Competition

Entering the Competition

How to Enter

Students who meet published program entry and participation requirements* enter the National Merit® Scholarship Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Testing SceneMerit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) at the specified time in the high school program, usually as juniors. Each year's PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test designated for entry to a particular year's competition. For example, the 2016 PSAT/NMSQT was the qualifying test for entry to the competition for scholarships to be awarded in 2018.

Registration for the test is by high school rather than individual student. Interested students should see their counselor at the beginning of the school year to make arrangements to take the PSAT/NMSQT at the school in the fall.

Note: The PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 will not be considered for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program. The PSAT/NMSQT is the official route of entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program.

* To review the entry and participation requirements, go to National Merit Scholarship page. 

PSAT/NMSQT® Scores Are Sent to NMSC

As cosponsor of the test, NMSC receives all PSAT/NMSQT scores and certain information students provide on their answer sheets. The Score Report shows the student's Selection Index score (calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores) and whether the student meets NMSC program entry requirements.  An asterisk (*) next to the Selection Index means the student's scores will not be used for entry. The Selection Index scores of students who meet entry requirements are used to designate high scorers to receive recognition. NMSC identifies Semifinalists and sends scholarship application materials to them through their high schools. Students who qualify as Semifinalists in the National Merit® Scholarship Program and meet academic and other standards to advance to the Finalist level will compete for scholarships.

When to Take the PSAT/NMSQT®

  • Students who plan to spend four years in high school (grades 9 through 12) before entering college full time must take the PSAT/NMSQT in their third year (grade 11, junior year). They will be entering the competition that ends when awards are offered in the spring of their fourth high school year (grade 12, senior year), the same year they will leave high school and enter college.

    Although some schools encourage their sophomores to take the PSAT/NMSQT for guidance purposes, these students must take the test again when they are juniors to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program if they are spending the usual four years of study in grades 9 through 12.


  • Students who plan to leave high school a year (or more) early to enroll in college full time usually can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program if they take the PSAT/NMSQT before they enroll in college. Such students must take the PSAT/NMSQT in either the next-to-last year or the last year they are enrolled in high school.
    • Those who take the PSAT/NMSQT in the next-to-last year of high school will be entering the competition for awards to be offered as they are finishing their final high school year.
    • Those who take the PSAT/NMSQT in their last year of high school will be entering the competition for awards to be offered as they are completing their first year of college.

  • Students who plan to participate in a post-secondary enrollment options program (through which they enroll simultaneously in both high school and college) must take the PSAT/NMSQT in their third year of high school (grade 11, junior year) to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program. The determination of whether the student is participating in a post-secondary enrollment options program is made by the high school, which certifies the student's status.

  • Students who plan to spend five years in grades 9 through 12 before entering college full time usually can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program if they take the PSAT/NMSQT in both the third and fourth years of high school. A five-year student will not be eligible for the program until a written request for entry to the competition is approved by NMSC. The request should identify the student's name, high school, and specific educational pattern (including the academic years spent in grades 9 through 12).

    The student's highest possible level of recognition is determined by the qualifying score earned during the third year, the year in which all other competitors are considered. The student must qualify at or above that same level in the fourth year in order to compete in the fifth year, the year he or she will leave high school and enter college.

Note: Because a student can participate (and be considered for a scholarship) in only one specific competition year, the year in which the student takes the PSAT/NMSQT to enter the competition is very important. If there is a question about whether a student can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program because his or her educational plans do not fit one of the preceding descriptions, or for any other reason, contact NMSC immediately.

If a Student Misses the PSAT/NMSQT® Administration

A student who does not take the PSAT/NMSQT because of illness, an emergency, or other extenuating circumstance, but meets all other requirements for NMSC program participation, may still be able to enter the competition. The student or a school official must write to NMSC as soon as possible after the PSAT/NMSQT administration to request information about procedures for alternate entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program. To be considered, a request must be postmarked no later than March 1 following the PSAT/NMSQT administration that was missed. The alternate entry request should include the name and address of the student; the contact information of the person making the request; the name and address of the student's high school; and a brief explanation of why the student missed the PSAT/NMSQT.

The earlier NMSC receives the written request, the greater the student's opportunities for meeting alternate entry requirements. Upon receiving and processing the request, NMSC will provide alternate entry materials, including instructions for program entry and a form that requires the signature of a school official.

Additional Information

More information about the PSAT/NMSQT® and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT® Student Guide sent to high schools for distribution to students before the test. The NMSC section gives requirements for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program, explains steps in the competition, and describes groups of students honored and scholarships offered. The Test-Taking Help section provides important information about the PSAT/NMSQT, including test regulations, sample test questions with directions and tips for answering them, and a pull-out practice test for self-scoring. You can also visit the website of the College Board, which cosponsors the test. 

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