Why You Should Care About the PSAT/NMSQT

27 Sep 2016


With the abundance of school administered standardized testing for students, it’s no surprise that the PSAT/NMSQT (
Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is overlooked as “just another test.” But did you know the PSAT could be your ticket to getting into top schools and even receiving full-tuition scholarships? In a few short weeks, the PSAT will be administered at most high schools. (Talk with your guidance counselor if you’re unsure when the test is.) So now’s the time to learn what you’re up against and why it matters.

To dig into the details of the PSAT and the National Merit Scholar Competition, we sat down with National Merit Scholar Zach Bruick, who studies meteorology at Valparaiso University.


bruick-zachary-2March Consulting: What is the PSAT?

Zach Bruick: [The PSAT is] a preparatory standardized exam that aims to prepare students for the SAT and ACT which are required to enter college. It’s also a basic requirement to participate in the National Merit Scholar Competition. It’s generally taken sophomore and junior year of high school with sections on reading, writing and language, and math.

MC: What is the National Merit Scholar Competition?

ZB: The National Merit Scholar Competition selects the top high school seniors in each state for recognition.The top students overall receive scholarships in addition to national recognition. There are different levels of being recognized: after you take your PSAT the competition evaluates the scores in your state and if you are found to be in the top percentage in your state [16,000 students nationally are selected] you are designated as a semi-finalist. Then you take the SAT and if you score well enough on the SAT you are declared a finalist. From the finalists scholarships are declared based on supplementary materials [check out the National Merit website for specifics].

MC: What are the benefits of being a National Merit Scholar?

ZB: NMSC is a nationally recognized award, so when you list that on college applications it looks extremely good. It continues to be a note of recognition even beyond college for jobs and internships. In my experience, one of the schools I was interested in offered me a full-tuition scholarship because I was a National Merit Finalist.

MC: How did you prep for the PSAT?

ZB: The test was required at my school, and I don’t think I was even aware of the program or its benefits at the time. If I had known about it I probably could have prepared for it more. But it is more simplified version of the SAT so you may not need to do a lot of prep.

MC: How did you prepare for the SAT?

ZB: It was a lot more stressful because I knew I could get full-tuition to my fall-back school if I did well enough. I had a friend who was also taking the SAT for the same purpose so we studied together in the weeks prior to the tests. We didn’t bother spending money on prep books and used practice tests from books at the local library. It helped to share tips with each other and looking [more tips] up online. There are a ton of free resources available for studying online as well


If you tend to do well in testing situations, the PSAT/NMSQT could be your avenue to getting into your top schools and potentially scoring scholarship money.

However, if standardized testing is your biggest weakness, never fear! There are still tons of ways to win scholarship money: national programs, local programs, and through your high school and future university.

Stay tuned for more articles in the coming months on how to stand out in the scholarship hunt. In the meantime, feel free to Contact Us with any questions or concerns  you may have.

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