The Expert Guide to CPS Selective Enrollment Tests

In Chicago’s labyrinth-like public school system, there is no one CPS selective enrollment test. There are different selective enrollment tests for elementary, middle and high school, and within those categories, several different exams.

In this article, we map out the lay of the land, and clarify the different options. We also provide links to learn more about each of the tests, depending on your needs and interest.

CPS Selective Enrollment Test: Elementary Schools

Regional Gifted Centers (K-8)

The Regional Gifted Centers are specifically designed with an accelerated curriculum for students that are identified as gifted. While there are 13 different Regional Gifted Centers in CPS, all of them focus on problem solving, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and creativity. Students are exposed to a second language, as well as to laboratory science, computer science, and the fine arts. To be considered for admission to one of the CPS Regional Gifted Centers, prospective students in grades K-8 must take the Regional Gifted Centers exam.

Although the CPS selective enrollment test is not revealed by the school district, it has been best compared to another commonly used test for gifted programs across the country, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or the OLSAT.

The OLSAT assesses a child’s verbal and nonverbal abilities that connect to their academic success and achievement. The test is made up of 21 different question types, which requires students to follow directions, listen and make inferences, and create math problems, to name a few.

If you want to know more about the OLSAT test, check out some sample questions.

The CogAT, or Cognitive Abilities Test, is also a commonly used assessment tool that is utilized by Gifted and Talented Programs, and, from what we know, also the CPS for its elementary school selective enrollment test.

Like the OLSAT, the CogAT has different levels for students in grades K-12 with varying degrees of difficulty and content. There are ten CogAT levels and is given in a group setting and is administered by a proctor. It contains multiple-choice questions and is given one section at a time. The CogAT has 3 sections: verbal, nonverbal and the quantitative.

To access some free questions based on the CPS selective enrollment test for Kindergarten and 1st grade, click the button below.


Classical schools are another type of specialty school in CPS that offers advanced curriculum for gifted students. There are five Classical Schools. in the Chicago Public Schools district and they are Decatur, McDade, Poe, Skinner North, and Skinner West. These schools are known for having a challenging and enriched curriculum for students who show high academic potential.

All students that are in grades K-4 will be tested for admission when they are applying, whereas students in grades 5-8 will be eligible based on the results from their Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress, or NWEA MAP, scores in reading and math. They must score above the 60th percentile in both of these subjects in order to be considered. The classical test is based on academic achievement in reading, language, and math. It contains problems that focus on reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, math word problems, and math computation problems. The exam is considered more of a traditional standardized test and is based on tests such as Illinois Standards Achievement Test, Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Chicago Middle School Selective Enrollment Tests

Academic Centers

Academic Centers in the CPS system are for students in grades 7 and 8. Admission into one of these programs guarantees a spot in the high school in which the Academic Center is located. The programs can be found in: Harlan High School, Kenwood Academy, Lane Tech High School, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Morgan Park High School, Taft High School and Whitney Young Magnet High School.

In order to gain entry into one of the Academic Centers, admissions considers students’ grades and test scores in 5th grade as well on an admission test that is taken during 6th grade. The admissions test is not a traditional test, such as the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), but assesses logical thinking and problem-solving skills. For example, students will work on figural reasoning, including pattern matrix, figural series, figural classification and figural analytics questions. On the verbal side, they will be asked to arrange sentences, complete word-letter matrixes, and show understanding of syllogisms and verbal classifications. They will have to show ability in math through completing number matrixes, number inferences and arithmetic reasoning.

These schools are ultra-competitive, with thousands of children applying. Approximately 3000 sixth-graders take the test each year, but only about 30% are offered a spot to at least one of the centers. For some schools, such as Whitney Young, the odds of admission is approximately 4%. Of these about 30% gain admission as a result of scores alone; the rest are evaluated for admissions on a combination of high scores and the socio-economic tier they reside in. In other words, kids from low-income neighborhoods don’t have to score as high as those from higher-income areas.

International Gifted Programs

For students in grades 6-8 in the CPS, another option may be an International Gifted Program. This program includes detailed and advanced study of English, French, social studies, laboratory science, mathematics, technology, arts, physical education, library science, and advanced research. This program is designed for gifted students and is currently only offered at Lincoln Elementary.

In order to qualify for this exam, students must have scored at or above the 90th percentile in either reading or math on their ISAT exam, and then at or above the 80th percentile on the other subject. This test is very similar to the others as it too measures students’ verbal, abstract, and quantitative reasoning skills. It is a multiple-choice test that is administered by a proctor.

Chicago’s Selective Enrollment High School Admissions Test

Similar to the elementary level, gaining admission into one of CPS’ selective enrollment high schools (SEHS) is a long and competitive process. CPS has nine selective enrollment high schools: Whitney Young, Jones, Payton, Northside, Lindblom, Westinghouse, Brooks, Lane and King. Each year, there are thousands of applications for these coveted schools, and only 3,000 seats available.

Due to the nature of this complex application process, students (and parents) must begin preparing for high school when they are just beginning the 7th grade. The reason for this is that the grades students earn in their four core subjects in 7th grade are part of the point total for their high school admissions.

Admission into a SEHS is based on a total of 900 points:

● 300 of these points come from grades earned in the 7th grade core subjects ● 300 points come from the 7th grade ISAT scores ● 300 of the points are a result of the entrance exam

600 of the necessary points can be calculated an entire year before a student even needs them. Due to this point system, students can calculate how many possible points they already have at the end of 7th grade. As a result of the competitiveness of being granted a spot, students in the 7th grade must essentially get straight As and score in the 99th percentile on the ISATs in order to have a chance at being accepted into a SEHS.

For the last 300 points, which come from the entrance exam, the actual score your child needs will vary, depending on where you live. CPS utilizes census data to place the city into four different tiers. Tier 4 represents the richest neighborhoods and so on down until Tier 1, which represents the poorest neighborhoods. What this means is that if you live in Tier 1, you may be able to be accepted to a SEHS with a lower school than someone who lives in Tier 3 or Tier 4.

While this system was created to promote more socioeconomic diversity within the high schools, it has actually created even more fierce competition and strategizing, even resulting in some families moving to different tiers in order to promote their child’s chances.

Applications must be submitted in the fall and entrance exam testing usually begins in December and finishes in January. All of the results are calculated and the applications are considered, based on all of the various points and criteria. Acceptance letters, or letters of rejection, are sent in the mail and arrive by the end of February, to the excitement and dismay of many.

How Can We Help?

At Origins Tutoring, we believe that preparation for any of Chicago’s selective enrollment tests does not have to be daunting and exasperating; instead, it can represent an important opportunity along a student’s path to learning mastery. Indeed, the perspectives and abilities acquired during preparation provide a foundation that can last throughout a student’s school career and beyond.

Our two-track approach to mastering content and improving test-taking skills means that students will not only thoroughly understand the fundamental concepts and skills tested by the specific selective enrollment test they will take, but they will also excel in using essential techniques to improve attitude, endurance and focus.

Our students hone their independent thinking skills while developing a resilient mindset so they can perform on test day in a powerful, resourceful, creative and calm manner. Each student in our program receives the undivided attention and expertise of a dynamic and experienced coach who provides the framework to support each student on his unique path to becoming a master learner.

Please call 917.287.7927 now for a complimentary consultation to discuss how we can help your child achieve his or her personal best on a CPS selective enrollment test.