The Top One Percent

By Eric Wasserman

Photo by Brandon Fuhr

Becoming a National Merit Semifinalist is about as difficult as making the NCAA College Basketball Final Four. Elizabeth Kanovsky, Tyler Friedman, and David Gold have made it to the Semi-Finals. They reside in the top one percent of students in the nation with this honor due to their exceptional performance on the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test) last fall.

The PSAT/NMSQT consists of five parts: two critical reading sections, two math sections, and one writing section. Students are allotted two hours and ten minutes to complete the test, about half as much as for the SAT. Scoring is measured on a scale with 240 being the highest score possible, rather than the 2400 scoring system utilized by the SAT.

More than 1.5 million high school juniors and sophomores take this exam, and 50,000 (the top 4 percent) are recognized as being “Commended.” In order to be Commended, one must achieve a score of approximately 200. The cut-off for becoming Commended varies by state, because each state recognizes a proportional amount of graduating seniors in that state compared to the total seniors in the nation. Because New York tends to be more competitive, the cut-off is much higher than 200. Only the top 16,000 of the 50,000 Commended Scholars become National Merit Semi-Finalists. Elizabeth, Tyler, and David represent the top one percent of students in the nation.

In order for Elizabeth, Tyler, and David to become National Merit Finalists, they must send in a letter of recommendation from a school administrator, a description of their extracurricular activities, high school transcript, SAT scores, and an essay. About 15,000 of the 16,000 Semi-Finalists become Finalists and then 8,000 of the Finalists receive Merit Scholarship awards. There are 2,500 scholarships, each worth $2,500, awarded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. There are also many scholarships given out by sponsor corporations to children of their employees. In addition, sponsor colleges offer scholarships.

We wish Elizabeth, Tyler, and David the best of luck in moving forward in the competition. May their success inspire underclassmen to follow in their footsteps on this year’s PSAT/NMSQT.


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