OK ... Probably some of you know why this topic is important already. Others probably have no idea, thinking we are talking about some special military nomenclature, or that this is some silly acronym for “Public Schools Are Trouble / Now Moms Should Quit Testing” or something like that.

However, those of you who are “enlightened” recognize this as the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  It’s a standardized test given annually at public schools across America. 

And yes, the date for this year’s test, Saturday, Oct. 19, is right around the corner.

What’s the point?  You might want to consider having your home schooler take the test to qualify for academic scholarships.

We are going to discuss this test as if you don’t have any idea what the PSAT/NMSQT is about.  So if you are familiar with it, then just browse the article and pass it along to those whom you know who may not be so well-informed.  Some of the basic rules have changed.

Don’t confuse the PSAT with the more well known SAT I (Scholastic Aptitude Test) given to college-bound high school students as part of the qualification requirements for most colleges and universities in the United States.  Although this test is designed and administered by the same people who do the SAT I and II (the College Board organization), it is an altogether different exam. The PSAT/NMSQT is actually sponsored by two organizations, the College Boards (www.collegeboard.org/psat/student/html/indx001.html) and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (www.nationalmerit.org).

Some people erroneously think it is a preparatory test for taking the SAT, but it is really quite different.  The PSAT has been around for several decades, since 1955.  When we were in high school we were unaware of any preparatory classes or workbooks to “bone up” for the PSAT. 
Now there are preparatory books available to help students prepare for this test, which we highly recommend.  Since most students will have used some form of test preparation, your student may be at a disadvantage if he/she does not.  (We have some test preparation resources available at our website, www.davidandlaurie.com.)

The PSAT/NMSQT isn’t all that significant to home schoolers, except that it is the only way to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.  If your student does well enough, like any student, it can provide a huge amount of scholarship money from the PSAT/NMSQT.  We have known of home schoolers who have done very well on the NMSQT, earning scholarship money to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.  So it may be well worth your student’s time and effort to take this test.

Frankly, our children never took it. We just didn’t want to bother with having our children register with the school district and have to go marching down to the examination location (the local high school in most cases) on a Saturday morning for three hours. Perhaps we were naïve of the opportunity to get free money. But, as we have always said, the parents are responsible for determining the educational opportunities for their children. This goes for taking tests as well.  But you as a parent should know about it so that you can make your own informed decision.

For those who are interested, now is the time to consider this idea seriously. The qualifying age is a bit tricky. Usually if you have a high school Junior (that is your child is at the age where he or she would be considered in eleventh grade), then go to your local high school guidance office and register. 
But that actually depends. This year’s students are qualifying for entry to competitions for scholarships to be awarded in the Fall of 2004. The scores from this test will be used to determine semi-finalists who then will need to meet academic and other standards to advance to the finalist level in order to receive scholarships.  Go to www.nationalmerit.org/merit.htm to learn more.