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    While Spartans are hard at work studying for the SAT in October, many do not know that the most important test (for scholarships, anyway) is the PSAT.   

    PSAT One letter can be deceiving.  The PSAT can, in some cases, be the most important test a high school student will ever take--may even be more important than the SAT itself.  Why? Because the PSAT names the highest achieving students in the nation to qualify as National Merit Semifinalists (who can go on to become Finalists).  This title and honor can, at many colleges, result in larger amounts of scholarship than any amount of scholarship received from the SAT itself.

    Yet attaining the coveted title of “National Merit Finalist” — and the hefty scholarship awards that easily come along with it — isn’t as daunting of a task as it seems. 

    Unlike the SAT, in which students often constantly strive to bring up their scores by just a few more points, the PSAT requires that students merely reach the designated threshold to be named a Semifinalist.  Thresholds are determined by state and are determined after the test occurs; however, by looking at previous state cutoffs, it’s fairly easy to predict what threshold a student will need to meet.  For the Class of 2017, for example, the highest cutoff was 222 (equivalent to approximately a 2220 SAT score) and the lowest was 209 (equivalent to approximately a 2090 SAT score).

    In 2017, the Florida threshold was 217 and it is expected to be between 216 to 220 (most likely 218) for the class of 2018. Spartans interested in a deeper exploration of what underpins these estimates can see Researching National Merit Cutoffs.

    With the PSAT, there is no need to aim for the perfect 240 as many students do for the SAT (perfect 2400), hoping it raises their chance for admission or scholarship; rather, they must only aim for the threshold (216-218 in Florida)—a more manageable task, albeit a difficult one still (especially since the PSAT is a one-time-only test compared to the SAT).

    SAT example But, to make matters better, the PSAT itself is a shortened and simplified version of the SAT.  Students first have the opportunity to get a feel for the test’s format by taking a practice PSAT.  After receiving this baseline score, students can then manageably study or perhaps even take a prep class before they take the PSAT again--the one shot they have at attaining a qualifying score.

    For the students named Semifinalists at the beginning of their senior year, they can complete an application to become a Finalist; most Semifinalists become Finalists if they complete the application and requirements. By becoming a National Merit Finalist, the world of scholarships opens dramatically!

    Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if you got a 2200 or 2300 on your SAT. All that matters is you’re a National Merit Finalist, and you get a higher tier scholarship at your state school than the kid who received a near perfect score on his SAT but wasn’t a National Merit Finalist.

    For example, the University of Oklahoma, which was recently ranked number one for its number of National Merit Finalists enrolled, offers a near full-ride of scholarship to National Merit Finalists. This scholarship, valued at $101,000 for out-of-state students, is more than three times the amount of the next highest scholarship: a $31,200 scholarship for students who achieve a 34 ACT score (approximately a 2250 SAT).

    Translate the approximate 2250 SAT score into a PSAT score and it’d be about a 225.

    And, with the 2018 Florida cutoff being between 216 to 218 to qualify as a National Merit Semifinalist, that means that it’s much easier for Spartans to attain an equivalently lower score on the PSAT and attain a near-full-ride than it is to achieve a higher score on the SAT and only attain a third of that scholarship money.

    Say you received a 2200 on your SAT after studying relentlessly. That’s a $20,000 scholarship from the University of Oklahoma. But say you received that equivalent, a 220, on your PSAT.

    That’s likely a $101,000 scholarship from the University of Oklahoma as a National Merit Finalist. Yet the University of Oklahoma isn’t the only school to offer a hefty scholarship package to its National Merit Finalists. If a school offers scholarship for being a National Merit Finalist, it often is the highest scholarship their school offers—by quite a bit.

    So instead of stressing out over the looming SAT, maybe students need to realize that their ticket for a near full-ride scholarship lies in just one simple preliminary test—the practice SAT.

    And maybe we need to realize that one letter does make a difference — often the difference between a $101,000 and $31,200 scholarship.

    So, take that PSAT seriously--big money is at stake!