Photo: Yasmeen Altaji

Prospective National Merit Scholars take on the PSAT

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Two days before the PSAT, juniors filed out of the Fine Arts building after college fair, grabbed a bite to eat during lunch, and headed right back to the Fine Arts building. It’s not a college they’re after this time, though; it’s a National Merit Scholarship.

Ray Dass’s National Merit Scholarship preparation program, open to students with sophomore-year PSAT scores high enough to be deemed potential National Merit Scholars, began in January last school year – the earliest it’s ever started. Sophomores began the program with two three-hour classes a week during the school year, continued these courses for five weeks over the summer and recommenced their junior year with twelve hours a week of merit class and a practice test every Saturday.

Thursday, before the PSAT, merit students attended a second six-hour study block, similar to the one a week prior, organized by Ray Dass and his team. This was the first year the Merit program held two of these sessions, as opposed to the single one that had been held in previous years. Juniors in the program were excused from their eighth and ninth period classes to attend the session from 1:15 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Junior Max Zintsmaster’s score has improved by about 70 points since he joined the program. A downside that resonated with several students, however, was the mental strain.

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“After the first two hours, I got burnt out and just couldn’t work,” Zintsmaster said. Nevertheless, many still managed to make significant study progress. “Having two [sessions] was fantastic because I knew what to expect for the second one and could prepare my material for it,” he continued.

Junior Rayyan Merchant also felt the two sessions left him fairly prepared. “Having two allowed us a lot of time to actually work and finish tests,” Merchant said.

“It was nice to be there in relative silence,” said junior Claudia Bermudez. “Having two [study sessions] definitely helped; during the first one nobody really took it that seriously, but for the second one everyone was a lot more focused so we got more done,” Bermudez said. “By the time the test started it felt like another practice test and that feeling only increased as the test went on.” Since she started the program during the summer of her freshman year, Bermudez’s score has increased by more than 300 points.

Official scores will be released in December. Until then, juniors must wait and see if their hard work paid off.

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