Last December, thousands of high school sophomores and juniors learned the results of the 2013 Preliminary SAT (PSAT) test. The juniors’ test scores will be used to determine whether they qualify as semifinalists for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship, which in turn makes them eligible for a host of automatic college scholarships. (Sophomores take the test just as practice.)
The juniors will have to wait to find out for sure if they qualify until September, just before they begin submitting applications to colleges across the country. But it is fairly straightforward to predict, based on their scores and last year’s cutoffs, whether they will qualify as semifinalists.
Many students would be surprised to learn that qualification depends not only on how high they score, but also on where they go to school. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) sets different qualifying cutoffs for each state to “ensure that academically talented young people from all parts of the United States are included in this talent pool.” They have not disclosed any specific criteria for setting the state cutoffs.