2 out of 60 statewide National Merit finalists hail from Moanalua


Ruimin Lin

Seniors Ester Vo and Ella Viray qualified for National Merit from their PSAT scores.

Ruimin Lin, Staff Writer

Two of Moanalua’s very own seniors were selected for the 2022 National Merit Scholarship among the 63 other Hawaii High School Semifinalists. National Merit Scholarships are awarded to academically talented students state by state.

Moanalua’s semifinalists are seniors Ella Nicole Viray and Esther Vo. Now they just have to play the waiting game. In February, the NMSQ foundation will announce the finalists and finally, the winner selection.

“Finding that… I got named as semi-finalist was kinda like a…burden off my shoulders because of the scholarships [the program offers],” Viray said. 

In addition to the recognition, scholars can receive scholarships up to $2,500 for college or even full rides provided by selected colleges.

However, the journey to the top 1% was difficult. Vo describes her process of studying as a “balance of active studying and passive studying.” 

“Active studying is when I sit myself down and focus specifically on materials that will be on the test, such as math concepts, grammar, [and] things that can easily be studied,” Vo said. This included “reading some old books and watching movies with very old vocabulary so I get used to that language which usually appears on the reading test.”

Viray and Vo both emphasized using the free resources that the internet provides like Khan Academy that uses students’ previous PSAT scores via a partnership with College Board to provide personalized test prep as well as taking previously released SATs as practice.

“[Take] the time to not just blindly do it but try to look at what you did wrong and what you commonly miss out on,” advises Viray to juniors who are interested in being named National Merit Semifinalist.

About 50,000 academically talented high school students are honored annually for the National Merit Scholarship Program, but only 16,000 of them are named Semifinalists based on their performance on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) in the fall of their Junior year.  Semifinalists have the highest scores in each of the 50 states and represent less than one percent of each state’s high school seniors.

Junior year is one of the most stressful times of a student’s life.

“Make sure to treat yourself and relax before the exam, you’ll do a lot better that way,” says Vo.