SHSAT Preparation and Scoring

SHSAT test
The Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) is the key component of the admissions process to eight of New York City’s specialized high schools.  With the exception of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, schools base acceptance on how 8th and first-time 9th grade students perform on the 95-question multiple choice test, which encompasses verbal and math sections designed to ascertain capacities such as logical reasoning, reading comprehension, and computational math.

Once each student’s test receives a raw score out of 100, it is then converted into a scaled score between 200 and 800 by the New York City Department of Education.  Since there are a limited number of placements in each of the specialized schools, schools begin with perfect scores and work their way down the list.  The lowest qualifying score is known as the cut-off score for that year.  When preparing for the test, it is possible to get a general idea of what score may be needed for a particular school by looking at the cut-off scores from past years.  This is complicated slightly by the fact that the specific algorithm that converts a raw score to a scaled score is not released.

Since a high score on the SHSAT is critical to acceptance to the specialized school of a student’s preference, preparation and practice can help pave the way to the ideal high school educational experience.  While there are few materials available designed specifically for SHSAT preparation, many of the easier SAT materials are relevant.  Private tutoring or test preparation classes can be helpful in identifying areas on which a student should concentrate in advance of taking the test.  Experienced instructors can assist students with test-taking techniques and remaining calm so that they can optimize concentration.  While the New York City Department of Education offers the Specialized High School Institute to assist students planning to take the test, admission to this program is highly selective, and it involves 22 months of rigorous extracurricular programming.

Beyond participation in private tutoring or group classes, students should plan to develop good habits outside of the test preparation environment.  Using practice materials is key to gaining comfort with the types of questions they will face on the testing day.  Developing good habits also will prepare students for success in high school.  For example, improvement in reading comprehension is a matter of effective strategies combined with becoming a more thorough reader.

While the focus of the specialized high school admissions is the SHSAT, it is important to remember that process also takes into account students’ preferences of schools.   Being accepted to a particular school is based first on the SHSAT test score, and then on the priority order indicated in Grid 5 on their answer sheet as well as seat availability. The intention is to match students to schools based on their abilities and preferences, so it is worthwhile to research the options thoroughly.  After dedicating so much time and effort to test preparation, students should feel confident in the atmosphere, class size, and offerings of their new school.

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