Graduating in the U.S. is anything but a costly affair. Students and their families spend thousands of dollars to get graduate degrees. But thanks to several scholarship programs such as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), thousands of American students every year receive a financial cushion during their tough education years.
Conducted by the College Board and co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), PSAT/NMSQT is taken by nearly 3 million students every year in the hope of bagging a scholarship for their graduate programs.
What is PSAT/NMSQT?
PSAT/NMSQT is an annual exam usually conducted in October every year. It is a standardized test taken mainly by 11th-grade students. A few 10th graders also write the exam.
Just like the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), PSAT/NMSQT tests students’ knowledge and reading, writing, and mathematics problem-solving abilities. The exam basically tests the students’ college readiness by testing skills required during the university years and beyond.
In 2019, approximately 3.8 million students had appeared for the PSAT/NMSQT, while 2.27 million sophomores had written the exam in 2018-19. About 1.74 million high school juniors had also taken the exam that year.
The numbers are expected to increase in the coming years, making it tougher for candidates to bag the NMSQT scholarship. For the 2021 session, the PSAT/NMSQT was conducted a few days ago, on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.
What is NMSQT Scholarship?
Top scorers in the PSAT exam are awarded the prestigious NMSQT Scholarship. In a year, roughly about 8,200 students are awarded a scholarship that could range from a one-time $2500 financial reward to a full-fledged college or corporate scholarship.
Moreover, even if the candidates fail to bag the top positions in the exam, they are awarded a Letter of Commendation that helps them apply for other college financial aids for their programs.
History of PSAT/NMSQT
PSAT was started way back in 1971 when it used to be administered, usually on a Saturday morning. Since then, the exam has gone under severe transformation. For instance, before June 1993, PSAT scores were accepted as qualifying for admission to elite clubs like Intertel and American Mensa.
Who is eligible for the PSAT exam?
PSAT/NMSQT is usually taken by high school students to take a feel of the SAT. However, the exam isn’t restricted to juniors, as sophomores and freshmen can also sign up to take the PSAT.
Moreover, according to the College Board, “You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen or living in the United States to take the PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10.” This means that for international students, PSAT/NMSQT could be a good opportunity for international students to practice SAT – the standardized test commonly used for college admissions in the U.S.
What is the PSAT/NMSQT Exam Format?
The PSAT/NMSQT exam format has changed quite a lot, especially in 1997. Prior to that year, PSAT only included Math and Verbal sections. As part of the changes, a new writing section was added to the exam in 1997.
The latest changes to the PSAT exam pattern came in Fall 2015 when the exam became 35 minutes longer. Currently, the exam consists of two major sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Mathematics, which are further divided into four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Mathematics (Calculator), and Mathematics (No Calculator).
Here’s the latest PSAT/NMSQT Exam Format:
|PSAT/NMSQT Exam Section||Allocated Time||Number of Questions|
|Evidence-Based Reading||60 minutes||47|
|Writing and Language||35 minutes||44|
|Maths (No Calculator)||25 minutes||17|
|Maths (Calculator)||45 Minutes||31|
As you can clearly see from the sections above, the PSAT/NMSQT exam sections are quite similar to the SATs. Of course, the optional essay section is missing from the competitive scholarship paper taken by millions of juniors.
What is the PSAT/NMSQT Marking Scheme?
Candidates get one point for every correct answer in the PSAT/NMSQT exam. There’s no negative marking in the PSAT/NMSQT, meaning candidates don’t get any negative points for wrong answers.
The raw scores achieved in every section are converted into scaled scores between 160 to 760 for each major section. This means that candidates will get a score between 320 to 1520 in the PSAT/NMSQT exam.
National Merit Scholarship Test (NMSQT) Eligibility
For the NMSQT scholarship, a candidate must take the PSAT/NMSQT no later than the 3rd year of high school. The student should be enrolled as a full-time high school student (traditional or homeschooled). He or she must also plan to attend any college in the US to avail of the benefits of the scholarship.
What are the 3 Levels of Recognition in NMSQT?
The scholarship is granted based on PSAT scores. Depending on the scores, candidates are categorized into three categories: Commended Students, Semifinalists, or (after an additional application) Finalists.
Commended: Top 34,000 students in the NMSQT are categorized under the Commended category. Such candidates receive Letters of Commendation that helps in getting college admissions.
Semifinalists: Semifinalists are some of the highest-scoring candidates from each state. They will need to fulfill certain requirements to advance to Finalist standing.
Finalists: These are some of the brightest minds in the US who are awarded prestigious scholarships. About 8000 students from the Finalists category are awarded National Merit Scholarship.
Scores Needed for National Merit Scholarships
The cut-off for the NMSQT exam varies from state to state. The NMSC calculates the overall scores. Here’s the state-wise cut-off list for last year’s PSAT/NMSQT exam:
Taking the PSAT/NMSQT is often considered a significant step before the SAT – one of the most crucial exams that checks candidates readiness for college admissions. High scores in the PSAT exam also come with additional benefits, such as the NMSQT scholarship that can fund your college education. So, if you are planning to take admission to a top US college, then missing out on the PSAT/NMSQT exam can be seen as a big dud. Therefore, gear up right now and begin your preparation for PSAT/NMSQT. All the best, buddy!
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q1) Can Indian students take the PSAT exam?
Yes, Indian students planning to take admissions in top US colleges can take the PSAT exam. According to College Board, “You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen or living in the United States to take the PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10.”
Q2) How much is the registration fee for PSAT/NMSQT exam?
For the 2021-2022 school year, College Board has set the PSAT registration fee at $18. However, the fee could vary depending on the schools, as a few take additional charges to defray the cost of administering the test.
Q3) Can students in ninth take the PSAT/NMSQT?
College Board allows ninth graders to write the PSAT/NMSQT. However, such students won’t be able to apply for the National Merit Scholarship Program that offers financial aid to students during their college years.
PSAT/NMSQT and SAT come under the SAT® Suite of Assessments conducted by the College Board. These exams basically test the same knowledge and skills for different grade levels.
Q5) How is the PSAT/NMSQT different from SAT in terms of exam format?
Both the exams have almost a similar set of sections to test candidates skills. However, students can also appear for the Essay section in SAT, which is missing from the PSAT/NMSQT.
Q6) How can students register for the PSAT/NMSQT?
Students can sign up for the PSAT/NMSQT at their high school. Candidates can talk with their school counsellors in September to know more about the school’s PSAT/NMSQT registration process, according to College Board.
Q7) Do colleges offer admissions based on PSAT/NMSQT scores?
No, colleges don’t offer admissions based on PSAT/NMSQT scores. Candidates need to appear for SAT or other AP tests to get entries into US colleges.
Q8) How many times can a candidate take the PSAT/NMSQT?
Candidates can appear for the PSAT/NMSQT only once a year. Moreover, they can appear a maximum of three times for the exam.
We hope that now you possess much clarity on the PSAT/NMSQT; Do share your experiences and advice regarding nailing this exam! Till then, work hard and be clear of your goals 🙂