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  • Swati Chopra

College Board needs to explain this year’s PSAT/NMSQT scores

When the October PSAT/NMSQT results came out in December, many of our juniors were bemoaning their scores. The overall results were surprising to many of us, and now new data that has been made available suggests that the drop was, indeed, significant. Data analysis shows that the drop in PSAT scores was real, with a shocking decline of scores at the top.

Why is this research important to understand? High school students enter the National Merit® Scholarship Program by taking the PSAT/NMSQT at the specified time in the high school program, usually in the fall of junior year. Each year's PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test designated for entry to a particular year's competition. Over 1.6 million juniors give the PSAT/NMSQT every year, out of which the top 2% will become Commended Students and the top 1% will qualify as Semifinalists.

The following article offers some specifics on the data:

  • The number of juniors scoring 1400 or higher dropped 30%, from 71,041 to under 50,000.

  • High-performing students scored as much as 30 points lower than in previous years. The student who would have scored 1400 last year was more likely to score 1370 this year.

  • It is now projected that National Merit Semifinalist cutoffs will decline 1-4 points.

There were far fewer students in the typical National Merit ranges, which is why the alarm bells went off in December. While the actual cutoffs won’t be known until September 2020, unofficial ‘leaks’ occur in April and we’ll have more information on the range of selection indexes.

As of now, it does seem that California students with a selection index of 220 might very well qualify as semifinalists. It’s interesting to note that CA hasn’t seen a score that low since 2013.


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