PSAT Pressure

The National Merit Scholar Award takes away from the true purpose of the PSAT, and adds unnecessary stress to students’ lives.

Last week, as juniors, including me, loaded their College Board screens to check their PSAT scores, they crossed their fingers in hopes that their score could make them eligible to be the next National Merit Scholar.

The PSAT should be solely used to evaluate a student’s preparedness for the official SAT, and to help them determine how to increase their score – not to decide whether one is worthy of some National Merit Scholar title.

To qualify for recognition in the National Merit Scholarship Program, according to, a student must first be one of the 50,000 highest PSAT Selection Index scorers nationally. The score comparison doesn’t stop there, however. As qualifiers climb the ranks to Semifinalist and Finalist, scores continue to be judged against other high-performing students.

The scholarship completely undermines the purpose of the PSAT. The PSAT should provide a mock environment for the actual SAT, and target where practice is needed to perform better on the SAT. Yes, the goal of achieving the title of a National Merit Scholarship Finalist or Semifinalist can serve as motivation for students to start studying early or further their ambition to succeed academically. However, if we’re being practical, most students already have a lot on their plate: classes, extracurriculars and their own personal lives. It’s hard enough to balance these activities while simultaneously trying to advance their SAT skills, so the idea of competing against students across the nation for a fancy scholarship only propels an extra load of dread and anxiety among students.

Each student should be able to soundly reflect on whatever scores they receive, allowing them to focus on specific areas as they work towards improving their score for the SAT. The SAT is notoriously difficult for students, and comparing oneself to their peers prevents them from being able to focus on their own academic achievement and progress. Results should be used to provide a thorough report of the steps students can take to better their scores in the future. Making it appear as an academic contest, however, causes students to instead stress about the possibility of earning a scholarship or being given some fancy name, thus damaging their mental health. 

In addition, the feeling of not receiving the award can be unmotivating, and it can severely deteriorate any confidence students have when it comes to their test-taking skills. A performance that does not meet one’s expectations may hamper their motivation of working to be better prepared for the actual test, or it may also seep into their personal confidence when it comes to applying for other scholarships.

Although the PSAT does serve as reliable practice for the actual SAT, creating a whole scholarship program around it ultimately isn’t beneficial as it adds unnecessary stress to students’ lives. Let students take the test in peace and lessen the stigma around outstanding academic achievement.