Quick Guide to PSAT/NMSQT

PSAT, PSAT, PSAT. It sounds familiar, like it might be the younger sibling of the SAT, but what exactly is it?

If you are a high school junior, you definitely want to know about--and be prepared to take--the PSAT. So, let’s run through a quick guide that explains exactly what you should know about the PSAT and why you should take it (somewhat) seriously.

What is “the PSAT”?

The PSAT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a standardized test from College Board that measures a student’s readiness for college. The PSAT has three different versions: PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT. The three versions have different score scales.

The most important version is the PSAT/NMSQT, which is taken during junior year of high school.

What does “NMSQT” mean?

The 11th grade PSAT is also called “NMSQT” because it is the qualifying test (QT) for the National Merit Scholarship (NMS). If you want to be considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program, you must take the PSAT.

What is the National Merit Scholarship Program?

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a highly prestigious program that offers one-time scholarships and renewable financial stipends to a select group of high school students who plan on attending college. Students who are National Merit $2500 Scholarship winners receive a one-time payment. College-sponsored and Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship winners receive either renewable stipends for up to four years of study or one-time payments.

How do you get selected as a National Merit Scholar?

The first step is that you take the PSAT/NMSQT. You have to score high enough to be considered a semifinalist. From the group of semifinalists, you have to complete more requirements and distinguish yourself further to become a finalist. Finally, finalists compete against each other and are selected for scholarships based on a number of factors, such as academic record.

Who are NMS Commended Students?

Two-thirds of high-scoring students receive a Letter of Commendation. They have to score above a certain Selection Index on the PSAT/NMSQT. Commended Students do not advance in the National Merit Scholarship competition.

Who are NMS Semifinalists?

Students who are National Merit Semifinalists score above another Selection Index. Typically these scores are within the highest percentile, so these students are the highest of the highest scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT. Students are selected from each state.

Who are NMS Finalists?

Students from the NMS Semifinalist pool advance to the Finalist stage after they have proven themselves academically over the course of their high school career (grades 9-12). They also must do well on the SAT. Finalists are notified during the senior year of high school.

What is a Selection Index?

The Selection Index is the minimum PSAT score required to gain a certain NMS status. Your Selection Index score is determined by doubling the sum of your Reading, Writing, and Math scores.

Note: The PSAT gives you a Total score of 320-1520. The Test scores, which are used for the NMS Selection Index, are 1-38. If you get a perfect score, then you would have a 38 in Writing, 38 in Reading, and 38 in Math. The sum of those Test scores is 114. Therefore, the highest Selection Index score possible is 228.

What is a “cutoff score”?

A “cutoff” score is just another way of describing the Selection Index score required to become a National Merit Semifinalist. The “cutoff score” is different for each state.

What is most likely the cutoff score for Texas?

Student reports have traditionally shown that the cutoff score for Texas is 221.

Can I qualify for NMS during any year other than junior year?

No. National Merit Scholarship qualification is based on your PSAT score from your third year of high school.

How likely is it that I will become a National Merit Scholar?

Since student situations are vastly different, it is hard to say exactly. However, it is easier to give you an indication of how selective NMS is. Remember, you are competing against the highest scorers for a Semifinalist status. Then you have to be selected from the pool of Semifinalists to be a Finalist. From there, you once again compete against the best of the best for a scholarship. It’s more unlikely than likely that you will advance to the scholarship stage, but that’s okay, even getting a Semifinalist status carries a lot of weight.

Here are the numbers:

  • 34,000 Commended Students (do not advance)

  • 16,000 Semifinalists

  • 15,000 Finalists

  • 7,500 Winners

Why should I become a National Merit Scholar?

You get a scholarship, which pays for part of your college. You also gain recognition and access to a network of scholars. And it definitely looks good on resumes.

What is PSAT 10?

PSAT 10 is the PSAT given to sophomores. It is the same format and content as PSAT/NMSQT. You cannot qualify for NMS with this test. At best, you may be able to get other scholarships with a high score. Or your school may have other kinds of rewards for you--like no final exams for any subject you do well on.

What is PSAT 8/9?

PSAT 8/9 is the PSAT for 8th graders and high school freshmen. The format is shorter than PSAT 10 and PSAT NMSQT, but the content is the same.

What is the difference between the PSAT and the SAT?

The PSAT and the SAT are more similar than different. There are two key differences between the tests:

  1. The PSAT does not include an essay. The SAT has an optional essay.

  2. The PSAT is slightly shorter (fewer questions, shorter time limit) than the SAT.

If I take the PSAT, do I have to take the SAT?

Yes. Colleges will not accept PSAT scores. Also, if you want to advance to the NMS Finalist stage, you have to take the SAT.

When will I know my PSAT scores?

PSAT scores are typically released the December following the October test date.

When will I know my NMS Semifinalist status?

NMS Semifinalist status typically is known the September of your senior year.

What is the NMS selection timeline?

The NMS selection timeline takes approximately two years. Here is an example with the class of 2020:

  • Fall 2018 - Take PSAT/NMSQT in October.

  • Fall 2018 - Learn PSAT/NMSQT score in December.

  • Fall 2019 - Learn NMS Semifinalist status in September.

  • Fall 2019 - Take SAT in October, November, or December. (Earlier is okay.)

  • Spring 2020 - NMS notifies students of Finalist status in February.

  • Spring 2020 - NMS sends scholarships in March - May.

How should I prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT?

You should prepare for the PSAT as you would for the SAT. In fact, you can use the same prep materials for SAT for PSAT. It is recommended that, if you haven’t started prepping, you start now.

What happens if I don’t do well on the PSAT/NMSQT (or PSAT 10 or PSAT 8/9)?

Colleges will not take into consideration your PSAT scores. They won’t see them. Really, if you don’t do well on PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9, that shouldn’t affect you very much (or at all). Those tests are more for personal benchmarks.

What are other benefits of doing well on PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9?

The main benefits of doing well on PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 are that you might be able to get scholarships other than the National Merit Scholarship. Or you may have a reward at your school.

Hoping to get a high score on your PSAT for the National Merit Scholarship? We can help you prepare with personalized, 1:1 tutoring. We have practice tests, study materials, and tutors who will assess your weaknesses and create a study plan. Send us a message if you want more information!

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