What the NMSQT is and Why is it so Important?

The NMSQT stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. In other words, it’s what qualifies you 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?

It stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It refers to the PSAT that students take in their sophomore or junior year to enter the National Merit Scholarship competition, along with tens of thousands of other students (around 1.6 million annually). It’s often shown as PSAT/NMSQT. Your high school will notify you when the PSAT/NMSQT is coming up, and you can sign up for it. It’s not mandatory, but we strongly recommend taking it anyways.

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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 Commends two-thirds of the students. That means they acknowledge the student’s hard work, but students don’t move forward in the competition. But, that doesn’t mean all your work was for nothing. Commended students qualify for special scholarships.

There are nearly 16,000 Semifinalists at this point, nominated on a state level. The organization elevates 15,000 students to Finalist and notifies their high school. Additionally, the competition presents students with a certificate.

From 1.6 million entrants to 7,500 winners. The scholarship has three award types—National Merit $2500, Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarship awards, and College-Sponsored Merit 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. Additionally, you earn valuable test-taking experience that can prepare you for the actual SAT or ACT (there’s a reason why it’s called the Practice SAT, after all).

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? This 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, 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.

Check out how your ACT/SAT score affects your acceptance odds with College Raptor’s free match tool!

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