = 219 (confirmed)
GA <= 220
HI <= 221
ID <= 218
IL <= 222
IN <= 218
KY <= 218
LA <= 216
MA <= 223
ME <= 216
MO < 224
MS <= 214
NC <= 221
NE <= 216
NM <= 218
NV <= 222
NY <= 221
OH <= 220
OK <=214
SC <= 219
TN <= 220
TX <= 221
VA <= 222
WI <= 216
WV <= 216

September 3, 2019 Update:

Latest news of the day is a report from a 221 NMSF in Texas. (8:45 PM PDT) Received a report from a student in California qualifying with a 222. (5:30 PM PDT). And students in Alabama and Louisiana at 216 and Arizona at 220.

This morning comes news that Ohio’s cutoff is <= 220. Just got news that 222 made NMSF in Virginia. That’s important because 1) Virginia has always been a high-scoring state and 2) it’s the first state where we know the cutoff has not gone up. We can now add New York to the list of states that have definitely not gone up to 224. We have confirmation of the 1st state to see a lower cutoff this year. Colorado’s cutoff will be no higher than a 220. Add Kentucky to the list of states we know did not see higher cutoffs. We just found out that a 218 was good enough in Indiana, so notch up another state with a lower cutoff this year. Ditto for Maine, which will be no higher than 216 this year.

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September 2, 2019 Update:
The late mailing of notifications and the Labor Day weekend has meant for few updates. The pace will increase steadily this week. So far there are no surprises.

IN <= 220
NC <= 221
NM <= 218
TX <= 222

August 28, 2019 Update:
NMSC mailed notifications to schools yesterday, a week later than expected. It’s not clear if this is just because of the way the dates fell on the calendar or whether NMSC is trying to narrow the time between mailing and the September 11 press embargo date. The mail goes directly to schools, not students. Your principal or guidance counselor will likely be receiving a packet of information within the next few days. Past experience is that the mail shows up in completely haphazard fashion.

As states are recorded below, the <=, =, and > signs will be used to indicate what we know about the cutoffs. For example, a parent reported that a 218 qualified in New Mexico. That does not yet mean that 217 did not qualify. So we know the cutoff is less than or equal 218. This is abbreviated as NM <= 218.

NM <= 218

August 19, 2019 Update:
We are getting close! NMSC should be mailing notifications to schools this week. Students — with the exception of homeschoolers — are not directly notified. Schools have no set schedule that they must follow. Many will wait until the press release date, which should be September 11 this year. We expect to have cutoffs posted here before that date. We get information from multiple sources, but one of the most important is students themselves. We appreciate receiving updates once you find out your status — whether you are named a Semifinalist or fall just short. Comments are moderated, and I will not publish last names or email addresses.

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April 7, 2019 Update:
We have received confirmations that the Commended score will remain at 212 this year. While this is bad news for students hoping that the cutoff might decline, some indications were that it would go up. My own estimates had it remaining at 212, but I would not have been surprised at 213.  The flat Commended level does not change my Semifinalist estimates, which already factored in 212. It does, however, change the probabilities in a favorable direction. I had been expecting about half of state cutoffs to go up this year. Based on historical data, I now believe that it will be closer to 40%. This does not help in determining whether California, for example, moves to 224 — or 222, for that matter — because the factors that produce the 212 are different than those that impact California’s top-end scores. This is true of virtually all states. Still, it’s good news for students sitting right around last years’ Semifinalist cutoffs.

It is possible that the poorly constructed and oddly scaled October 24 PSAT had some impact on the Commended cutoff nationally — we will likely never know with certainty. If students scored lower on that exam, the state cutoffs would be influenced by the proportion of students taking that form code. The next round of hard information won’t come until the end of August when NMSC starts sending Semifinalist lists to schools.

As students in the class of 2020 receive their PSAT scores, the discussion among high-scorers usually turns to National Merit Semifinalist cutoffs. Unfortunately, the calendar used by National Merit means that students will not be notified by their high schools about their status until September of 2019. For a number of years, Compass has tried to bridge this 10-month gap by providing research and discussion on the most likely outcomes. We update this page as new information becomes available.

A common misperception is that there is something on the PSAT/NMSQT score report or in the explanatory materials that will help students determine whether or not they will be Commended Students or Semifinalists. No such information exists. Instead, students can use the National Merit Selection Index on the score report and the information below to assess where they stand.

National Merit Semifinalist Class of 2020 Estimates

Did scores on the October 2018 PSAT change significantly from those on the October 2017 PSAT?

The percentiles and average scores shown on the PSAT/NMSQT score report and in the Understanding Scores publication do not actually pertain to the class of 2020. All of the normative data are from previous class years. Instead of using these sources, Compass has turned to the score information made available to schools.

College Board does not report information for Selection Indexes, but it does reveal the number of students scoring in the 1400–1520 total score range. This range is useful in gauging upward pressure in scores—especially near the Commended level.

Both the percentage of test-takers and the absolute number of test-takers in the 1400–1520 score range increased this year. We expect the Commended level to fall at 212 or 213 for the class of 2020.

National results do not determine the state cutoffs.

While there is a rough correlation between upward movement in the Commended level and upward movement in state cutoffs, it is not a one-to-one relationship. Additional students taking the PSAT in Illinois or more top scorers in New Mexico—as hypothetical examples—have absolutely no effect on the cutoffs in California or Florida.

Why do states have such different cutoffs?

Cutoffs vary across the country because the approximately 16,200 Semifinalists are allocated proportionally to states based on the total number of juniors in a class. A state’s cutoff is derived by finding the score that will produce, as closely as possible, the targeted number of Semifinalists. Students in any given state are competing only against fellow residents. The test is national; the competition is local. Boarding school students are a special case and must meet the highest state cutoff in their region.

The best estimate is still a weak bet.

Compass has repeatedly shown that, in the absence of definitive movement in the Commended level, the best estimate of a state’s future cutoff is the current cutoff. However, even that best estimate is only correct 28% of the time. The chart below reflects historical changes in cutoffs over the last decade (adjusted for the scaling change of the new PSAT).

Changes are not equally distributed across all states. High scoring states tend to have more stable cutoffs than those with cutoffs near the Commended level. States with fewer Semifinalists represent almost all of the largest jumps.

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Will this year be like all of the others?

National score changes from the October 2017 PSAT to the October 2018 PSAT are reminiscent of changes seen between 2016 and 2017. Last year saw all but one state cutoff staying within 2 points of its previous level. Overall, the upward movement of scores meant more states saw increases (20 states) than decreases (10 states). Twenty states had no change in cutoffs from the class of 2019. A similar outcome would not be surprising for the class of 2020.

So which states cutoffs will increase this year and which will move lower?

Historical data cannot answer that question, which is why it is so important that parents and students look at the estimated ranges rather than simply the “most likely” value. If this year is, indeed, like last year, that most likely value will be correct no more than 40% of the time.

The high-water mark is likely to remain at 223.

We believe that a 224 cutoff is a remote possibility. New Jersey is the state that has traditionally had the highest cutoffs, although it was joined at 223 by California, Maryland, and Massachusetts for the class of 2019. New Jersey has the highest probability of an upward shift in this group. A cutoff higher than 224 is, simply, not a possibility in any state or selection unit.  The cutoffs on the redesigned PSAT reach a natural limit. There are few score combinations that can even produce 225–228 Selection Indexes and not a sufficient number of students hitting those combinations.

The “alternate” date of October 24 had a form with an extremely harsh scale. Will this impact cutoffs or National Merit eligibility?

Two test forms are never completely identical. To smooth out any variations, tests are equated. A slightly harder test will have a slightly easier scale, for example. The October 24 test, however, was a bizarre anomaly that was easier than any PSAT ever given. In short, College Board made a horrible test. In order to account for the easy questions, the scale had to be made particularly harsh. A single Math mistake lowered a student’s score from 760 to 710. A second mistake meant a 670. A single mistake in Reading or Writing lowered a student’s Selection Index by 4 points. It would be extremely unlikely that a student missing just 2 problems over 139 questions would qualify as a Semifinalist in the most competitive states.

If the October 24 form does give an unusual distribution of scores, won’t that change the state cutoffs?

Only about 10% of students take the alternate date. This means that the impact on the cutoffs as a whole will be muted. The impact on individual test-takers, though, could be profound. Because Semifinalist status is based entirely on PSAT scores, there is, at present, no means to redress any problems the October 24 exam may cause.

If I think that I’ll be a Semifinalist, do I need to take the SAT to qualify as a Finalist?

The class of 2020 is the first group of students that will be able to use ACT scores as “confirming scores” in the Finalist round of the competition. This is a long overdue change, as many high-scoring ACT students have had to take the SAT for no reason other than National Merit’s rules. This does not apply to members of the class of 2019, who must still take the SAT if they want to move from Semifinalist to Finalist status. We will be updating our National Merit FAQ as more information becomes available over the next year. We expect that students will need to earn a 31 or 32 to serve as a confirming score.

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