Merit Masters: National Merit Semifinalists and Commended Scholars

Nicole Gulosh

Determination. Cleverness. Merit. These are are all characteristics of students that are National Merit commended scholars and semifinalists. They studied and they prepped, putting in hours of work in the hopes of a PSAT score that meets the National Merit bar. In the end, all of their hard work paid off as they received high scores and recognition. Over 1.5 million students take the PSAT every year, and only around 50,000 receive recognition. Their scores are among the best in the nation. Commended scholars scored in the top 3-4% and semifinalists in the top 1%. 


Broad Run has a number of commended scholars and semifinalists. The commended scholars are Anirudh Addepalli, Christina Blondin, Vankata Buddhiraju, Vaibhav Choudhary, Yash Dubey, Quintin Dumouchelle, Sylvie Gobs, Ryan Goudjil, Nicholas Kaplan, Kranti Kaur, Tanush Madavarapu, Matthew Mai, Bora Sagilir, Moksh Shah, Ritu Suddapalli, and Sisira Vandara. The semifinalists are Sam Berman, Adrian Cheung, Alexis Nketia, Abhiram Pasupuleti, and Anoosha Thumma. 


The 16 commended scholars from Broad Run are part of about 34,000 students that receive letters of commendation as a result of their PSAT scores. These are the National Merit Commended Scholars. They aren’t eligible for scholarships from the program, but their scores are still extremely high. To qualify to be a commended scholar, students’ scores are compared to a national Selection Index. The cut-off score was 207, which every commended scholar in the nation had to achieve.  


The 5 semifinalists from Broad Run are part of around 16,000 students that are named semifinalists. To qualify to be a semifinalist, scores are compared to an individual state index. Each state has its own separate index, based on student scores from only that state. For Virginia, the cut-off score was 221. Semifinalists are eligible for scholarships only if they are named finalists. There are about 15,000 finalists, and only about 7,500 scholarships are offered. 


All of the semifinalists and commended scholars are seniors, and the PSAT that qualified them for commendation or semifinals was the PSAT that they took in October of 2020. The National Meri process takes several months and is currently still ongoing. The students that took the PSAT in their junior year aren’t notified that they are commended scholars or semifinalists until September of 2021. Semifinalists must fill out an application and fulfill separate requirements to be named finalists, and won’t know if they are finalists until March of 2022. 


The prep work that students did for the SAT helped them with their PSAT and achieve high scores. For current seniors, by the time they took the PSAT for the final time their junior year, most of them had started prepping for the SAT. Senior Matthew Mai said, “The preparation that I did before the tests always made me feel more confident in my answers, and they most likely contributed to my PSAT and SAT scores.” The SAT and the PSAT are similar tests, as the PSAT is designed to prepare students for the SAT. “I think [SAT prep] definitely made an impact on my score because with the PSAT a lot of it is knowledge, but a lot of it is tricks to it that you learn when you do prep work for it,” said senior Nicholas Kaplan. Senior Kranti Kaur said, “I didn’t study for the PSAT because I had already prepped for the SAT so it was unnecessary.”


On the opposite end of the spectrum, some students relied on their natural talents to bring them good scores. Senior Sisira Vandara said, “I didn’t actually prep all that much for the test, but I was naturally better at algebra, and I have more of a logic based thinking.”


Being recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) can open doors for students in the future. Semifinalists, if they are recognized as finalists, have the opportunity to win scholarships. A list of semifinalists is also sent to four-year US colleges. The NMSC “hopes to increase general interest in academic excellence and encourage broader support for the education of talented young people” and to “help enhance their educational opportunities.”  


The commended scholars and semifinalists of Broad Run have advice for students that wish to follow in their footsteps. “Spending too much time studying or worrying could cause someone to do worse because they were too stressed. Being confident in your answers but staying relaxed is the key to scoring well on the test… If someone reviews fundamental concepts like algebra and grammar, and they can keep their cool during the test, they can get the results they want,” senior Quin Dumouchelle said. “Work with your teachers because they have done this year over year,” senior Moksh Shah said. 


The Broad Run students that are commended scholars and semifinalists all demonstrated their capabilities on the PSAT and went above and beyond.