Some 30,000 students take the Specialized High School Admissions Test each year, trying for a seat in NYC’s elite public high schools. Read on to get the most important information about the SHSAT.
The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) is taken by students applying to New York City’s Specialized High Schools. It is the only criterion used for admissions to eight of the nine specialized high schools:
The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts does not accept the SHSAT and instead requires a student portfolio and audition.
Just because a student does well in school and is able to maintain a high GPA easily does not mean he or she will naturally excel on this exam. As with any skill, preparing for a standardized exam like the SHSAT requires time, effort, and practice.
The SHSAT is a paper-based test administered by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and is only available to New York City residents in grade eight. First-time ninth graders are also eligible to sit for the ninth grade version of the exam for a very limited number of seats in Grade 10 admissions.
Each year, the DOE announces the dates and times of the SHSAT. Traditionally, the announcement is made during the summer months for a late October test date. In 2020 and 2021, however, both the announcement and the test dates were delayed, ostensibly due to complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DOE typically opens test registration directly to families through an online portal. During the registration process, your family will need to rank the specialized high schools in order of preference. While you have some time to submit your registration, it’s important to do your research early to better understand which schools would be the best fit for your student.
The SHSAT is a 3-hour test made up of 114 questions that are split evenly between English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.
All questions, with the exception of 5 mathematics questions referred to as “Grid-Ins,” are multiple choice with four answer choices. Odd-numbered questions have answer choices A, B, C, D and even-numbered answer choices are E, F, G, H. Becoming familiar with the test structure is the first step of preparation!
The ELA section consists of two parts: Revising & Editing and Reading Comprehension.
The Revising & Editing section contains between 9 and 19 questions, and is further divided into Parts A and B. In Part A, students are directed to reach a sentence or paragraph and then asked to address issues related to conventions of language and punctuation. In Part B, students are directed to read a text that contains grammatical errors and are then asked to edit the text to improve the overall quality of the text.
The remaining 38-48 questions in ELA assess a student’s Reading Comprehension skills. In this section, students are instructed to read 5-6 texts (non-fiction, literature, or poetry) and answer a set of 6-10 questions per passage. These questions focus on a passage’s main idea and key details. They also require students to draw inferences and identify craft and structural elements.
In the Mathematics section, students will see a variety of word problems and computational questions in either a multiple choice or grid-in format. The five grid-in questions require a student-produced response; no answer options are provided.
While the mathematics concepts and topics are aligned to seventh grade Common Core standards, it is important to remember that the SHSAT is an entrance exam meant to sort students to help determine who would benefit from an education at a Specialized High School. Therefore, most of the mathematics questions on the test are multi-step problems that are phrased in a complex manner.
Students have three hours to work through the exam in any order. Through proper preparation, each student will develop and hone his or her unique test-taking strategy.
However, there are a few key concepts for all students to keep in mind:
Start with your strongest section
This allows students to work on their best section while their brains are sharpest! The higher raw score a student can get in one section, the better his or her scaled score will be.
Not sure which section to start with? Take a few practice tests and find out!
Don’t spend too much time on any single question
On average, students can only really spend about 1.5 minutes per question.
Practice strategies to manage time. One such strategy is to skip questions and come back to them later. Remember: every question is worth the same number of raw points!
Fill in an answer for every question
There is no penalty for incorrectly answered questions. So, there should be no blank bubbles on your answer sheet! Save time to guess, if you have to.
If you can narrow down multiple choice questions to two answer choices, you’ll have a 50-50 chance at a earning a point!
Use all of the allotted time
Think you’re done early? No way! It’s almost impossible for students to answer all 114 questions correctly.
Use any extra time to check your work. Or, revisit those really tricky questions. Practice strategies to mark up your test booklet to help you with this. Learn how to double check your arithmetic!
There are three types of scores that result from the SHSAT scoring process:
This the number of questions answered correctly. Each correct answer is worth one raw point. The ELA and Math sections each have their own Raw Score totals.
This is the score that results after the DOE applies its proprietary scaling process. It is based on an individual student's raw score, as well as on the entire student population's performance. It allows for valid comparison across different test forms and dates. Like the Raw Score, the Scaled Score is also determined section by section.
The scaling formula is non-linear; while each question is worth one raw point, students receive more scaled points the more questions they answer correctly on a section.
This is the sum of the ELA and Math Scaled Scores.
Once these scores are determined, the DOE ranks the students based on their scores. Each student is assigned to a school depending on the rank, or the priority, chosen during the registration process. This process continues until a school has no more available seats. At that time, the DOE begins to look at each student’s second choice and so on, until each specialized high school is full.
Usually, the results from the test are released to families in the spring of eighth grade, at the same time that all high school admissions are announced. Families will receive a report with the two scaled scores, which can be added together to determine the composite score.
The report will also contain other high school offers your student may receive, including an offer to LaGuardia High School (if the student auditioned) or an offer to another screened or non-screened public high school.
The SHSAT asks students to demonstrate an advanced understanding of common core concepts. In ELA, this means reading between the lines. In Mathematics, this means working quickly and accurately through complex, multi-step word problems and computations.
Each year, we work with families of students who consistently receive high marks in school who find themselves shocked by the challenge posed by the SHSAT. The difference between what students learn in school and what they see on the exam is in the “packaging” – the presentation – of the grade-level content.
Though there are many ways to prepare for the SHSAT, the most personalized and efficient way is to work with a private tutor.
We’ll begin with a diagnostic lesson in order to properly assess how your student thinks and where your student’s strengths and growth areas are.
Some companies have students take a “cold” practice test. We don’t recommend this, as it can have a negative impact on confidence. Student expectations need to be properly managed: students can succeed on the test with hard work and a solid plan.
Our experienced tutors will help evaluate the best course of action for your student and lay out a plan through test day.
As we work together, we will use practice tests to help us reevaluate the plan, and adjust as needed to optimize for your schedule, budget, and goals.
Ready to get your SHSAT prep started? Check out our live-taught, small-group, in-person or online SHSAT Boot Camps!
The SHSAT Boot Camp is also available in an on-demand format, so your student can get access to the same great materials but complete the work on an individualized timeline.