M2CK -- I have lifted your questions and answers and incorporated some of my own, making only minor edits of your text and re-ordering some of the questions. I also removed the enumeration to make future insertions to the list easier. I hope the result is a fairly comprehensive set of answers to the most FAQ we see in this forum.
PSAT - the Prelimary SAT, about half the length of the SAT and without the written essay.
NM - National Merit
NMSP - NM Scholarship Program
NMSC - NM Scholarship Corporation, the sponsors of the NMSP
NMSQT - NM Scholarship Qualifying Test - the NMSC has designated the PSAT for this role
NMSF - NM Semifinalist, see below for details
NMF - NM Finalist, see below for details
NMS - NM Scholar, see belor for details. What is the National Merit Scholarship Program? National Merit Scholarship Corporation - NMSP
In brief, NMSP is a national competition which identifies high-potential students primarily on the basis of their PSAT scores and awards them scholarships either directly or indirectly through corporate sponsorship or through the colleges they choose to attend. When do I have to take the PSAT in order to be in the competition?
The PSAT that is taken in October of your junior year is the one that is used. If you miss your school's PSAT date, then have your GC quickly contact NMSC and a SAT score taken shortly thereafter will be used. It is possible to take the PSAT as a sophomore or even as a freshman, but these scores will not qualify for the NMSP competition. How many people take the PSAT?
As of 2011 the total number of junior testers exceeded 1.5 million. This represented almost 50% of number expected to go on to graduate in 2013. When do I find out my scores?
Scores are received by high schools by about Thanksgiving week each year. High schools have their own schedules about notifying students of their scores. Some do so almost immediately and some wait until January. Neither the College Board (who administers the PSAT) nor the NMSC contact students directly about their scores. I received a letter from the NMSC telling me I am a "top-scorer". What is that?
A top-scorer is among the 50,000 (top 3.3%) highest scorers among all junior testers. The qualifying score for this is set on a nation-wide basis and is usually around 200-202. Top-scorers are notified in April of their junior year. How do I make NMSF and when do I find out?
NNSF's are selected from the pool of top-scorers. Each state has a qualifying "cut-off" score. So, if your junior year PSAT score is "at or above" your state's cut-off score (boarding schools have other cut-offs based on regional groupings), then you'll make NMSF. You'll find out around mid-September of your senior year. However, many schools will tell you in late August. Is the cut-off determined by the top 1% of scorers in the state?
Only approximately and on average. The cut-offs are determined by allocations based on a state's number of graduating seniors, not by number of PSAT testers. What is the highest PSAT cut-off score of any state? The lowest?
The highest cut-off score has been a 223. The lowest has been around 200 in some years. (Boarding school cut-offs are equal to that of the highest state in their region.) Why isn't there a national NMSF cut-off? Why do this state-by-state?
That is a question that should be directed at the NMSC. Suffice to say it has been done this way for many decades. What happens to the other top-scorers?
The 34,000 top-scorers who do not qualify as NMSF are recognized as "Commended Scholars" but do not advance beyond this level. Some colleges will grant merit aid to Commended Scholars. What are the qualifications to go from NMSF to NMF?
After you've been named NMSF, you'll have some paperwork to fill out (now done online). You'll have an essay to write as well. YOUR SCHOOL will have to fill out a recommendation and include a copy of your grades/transcript. If you have good grades (usually no more than 1 or 2 C semester grades), you haven't been a discipline problem, you have a SAT over the minimum (1960+), you've sent your SAT to NMCorp, you write a decent essay, then you'll make NMF. When are students named NMF?
Students who have been named finalists will be notified in February of their senior year. When are rejected students notified?
Rejection letters are sent out the first week in January of senior year. How many students go from NMSF to NMF?
16,000 students are named NMSF. 15,000 are named NMF. So, usually the 1000 who don't make NMF have CAUSED the problem by....not getting the SAT score, having bad grades, writing a rude essay, being a discipline problem at school, not doing the NMSF paperwork, not sending SAT score in. Does my SAT score need to "match" my PSAT score.
NO. It only has to exceed the minimum required SAT score....which is usually around 1960. However, to be safe, try to have at least a 2000. Which SAT score is used?
One that is taken between sophomore year and December of senior year. Score must be sent to NMSC...code 0085. Can my SAT be superscored?
No. Which NMF students are named NM Scholars?
Any student who receives an "official" NM scholarship is named a NMS. That scholarship can be from 3 sources:
a) a one time $2500 award from NMSC given to 2500 students
b) a corporate award, usually awarded to the children of employees who sponsor NM scholarships.
c) a NMF scholarship from a college that sponsors official NM scholarships. Does it matter if my school has a LOT of NMSFs? Will that hurt my chances of making NMF?
NO. Sometimes, a school will get the odd idea that they can't recommend all their NMSFs. Those schools are wrong and they should be corrected. Will the NMSC use an ACT score instead of a SAT score to go from NMSF to NMF?
NO. It must be a SAT score taken some time during sophomore year through December of senior year. If you have only an ACT score and find you have qualifed for NMSF, you will have the October, November, and December sittings of the SAT in which you can take the SAT in order to qualify for NMF. Do I have to name a "first choice school" before spring of senior year?
Usually, you do NOT have to name a first choice school before spring of senior year. However, check with each of your schools to see if any have a deadline in order to be considered for a NMF scholarship. Some schools want to be named by January or February of senior year. What can I do to improve my chances of making NMSF?
Use a College Board SAT practice book and practice during the summer. Sign up for the October SAT. It's given about a week before the PSAT. If you're a rising sophomore, see if your school will let sophomores take the PSAT. Also for sophomores, sign up for a spring SAT and get the detailed score report/answer sheet so that you can go over wrong answers. Some schools even permit freshman to sit the PSAT. My school doesn't offer the PSAT to all junior students. What should I do?
In late August contact your school's GC and find out what you need to do so that you can take the PSAT. You may have to pay a small fee.