High school exams can seem intimidating, with more content and weight than most other tests. However, with this guide, you will learn more about them and good test preparation strategies that will help you tackle these exams and your anxiety!
Public School Exams (SHSAT)
New York City has nine specialized schools, all public, eight of which solely determine admission based on your score on their exam, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). This is a good option for middle school students who feel the test grade would reflect their academic ability better than their transcript. Each school has slightly different specializations, but almost all emphasize STEM and have strong academic programs, placing in some of the highest ranks for the best high schools in New York City. The exam itself is notoriously difficult, with a total of three hours to answer 114 questions evenly divided between ELA and math. Each specialized high school has its own cutoff score, which you can find here. The exam incorporates some material that traditionally students are taught in high school classes, especially in math as the exam covers algebra, so the studying process may include learning new things, depending on the classes you have taken in middle school. Some public schools such as Bard High School Early College have their own admissions tests, which vary between schools. This year these tests will look a little different so make sure you check the schools’ website!
Private and Independent School Exams
Many private and independent schools require one of four exams that are administered as part of their application. The TACHS and HSPT are usually just for Catholic high schools, and the SSAT and ISEE are more general exams used for almost all private schools. The TACHS and HSPT can be taken at most once but the SSAT and ISEE can be taken multiple times. Each exam has math, verbal, and reading sections, but the material on each differs. The ISEE is 2 hours and 40 minutes long with 160 questions and broken up into five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and an essay component. The SSAT is 3 hours and 5 minutes long with 167 questions (only 150 are scored) and broken up into five sections: Quantitative 1, Reading, Verbal, Quantitative 2, and an essay component. The TACHS is 3 hours long with 200 questions and broken down into four sections: Reading, Language, Mathematics, and Ability. The HSPT is 2 hours and 30 minutes long with 298 questions and broken up into five sections (with three optional sections depending on the school): Verbal, Quantitative, Reading, Math, and Language. Each school has different testing requirements so make sure to confirm which tests you are taking for the schools you are applying to.
The key to studying for any test is knowing how best you study (as well as knowing general helpful study techniques), and studying far in advance of the test. I guarantee you’ll learn more studying over months than doing a practice test the night before! Active studying is the best overarching study technique. This includes solving practice problems and retrying when ones you get wrong and completing practice tests under a timed setting (or with even less time to challenge yourself). Try doing a little studying every day for a few months in advance, making sure you touch on all the categories of questions every week, and doing lots of practice questions.
But there are also different methods that work for different people. If you find you have a low attention span or dread studying, don’t sit down for two hours straight to study, because your mind will wander, and you’ll get bored and frustrated. Instead, try incorporating small study sessions into your day, of maybe fifteen minutes each, and one last session right before you go to sleep, to help you sustainably build progress.
With this information and these tips, you can face the high school placement tests being prepared and less stressed. One last tip when studying for any type of exam; the hardest part is always starting. Good luck!
Halina de Jong-Lambert is a sophomore at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music Art and Performing Arts in New York City. She is an acting major at the school, enjoys Stephen King novels, and is a fan of Oscar Wilde.
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The highschool admission process is very stressful. With all of its different required parts, the essay section of the application can be really overlooked. The essays are a chance for the admission officer’s to get an insight into who the applicant really is. Numerous people can have very similar transcripts, but a creative and charismatic essay will make an application stand out.
Recommendation letters are a key aspect of high school applications and are a great way to demonstrate your character and abilities from another perspective. While not mandatory in some schools, it’s highly encouraged and should be seen as a requirement. But, who do you ask for a recommendation letter? Choosing who to ask is very important and should be someone that has seen your growth as a student. Most schools usually require at least one recommendation letter from a core teacher (Math, Science, Social Studies, etc) and one letter from either another teacher, mentor, coach, or counselor. So after making a list of potential candidates take some time to consider a very important question. “Who knows you the most?”. If you choose a candidate that barely knows you, their letter may sound disingenuous and phony. So when selecting a recommender, you should consider someone who has had a significant impact on your life and should be someone who knows you both academically and personally and can attest to your abilities, interests, achievements, and growth.
Oftentimes, one of the most difficult aspects of the high school admissions process is choosing the school you would like to attend. This makes sense, as picking a school requires a lot of critical thought and careful decision making. After all, you will have to attend the high school you end up choosing for the next four years of your life. This is why it is incredibly important to make sure that you have a fundamental understanding of what your high school offers.
As the new year begins, 7th graders may want to start thinking about high school admissions. Many students apply to Specialized High Schools, NYC’s nine public high schools for “students who excel academically/artistically” (DOE Website). You can learn more about them here. Eight of these schools admit students based solely on the SHSAT Exam, an 180 minute competitive standardized test administered in the fall.
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