Basics of PSAT


Our service providers were narrating a lot of questions they get from parents about the PSAT, so I decided to put together some key facts that will help parents understand the PSAT better. This is part 1 of a series of posts. Do let me know if you find this interesting.

If your kids have just started Grade 10 or Grade 11, the PSAT is one of the most important examinations they will be taking in the next year or so.  So what’s so great about the PSAT you ask? Isn’t this just the preparatory test before taking the actual SAT test? Well, yes and no. The PSAT actually has a huge significance of its own.

To start at the very beginning, PSAT stands for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, whileNMSQT (another abbreviation we will use frequently in this blogpost) is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

You may hear about many different PSAT tests. The PSAT 10 is taken by 10th graders, while PSAT/NMSQT can be taken by 10th and 11th graders. The PSAT 8/9 can be taken by 8th and 9thgraders.

The PSAT/NMSQT is the most important of all the PSATs.  That’s because the scores from the PSAT/NMSQT, and only scores from the PSAT/NMSQT (out of all the PSATs) are used to automatically determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program(hence the name). Just to reiterate, if one does not take the PSAT/NMSQT, you are not eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program, irrespective of your SAT scores. Exceptions are only allowed for extenuating circumstances such as natural disasters, at the discretion of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

PSAT/NMSQT dates for fall 2016 are

o   Primary : Wednesday, October 19 & Saturday, October 15

o   Alternate : Wednesday, November 2

It is also critical to note that while the PSAT/NMSQT can be taken up to 3 times during high school, it is only the score of the PSAT/NMSQT test taken in junior year (Grade 11) that will count for the National Merit Scholarship Program. So students who plan to spend four years in high school (grades 9 through 12) before entering college full time must take the PSAT/NMSQT in their third year (grade 11, junior year). They will be entering the competition that ends when awards are offered in the spring of their fourth high school year (grade 12, senior year), the same year they will leave high school and enter college.

Although some schools encourage their sophomores to take the PSAT/NMSQT for guidance purposes, these students must take the test again when they are juniors to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program if they are spending the usual four years of study in grades 9 through 12.

So what is the National Merit Scholarship Program and why should it be relevant to you?  Well, it’s no secret that college education in the US is expensive, and that students nearly always take loans to complete their college education, which they are left paying off for a considerable part of their life. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s National Merit Scholarship Program seeks to address this concern by awarding some 7,400 scholarships of varying value, every year. Your child winning one of these scholarships could make the difference between college, no college or being able to afford the best college one can aim for!

The NMSC operates without any government assistance and the scholarships offered are funded by the NMSC’s own funds or by those of some 440 independent sponsors who pool in their funds with the NMSC. There are 3 types of scholarships awarded:

·      National Merit $ 2500 Scholarships (one time award)

·      Corporate Sponsored Scholarships

·      College Sponsored Scholarships

In the year 2015, just over 22,200 high schools participated in the NMSC programs, and1,477,188 students took the PSAT/NMSQT test !

I’ll post the next in this series of blogs tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are some websites you can refer to for more information on the PSAT/NMSQT:




Versatilekids has quite a comprehensive list of SAT preparation tutors available in your neighborhood. To see tutors in your area, go to and select “college prep”. It’s always a good idea to speak to an experienced tutor to see how they can help your child prepare for this critical test.

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