National Merit Scholarship qualifiers reflect on their experience (BONUS: Podcast)


Maggie Petersen and Quinn Soltesz

School is often a blur of extracurriculars, homework, and socializing, and it’s difficult to remember the end goal. However, three students in particular have never taken their eyes off the horizon.

“When I went into my PSAT my junior year, and later got my score, I was like ‘that’s really high, apparently.’ They later told me I had a high enough selection index.” senior and National Merit Scholarship qualifier Braden Younkin said. First hearing of it his sophomore year, Younkin explained the National Merit Scholarship can hold honors and rewards for those who score well.

“So Montana, they’ll have a different cutoff score from the rest of the states. So this year, the selection index, which is calculated on your PSAT score, is 214. I scored above that,” senior Gail Parambi said.

Hard work undoubtedly comes into play for making the cut, and Younkin and Parambi — as well as senior Jayla Mitchell — have plenty of ambition to drive them forward.

“I definitely want to aim for the top. I just don’t know what the logistics of it are […] [I’m] kind of just along for the ride but at the same time hoping I can make it into the top [prizewinners],” Younkin admitted. Not only is it an enormous honor to qualify for the scholarship, but there are also many benefits to attain from it as well.

“Colleges, depending on where you go, […] can award scholarships if you’re a national semifinalist or finalist or even a scholar,” Parambi said.

The PSAT is a preparatory test for the SAT that is administered by the College Board and tests mainly reading and mathematics skills. It often exposes students to the kind of tests that will further their paths towards college as well as offer the National Merit Scholarship to high scoring individuals. As such, preparatory material is in high demand.

“There’s a big book the college board sells with all the practice tests in there. There’s all sorts of resources online for kids who are studying for the SAT and PSAT. Khan Academy has a really great PSAT/SAT source,” Parambi advised. Preparation and avoiding procrastination is key, she said. Younkin takes a slightly different approach.

“The less I think about it, the better I do,” He said, advocating for clearing one’s head and pushing through the test without second-guessing. Studying beforehand works only as well as the headspace one is in as they take the test. According to Parambi, the test has less to do with intelligence and more to do with test-taking skills.

“The PSAT and SAT aren’t about which classes you’ve taken as much as being familiar with the test itself. It’s just being able to comprehend the questions, just being able to read them so it doesn’t trick you.” 


*To hear from C. M. Russell’s third qualifying scholar, Jayla Mitchell, check out our podcast*