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Money Makes the World Go ‘Round – A Brief History of the PSAT-NMSQT
The PSAT/NMSQT is not a standardized test. As the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT/NMSQT is the Cerberus that guards the doors of a $2500 scholarship award and a host of other desirable benefits—a breakthrough in the process of admission, the prestige of being a national merit. Academic, and sometimes even full scholarships to certain universities. When money is involved, the rules are different; when there’s money, everyone wants a piece of the pie. Unlike the SAT, whose changes have historically been driven by content, the PSAT/NMSQT, for better or worse, has evolved around financial incentives.
Act I: Introduction
The National Merit Scholarship Program began in 1955 as a privately funded academic scholarship program that awarded outstanding academic achievement. In 1971, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation adopted the College Board’s Preliminary SAT Test (PSAT) as the qualifying test for scholarship consideration, and the PSAT/NMSQT was born. On that glorious day, the sky blazed a bright, blinding cobalt, burning with the glorious fury of the heavens themselves as they descended to earth to bless the birth of the chosen test.
Act II: The Asian invasion
For about ten years, the PSAT/NMSQT lived a quiet and simple life. But the world was undergoing radical economic and social transitions, and our hero was soon swept away by the tides of change.
Between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, Asian immigration to the United States exploded. During the space race of the 1960s, America, led by a young and charismatic President Kennedy, took its technological steps into space, and America’s land of opportunity became especially fertile, attracting immigrants from all over Asia , including India and China. The US even recruited foreigners, going so far as to increase immigration quotas for people with advanced degrees in math and science. The Indians, soon followed by the Chinese, rushed to apply.
As Asian immigrants began to settle into American life, their children began to work their way through the school systems. Finally, these children of immigrant families, who had just excelled in math, began taking the PSAT/NMSQT and, despite often substantial disadvantages on the verbal section, would perform well enough on the math section to justify the scholarship consideration. .
Coincidentally, around this time, the College Board decided to give the PSAT/NMSQT a facelift to increase its total score from 160 to 240, counting the verbal score twice. As you can imagine, with this change, getting a qualifying score became much more difficult for a certain group of individuals. No changes were made to the format or content of the PSAT/NMSQT: both the length of the verbal section and the difficulty of the questions remained the same. This change put certain ethnic groups (guess which ones) whose primary language may not have been English at a disadvantage for consideration of national merit. Luckily, this scoring system didn’t last forever; in 1997, a different group of individuals took issue with the PSAT scoring system and instigated a revamp of the test.
Act III: A Scorned Woman
In 1994, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) filed a complaint against the College Board and educational testing services, accusing them of unlawfully discriminating against women. Statistically, men outperformed women at the time on the PSAT/NMSQT, and FairTest claimed the cause of the disparity was the test format, which was allegedly biased in favor of male students*.
As a result, in 1997, the PSAT/NMSQT went through a little more work, and when it came out, the verbal score was no longer counted twice; instead, the College Board added a writing section designed to address test bias. Statistics indicated that women traditionally outperformed men on writing tests, so the addition would supposedly help mitigate the exam’s inherent bias.
At the time of the complaint, both the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT consisted of only two sections, math and verbal. Both tests had a similar format and contained similar problems created by the same people, but the PSAT/NMSQT was the focus of the complaint. The PSAT/NMSQT is directly connected to money, so it naturally took precedence over its sister test. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless of what—the merit of the test or the scholarship money—actually motivated FairTest’s complaint, the result is a more balanced test that annually awards scholarship money to promising young students of both sexes.
Act IV: Conclusion
Money changes the game. You can take it to the bank. The PSAT/NMSQT flies under the radar of many high school students and their parents, but why? On top of a nice scholarship award and other great benefits, it’s no wonder people are so up in arms about it. Shouldn’t you be too?
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