The College Board has sent semi-finalist notifications to the schools of students who took the PSAT or National Merit Test last October. These letters may arrive today, and many high schools will immediately call the seniors in to the office to tell them the good news.
Roughly 16,000 seniors across America will be named National Merit Semi-finalists. While the letters should arrive this week, the actual press release date is Sept. 11. Semi-finalists are required to have an SAT score that is in line with their PSAT, have reasonably good grades, a letter of recommendation from their principal, and to complete some paperwork to become Finalists. About 15,000 will go on to Finalist status, with 1,000 not making the cut due to failure to meet the above requirements.
The College Confidential board has some pretty good information on what is going on this year with test scores. They tend to fluctuate a little bit, but this year the score for a Commendation is 203 nationwide, the same as last year. Commendations offer little but a warm feeling inside, or perhaps a frustrated feeling in some states, such as Mississippi, where there is only a point or two of difference between being named a Commended Student and a Semi-finalist.
While Commended status is based on a nationwide score of all students scoring in the top three percent, Semi-finalist cutoff scores vary by state. Last year in Mississippi the Semi-finalist cutoff was 204, so there were very few unlucky Commended students. On the other hand, Massachusetts has a cutoff score of 221, so there is a big gap between the two.
As I've written before, the difference in cutoff scores means that it is much easier for a diligent student to earn National Merit status living in states like Mississippi, Wyoming, and West Virginia than it is in states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Maryland. A score that puts one in the top one percent in Mississippi might only put one in the top two or three percent nationally.
My opinion is that it is far easier for a student who usually scores in say the 94th percentile to work hard and improve himself to reach the 98th percentile than it is for a student who usually scores in the 98th percentile to work hard and improve himself to the 99.7th national percentile. For the diligent student, there is an advantage to being schooled in Mississippi!
Here's a test-taking tip. High school freshmen and sophomores are allowed to take the PSAT; only the junior-year score is used for National Merit purposes. If your child has reasonably good test scores, pay the $15 or so for him to take the test. You ought to get an idea from these scores as to whether or not your child has National Merit potential. With a couple of years to work on it, much of the PSAT math can be systematically mastered, and there can be some improvement in the reading and writing as well. A little bit of improvement can go a long way, so it's worth the effort.
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