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It's Time for the PSAT/NMSQT

  • David & Laurie Callihan
  • 2002 10 Oct
It's Time for the PSAT/NMSQT

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 ( and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (

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,

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 to learn more.

The PSAT/NMSQT will be administered across America on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2002 from 8 to (approximately) 11 a.m.  Students will be encouraged to arrive by 7:30 to 7:45 a.m. at their testing location. 

Again, you will have to register in the high school guidance office if you want any of your children to sit for this exam. There is no charge for the exam, but they have to know that your home-schooled child wants to take the exam.  They won’t come looking for Johnny or Suzie to sign them up.  (Isn’t that ironic. Here’s a situation where the school district might actually do a service for home schoolers, and that’s when they ignore you.)  Registrations can be done during regular daytime hours up through Wednesday, Oct. 16.  (At least that’s the information we received from the local school district where we checked this out.) 

There also may be a local Christian school that can administer the test, so you might want to check around about that. If you’re interested, do your homework and contact your local high school guidance office to see what your school requires you to do to register your child(ren) for this exam. 

Just remember, even though multiple ages can take the exam, the only year that qualifies for the scholarships awarded by the NMSQT portion of the exam are students who are in their third year of a four-year high school program.  This is “regardless of grade classification or educational pattern,” as the NMSP Web site says. 

For those who are looking for ways to make ends meet for college, this qualifying examination may be the ticket. 
David and Laurie Callihan are authors of "The Guidance Manual for the Christian Home School: A Parent’s Guide for Preparing Home School Students for College or Career," and the brand new "Christian Homeschool Daily Planner" (with their Grand Plan built right in).  Learn more at

Editor’s Note: I just received the following information in a short e-newsletter from the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools ( and thought it was worth passing along. –Zan Tyler, Senior Education Editor for
Attention Juniors:

If you are considering attending college after graduation, you should take a PSAT in October.  You can arrange this through a local private or public school … The PSAT is important because it gives a student practice before taking the SAT and is used to determine eligibility for The National Merit Scholarship. 
If you are unable to make arrangements to take the PSAT, there is an alternate process to determine eligibility for The National Merit Scholarship:
1.  Write the National Merit Scholarship Corporation a letter explaining that as a home schooler, you were unable to find somewhere to take the PSAT and requesting alternate entry materials.
2.  Sometime in late October or early November, you should receive a packet including instructions on how to proceed.  (You will need to take the SAT I and SAT II writing test on two different test dates and have the test score reports sent to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.)
3.  After requesting alternate entry materials, if you have not received them by the end of November, you should inquire for these materials again.
4.  Contact information for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation: the address is 1560 Sherman Avenue, Suite 200, Evanston, Illinois 60201-4897, and the phone number is (847) 866-5100.
HSLDA has just notified us that, according to their Web site, the College Board has a policy that strongly urges public schools to allow home-school students to take the PSAT at the school.  If you would like to look into this further, please see these Web sites: or”