The redesigned 2017 SHSAT is a 3-hour, multiple-choice and grid-in exam given to eighth and ninth graders who wish to attend NYC’s specialized high schools. The test is administered in October and November each year. Results are released the following spring. The redesigned exam contains 114 questions, spread over two separate sections: English Language Arts (comprising 20 revising/editing questions and 37 reading comprehension questions) and Math (comprising 5 grid-in questions and 52 multiple-choice questions on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, probability, statistics, and for ninth graders only, trigonometry).

Interspersed through each of the two sections are 10 experimental questions which do not count towards your overall score; students will not be able to determine in advance which questions are experimental. Calculators are not permitted on the exam, and there is no penalty for wrong answers. The SHSAT is the sole criterion used to decide admissions to all but one of NYC’s nine specialized high schools.

 

HOW TO OUTGAME THE SHSAT:

1) Familiarize yourself with the test format and question types. Work your test prep shortcuts and strategies. 
The SHSAT is different from a regular school test. While many students may be familiar with the reading comprehension questions, many have never seen an editing question asking them to identify a misplaced modifier. Unlike school math, SHSAT math contains tricky word problems, requiring students to carefully read and decode text in order to get a question correct; mere application of memorized math formulas is not enough. Therefore, test prep shortcuts and problem-solving strategies are essential for SHSAT success.

Unlike school exam questions, many SHSAT questions are designed to mislead test takers into picking the wrong answer choices. Why? So that student scores differentiate along a bell curve, with space on the top for only a few. However, with practice, these traps become predictable and avoidable, leaving ample room for score improvement.

2) Practice smart: study your mistakes and use them to improve.
Very few people are natural-born test-takers. What differentiates most of the high scorers from everyone else? They practice smart. They don’t just take practice exams, they consistently study their mistakes. High scorers search for patterns behind their errors, and use them to gain insight and improve – an invaluable life skill that goes beyond the SHSAT.

3) Work your stronger section. The SHSAT rewards “lopsided geniuses.”

The test is divided into two main sections: English Language Arts and Math. Discounting the experimental questions, each section has 47 questions. For each question you answer correctly, you receive a raw point. Your total raw points for each section are then calibrated into a scaled score, which is what the specialized high schools use to determine admissions. Having a keen understanding of the difference between a raw score and a scaled score is how you outgame the SHSAT.

Through the scaled score system, the SHSAT rewards students who answer most of the questions correctly in one section, even if they miss half of the questions in the other. Put differently, a student who has a raw score of 43/47 in math but 15/47 in verbal may receive a significantly higher scaled score than her counterpart who scores 32/47 in math and 32/47 in verbal — even though the first student got fewer overall raw points. Therefore, to achieve the highest scaled score, focus time and energy on the stronger section.

4) Remember: You don’t need a perfect score to do well on the exam. 
While students should aim to do their best on the SHSAT, a perfect score is not required for admission into the specialized high schools. Prior to 2017, students who achieved 70-80 raw points and above out of 100 have been admitted into Brooklyn Latin and Brooklyn Tech (cutoffs varied depending on the raw points distribution between the math and verbal sections). For more competitive schools like Stuyvesant, admitted students scored 92 out of 100 points on average. However, if they earned 50 out of 50 raw points in one section, they needed only 18 out of 50 raw points in the other section to gain admissions. Please note these are only estimated cutoffs, as they change every year.

5) Don’t DO all the questions, but ANSWER every question.
Because the easy and medium level questions are worth the same number of raw points as the difficult ones, students should do all the easy and medium level questions first. Make sure you get these correct before attempting the difficult ones, guessing on the hardest questions. This will improve your overall accuracy and speed, as well as increase calm and focus.

6) Pace yourself according to your strengths.
Given that students have 3 hours to do the entire test, they should ignore the instruction’s recommendation to split up the time evenly between English Language Arts and Math. Instead, spend more time on the stronger section. This will improve the overall scaled score, as the questions in the stronger section will be worth more scaled points!

More on how to outgame the SHSAT →