If you have a high school student, chances are you have heard of the PSAT and National Merit Scholarships. While many people, understandably, believe that the PSAT is simply a practice run for the SAT, it actually serves another equally important purpose.
The PSAT or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. That is why the test is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test or NMSQT.
Between three and four million high school students will take the PSAT every year. While scoring well on the PSAT may not help your child get into the college of his or her dreams, it might just help pay for some of it.
Here’s how it works. After taking the PSAT in October, about 50,000 students will be recognized for their high score on the exam. Of the students recognized, about 34,000 will receive a Letter of Commendation from the National Merit Scholarships Corporation. These students don’t receive a National Merit Scholarship but having a Letter of Commendation is a feather in their cap. It also looks good on a college application.
Approximately 16,000 students will score in the top 99 percent of their state to become National Merit Semifinalists. About half of those semifinalists will win a National Merit Scholarship based on their PSAT score, recommendations from their teachers and a personal essay. These students may also receive awards from colleges who recruit them.
All Catholic high school juniors take the PSAT. The test is administered at their high school and there is no fee to take the exam. Some schools also require freshmen and sophomores to take the test. The only score that will count toward National Merit Scholarships, however, will be the one taken junior year. There is no online registration for the PSAT and any questions regarding the test should be directed to a student’s high school counselor or guidance department.
The PSAT is made up of math and evidence-based reading and writing. This includes passage-based questions and algebra, geometry, and a small amount of trigonometry. Many students don’t prep for the PSAT but those who do have a significant advantage.
Mount Michael has its students take the PSAT as freshmen, sophomores and juniors. According to Noelle Kunkel, director of counseling at Mount Michael, this helps students become more familiar with the format of the test. The College Board—the organization that prepares and administers the SAT—also has online resources to help students prepare for the PSAT.
“Of course, the best test prep is to learn the most that you can in school,” Kunkel said.
The PSAT can be intimidating because in most cases it is a high school student’s first foray into standardized testing for college admission. Whether your child is preparing for the PSAT or any other standardized test, it is important to reassure him or her that while test scores are an important part of the college admissions process, these scores are only one part of the process.
Giving students the tools necessary to do as well as possible on the PSAT is just one of the many ways Catholic schools prepare students for higher education. While more than 96 percent of Catholic school students attend a college, university, or other post-secondary institution, even students who don’t plan to pursue higher education can benefit from preparing for the PSAT. After all, striving to always do your best builds character and discipline and these are the types of faith-filled lessons students learn every day in Catholic school.