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Interpreting PSAT Scores

Every October, around 1.6 million Juniors take the PSAT. You might already know that the PSAT is great practice for the SAT. However, you may not know the test could gain your child recognition and/or scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). Come Senior year, the NMSC evaluates the scores and recognizes students who have topped the charts. Subsequently, the committee narrows the top performers down to those who will receive scholarships. Take a look below to learn about the steps along the way.


About 50,000 students receive commendation from the NMSC. This in itself is an achievement! Only about 3-4% of test takers across the U.S. rank in this category. In late September of Senior year, Commended students receive a letter recognizing their efforts on the PSAT. For these students, this is the end of the process. They can go ahead and add this honor to their college applications.


About one third, or 16,000, of Commended students move on to the Semi-finalist level. These students receive notification letters early September of Senior year. Instead of taking the top scorers nationally, the NMSC selects Semi-finalists by state to ensure a more even distribution. In this way, each state enforces a certain score benchmark that students must surpass to hit this level.


About 15,000 of the Semi-finalists will reach the Finalist level. These students get notification in February and will receive certificates from their principals. However, it takes more than just impressive PSAT scores to become a Finalist. To do so, students must display stellar academic achievement all around through an application. All in all, the NMSC judges students on their grades, curriculum, extracurriculars, high school letter of recommendation, SAT scores, and an essay.

Merit Scholars

Roughly half, or 7,500, of Finalists become Merit Scholars. They receive notification starting in March and continuing into June. To the NMSC, these students represent the top performers in the country based on SAT scores and academic achievement. Ultimately, Merit Scholars go on to receive scholarship funding they can use towards college tuition.

Stay tuned to learn about the different types of scholarships offered by the NMSC. In the meantime, contact us to learn more about PSAT and SAT preparation.