PSAT/NMSQT

The Preliminary SAT/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (whew) is offered in October. It is generally taken by juniors but ambitious sophomores and freshman often take it. It used to be 2 hours and 10 minutes and scored out of 240 points, with each section (Reading, Math, Writing) being worth 80 points.

The PSAT is a good way to practice for the SAT, but if you get a high enough score, you can qualify for the National Merit scholarship. The New PSAT will be rolled out in 2015, which is the next test date, so we will cover only that format.

Old vs. New PSAT

This page describes the differences between the old PSAT and the new PSAT. If you are reading this after October 2014, you will be taking the new PSAT. The main differences:

  • 35 minutes longer
  • Rights-only scoring (no deduction for a wrong answer)

There are more questions, as you would expect with more time. We’ll update this once we have more details and the practice exam (~March 2015).

National Merit Process

As mentioned before, if you score high enough on the PSAT as a Junior, you will be eligible for the National Merit scholarship. Here is the process:

  • October Jr Year - take the PSAT
  • April Jr Year - Notified of being a “candidate”. This is roughly the top 50,000 high school juniors or the 96.5th percentile.
  • Early senior year - 16,000 become Semifinalists, and the next 34,000 are Commended. Then you fill an application, write an essay, and have a correspdingly high SAT score (~2000+).
  • After the application, about 15,000 students become Finalists. Of these 8,000 become National Merit Scholars.

There is a $2,500 prize given to NMS (National Merit Scholars), which is not much, but colleges often give scholarships for NMSF or NMS, so it can be quite lucrative.

Here’s a list of 52 Schools that offer full-tuition scholarship for National Merit Finalists.

The Commended score cutoff is a national threshold; it applies similarly to all students. It typically hovers between 201 and 205. The Semifinalist score cutoffs, on the other hand, vary from state to state. Here are a recent set of cutoffs:

  • Alabama 208
  • Alaska 211
  • Arizona 210
  • Arkansas 203
  • California 218
  • Colorado 215
  • Connecticut 218
  • Delaware 219
  • District of Columbia 221
  • Florida 211
  • Georgia 214
  • Hawaii 214
  • Idaho 209
  • Illinois 214
  • Indiana 211
  • Iowa 209
  • Kansas 211
  • Kentucky 209
  • Louisiana 207
  • Maine 213
  • Maryland 221
  • Massachusetts 221
  • Michigan 209
  • Minnesota 215
  • Mississippi 203
  • Missouri 211
  • Montana 204
  • Nebraska 207
  • Nevada 202
  • New Hampshire 213
  • New Jersey 221
  • New Mexico 208
  • New York 218
  • North Carolina 214
  • North Dakota 202
  • Ohio 211
  • Oklahoma 207
  • Oregon 213
  • Pennsylvania 214
  • Rhode Island 217
  • South Carolina 211
  • South Dakota 205
  • Tennessee 213
  • Texas 216
  • Utah 206
  • Vermont 213
  • Virginia 218
  • Washington 217
  • West Virginia 203
  • Wisconsin 207
  • Wyoming 201
  • New England/Mid Atlantic Boarding Schools 221