PSAT/NMSQT (Score Range: 320-1520)
This is the PSAT. NMSQT stands for "National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test." Take the PSAT/NMSQT in October of 10th or 11th grade. While the unofficial reason for this test is to "provide a clear early picture of your readiness for college" the main draw is that it enters you into the National Merit Scholarship competition. Your PSAT/NMSQT scores are not sent to colleges. But if you score high enough, you will be recognized by the Merit Scholarship Program as a Commended Student, Semifinalist, Finalist or Winner. This looks extremely good on college applications!
PSAT 10 (Score Range: 320-1520)
This test is identical to the PSAT/NMSQT except that it does not enter you into the National Merit Scholarship competition. Take this test to gauge your own understanding of high school curriculum so far. The PSAT 10 scores are not sent to colleges.
PSAT 8/9 (Score Range: 240-1440)
The PSAT 8/9 is for eighth and ninth graders. Take this test to assess your strengths and weaknesses. The score report for this test also includes something called AP Potential, which shows which AP exams might be best for you. PSAT 8/9 scores are not sent to colleges.
The National Merit Scholarship is a $2500 prize offered to the highest scorers on the PSAT/NMQST. You don't need to win the scholarship though! The highest 50,000 scorers receive various letters of commendation. It is all a big deal and looks great on college applications.
Here are the different levels of awards:
These account for two-thirds (around 34,000) of the 50,000 high scorers and 3-4% of all test takers. Commended students don't get a scholarship but receive a nice letter you can frame.
One-third of the 50,000 high scorers (around 16,000) and 1% of all test takers will be semifinalists. The National Merit Scholarship calls the scores of semifinalists "extremely high." The semifinalists will all receive an application to advance to the finalist round. Here is that application.
Finalists have extremely high scores and have also met all the academic criteria to advance to finalist. High schools will receive Certificate of Merits that they'll present to the finalists.
This is hard to say because you're ranked amongst your peers in your state. The National Merit Scholarship people will convert your PSAT/NMSQT score to something they call a Selection Index. Find the Selection Index on page 3 of this Sample PSAT Score Report. The Selection Index average across all states in 2020 seemed to be 215. This translates to a 1440.
The New York average was 222 -- a 1480.
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