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The NMSQT

PSAT's Counterpart

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You may have heard of the PSAT Test with the acronym “NMSQT” attached. When you heard it or saw it, you probably asked yourself a bunch of questions: What is it? Why should I be concerned? Why does everyone always have to use acronyms?

If you want to know more about the NMSQT, I’m here to help. If you don’t, then go read something else.

What Is the NMSQT?

The National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is the exact same thing as the PSAT. That’s right – you only have to take the one test, usually during your junior year of high school. So why the extra acronym? What is the National Merit Scholarship? If the PSAT is qualifying you for it, you definitely should know what the stakes are.

How To Qualify for the NMSQT

First things first. Before they’ll even look at your PSAT score, you have to have the following things going for you. Give yourself a point if you are…

  1. A U.S. citizen/intended U.S. citizen
  2. Enrolled full time in high school
  3. Taking the PSAT your junior year
  4. Carrying a strong academic record
  5. Going to complete the NMSC Scholarship application

Oh! One other small thing…you have score well on the darn test itself. There’s always a catch.

The PSAT Score They Want

In order to determine if you’re eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, the selection committee will find an index score for you. Basically, it’s the sum of your PSAT Math, Critical Reading, and Writing scores. For example if you had these PSAT scores:


Math: 60
Critical Reading: 50
Writing: 60
Your NMSQT Index Score Would Be: 170

A 170, however, would be way too low to qualify for a scholarship from the NMSQT. Each state has a minimum index score for eligibility, which starts at 201 for places like Wyoming, North Dakota and the U.S. Territories, all the way up to 221 for Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. So if you’re interested in the benefits of the National Merit Scholarship, you better prepare for the PSAT.

The National Merit Process

Scholarships usually involve cash, but there’s a process that happens behind the scenes before they’re handed out. Once you’ve taken the PSAT and receive your NMSQT index score back, one of three things can happen:

  1. Nothing. You didn’t score high enough to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Congrats. Go crawl in a hole somewhere and cry yourself to sleep.
  2. You become a Commended Student. You’re no longer in the running for the National Merit Scholarship, but since you impressed the selection committee with your score and academic record, you can still qualify for other scholarships sponsored by businesses and corporations.
  3. You qualify as a NMS Semi-finalist.You made the cut, and hats off to you, because only 16,000 out of the 1.5 million who take the test actually make it this far.

The semi-finalists will then be whittled down to 15,000 finalists. From there, 1,500 finalists will receive special scholarships from corporate sponsors, and 8,200 will receive the oh-so-coveted National Merit Scholarship.

What Do You Get If You Receive the NMS?

  1. Fame. Maybe not the Brad Pitt kind, but the National Merit Scholarship Committee will release your name to the media for some pretty heavy exposure. You always wanted to be a star, right?
  2. Money. You’ll get $2,500 from the NMSC, and other scholarships from both corporate and college sponsors. In other words, your parents may have to find other uses for the gigantic Stafford Loan they just took out in your name, because you’ll have some cash coming in.
  3. Bragging Rights. Since only 0.5 per cent of the PSAT-takers receive this illustrious scholarship, you can certainly brag about it for a while. Or at least until someone gets really irritated.

That’s it. The NMSQT in a nutshell. Now go study.

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