11 Nov 2020

Qualifying for National Merit Without the PSAT

Unfortunately, many high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors have been unable to take the PSAT this fall due to COVID-19-related cancellations. Some school systems have rescheduled the PSAT for January, but the trajectory of the pandemic remains uncertain, as does whether or not virus levels will be low enough to administer the PSAT in schools this winter. If you missed our post on why the PSAT matters and why you should prep for it, you can check it out here. Most importantly, the PSAT is not only an opportunity to prepare for the SAT, it also gives 11th graders the chance to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT/NMSQT (“National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test”) — the PSAT for 11th graders — is the first step in the National Merit Scholarship Competition, in which millions of students across the country compete for 8,800 prestigious scholarships. As one might imagine, being a National Merit semifinalist, finalist, or recipient looks excellent on a college application. 

So, for juniors who are concerned about missing out on their opportunity to qualify for one of these coveted scholarships, not to worry! The National Merit Scholarship Competition has devised an alternate entry route. We will break it down for you. 

NOTE: The alternate entry route was not created in response to COVID-19. For several years now, students who can’t take the PSAT for a number of reasons including family emergencies, illness, or inclement weather have had the option of using official SAT scores for the competition. 

How do I use the alternate entry route? 

While juniors who take the PSAT are automatically entered into the National Merit Scholarship Competition, you must complete a separate, short application if you’re planning to use the alternate entry route. You can complete the application here, on the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s website. If you choose to submit SAT scores instead of PSAT scores, you must have all your testing done by April 1st, 2021. 

That being said, some schools have postponed their PSAT date, with hopes of a winter or spring administration. If you decide to apply using SAT scores, but end up having the opportunity to take the PSAT after all, the National Merit Scholarship Foundation will automatically use your PSAT score instead of any SAT scores you may have submitted already. 

How does scoring work if I submit SAT scores?

Eligibility for a National Merit Scholarship is typically determined by the PSAT NMSC selection index score, which is calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math section scores. Every state has a certain number of semifinalist slots to fill with students with the highest index scores. Those students can then choose to compete for finalist status. 

If you decide to submit SAT scores instead, your selection index will be calculated the same way using your Reading, Writing and Language, and Math SAT scores. The SAT and PSAT are, of course, slightly different. So, if you take both exams, your indexes for each are bound to vary. Given that the PSAT is shorter and considered less challenging than the SAT, it is in every junior’s best interest to take the PSAT if at all possible. 

We recognize that many students are encountering unforeseen challenges right now, between remote learning, testing disruptions, and overarching public health concerns. We want to help support you or your child this academic year. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

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