As New York City schools get more and more competitive, the pressure to do well on tests like the ISEE (Independent Schools Entrance Exam) keeps rising. While preparing for the SAT and ACT is, if not easy, at least relatively straightforward, preparing for the ISEE is not. There isn’t a ton of materials available, schools don’t publish the scores of their incoming classes, and it is impossible to compute the exact score that you get on any given practice test anyway, since the ERB (Educational Records Bureau—the test makers) doesn’t disclose the algorithm they use for converting raw scores into “scaline” scores, which are essentially percentiles. On top of that, you can only take the ISEE twice in a year (once every six months), and you can only take it if you are actually applying to one or more schools.
That’s a lot of mystery to have swirling around an admissions test…but fear not. Here are some tips to help you prep for the ISEE:
In a recent post, we addressed the SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test), and today we’ll talk about another test used by schools in their admissions process: the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam).
The ISEE exam is a tool for independent schools (and some select public schools) throughout the country. The ISEE exam was developed about twenty years ago by the ERB (the Educational Records Bureau), and has become very popular—most independent day schools use the ISEE in their admissions process, and as a result, the ISEE, and ISEE test prep, has become a pretty big deal for many middle school students and their parents. Kids and parents want to know: what is the ISEE? How do I prepare for the ISEE? What is a good score on the ISEE? How important is the ISEE in admissions?
Many people, particularly the parents of New York City 8th graders, have questions about the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT. There are a lot of questions out there about the SHSAT: what’s on it? How is it scored? What is a “good” score? What else matters when you apply to these schools? What’s the best way
to prepare for it? Some parents and students may not have even heard of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test when they begin looking into the possibility of attending a Specialized High School, but even if they haven’t heard of the SHSAT, they have certainly heard of at least some of the schools which rely on the SHSAT in determining which students to admit:
- Bronx High School of Science
- Brooklyn Latin School
- Brooklyn Technical High School
- High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College
- High School for American Studies at Lehman College
- Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
- Staten Island Technical High School
- Stuyvesant High School
Today, we’ll take a look at some of the most common questions about the SHSAT, which relate to scoring: How is it scored, what is considered a “good” score, and how important is your SHSAT score? In order to explain the scoring, we’ll have to take a look at the format of the test, so here we go!
The test, in total, is two-and-a-half hours long, and is broken up into two sections, Verbal and Math. It is recommended that students spend half the time (75 minutes) on each section, but unlike the SAT or ACT tests, no one in the room will be timing the sections and letting students know when it’s time to move on. If you think that sounds like a lot of pressure and responsibility for an eighth grader, you are correct.
The Verbal Section of the SHSAT contains 45 questions and is worth 50 points. It’s broken down as follows:
Five “Scrambled Paragraphs,” which the student has to unscramble (2 points each)
Ten “Logical Reasoning” questions, which are multiple-choice, and ask the student to solve questions that are somewhat like puzzles or brain teasers (1 point each)
Thirty “Reading” questions, which require students to read passages and answer multiple-choice questions about what them (1 point each)
The Math Section of the SHSAT contains:
Fifty multiple-choice math questions (1 point each)
There is no penalty for a wrong answer on the Standardized High Schools Admissions Test—a student won’t get the points for the question, but no points will be subtracted for getting it wrong. That means that guessing is better than leaving things blank—and with five choices for each multiple-choice question, that’s a twenty percent chance of getting it right!
The students points will be totaled, giving a raw score out of the 100 possible points on the test. The New York City Department of Education, which administers the test, then takes that score and converts it to a “scaled score” between 200 and 800. Every year, each school can admit only a certain number of applicants—say it’s 400—so starting with the perfect scores and working their way down, they admit the 400 students with the highest scores who put that particular school first on their list. The lowest score that qualifies—that 400th student’s score—becomes the “cut-off score” for that year. Students who scored higher are accepted, and students who scored lower are not, though they could get into their second- or third-choice school, if they put more than one school on their list. Unlike college admissions, where test scores are one factor in many, the SHSAT is the ONLY criteria for admission at these specialized high schools.
Given that the SHSAT is the sole factor in acceptance into one of the specialized high schools, it’s understandable that students (and their parents) want to know how well they’ll need to do to get into the schools of their choice. This is easier said than done, unfortunately. While it’s possible to get a general idea of where each school’s cut-off scores usually are by looking at past years’ acceptances, the Department of Ed does not release the algorithm with which they convert raw scores to scaled scores, so there’s no good way to tell what any particular raw score will convert to once it’s scaled, and no good way to determine what qualifies as a “good” raw score. You can find out, for instance, that Stuyvesant’s cut-off is usually around 560, but there’s no way to know what the raw score is that correlates to a 560.
This is somewhat frustrating. All it really means for SHSAT test prep, however, is that students can only focus on getting as many questions right as possible. Since this is exactly what they’d be doing even if they did know what raw score they’d need to get into the school of their choice, the Department of Ed’s cloak-and-dagger attitude towards SHSAT scoring is not worth getting too hot and bothered about.
CATES offers individual and group tutoring for SHSAT test prep, so give us a call, and get started today!
What is the SHSAT? Should I take it?
The SHSAT, or Specialized High School Admissions Test, is administered by the Department of Education in New York. It is a test specially crafted to pick out students who are uniquely suited to attend New York’s specialized public high schools.
The seven schools that the SHSAT covers are: Bronx High School of Science; Brooklyn Technical High School; High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; High School for American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for Sciences at York College; and Stuyvesant High School. This unique group of schools promises a top flight education, generally with a strong focus on math and Sciences.
If a student and parent feel that one of these schools would be a good match, they should register to take the test with their middle school’s guidance counselor, and list the specialized high schools they’d like to attend in order of preference. The SHSAT itself is a timed multiple-choice test with two sections – verbal and math – that must be completed in a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes.
In the first section of SHSAT, students demonstrate their verbal reasoning and reading comprehension by ordering sentences to form a coherent paragraph, answering questions of logical reasoning, and analyzing and interpreting texts. In the second section of the SHSAT, students demonstrate their math skills by answering computational and word questions that require arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry (on the Grade 9 test only).
Finally, once a student completes the SHSAT the results are reported as scaled scores. Scaled scores are based on the number of questions that the student answered correctly, combined with the difficulty level of the questions. Students receive scaled scores for the verbal and mathematics sections of the test, which are added together to make their SHSAT composite score. After those scores are released to the schools in March, students and their parents may review the results of their SHSAT examination by requesting an appointment with a Department of Education assessment specialist.
After the SHSAT scores are released, students are ranked according to their scores on the SHSAT, and then assigned to a school depending on that rank, the priority in which they placed schools and the seats available at each specialized high school.