Was Your PSAT Cancelled? You May Still Qualify for National Merit

 You can still qualify for National Merit using SAT scores.

For freshmen and sophomores, the PSAT is a useful introduction to the kinds of questions they will see if they take the SAT later in their academic career, but for juniors, the test may carry an additional benefit. That’s because the 11th-grade PSAT is also known as the PSAT/NMSQT (“National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test”). It’s the first step in the National Merit Scholarship Competition, in which millions of students compete for just 8,800 prestigious scholarships and a valuable line on their college applications.

But what if you’re a high-scoring junior and you couldn’t take the PSAT this fall? Many school systems relied on remote or hybrid-learning this semester in the wake of COVID-19, and there wasn’t a way to administer the PSAT remotely. Some school systems rescheduled the PSAT for January, but it’s unclear whether virus levels will be low enough in January to allow widespread PSAT testing in schools.

If you’re a junior hoping to qualify for National Merit, don’t worry! You can enter the National Merit Scholarship Competition without PSAT scores by using the competition’s alternate entry route. Since the SAT is still going on this fall and spring – using social-distancing guidelines – you can take the SAT and submit those scores in place of official PSAT scores.

It’s important to note that this alternate entry route isn’t a response to COVID-19; it’s been a part of the National Merit Scholarship competition for some time now. Students who can’t take the PSAT for a number of reasons – illness, family emergencies, school closures due to weather – can use official SAT scores for the competition, provided they meet all the other requirements. Widespread school closures this year mean that this policy is particularly important for the juniors of 2020. 

How the scoring process works

National Merit eligibility is determined by the PSAT NMSC selection index, a number created by adding a student’s Reading, Writing and Language, and Math scores and multiplying by two. Every state has a certain number of Semifinalist slots (based on the number of juniors entering the competition in that state).The students with the highest indexes in the state fill those Semifinalist slots and can choose to compete for Finalist standing. Students who score slightly lower are recognized as Commended Students, who don’t go any farther in the competition but can apply for other scholarships using their Commended Student status. 

If you’re submitting SAT scores instead of PSAT scores, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will simply use the selection index from your SAT. Because the two tests are so similar, they can calculate the index the same way, adding all the test scores and multiplying by two. However, the tests are slightly different (the SAT is a bit longer and more challenging than the PSAT) so a student who took both tests might not have identical indexes.

How to use the alternate entry route

Juniors who take the PSAT are automatically entered into the competition, but if you’re planning to use the alternate entry route, you must complete a separate application for entry and have all of your testing done by April 1st, 2021. 

Some schools have postponed their PSAT date, hoping to be open for in-person testing by January. If you’re concerned that the spring test might also be cancelled, you can apply using SAT scores. However, if you end up taking the PSAT at your school, the National Merit Scholarship Foundation will use your PSAT Selection Index instead of any SAT scores you might have already sent in. Since the PSAT is a slightly shorter, easier test, that helps you!

If you’re an aspiring National Merit Scholar, COVID-19 doesn’t have to ruin your chances at recognition. Register for an official SAT, wear your mask, and maintain the College Board’s social distancing and safety guidelines. Good luck!


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