Stephanie Meyer Twilight author, M. Night Shyamalan movie director, Jeffrey Bezos CEO of, John Roberts Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Bill Gates former Microsoft Chairman, Ben Bernanke Chairman of the US Federal Reserve have one thing in common.  They were each National Merit Scholarship winners chosen from a pool of 15,000 National Merit Finalists.  How did they get there?

Each October more than 1.5 million high school juniors enter the National Merit Scholarship race by taking the PSAT test through CollegeBoard at their local high school.  The PSAT doubles only in the junior year as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).  Students must be a U.S. citizen or intend to become one at their earliest opportunity.

In September of the senior year, almost a year after the PSAT is taken, announcements are made of semifinalists (approximately 16,000 of some 50,000 high scorers).  Those in the top 50,000 not making the Semifinalist cut are recognized as Commended Students and still may be eligible for special corporate and business sponsored scholarships announced later.

Often it is stated that National Merit Commended and Semifinalist students are the top 50,000 scorers by PSAT Selection Index  in the United States.  This is not entirely accurate as the qualifying score varies from state to state. So for the class of 2020 while a 217 selection index made the Semifinalist cut for a student attending school (not where you live) in Kentucky, that same student would not have qualified with Ohio’s 218 cutoff and would have been far off the 223 Massachusetts (highest cutoff nationally) required selection index.  The Commended Student cutoff for the class of 2020 was 212 for all states.

Looking at a several year history for any state will give a small range of scores a student can anticipate needing to hit to qualify as a Semifinalist.  For Ohio for the classes of 2008 to 2019, the qualifying scores have ranged from 210 to 219.

Who then has the potential of hitting that magic number?  Unfortunately, qualifying is based on a single day snapshot of how you tested on that day.  Even the best test-takers have an off day.  LEAP has had students with a sophomore PSAT selection index of 195 and higher make it to Semifinalist status. 

Then there’s the student from last year who had a 220 in his sophomore year, did everything right leading up to the test, but had an off-day and made Commended Student, not Semifinalist. Another student with a 222 in 10th grade decided to forego test prep and went DOWN to a 216; he later prepped for the ACT and earned a perfect 36. He should have prepped for the PSAT!

What’s the “right approach” for PSAT prep?

Highly individualized 1:1 tutoring with certified and trained professionals on our proven program. Students will work with both an English and math tutor, learn strategies, put them to practice completing full tests and each step of the way receive detailed, robust LEAP progress reports guiding on where to focus instruction.

There are no guarantees, but taking the right prep approach, if you were a high scoring sophomore, greatly increases your chances and ultimately will also result in higher SAT and even ACT scores.

If you weren’t a high scoring sophomore, approach the PSAT for what it is for most – PRACTICE.  This will be an early step in getting you ready for SAT game day later in the year! If you live in the Greater Cincinnati area and want to increase your odds, contact LEAP for National Merit prep: 1:1 tutoring for PSAT.