The Importance of the SHSAT

SHSAT examWith more than 400 high schools, New York City has an extensive public school system including nine specialized high schools geared specifically toward students who are considered academically and artistically gifted.  For 8th and first-time 9th grade students seeking to earn a merit-based placement, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is a critical part of the application process.

In addition to being a requirement, the SHSAT is the sole criterion for admission to eight of the specialized high schools:

  • 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


While there has been much discussion regarding the fairness of the admissions process to specialized high schools that utilize SHSAT as the sole criterion, for now it remains the single most important test facing 8th and 9th graders seeking acceptance.

Consisting of only two sections, verbal and math, the SHSAT is a written test that includes multiple choice questions in logical reasoning, reading comprehension, computational math and word problems, and the arrangement of sentences in the best order to create a cohesive paragraph.   More specifically, the verbal section includes 45 questions 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 mathematics section encompasses 50, 1-point questions in arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, and geometry.

Unlike tests such as the SAT or ACT, none of the test sections are timed.  Students are given two and a half hours to complete the test, and must decide when it is time to move on to a new section.  This is one of the more difficult aspects of the test, especially since students at this age do not have extensive experience taking standardized tests.  It is recommended that students spend 75 minutes on each section, but they must pace themselves.

Since there is no penalty for a wrong answer, an educated guess is preferable to leaving a question blank on the SHSAT.  There are five options for each of the multiple choice questions, so it is better to eliminate the choices that are definitely wrong and then to select one of the remaining answers.

As with all standardized tests of this significance, one of the best recommendations is to prepare with an experienced instructor and keep practicing.  Since a high score on the SHSAT is critical to acceptance to the specialized school of a student’s preference, with the exception of LaGuardia High School, preparation through private tutoring or group classes can help pave the way to the ideal high school educational experience.

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