The Preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifier Test (PSAT/NMSQT for short) seems to be a mysterious entity to some students-they either don’t know too much about it or believe that it’s not worth anything since colleges don’t require it. These students might blow off the PSAT when they are younger (sophomore level) so that when they are ready to take the test for money (junior level), they are caught unaware. However, the PSAT can be, if a student can score well enough on it, a useful tool for college funding (not to mention a great achievement for applications).
The PSAT/NMSQT (it’s only one test, but even though it serves two purposes, it will be shortened to just PSAT) is similar to CollegeBoard’s other main test, SAT Reasoning. it is based on three broad subjects (critical reading, math, and writing) split into five sections (just like SAT is three subjects in ten sections), where each subject is worth a possible 80 points. To find a total score, the points are added, so the grand total is 240, just like the maximum SAT score is 2400.
Because the subject area of the PSAT is similar to the SAT, CollegeBoard touts that to convert scores, one can just add or subtract a zero as necessary to predict what he might make on the other test. However, the PSAT most noticeably has no essay, and is usually only given to sophomores and juniors (sometimes freshmen). However, for juniors, the scores do count and the test serves as the entrance to the National Merit Scholarship program (as well as National Achievement program for African American students and National Hispanic program for Hispanic students).
Although there is debate on whether the PSAT is an accurate predictor for the SAT (or if the opposite is true), the fact is that one can take the SAT as many times as possible to have a general idea of what he might score on the PSAT, so this is very good. Students should take the SAT as early as freshman year if possible to find out what areas they need to work on, because for the PSAT, they will want to score in the 99 percentile of their state.
National Merit is actually determined by states, and not simply by the number of people in a state, but by the number and score of testtakers in a state. In some states, the test might be restricted to honors or advanced placement students, so ‘cutoffs’ for the National Merit program will be quite high (as of 2005, Massachusetts had a cutoff of 222 out of 240), but in states with more diveerse testers, the cutoff may be lower (from 2005, West Virginia had a cutoff of only 202 points). A student might search for “PSAT cutoff index” for information on historical cutoffs for his state.
At the Sophomore level, the student should take the PSAT (if his school is not sponsoring it, the student should actively find out how the test will be administered). This test will give him clear signs on where he can improve. At the junior level, he should be prepared to take the test again.
Soon, he will learn whether he is in the National Merit program-whether he is a semi-finalist (which has a chance for official scholarships from National Merit Scholarship Corporation AS WELL AS scholarships that individual colleges may offer) or simply commended, or if he has advanced in National Achievement or National Hispanic.
Although the NMSC’s own scholarship is $2500, most colleges and universities give at least some credit to finalists and semi-finalists in the program (Ivy League universities may not pay for full tuition, room, and board for example, but other schools that are still reputable may, or at the very least, the finalist status can determine entrance or rejection.)
Even if a student does not become a finalist, of course, his preparation for the PSAT will not be wasted: in some way, he’ll have helped himself for the SAT and/or ACT tests.