What the NMSQT is and Why is it so Important?

The NMSQT refers to the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and it’s what you need to take to be in the running for the National Merit Scholarship. But there’s a bit more you should know.

High school is a busy time, and it’s also the time to start thinking about college. As you’re preparing for college, you’ll come across a lot of tests with acronym names, the most well known being the ACT and SAT. There’s also the PSAT and the PreACT. So, what about NMSQT?

A student writing in a small notepad with a laptop next to them.

What is the NMSQT?

NMSQT stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test which is also known as the PSAT. Students need to take this exam to be entered into the National Merit Scholarship competition from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). Around 1.6 million annually are competing annually. You may also see it referred to as the PSAT/NMSQT.

The National Merit Scholarship Program

This yearly competition is famous for rewarding the highest PSAT/NMSQT scorers. It’s a multi-tiered competition. Of the 1.6 million students, around 50,000 students will be notified that they qualify for recognition. The organization also Commends two-thirds of the students. That means that while they acknowledge the student’s hard work, they don’t move forward in the competition. However, that doesn’t mean all your work was for nothing. Commended students can actually qualify for special scholarships.

There are nearly 16,000 Semifinalists every year, nominated on a state level. The organization elevates 15,000 students to Finalist and notifies their high school. There will only be 7,500 winners of the three award times: National Merit $2500, Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarship awards, and College-Sponsored Merit awards.

Where Can You Find More Information About the PSAT/NMSQT?

If you’re interested in learning more about the National Merit Scholarship Program, we highly recommend heading over to the corporation’s website. You can find news, FAQs, and other resources.

Students can also check out the PSAT/NMSQT® Student Guide which has entry requirements, more details about the available scholarships, and sponsors of the awards.

Should I Take the PSAT/NMSQT?

Yes, you should definitely take the PSAT/NMSQT! Don’t pass up on the chance to become a National Merit Scholars and potentially win scholarship money! Even if you don’t end up qualifying or winning scholarship money, there’s no harm in taking the test.

And there’s another reason you should: you earn valuable test-taking experience that can prepare you for the actual SAT or ACT (there’s a reason why it’s also called the Practice SAT, after all!).

When Do You Take the PSAT/NMSQT?

Students will be offered the PSAT during sophomore and junior years of high school in October. Only juniors however can qualify for the competition and scholarship. However, taking it in your sophomore year is always good practice for the following test!

Most high schools will notify you when the PSAT/NMSQT is coming up, and you can sign up for it. Some teachers will even help you prepare in the classroom. If your high school hasn’t announced the exam and October is approaching, make sure to talk to your teacher or guidance counselor for more information.

The PSAT is not technically mandatory, but most high schools actually require you to sit for the exam at least for your junior year. Even if your school doesn’t require it, we highly recommend taking the PSAT anyway.

 What Happens if You Miss the NMSQT?

 If you found out you missed the PSAT/NMSQT, it may be possible to take the exam, but only certain students will qualify. You would have to:

  • Have missed it due to an emergency, illness, or other extenuating circumstance
  • Meet all other requirements of program participation
  • Write the NMSC (or have a school official contact them) before April 1st. Information should include name, address, contact information, high school details, and the reason the exam was missed. The sooner the request is submitted, the more likely it will be approved

How to Prepare for the NMSQT

Preparing for the NMSQT is an absolute must. Not only will it help you have a better chance of winning an award or scholarship money, it will also help when it’s time to take the real deal in the SAT the following year. Here are some great tips to help you prepare for the PSAT.

Set Goals

First, consider your goals when it comes to your PSAT/NMSQT prep. What are you hoping to achieve? Are you looking for just a practice test for the SAT, or are you looking to seriously contend for the top awards? Competition for the scholarship is very, very steep so you will have to put a lot of work in if you want to get a top score.

We also recommend being realistic with your expectations. Not every student will qualify for the competition and that’s okay. It’s important to remember what you take away from this experience, even if it’s not an award.

Identifying your goals though will help give you direction for the other preparation steps.

Create a Study Schedule

One of the most important things you can do when it comes to getting ready for the exam is to create a study schedule. You don’t want to burn yourself out, but you also don’t want to study the minimum amount. You need to find balance with the rest of your schedule that includes school, work, extracurriculars, homework, and social time.

Your study schedule should reserve time for practice tests, weak subject study, strong subject study, and, of course, breaks. This will help ensure you’re consistently working towards your goals.

Take Practice Tests

One step you can’t skip when preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT is to take practice tests. However, you don’t want to just take practice test after practice test. You want to look at the results. Where did you struggle? Did you do way better in reading than math? Take notes of specific areas you need improvement. Was there a particular part of the math section that gave you the most trouble?

When taking practice tests, also make sure to follow the correct format. Time yourself, follow the rules you would have to follow in the real deal, and take breaks. This will give you an accurate picture of where you need improvement and where you’re doing great.

Study Your Weaker Areas (and Everything Else)

After you’ve taken a practice test and you know what gave you trouble, it’s time to really study. If math gave you problems, you will want to devote more of your study time to those particular math sections.

However, that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore the other sections of the PSAT simply because you scored higher in them. You should absolutely return to these sections, review what you got wrong, improve, and keep your education in these subjects fresh.

Take More Practice Tests

Once you felt you’ve made improvement in the particular subject or area you were struggling with, it’s time to take another practice test. Did you improve where you wanted to? How did you perform in other areas of the exam? This will help you pinpoint weak spots in your study sessions and give you direction on what needs more attention going forward.

You may also learn that you need to adjust how you study. If you’re not sure how you can improve, you will want to talk to a teacher, counselor, or another adult in your life who is familiar with the PSAT.

Now that you know all about the NMSQT, are you ready to sit for your exam? Make sure to get a jump start on your studying and practice exams so you have the best chance of being in the running for scholarship!

Colleges may not be looking at your PSAT scores (unless you’re named a SemiFinalist or Finalist), but most are looking at your SAT or ACT results. It could impact your college choices! Search for your dream schools right on College Raptor so you can see what scores you need to aim for in the coming months.