Standardized Testing

December 10, 2021

Thirteen Seniors Named National Merit Semifinalists During Pandemic PSAT Testing

Thirteen seniors from Portola High were among the 2,100 students who qualified as semifinalists in California by meeting the cutoff score of 221. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total of graduating seniors, causing cutoff scores to differ by state. All students who meet the cutoff score for their state automatically qualify as semifinalists, regardless of their score relative to others.
(Courtesy of Matthew Kim, Sabreen Alam, Ryan Jung, Justin Tang, Angela Chen, Gina Lee, Andrew Chen, Elena Kim, Sriya Boppana, Howard Zhang, Abby Kwon, Henry Liu)


Thirteen seniors qualified as National Merit semifinalists by receiving top scores on the PSAT that took place in October 2020, despite lower testing turnout due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Seniors Sabreen Alam, Sriya Boppana, Andrew Chen, Angela Chen, Ryan Jung, Matthew Kim, Elena Kim, Sai Anish Kuppili, Abigail Kwon, Gina Lee, Henry Liu, Justin Tang and Howard Zhang were among the 16,000 semifinalists who placed in the top 1% of test takers nationwide.

“I had a good feeling about the test after I took it,” Lee said. “But I think I was only sure when I got my score back because I saw the previous indexes for passing, and I was like, ‘Oh, I might be able to make it.’”

For this year’s graduating class, California had the third-highest cutoff.

According to Kwon, standardized tests aren’t a fair representation of a student’s intelligence since other factors can affect the results of the test.

“I feel like standardized testing, in general, when you look at the history of it, it’s very obvious that there’s some level of discrimination when it comes to socioeconomic status,” Kwon said. “But at the end of the day, I think [for] every student, it’s a really big part of their academic careers. So it’s definitely worth studying for the PSAT, especially because that one test score can basically pay for your entire college education if you’re a finalist.”

To become a finalist, students must submit a detailed scholarship application, including their academic record, activities and a written essay, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

Approximately 15,000 students out of all semifinalists in the nation will advance to the Finalist standing, which will be announced in February 2022. This will make them eligible for a $2,500 scholarship from the NMSC.

“I guess the first feeling was that I was proud of myself, but then afterwards I was kind of it was kind of a sort of validation of the hard work that you put in throughout high school,” Mathew Kim said.

Juniors Take PSAT as UC and CSU Systems Go Test-Blind

The prospect of a National Merit Scholarship has attracted students to take the PSAT, while its role as a preparatory test for the SAT has also been a factor, despite more schools going test-optional or test-blind.
(Justin Tang)

Over 500 juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT on Oct. 13, according to head counselor Melissa Gibson. In a shift from the October 2020 administration, this year’s testing will occur during a minimum day, will be free of charge for students and will allow 25 students per testing room, up from 15 last year.

College Board describes the PSAT as a preparatory test to the SAT. However, the test’s role is changing with the University of California and California State University programs resolving to go “test-blind” beginning with the class of 2022.

This change requires these colleges to evaluate students using information other than standardized test scores, alleviating some of the burden from students to prepare for the tests, according to junior Jennifer Zendejas.

“I feel like it’s kind of just like each person on what they want to do,” Zendejas said. “It’s a lot of stress to take the test, so some people feel as if they don’t need it for the schools that they want to go to, and it’s a benefit.”

“Test-optional” schools still accept standardized test scores, and other schools still require them. The PSAT and SAT are important to keep those options open, according to junior Anshul Aravind.

“I think that still taking the PSAT is beneficial for those that want to take the SAT and want to apply to out-of-state schools that still require the SAT,” Aravind said. “Especially for my year, I think more and more SATs were not being able to happen, and there’s not as much cancellation anymore.”

The PSAT is used to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, a $2,500 scholarship for prospective college students who achieve a selection index of at least 221 or 222 on the test. With recent changes in college admissions, there is a greater emphasis on the activities and awards in a student’s college profile, like the scholarship, according to Gibson.

“I think with this being eliminated, and not as many colleges using the SAT or ACT, I think you always, as a student, have to go the extra mile, per se, to really make yourself stand out,” Gibson said. “So whether that is a National Merit or anything else that you’re doing inside and outside of school that really separates you from everybody else, I think that’s what is very important.”

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Grace Baek is the assistant Sports Editor for her second and final year on the Pilot. She is looking forward to getting to know the new staff members and...

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