Administration of PSAT cancelled, replaced with alternate pathway to qualify for National Merit Scholarship Program

On Oct. 13 of every year, juniors prepare themselves to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), otherwise known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This year, however, that has changed. 

Due to fluctuating Santa Clara County COVID-19 restrictions, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) originally decided to push back the in-person PSAT test date to Jan. 26, 2021. Later, when it became clear large gatherings were still prohibited in 2021 and no official online alternative could be used, the administration of the test was ultimately canceled. “It just comes down to the county health regulations and what we are capable of doing when it comes to having students in-person or not,” Assistant Principal Harvey Newland said. “[And] given our capabilities to do that in-person, it just wasn’t going to work.”

The PSAT is taken as practice and is relatively similar to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). In the past, taking the PSAT allowed students the opportunity to both receive scholarship money via the National Merit Scholarship Corporation as well as prepare for the SAT.

Many students who studied for the upcoming PSAT and SAT were disappointed by the news of the cancellation. “It sucks because the PSAT is a way that a lot of students can get national merit and also it helps us prepare for the actual SAT,” junior Mona Pillai said

College and Career Information Specialist Leighton Lang also noted the missed opportunity to prepare for the SAT. “There’s no actual rubric to go off of, so now you really have to know who you are,” he said. “What it’s going to take [this year] is a little more of the students looking at themselves and [determining what] are [their] strengths and weaknesses to gear [their] focus.”  

Contrary to past years, in order to qualify for the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP), students must now submit scores of an official SAT assessment they took between August 2020 and July 2021, then complete an alternate entry form located on the NMSP website.

According to Lang, the change prompts concerns over equity. “The major issue is when you talk about equity [and] who is going to go through this process to [apply to the NMSP],” he said. Since entering the program is a significantly more extensive process compared to previous years, Lang believes fewer students are going to go the extra mile, even if it entails possibly winning $2500 in scholarship money.   

Lang, though, remains optimistic about students preparing for the SAT. “I think it will work out a little bit better for [the students],” he said. “[Not taking the PSAT] opens up [more] time and everything is still going to work out.”