Oakton Outlook

Too Smart for their Own Good

Oakton recognizes six students as National Merit Scholar semifinalists

Rebecca Woodhouse, Editor-in-Chief

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   What does it take to get national recognition? Is there really a point in trying on the PSAT? Why do some juniors study so much for the preliminary SAT, if it’s just a test?

   The score juniors get on the PSAT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying test, determine if they are a National Merit Scholar semifinalist or commended students. After taking the test junior year, students find out their scores that winter. However, to determine if they will be recognized as a semifinalist or commended student it is a much longer wait, as the cutoff scores are posted in October of the following year.

   Being a National Merit Scholar semifinalist is a very prestigious award, and majority of students who are recognized as semifinalists also become National Merit Scholars, after they submit additional resources such as their academic record and personal essay. Only the top 1% of juniors from each state are recognized as National Merit Scholar semifinalists, with cutoffs determined state by state instead of nationwide. The cutoff score for Virginia is one of the most competitive states. This year, students needed to have a score of 222, which is an increase from last year (221). However, in some states like North Dakota and West Virginia the cutoff to be recognized as a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist is as low as 211. Other competitive states to live in include California (222), Massachusetts (222), Maryland (222), New Jersey (223), and Washington (222).

Succeeding on the PSAT made me realize I can do well on other things also.”

— Erin Lincoln

   Even with the highly competitive cutoff, this year Oakton recognized six students as National Merit Scholar Semifinalists. Seniors Bruce Bui, Kira Buttrey, Maggie Chen, Ethan Huang, Courtney Tern, and Jessie Yu all scored exceptionally well. In addition to the 6 National Merit Scholar semifinalists, Oakton recognized 36 National Merit Commended students, who also scored high on the PSAT but not to the same caliber. Approximately 3% of all high schoolers are recognized as Commended students, while only 1% of students are considered as semifinalists. Fairfax County Public Schools as a whole recognized 223 students as National Merit Scholar Semifinalists, with the list of students from TJHSST being the most extensive.

   Erin Lincoln (12) was recognized as a National Merit Scholar Commended student by Oakton at the ceremony held on November 8. “[Being recognized as a National Merit Scholar Commended student] was a great way to recognize all the hard work I put in sophomore and junior year. Between sophomore and junior year, my score really did improve, showing my growth,” said Lincoln. Additionally, doing so well on the PSAT, “really helped me realize if I can succeed on things like the PSAT, I can succeed on things like the ACT, SAT, and other things,” Lincoln said. However, she also attributes some of her success to luck while guessing for standardized testing. Lincoln was pleasantly surprised to get the recognition, and has used it on her college applications to demonstrate her capabilities. But at the same time, she would tell people to, “stop caring” and not stress so much about taking one test. According to Lincoln, it’s more important to not be stressing about the answer to every question in order to perform well on the test.

   Being a National Merit Scholar, or recognized with any award associated with the National Merit Scholarship program can help students receive scholarships, as well as aid with college applications to demonstrate how qualified a student is. Some colleges even offer full-ride or full-tuition to applicants who are National Merit Scholar finalists. While the PSAT testing is already done for this year, in the next couple of weeks the sophomores and juniors will be finding out their scores, and the 6 National Merit Scholar semifinalists will be notified if they are in the group of Finalists.

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About the Writer
Rebecca Woodhouse, Editor-in-Chief
My name is Rebecca Woodhouse, and I have been a part of the Oakton Outlook for four years. I love both staying informed about what is happening in the Oakton community, and letting others know what is going on as well. In the past, I have been both a staff writer and feature editor, and...
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