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How to Find Your Own Pot of Gold – The PSAT

August 12, 2020

Luck won’t get you a $100,000 scholarship, but the PSAT can. If your score sits within a certain predetermined range, you could be in the running for many amazing scholarship opportunities from many colleges. Take this test seriously—that’s my firm advice. Then, with the right approach and timing, your efforts could reap great financial rewards—maybe even your own pot of PSAT-gold!

At the time of this post, the scheduled PSAT/NMSQT dates:
  • Primary date: Wednesday, October 14
  • Saturday date: Saturday, October 17
  • Alternate test date (Revised): Thursday, October 29
Please check with your school to see which date has been chosen, as well as the COVID-19 updates page to keep abreast of any possible changes.

Some of the benefits of a high PSAT score.

And tuition is not the only thing your awards can pay for. If you score high enough on your PSAT and qualify for a National Merit ranking, a full ride might also mean room and board, unlimited laundry, cafeteria passes, study abroad stipends, honors dorms, new computer, spending cash and graduate money—now, that’s the stuff of a great many college dreams! 

Colleges love to brag about their National Merit Scholars as they represent the top one percent of the nation. As a result, they’ll often go the extra mile to compete and attract you to their school. They may even sweeten the pot and add more compelling benefits to entice you… and wave free computers or additional spending money in front of you.

The “P” does not stand for practice. If I had a dollar for every person who told me that’s what it meant…! Here is the correct acronym for PSAT/NMSQT: Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It’s a scholarship contest that only counts toward potential scholarships in your junior year. 

But what do you do if you miss those dates? Well, all is not lost. Besides the opportunity for the PSAT alternative test date, there is the Alternative Entry Testing Method. In essence, you can take the SAT, and the National Merit Corporation (NMC) will convert the score. Generally, this approach is reserved for you if you were sick or unable to attend due to extenuating circumstances. There is a specific set of actions you (or your parents) must take to take advantage of this. It starts with contacting the NMC by April 1 of your junior year, and there’s a special code you pop in at the top of your SAT test so your test will be converted for the PSAT. A great advantage to this system is you can take the SAT numerous times and only your highest score results (from one entire test) will be counted.

Alternate Entry Testing Method

The PSAT/NMSQT is a test used for a scholarship contest in the junior year. Unlike the SAT and ACT exams, you can only sit this test once per year. That test is generally administered in the third week of October, on Wednesday or Saturday. If you miss that date there may be an alternate date a week or two later, but you can only take it on either sitting, not both.  Click here to learn more.

I can’t tell you your particular PSAT cutoff score, because they vary from year to year and state to state. For example, in 2019 some Semifinalist cutoff scores were 1480 in Texas, 1470 in Florida and 1420 in Wyoming. It’s wise to discover what you should be aiming for. Check out this link out here for predicted PSAT scores. Just know the score can fluctuate. And if you’re an American student studying abroad your cutoff is generally set at the highest state's cutoff score.

How to gain National Merit Status and win scholarships?

First things first: You must be a U.S. citizen enrolled in a public, charter or private high school, or even be homeschooled.

  1. 1

    Take the PSAT/NMSQT in your junior year or third year of high school.

  2. 2
    If your score is in the top 1% of your state, you qualify as a Semifinalist.
  3. 3
    Fill out the application by the deadline and include all required documents:
  • Transcript/GPA information
  • Best SAT score
  • Self-directed essay
  • Resume of activities and experiences
  • Letters of recommendation

Each year about 50,000 qualify for recognition. You can only be considered for one of the 8,000 Finalists and become a National Merit Scholar when all the steps above have been followed. If your score is just shy of your state’s Semifinalist cutoff level, you may receive Commended recognition—which still looks good on college applications. You may also be eligible for scholarships available at this level. The reasons for focusing on this contest really stack up.

Preparing for the PSAT

Any preparation you do will mean you have a significant advantage over others. Did you know that the best way to prepare for the PSAT is to prep for the SAT? Both these tests rely on your skills of logic and critical thinking to answer the multiple-choice questions, which have tricky answer choices, many designed to purposely mislead you. So, practice is always time well-spent.

You need to know the PSAT—just like the SAT—is a beatable test. It doesn’t measure your IQ and doesn’t test what you’re learning at high school. You can actually learn the recurring patterns and rules found on every test and learn to answer questions in 30 seconds or less. For more information, click here.

Bottom line, you can learn how to ace the PSAT. Besides, you’ll get a preview of how well you’ll do on your SAT. Again, invaluable experience. The tests are very similar, some say almost identical. The only difference in content? There is no essay to write and the test is fifteen minutes shorter. The best possible score is 1540.

If you already have the PSAT prep, practice, and test under your belt, then when it comes time for you to prepare and sit for your SAT, the pressure will be off you as a junior or senior. You’ll be far more familiar with the lay of the land.

More tips on taking the PSAT.

If you want to gain an early edge, take the PSAT 8/9 in both eighth and ninth grade. Testing at these times does not count but if you’re serious about making your future easier to afford, then the benefits outweigh the objections you might have. You get to familiarize yourself with the testing environment, gain test maturity and lessen anxiety. You may as well. Your future is going to be peppered with standardized testing instruments and they may very well determine the jobs and careers you follow, not just get you into a tertiary institution.

Your PSAT 8/9 will be excellent preparation for you to follow up with the PSAT 10 as a sophomore. This is your best game plan for conquering the junior PSAT/NMSQT.

Now that you know more about the PSAT and its significance, you can start preparing. Now! You don’t have to get lucky to get a good scholarship. The dividends of doing well on this test could pay off tremendously and have you seeing green. 1

For eleven steps to PSAT success, sign up for our webinar series and watch, “The Best Kept Secret to Free College—The PSAT.”

CPG Founder | Author

Jean Burk is the author of the award-winning College Prep Genius program and has written numerous articles about the SAT and PSAT tests, high school prep, college prep, and how to get free college. She is a Fox News Contributor and has been featured as an SAT and Educational expert on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, TXA21, CW33, WE, Forbes, UShop TV and The Homeschool Channel.

She currently travels and speaks about the importance of college preparation at conventions, book fairs, schools, libraries, etc. She has taught her revolutionary, award-winning “Master the SAT” Prep Class all over the United States, mainland China, India, Hong Kong and Thailand. Her program is now also online at www.collegeprepgenius.com . 

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