Students who meet published program entry and participation requirements* enter the National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) at the specified time in the high school program, usually as juniors. Each year's PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test designated for entry to a particular year's competition. For example, the 2014 PSAT/NMSQT was the qualifying test for entry to the competition for scholarships to be awarded in 2016.
Registration for the test is by high school rather than individual student. Interested students should see their counselor at the beginning of the school year to make arrangements to take the PSAT/NMSQT at the school in October.
* To review the entry and participation requirements, go to the National Merit® Scholarship Program page. back to top
As cosponsor of the test, NMSC receives all PSAT/NMSQT scores and certain information students provide on their answer sheets. The Score Report Plus shows the student's Selection Index score (critical reading + mathematics + writing skills scores) and whether the student meets NMSC program entry requirements. An asterisk (*) next to the Selection Index means the student's scores will not be used for entry. The Selection Index scores of students who meet entry requirements are used to designate high scorers to receive recognition. NMSC identifies Semifinalists and sends scholarship application materials to them through their high schools. Students who qualify as Semifinalists in the National Merit® Scholarship Program and meet academic and other standards to advance to the Finalist level will compete for scholarships. back to top
Note: Because a student can participate (and be considered for a scholarship) in only one specific competition year, the year in which the student takes the PSAT/NMSQT to enter the competition is very important. If a student's high school standing and enrollment do not fit one of the preceding descriptions because the student plans to spend more than four years in high school, or for any other reason, contact NMSC immediately about whether the student can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program. back to top
A student who does not take the PSAT/NMSQT because of illness, an emergency, or other extenuating circumstance, but meets all other requirements for NMSC program participation, may still be able to enter the competition. The student or a school official must write to NMSC as soon as possible after the PSAT/NMSQT administration to request information about procedures for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program by alternate testing. The earlier NMSC receives the written request, the greater the student's opportunities for meeting alternate entry requirements. To be considered, a request must be postmarked no later than March 1 following the PSAT/NMSQT administration that was missed. NMSC will provide alternate entry materials that require the signature of a school official. back to top
More information about the PSAT/NMSQT® and the National Merit Scholarship Program can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT® Official Student Guide sent to high schools for distribution to students before the October test. The NMSC section gives requirements for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program, explains steps in the competition, and describes groups of students honored and scholarships offered. The Test-Taking Help section provides important information about the PSAT/NMSQT, including test regulations, sample test questions with directions and tips for answering them, and a pull-out practice test for self-scoring. You can also visit the website of the College Board, which cosponsors the test. back to top
Page last updated April 2015
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