The PSAT/NMSQT is not an ordinary standardized test. As the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT/NMSQT is the Cerberus guarding the doors of a $2,500 scholarship and a host of other desirable benefits: an advantage in the admissions process, the prestige of being a Scholarship National Merit. Academic and sometimes even full scholarships to certain universities. When it comes to money, the rules are different; when money is involved, everyone wants a piece of the pie. Unlike the SAT, whose changes have historically been based on content, the PSAT/NMSQT, for better or worse, has evolved around financial stimuli.

Act I: Introduction
The National Merit Scholarship Program began in 1955 as a privately funded academic scholarship program that rewarded outstanding academic achievement. In 1971, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation adopted the College Board’s Preliminary SAT (PSAT) as the qualifying test for scholarship consideration, and the PSAT/NMSQT was born. On that glorious day, the sky blazed with blinding brilliant cobalt, ignited with the glorious rage of the heavens themselves as they descended to earth to bless the birth of the chosen test.

Act II: The Asiatic Invasion
For about ten years, the PSAT/NMSQT lived a simple and quiet life. But the world was undergoing sweeping economic and social transitions, and our hero was soon swept up in the tides of change.

Between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, Asian immigration to the United States skyrocketed. During the space race of the 1960s, the United States, led by a charismatic young President Kennedy, made its technological leaps into space, and America’s land of opportunity became especially fertile, attracting immigrants from all over Asia, including India and Porcelain. The United States even recruited foreigners, going so far as to increase immigration quotas for people with advanced degrees in math and science. The Indians, soon followed by the Chinese, rushed to apply.

As Asian immigrants began to establish themselves in American life, their children began to find their way into school systems. Eventually, these children from immigrant families, who turned out to excel in math, began taking the PSAT/NMSQT and, despite substantial disadvantages on the verbal section, performed well enough on the math section to warrant consideration of a scholarship. .

Coincidentally, around this time, the College Board decided to give the PSAT/NMSQT a facelift to raise its total score from 160 to 240, counting the verbal score twice. As you can imagine, with this change, getting a qualifying score has become significantly more difficult for a certain group of people. No changes were made to the format or content of the PSAT/NMSQT; both the length of the verbal section and the difficulty of the questions remained the same. This change put certain ethnic groups (guess which ones) whose primary language may not have been English at a disadvantage for National Merit consideration. Fortunately, this scoring system didn’t last forever; in 1997, a different group of people took issue with the PSAT scoring system and instigated a renewal of the test.

Act III: A Scorned Woman
In 1994, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) filed a complaint against the College Board and Educational Testing Services, accusing them of unlawfully discriminating against women. Statistically, men outperformed women at the time on the PSAT/NMSQT, and FairTest claimed the disparity was caused by the test format, which was allegedly skewed in favor of male students*.

As a result, in 1997, the PSAT/NMSQT went under the knife for more work, and when it came out, verbal scoring no longer counted twice; instead, the College Board added a writing section designed to address test bias. The statistics indicated that women traditionally outperformed men on writing tests, so presumably the addition would help mitigate the inherent bias of the test.

At the time of the complaint, both the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT consisted of only two sections, math and verbal. Both tests had a similar format and contained similar problems created by the same people, but the PSAT/NMSQT was the focus of the complaint. The PSAT/NMSQT is directly related to money, so naturally it took precedence over its sister test. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless of what (the merit of the test or the scholarship money) actually prompted FairTest’s complaint, the result is a more balanced test that awards scholarships more equally to promising young students of both sexes each year.

Act IV: Conclusion
Money changes the game. You can take that to the bank. The PSAT/NMSQT is overlooked by many high school students and their parents, but why? As I step into a nice scholarship and a host of other great benefits, it’s no wonder people are so concerned about it. Shouldn’t you be too?


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