The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a test offered by College Board (the people behind both the SAT and AP) and co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The format of the PSAT is very similar to the SAT and consists of the same sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests. Many people like to view the PSAT as a way to gauge how you would do on the actual SAT. However, the difference between the PSAT and the SAT is that there is no essay like there is on the SAT with SAT Essay. There are several versions of the test: the regular PSAT/NMSQT for 11th graders, PSAT 10 for 10th graders, and PSAT 8/9 for 8th and 9th graders who want to get a headstart. This year, the PSAT will be administered by schools primarily on Wednesday, October 11, or on Saturday, October 14 for schools testing on Saturday.

PSAT Test Day Checklist (No. 2 pencils, erasers, approved calculator, & photo ID):

So why is the PSAT important, especially for high school juniors?

MONEY. In the form of scholarships. In order to be entered into the competition for the National Merit Scholarship, you must take the PSAT during the fall of your junior year in order to have a chance in receiving the scholarship during the spring of your senior year. The test scores are sent to NMSC.

The Selection Index score is used to determine eligibility for the National Merit scholarship. The Selection Index score is calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores:
Selection Index = (Reading + Writing and Language + Math) x 2

After determining eligibility for the scholarship using the Selection Index and other criteria, such as high school enrollment/progress and citizenship/permanent resident status, the NMSC divides about 50,000 of the students with high scores into 2 groups: Commended Students and Semifinalists.

Commended Students represent about 2/3rds of the high scorers (34,000 of the 50,000), and they receive Letters of Commendation in late September of the following year. Although they scored high on the PSAT/NMSQT, Commended Students did not score high enough to be named a Semifinalist from their state. Each state has a different Selection Index that is used to determine the Semifinalist status. Some states have higher Selection Indexes than other states do. These Commended Students do not move on to the next level of the competition, but they can still be candidates for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.

Semifinalists represent about a 1/3rd of high scorers (16,000 of the 50,000), and they are notified in early September by their high school that they are semifinalists and the highest scorers in their state. Semifinalists are then given an application packet with information about applying for the scholarship and requirements for becoming a Finalist. The requirements for the 2018 National Merit Scholarship can be found here:

Semifinalists must have consistently high academic performance throughout all years of high school and receive high scores on the SAT that align with the high PSAT/NMSQT score. More info about the SAT here:

Semifinalists who report a college as their first choice school and are admitted to that school may receive a college-sponsored scholarship if they have not been offered another National Merit scholarship.

In February, about 15,000 Semifinalists advance to become Finalists and are notified by mail of their Finalist standing. Then, in March, 7,500 Finalists are notified that they have been awarded a National Merit Scholarship, based on their academic achievements, activities, leadership, essay, and recommendation from a school official.

There are 3 types of National Merit Scholarships:

  1. $2500 National Merit Scholarships
  2. Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarships
  3. College-sponsored Merit Scholarships

There are also Special Scholarships awarded to about 1,200 National Merit Program participants who are not Finalists.

For more information about the National Merit Scholarship Program:
Fall 2017 National Merit Scholarship Program Student Guide for the 2018 Scholarship

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