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« on: October 17, 2008, 10:04:26 PM »

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a multiple-choice standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in the United States.

An estimated 1.3 million high school juniors and sophomores take the test each year. Recently, some freshmen, 8th, and 7th graders have also begun taking this test. The scores from the PSAT are used (with the permission of the student) to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Testing and scores

The test is composed of three sections: Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Writing, and takes two hours and ten minutes to complete. Each of the three sections is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points, which add up to a maximum composite score of 240 points. This parallels the SAT, which is graded on a scale of 200 to 800 (the narrower range is to distinguish from which test a score comes and to denote less accuracy). However, unlike the new (2005) SAT, the new PSAT does not include higher-level mathematics (e.g., concepts from Algebra II) or an essay in its writing section (which was added to the SAT in 2005).

The sum of the three scores is known as the Selection Index and is used, along with four general criteria for eligibility such as U.S. citizenship (or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied, and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law), for both preliminary and primary selection in the National Merit Scholarship Programs.

The minimum Selection Index for recognition as a Semifinalist is determined by selection unit (50 states, three other geographic units, and a number of boarding school regions) and is set by the NMSC in each at whatever score yields about the 99th percentile. While many people object to this (particularly those who score well in states with high minimums), this is used instead of a national minimum to ensure an even geographical distribution of Semifinalists. Because it is dependent on selection unit, on the number of students taking the test in the selection unit, and how well the students in the selection unit do on the test, the minimum varies from year to year and from selection unit to selection unit. For example, for the 2007 competition (2005 PSAT), minimum scores required for Semifinalist recognition ranged from 204 in Mississippi to 224 in Massachusetts, with an unweighted mean of 215.

Students not recognized as Semifinalists whose Selection Index is above a different limit are recognized as Commended Students and receive Letters of Commendation. This minimum is determined nationally and is set at whichever score yields the 96th percentile. It rose from 202 for the 2006 Program (2004 PSAT) to 203 for the 2007 Program (2005 PSAT).

After being confirmed as a Semifinalist (which occurs one year after taking the PSAT as a junior), students must complete an application to become a Finalist. Other factors besides the PSAT Selection Index score are taken into account, such as the student's Grade Point Average (GPA) and extra-curricular activities. However, these criteria are not particularly rigorous, and simply completing the application is typically enough to advance to Finalist standing, since approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists become Finalists.