National Merit scholarships should be about more than one test

October 9, 2014 — by Fiona Sequeira and Arman Vaziri

There should be more requirements for receiving merit-based scholarships than a single test on a single day.

Imagine you’re rushing out of your house to get to school for PSAT testing day. But wait. You woke up late due to illness and didn’t have time to eat your lucky test-taking cereal beforehand. When the scores come back, you end up missing the National Merit Scholar semifinalist cutline by one question.

Situations like these suggest there should be more requirements for receiving merit-based scholarships than a single test on a single day.

To many, being a National Merit Scholar is equated with academic achievement and talent. Our school boasts how many National Merit Semifinalists it has every fall, and this year it was a record 39. In turn, colleges flaunt their numbers of National Merit Scholars as well. Too bad all it means is that the student happened to do well on a single 3-hour test.

To some, the PSAT is simply a practice test for the SAT, which is arguably more important because, unlike the PSAT, its scores are a big part of the college application process.

To high-striving students, however, doing well on the PSAT is important because it is the only way to become a National Merit Scholar, an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955.  Although around 1.5 million students take the PSAT every year, only 1 percent actually get a high enough score to become semifinalists. To people who aren’t accepted as semifinalists, the PSAT might be considered a waste of time.

The nature of the PSAT perpetuates the way students are defined as test scores on their applications.

And again, the main point is that National Merit allows no room for  an “off day.” What if something happens in the student’s personal life that affects the way they perform on that particular day? What if the student runs out of his lucky test-taking cereal?

There should a larger basis for becoming a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, possibly including factors such as total academic achievement, extracurricular achievement or performances on multiple tests, one of which is the PSAT.

If the selection process for becoming a National Merit Scholar semifinalist were more comprehensive, perhaps there would be less pressure to get every problem right on the PSAT, and the process would be fair to those who have been high achievers for their complete high school career but happened to have one bad day.

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