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Your PSAT/NMSQT Score Could Change Your Life: Here’s How

In the past, PSAT simply stood for Practice SAT, indicating that this test was merely a way to sample the questions and atmosphere of the all-important SAT exam. Thanks to a partnership with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, the PSAT is now much more important. Today’s PSAT/NMSQT exam has a major impact on students’ future college education.

The PSAT and National Merit Scholarship Partnershiptest

PSAT no longer stands for Practice SAT. The test became the Preliminary SAT when the National Merit Scholarship Program decided to use it as a qualifier for its program. Now, the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship QT (PSAT/NMSQT) exam has a new level of importance for high school students.

Those who score in the top two percent on this test will become semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship program. Students may choose to opt out of this program. However, those who gain the standing of National Merit Scholars have many life-changing opportunities in the way of college finances.

What the PSAT Says About You

The PSAT is a reliable predictor of how a student will fare on the SAT exam. The two tests are nearly identical except for the essay, which is not included in the PSAT exam. Both tests have verbal, math, and writing sections. Scoring for each test is on a scale of 20 to 80, giving the entire exam a maximum possible score of 240.

PSAT scores give a clear picture of a student’s strengths and weaknesses academically. The test is typically given in October of the student’s junior year. Some students can also take the test in their sophomore year. Sophomore test takers aren’t eligible for National Merit Scholarship consideration unless they plan to graduate early. However, taking the test early can offer some insight into how to prepare for the following year when the scores do count for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

The National Merit Scholarship Competition

Students who score in the top two percent on the PSAT/NMSQT exams receive notification in September of the following year. These students become semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. There are usually about 60,000 semifinalists each year.

Semifinalists must send more information for consideration. This includes an essay, high school transcript, and recommendation letter. The student’s SAT score counts at this point as well. Approximately 90 percent of National Merit Scholarship semifinalists go on to become finalists based on this information. These finalists have many exciting options for college financial assistance in the way of scholarships.

The Rewards for National Merit Scholars

The program awards National Merit Scholarships of $2,500 on a state-by-state basis to select finalists. Finalists may also receive corporate-sponsored scholarships and college-sponsored scholarships. Corporate-sponsored scholarship programs typically look for students related to employees, living in a certain community where the company is present, or planning to pursue a career in that corporation’s field. Colleges award their scholarships to finalists who have chosen them as their first choice school.

Not all colleges and universities offer scholarships based on the National Merit Scholarship program. For example, the Ivy League schools have chosen not to use PSAT scores as an indicator of a student’s future success. If you’re pursuing scholarship funds through this program, it’s important to make sure your first choice school participates.

Some other national scholarship programs use PSAT/NMSQT scores as the basis for their decision-making as well. The National Achievement Scholarship for African Americans and National Hispanic Recognition programs award scholarships based on this exam.

How to Make the Most of Your PSAT/NMSQT Exam

Students had the luxury of taking the PSAT lightly before this exam became the deciding factor for so many scholarship programs. Now that these scores are given such importance, students have good reason to treat this exam more seriously. Proper preparation will help students get a higher score and increase their chances of becoming a semifinalist.

Since the PSAT/NMSQT exam is a preliminary version of the SAT, any SAT prep program will help students get ready for this test. Preparation materials that focus exclusively on the PSAT are available as well. Some sites offer practice PSAT tests online.

Since semifinalists must send their high school transcripts, it’s wise for students to focus on their academic career early on in high school. Those with good grades in a variety of challenging courses will have the best chance at becoming finalists in this program.

Students who win scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Program often find that these funds help them pursue an education they couldn’t have otherwise paid for. That’s great news for students willing to put the work in.

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