SHSAT Test Prep Guide| Everything You Need to Know About the SHSAT

If a student is thinking of attending one of the specialized high schools in New York City, he or she will have to excel on the SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test). This test determines which students are eligible to attend the Specialized High Schools in NYC, which include:

  • Bronx High School of Science
  • Brooklyn Latin School
  • Brooklyn Technical High School
  • High School of American Studies at Lehman College
  • High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College
  • Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
  • Staten Island Technical High School
  • Stuyvesant High School

The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts is also a Specialized High School, but it requires an audition or portfolio and does not take the SHSAT into account.


Each year, 20,000-30,000 students in New York City take the SHSAT. While the majority are eighth grade students, some ninth grade students also take the SHSAT, as there are a few open spots for incoming tenth grade students at the specialized high schools. The acceptance rates for specialized high schools vary, but anywhere from 5,000-6,000 students who have taken the SHSAT are admitted to a specialized high school for the next school year.

The SHSAT is taken in late October (for eighth grade students) or early November (for ninth grade students), and it covers two conceptual areas: mathematics and verbal skills/reading comprehension. The math section consists of fifty multiple choice questions on various math topics, including elementary number theory, algebra, and geometry. The verbal section covers several areas: it includes ten logic questions and five scrambled paragraphs, which makes this section more than just a test on reading skills. Scrambled paragraphs require students to be familiar with basic revision skills, because students must look at out-of-order paragraphs, decide if each piece is important, and figure out the best way to order the sentences. The logic questions are also difficult, as they require creative thinking and not just formula memorization. Of course, the SHSAT also has reading comprehension questions; there are thirty questions over a total of five different passages, in addition to the logic and scrambled paragraphs.

The SHSAT does NOT require students to write an essay, and it also allows students to self-monitor the time they spend on each section. There is a suggested time limit of 75 minutes for each section, but students may use the time in whatever way they want in order to complete the test. This gives students much more freedom during the test, but also means that each student must know his or her strengths and weaknesses in order to divide the time appropriately.


Eighth grade and ninth grade students who move to NYC after the fall administration of the SHSAT can still secure a spot in a specialized high school, but they will need to take an SHSAT in summer--usually in August. Note that only students who moved to the city after the fall administration of the SHSAT can take the summer exam.


The SHSAT does not have any guessing penalty, and students therefore should not leavE questions blank.

Each year, the Department of Education decides on a curve for SHSAT scores, then converts each student's raw score (the number of correct answers out of 100) to a number from 200-800. These scores are released in February. Each specialized high school then decides on an individual cutoff score. Once this process is complete, students get matched to their highest-ranked high schools with an appropriate cutoff score until each high school runs out of seats for the next school year.

An important fact about the SHSAT is the emphasis that the SHSAT puts on both sections. Performing exceptionally in one section can sometimes be better than doing well in both sections, all depending on that year’s curve. Sometimes a student with an exceptional math score and mediocre verbal score may get a spot at a specialized high school, while a student with very good math and verbal scores will get passed over. If your child is gifted in math or in verbal skills, the SHSAT is a great way for a student to stand out.

SHSAT TEST PREP GUIDE | How to Prepare for the SHSAT

The content of SHSAT questions is quite similar to that of the ISEE or SSAT, with the exception of the logic questions on the SHSAT, which rely on problem-solving skills and thinking outside the box, not just knowing facts and regurgitating formulas. Other than the questions given in test prep books, students can work through brainteasers and other logical puzzles to prepare for logic questions. Doing so will help a student’s brain become accustomed to thinking outside the box and coming up with creative ways to solve problems, and those skills will be helpful on the SHSAT. Practicing on scrambled paragraphs is also crucial, because the SHSAT will have five paragraphs that students will need to fix. This is a major component of the test, so a great way for a student to improve in the verbal section is to practice using revision tools to solve the paragraphs.

Since the SHSAT covers some complicated topics, like logic and scrambled paragraphs, private tutoring can be a great option. For struggling students, working with a private SHSAT tutor can ensure that each student has the necessary tools to confidently tackle the exam. If you want your child to benefit from personalized, private SHSAT tutoring, Origins Tutoring can help. We work with expert tutors who thoroughly understand the SHSAT and are experienced and talented at translating important concepts and key strategies to students. Please call (917) 287-7927 for a complimentary consultation with Scott Spizer the Director of Origins Tutoring. He will answer all your questions about the SHSAT and help you discover if private tutoring for the exam could benefit your child.

SHSAT TEST PREP GUIDE | Additional Resources & Free SHSAT Practice Tests

Download a copy of the Student Handbook for the Specialized High Schools from the NYC Department of Education. The handbook contains two practice tests that have questions from recent SHSAT tests. You can prepare by yourself by practicing with these tests and with sample tests from test prep books.