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The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in the United States. Approximately 3.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT each year. In 2013, 1.59 million high school sophomores and 1.55 million high school juniors took the PSAT. Younger students are also eligible to take the test. The scores from the PSAT/NMSQT are used to determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
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Prior to 1997, the PSAT was composed of only Math and Verbal sections. The Verbal section received a double weighting to allow a full composite score of 240 points. The Writing Skills section, introduced in 1997, was partially derived from the discontinued Test of Standard Written English (TSWE).
Format and scoring
Students register for the exam through high schools which are members of the College Board. The test is composed of four sections: two Math Sections, Critical Reading, and Writing Skills, and takes two hours and ten minutes to complete.
Originally, each of the three sections was scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points, adding up to a maximum composite score of 240 points. This paralleled the SAT, which is graded on a scale of 200 to 800 for each section (the narrower range is to distinguish from which test a score comes and to denote less accuracy). However, unlike the old (2005) SAT, the old PSAT did not include higher-level mathematics (e.g., concepts from Algebra II) or an essay in its writing section (which was added to the SAT in 2005). The PSAT changed its format and content in Fall 2015, to reflect the new SAT. The Reading and Writing Sections are combined into one section score, and the Math portion now includes a section in which usage of calculators is prohibited. The scores for each section range from 160- 760, adding up to a maximum score of 1520. Yet the National Merit Scholarship Corporation takes each section score, scored on a scale of 8-38, sums it and then doubles that sum to devise the Selection Index, ranging from 48-228.
The test is mostly multiple-choice, but there are 4 grid-in math questions at the end of each math section that require takers to enter their responses on a grid.
Levels of recognition
Students not recognized as Semifinalists whose Selection Index is above a different limit are recognized as Commended Students and receive Letters of Commendation. This minimum is determined at whichever score yields the 96th percentile nationally. It rose from 202 for the 2006 Program (2004 PSAT) to 203 for the 2007 Program (2005 PSAT). It was 205 for the 2008 Program (2006 PSAT) and 209 for the 2009 Program (2007 PSAT).
Students are confirmed as semifinalists as seniors, one year after taking the PSAT. Afterwards students must complete an application to become a Finalist. Other factors besides the PSAT Selection Index score are taken into account, such as the student's Grade Point Average (GPA) and a confirming SAT score.
The PSAT has been administered every fall since 1971. It used to be administered on a Saturday morning. However, in recent years, it has become a popular subject of discourse among test-takers on various social media networks, especially after the Wednesday administration of the test, when most students take it. Many of them poke fun at passages or questions in the PSAT that they find strange or amusing. The level of discussion is so significant that in 2013, the hashtag #PSAT reached trending status on Twitter near its administration date. This is despite the fact that since 2012, test participants have been required to copy and sign a statement agreeing to the test regulations, which include not discussing the test. That statement must be written in cursive, and in recent years, that requirement has drawn ire from both students and teachers, as many students find writing in cursive difficult. However, in 2015, the requirement to write the statement in cursive was removed.
Starting in October 2014 the PSAT has become a source of inspiration for the creation of inside jokes in the form of internet memes. Since the test is identical for all students across the US, any strange or memorable test content becomes an inside joke for anyone who took the test, but confusing and arcane for those who did not. Despite the fact all test takers are made to copy and sign a statement pledging not to discuss test material, meme generation often begins mere minutes after the test is done being administered. Ingram, Neimeyer, and Gerber (2015) analyzed all of the Tumblr posts that occurred over the three days that the hashtag "psat" (written as #psat) was trending in 2014 and found that youth creation of these memes is a form of satirical dissidence, which they define as use of humor, irony, and exaggeration to criticize an official policy--namely signing a non-disclosure agreement for the PSAT. These memes provide a creative outlet for students seeking to relieve themselves of the stress that often comes with taking standardized tests.
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