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 2015 PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test for entry to the competition for scholarships to be awarded in 2017.
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.
Note: The PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 will not be considered for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program. The PSAT/NMSQT is the official route of entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program.
* 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 shows the student's Selection Index score and whether the student meets NMSC program entry requirements. (Beginning with the 2015 administration of the PSAT/NMSQT, Selection Index scores will be calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores.) 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
Students who plan to spend five years in grades 9 through 12 before entering college full time usually can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program if they take the PSAT/NMSQT in both the third and fourth years of high school. A five-year student will not be eligible for the program until a written request for entry to the competition is approved by NMSC. The request should identify the student's name, high school, and specific educational pattern (including the academic years spent in grades 9 through 12).
The student's highest possible level of recognition is determined by the qualifying score earned during the third year, the year in which all other competitors are considered. The student must qualify at or above that same level in the fourth year in order to compete in the fifth year, the year he or she will leave high school and enter college.
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 there is a question about whether a student can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program because his or her educational plans do not fit one of the preceding descriptions, or for any other reason, contact NMSC immediately. 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 September 2015
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