Briarcliff National Merit Semifinalists Reveal What is Takes to Earn the Coveted Honor

Briarcliff National Merit Semifinalists L to R: Tevin Kim, Annabelle Kung and Ryan Wancier

Less than 1% of high school seniors in the United States qualified to be 2023 National Merit Semifinalists, which means they are among highest-scoring entrants in each state in the 2021 PSAT qualifying test.

Briarcliff High School boasts three semifinalists: Ryan Wancier, Tevin Kim and Annabelle Kung. We spoke with them to find out just how grueling the process was and what role Briarcliff High School played in preparing them for the tests.

According to Tevin, he only prepared for the SAT exam, focusing on doing practice SAT tests.

“The fact that I also got this opportunity with the PSAT was a fantastic bonus,” he said. “While I was taking the test, I felt like I made a ton of mistakes, but I’m super glad about how it turned out. It was definitely a stressful process.”

Annabelle studied for both tests but took the PSAT test during her sophomore year, without prior practice, and only took a few practice tests in the beginning of her junior year.

“Knowing that I didn’t need to send my PSAT score to colleges definitely alleviated much of the stress that comes with standardized testing and allowed me to use this exam as a low-stakes opportunity to practice for the SAT,” she said.

Ryan does not recall preparing much for the exams, as he wanted to avoid anxiety.

“As someone who hates anxiety, dedicating countless hours of studying didn’t resonate with me,” he said. “But I got my sleep, and I think I’m better for it.”

According to Annabelle, based on the PSAT score from her sophomore year, she knew becoming a semifinalist was possible, but she did not believe it was likely.

“After receiving my junior year PSAT score and looking further into past years’ Selection Index criteria, I was convinced that I had missed the cutoff,” she said. “Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I received the news of my semifinalist status.”

“Becoming a semifinalist was definitely in the back of my mind,” Ryan said. “I thought ‘The colleges are going to love it.’ But my focus was on doing what I could control, taking it one question at a time.”

All three students credited Briarcliff High School with providing the preparation they needed to excel.

“I am extremely grateful for the amazing education I have received thus far at BHS. I think the discussion-based and analytical nature of the classes really helped me to develop critical thinking skills that were crucial for the test,” Tevin said.

Annabelle agreed.

“The emphasis placed on learning and problem-solving helped me to approach each problem I encountered, whether it be on the PSAT or in everyday life, with a curious, analytical and determined mind,” she said. “I am very grateful for BHS.”

Now that the exams are over, the three can focus on college applications. Ryan plans to study international business. Tevin plans to study data science and Annabelle will study data science/information systems.

They also look forward to continuing with their extra-curricular activities.

Ryan is in Jazz Band, French Club, and several honor societies. He plays Varsity Tennis and competes on the Varsity Ski team.

Tevin is the co-president/captain of the Academic Challenge Club and Mathletes, as well as the co-editor-in-chief of the yearbook, and the president/co-president of National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and chamber orchestra. He is also member of Math Honor Society and Rho Kappa Honor Society as well and plays the viola.

Annabelle is on the Varsity Swim team and has been a captain for three years. She is also co-secretary/treasurer for Math Honor Society and a member of National Honor Society and Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society.


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