How To Earn National Merit Scholarships
What does it take to be a finalist? National Merit recognizes Commended Scholars and Semi-finalists based on junior year PSAT scores. The top 3% of students in each state receive recognition, but because the qualifying score is based on a percentage, the cut–off score is different in each state and changes from year to year. In Texas, the qualifying selection index to become a semi-finalist has been between 215 and 219 in recent years. (Top 3%! We are talking about the best of the best when it comes to test taking achievement.)
How should students prepare?First, take the PSAT sophomore year and use these scores to determine if National Merit recognition is reasonable. Students who score within 20-30 points of their state’s cut-off score will want to prepare. Then, start early with basic preparation. All students, but especially those hoping to earn National Merit recognition, should begin building test skills early. With eighteen years’ experience helping students prepare for the PSAT / SAT, I recommend the following:
- SAT Question of the Day from College Board (register here) Working a question a day, or a few per week, will help students become familiar with test format and content. PSAT questions are just like SAT questions, so these are perfect practice.
- Build a college-bound vocabulary. 50% of a student’s reading score is based on knowledge of vocabulary, which is one thing he or she can’t cram before the test. This is why I started My Vocabulary Success Coach (details here.)
- Continue to learn and retain knowledge from school – reading comprehension, vocabulary, critical thinking, algebra, geometry, data analysis, problem solving, writing, grammar, and usage are all part of the test.