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How do National Merit Index scores vary by state?

I've heard that the National Merit Index scores can differ between states. How does this work? Also, is there a general range of scores that I should aim for if I want to be considered a National Merit Scholar?

6 months ago

Yes, the National Merit Index scores do vary by state, as the National Merit Scholarships are awarded based on a student's performance within their state. This is because the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) aims to recognize top students from each state, rather than just on a national level.

The National Merit Index score is determined using your PSAT/NMSQT score, which is a combination of your Math, Reading, and Writing section scores. The maximum score on the PSAT is 1520, and the maximum index score is 228. The NMSC uses these index scores to determine Semifinalists, who are the top 1% of scorers in each state.

Each state has its own cutoff score to qualify as a Semifinalist, which varies by year and may differ by a few points among states. Generally, these cutoffs range from around 209 to 222, with more competitive states tending to have higher cutoffs.

To aim for a National Merit Scholar designation, it's a good idea to aim for a score well above the 200 mark, but to get a more accurate target, research your state's semifinalist cutoff scores from previous years.

Keep in mind that even if you do not achieve Semifinalist status, scoring in the top 3-4% in each state will still earn you a "commended" designation, which—while not as prestigious as being a National Merit Scholar—is still a noteworthy achievement.

6 months ago

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