27 Seniors Qualify to be National Merit Semifinalists


Felicia Miller

2023 National Merit Semifinalists

Sarah Chen, Staff Writer

Twenty-seven UHS seniors qualified as semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program by scoring in the top one percent for the 2021 PSAT out of 1.5 million national test takers. The semifinalists are Joshua Chen, Benjamin Fan, Benlin Gan, Eric Gong, Siara Gunawardhana, Anabel Howery, Wanqi Jia, Andrew Ke, Alexander Kimm, Caitlyn Liao, Sarang Min, Max Peng, Andre Qin, Adalmina Sarkar, Aniyah Shen, June Su, Bree Tassinari, Minh Trinh, Ruijia Wang, Samuel Wang, Yihan [Harry] Wang, Katherine Wu, Ashley Yang, Haolin Yang, Charles Yates, Amber Yeung and Chunyi Zhou

The National Merit Scholarship Program determines the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff scores for each state each year. This year, California’s cutoff decreased from 221 to 220, due to a comprehensive review of the decreased participation, increased alternate entry and increased learning gaps. 

Although the PSAT results are not sent to colleges as a part of a student’s application, the test is used as an important tool in assessing SAT or ACT readiness, tests that themselves have judged college preparedness up until the recent shift away from their usage. Schools that did not offer the PSAT can utilize the alternate entry option which allows students to submit SAT scores instead. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, the 16,000 semifinalists entered the National Merit Scholarship Program to compete for a portion of the $28 million in scholarships given out in the spring. Around 15,000 semifinalists are expected to become finalists due to exemplary academic records and extracurricular activities, but only 7,250 of those finalists will become Merit Scholars with scholarships. Merit Scholars are chosen based on academic and extracurricular accomplishments and potential for success in college without regard to race, ethnic origin, religion and gender. 

Many seniors prepared for the SAT and ACT, which provided them with the necessary skills for PSAT success. 

“It is similar enough to the SAT and ACT that there is no need in my opinion to study specifically for the PSAT,” senior Harry Wang said. 

Seniors utilized a variety of study strategies to become more familiar with the test and sharpen their skills in the English and math subject areas. 

“Taking a good amount of practice tests beforehand helped me pace out the test and anticipate what kind of questions they would ask, as well as making me more relaxed taking it,” senior Ashley Yang said. 

Seniors shared the lessons they gained from their practice test experience, explaining how they have learned to consistently verify answers even under pressure and timed conditions. 

“After you feel like an answer is right, that’s great, but be sure to back it up with evidence, either from the text or through calculations,” Wang said. “If you have time, you can go to the questions that were not obvious and try to disprove the wrong choices.”

The slightly lower cutoff of 220 this year was a huge determining factor in who became a National Merit Semifinalist. The proportion of graduating seniors receiving the award in each state remains constant each year. Thus, seniors were able to become National Merit Semifinalists even if they scored below the predicted 222 cutoff. 

“I was quite surprised to find out I had made the threshold,” senior Andre Qin said. “I had no idea what was coming when I was handed a slip to leave my fourth period for a ‘special announcement.’”

Knowing that standardized testing can be arduous and stressful for many, seniors offered advice to juniors taking the PSAT in the future. 

“Honestly, do not stress too much about this cutoff or that for your own mental sake since junior year is already a busy time to deal with,” Ashley Yang said.