Each October, the College Board offers high school students a standardized test that wears two hats. Sophomores and Juniors take the same test on the same day – for students in Grade 10, however, it is known as the PSAT, essentially a practice SAT, and for students in Grade 11, it carries an additional label, the NMSQT – the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
Sophomores benefit from the test by getting to experience what they will face when they take the “real” SAT in the spring of the following year. One major difference, however, is that the PSAT does not have an essay component, while the SAT does.
Juniors benefit from the test not only by getting more practice for the SAT, but also by gaining an opportunity for a scholarship. Scores range from 20 to 80 (comparable to the SAT score range of 200 to 800). Students with the highest scores in each state become members of an exclusive club. The top 1% or so of the millions who take the test are declared National Merit Scholars - Semi-finalists and they compete for various scholarships. Below them, the top 5% or so are deemed Commended Scholars, and, though these students do not qualify to compete for scholarship funds, their achievement is indeed noteworthy and certainly deserving of mention on college applications.