PSAT/NMSQT Update: National Merit Scholarships Qualifying Process & New Test Date for 2020-2021

Every October, the College Board offers juniors the opportunity to take the PSAT National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Typically, high schools set the designated national test date aside and provide in-school PSAT testing for students. Due to remote learning and the general confusion of Fall 2020, many high schoolers did not have the chance to take the PSAT/NMSQT.

However, if you missed the October test dates, you still have a chance to take the PSAT/NMSQT. The College Board has added an extra test date. The next PSAT/NMSQT is scheduled for Tuesday, January 26, 2021.

So, why is the new PSAT/NMSQT test date important?

To be eligible for the National Merit Scholarships, you must take the PSAT/NMSQT during your junior year to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship (NMS). If you are a junior who could not attend 2020’s Fall PSAT dates, the January test date is another chance for you. 

Details to know:

  • Students may only take the PSAT/NMSQT once. If you have already done this, the extended test date does not apply to you.

  • This opportunity is only being given for the 2020-2021 year of testing. Next year’s PSATs will resume Fall testing as usual.

  • Not all schools will be proctoring PSATs on this date. Interested students should check in with their school counselors. If your school isn’t offering the January PSAT date, look into other local options. Recently, Cal Coast Academy announced that they will be hosting the January PSAT/NMSQT which is a fantastic opportunity for San Diego residents.

Now, let’s say you’ve either taken the October PSAT/NMSQT or plan to take it in January 2021. What is the process for qualifying for the National Merit Scholarships?

  1. Take PSAT/NMSQT.

  2. You are recognized as a High Scorer. About 50,000 students, who’ve received the highest PSAT/NMSQTSelection Index scores (calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing/Lang., and Math Test scores) qualify for recognition in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

    Selection Index Score: This score is taken from the individual section scale scores. For example, if you received a 35 in Reading, 35 in Writing/Lang., and 35 in Math, you would double the sum (105 x 2), resulting in a Selection Index Score of 210. The highest Selection Index Score possible is 228. For the Class of 2021, the Semifinalist Selection Index cutoff score was 212.

  3. You are notified whether you are a semifinalist or commended (usually September). About 16,000 of the 50,000 high scorers become semifinalists. Once a semifinalist, you will have additional steps (proving high academic achievement and providing further information) within the competition. 

  4. You are notified whether you are a finalist (usually February). About 15,000 of the semifinalists reach this next step.

  5. Winners are selected. About 7,600 of the 15,000 finalists reach this final stage. Winners are evaluated based on their academic record, information about the school's curriculum and grading system, PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index score, the high school official's written recommendation, information about the student's activities and leadership, and the Finalists’ own essay.

It is projected that 7,600 National Merit Scholarships and 1,100 Special Scholarships will be awarded to this year’s test takers. So, why not you?

Interested in learning more about the PSATs? Check out our previous blog: “Is it necessary to take the PSAT? Yes? No? Maybe?”

We hope you’ll take advantage of this new opportunity and that we will see you soon for some PSAT test prep.

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