Prepping for the SHSAT: Hire a SHSAT Tutor Or Go It Alone?

For any students in NYC who are thinking of attending a specialized high school, the SHSAT is the key to getting accepted. Because the SHSAT is the only entry criterion that specialized high schools use to accept new students, it is  important for students who take the test to achieve a high score.

Students take the SHSAT in late October (eighth grade students) or early November (ninth grade students). While it is rare for ninth grade students to take the test, there are occasionally openings in a specialized high school’s rising tenth grade class—sometimes there are opportunities for ninth grade students to transfer into specialized high schools.

The acceptance rate for the SHSAT varies each year, but it tends to range between 15-30%. However, this does not mean that students are always chosen for their top high schools: the specialized high schools determine a cutoff exam score, and then they accept students who have exceeded that test score until there are no more vacancies for the rising freshman class. This makes it doubly important to achieve a high score: not only will students need to beat the exam cutoff score, but they will also improve their admission chances at any one particular school if they test well.

SHSAT Format and Content

The SHSAT tests students in two main areas: mathematics and verbal skills (this includes reading comprehension). To test students on knowledge of math, the SHSAT provides fifty multiple-choice questions on an assortment of math topics. The verbal section contains short and long reading comprehension passages, ten logic questions, and five scrambled paragraph questions. Unlike other standardized tests that students may have taken, the SHSAT does NOT ask students to write an essay; all writing and verbal skills are tested using multiple-choice questions.

There is also a strict time limit of two and a half hours, but students are allowed to divide this time between the math and verbal sections in whichever way they choose. This can be helpful for students who are much faster at one type of question or the other, so students should think about how they will pace themselves throughout the test.

SHSAT Tutoring or Self-study: NYC Test Prep Options

Unlike some other standardized tests that students may take, there are not many SHSAT prep books on the market. This means that test prep resources can occasionally feel a bit limiting, but the skills tested on the SHSAT can be improved in several different ways. There are some books dedicated to scrambled paragraph problems, or the specific logic problems students may encounter on the SHSAT, and these books are a good source of practice questions. Test prep books for the ISEE and SSAT can also be helpful for students who want to brush up on their math or reading comprehension skills.

For students who have difficulty studying alone or who have incredibly busy schedules, self-study may not the best option. In cases like these, it might be helpful for a student to work with a SHSAT tutor to brush up on topics before the SHSAT. Working with a tutor can make the studying process much more organized, which is good for students who have lots of extracurricular activities or a heavy homework load. Additionally, working directly with a tutor means that a student will be able to ask whatever questions come to mind, which is a resource that test prep books cannot provide. Another benefit of pursuing SHSAT tutoring is that the SHSAT tutor will get to know a student’s strengths and weaknesses, which means that the tutor can come up with specific questions tailored to whatever the student most needs to improve. On a test like the SHSAT, where every point matters, improving weak areas is essential!

Whether a student decides to study alone, to work with a tutor, or to supplement self-study with a few tutoring sessions, the most important thing to remember is that the SHSAT requires weeks or months of preparation. If a student wants to have the best chance of getting into his or her top specialized high school, he or she needs to put in the time to study now.