Poor-Man's Mocha & The Myths of the PSAT

psat Oct 14, 2019


Mmmmm. I’m sitting in a hotel room drinking a hot mocha.

But don’t get excited, this is a poor man’s mocha. It’s just hotel coffee blended with hot cocoa mix. It’ll do in a pinch.

But today I want to talk about the PSAT exam which is coming up in just a couple days for most High School juniors.

If you have a junior, listen up. If you have an 8th, 9th or 10th grader, this is for you too.

I believe there is more Misinformation, and assumptions on this topic by well-meaning individuals AND well-meaning professionals, than anything else related to the high school to college process.

Here are a few of the often-repeated MYTHS surrounding the PSAT exam.

(1) It’s just a practice SAT test. So my kid doesn’t have to take it seriously, or my kid is only taking the ACT so there’s no reason to take the PSAT since its only to practice for the SAT.

WRONG: The PSAT is NOT a practice test. It has been used as a practice SAT, and the well-meaning yet uninformed have called it the practice SAT for as long as I can remember. This is NOT a practice test.

Its title is the Preliminary SAT. But The PSAT is THE qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship. (Now, I’m not done yet, so pay attention.) I’m not sure who started the rumor that it’s a practice SAT, but it’s not.

(2) The other myth also perpetuated by individuals and ‘professionals’ alike is “very few people win the National Merit Scholarship- you have to really be at the tippy top academically to win.

NO. You don’t. There are 8000 national merit scholars (winners) every year. Name for me, ONE other scholarship that has 8000 first place winners?

Also, there are 4 levels of wins for this exam. Commended, Semi-Finalist, Finalist, and Scholar. Every one of those accolades goes on your student’s resume or list of honors and awards on their college applications and scholarship applications.

About 1.6 million students in some 22,000 high schools enter the National Merit Scholarship competition annually but you are only competing against the students in your state. Commended is the top 96 percentile and is approximately 50,0000 every year. About 16,000 of the 50 thousand are semifinalist. Approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists advance to Finalist standing. And about 8,000 make it to Scholar. In addition, about 1,500 program participants who are below the Finalist level receive Special Scholarships provided by over 400 corporate sponsors.

(I’m not done yet.)

(Myth #3) The National Merit Scholarship isn’t very much money, so it’s not that important.

That’s correct. The money won by the Scholar level and given by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation isn’t huge, its about $2500 bucks. BUT the National Merit Scholarship is SO much more than money from the scholarship corporation itself.

First of all, it CAN mean big money. There are over 100 colleges and universities that give scholarships for national merit, at least 50 give full tuition, and there are some that give a full-ride: tuition, fees, room, board, books, and maybe even a laptop. And yes there are college scholarships, although fewer, for finalists, semi-finalists, and commended students.

Another aspect to consider: Organizations like winners. That’s one reason some scholarship applications and colleges ask what scholarships and awards your student has won to date.

One of the ways colleges are ranked is by the number of National Merit Scholars who attend their school. So when it comes to college admission and being accepted to your first-choice college, there’s a good chance being a national merit scholar or finalist will be in your favor.

There is a lot riding on this exam. You and your teen should take it seriously. There are free practice exams online. At the very least, do that.

Got a 9th or 10th grader?

Your teen can and should take the PSAT for a PRACTICE in both 9th and 10th grades. Take the actual PSAT, not the PSAT8/9 or the PSAT 10, IF the high school offering the test will allow it. Why?

-Because taking it with the juniors will be much less distracting since the juniors should be taking seriously;

-The 8/9 and the 10 are easier exams since they were designed FOR 8th, 9th and 10th grades.

-and the only study I’m aware of that compared taking practice tests involved the real PSAT being taken by 9th and 10th graders. the results were that when taking it then in their Junior year, those students scored 15 points higher than their peers. That is a significant difference.

If you Homeschool, You MUST contact local schools and get a written commitment that they will have an exam for your student. Schools order exams well in advance of the test, so it’s not a bad idea to begin making those calls in the spring b4 the exam is held in October.

If you are in a traditional school, you still need to ask if your school is giving the exam. Because NOT all high schools do. And you may have to make arrangements at a different school. I know a valedictorian whose high school did not give the PSAT, and no one mentioned it. That’s money left on the table.

I mentioned 8th grade earlier because if you have an 8th grader now, I want you to contact the high school this spring and start talking about having your soon to be 9th grader take the exam at their new high school in the fall.

Why am I so passionate about the PSAT? Because my kids won $8,000 each due to taking this one exam. I had them take it for practice in both the 9th and 10th grades. And The summer before the junior year they studied and took practice tests. I practice what I preach because it matters. I want you to WIN!

And that’s my rant for today.

Stop the madness!

If you know someone who needs this info, like & share it!

I’m Denise Thomas


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