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All the information you need about NYC high school admissions tests for 2021

April 21, 2021 Maybelle Keyser-Butson

As your child applies to NYC high schools, there is a good chance that they will need to take some sort of high school admissions exam. This can be confusing for families because different schools may require different admissions exams, which all have different formats. Not all schools require exams, and the ones that do may either use the exam to rank students or use it in a holistic consideration of the applicant. In this guide, we will be going over the main exams used by NYC high schools and what can be found on them.


SHSAT


The SHSAT or the Specialized High School Admissions Test is the test used by the specialized public high schools to rank students. Students will rank the schools in order of preference on the test. Those who score the highest receive their top choice until the school they selected runs out of seats. There are no official “cutoff” scores, but families in forums figure out the lowest score that a student admitted to each school received. For a calculator and table of cutoff scores see this year’s blog post here. You can only take this test once. 


The test is a total of 3 hours, with 114 questions (94 scored and 20 unscored). Answers are either four choices or grid-in and there are two sections: English and math. Students are timed for the whole test not by section; they can work on either section during the period. In the English section, there are 57 questions (but only 47 are scored) featuring revising sentences and paragraphs questions and reading comprehension with 3-4 informational pieces, 1-2 prose literature pieces, and 1 poem, all of which are multiple-choice. In the math section, there are multiple-choice questions and grid-in questions featuring word problems that may require algebra. Using a calculator is not permitted. All questions are worth a point and there is no penalty for guessing and a student's raw score is scaled out of 800.


Registration for the SHSAT can be done through the mentee’s middle school or by signing up on MySchools.


ISEE


The ISEE or the Independent School Entrance Examination is an exam used by private independent schools. Families using this test for admissions must sign up for the Upper-Level ISEE. You can take this more than once. A student’s score is not the full determining factor when they apply to independent schools. 


The test is a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes, with 160 questions. Answers are either four choices or an unscored essay and there are five sections: two English, two math, and one essay. The first section is Verbal Reasoning (English), which has 40 questions and is 20 minutes long, containing vocabulary and sentence-completion questions. The second section is Quantitative Reasoning (Math), which has 37 questions and is 35 minutes long, containing word problems and quantitative comparisons. The third section is Reading Comprehension (English), which has 36 questions and is 35 minutes long, containing passage-based questions. The fourth section is Mathematics Achievement (Math), which has 47 questions and is 40 minutes long, containing questions in which students identify the problem and find the solution. In both math sections, calculators are not allowed. The final section is the Essay, which is a maximum of two pages and timed for 30 minutes. Students must write a response to a prompt such as “Name a challenge and discuss the best way to address it.” All questions have equal value and there is no penalty for guessing. A student’s raw score is scaled out of a range of 760 to 940, and they are given their percentile rankings, which are also converted into stanines. Staines are numbers from 1 to 9 denoting the percentile range of the student: 1 (1-3), 2 (4-10), 3 (11-22), 4 (23-39), 5 (40-59), 6 (60-76), 7 (77-88), 8 (89-95), 9 (96-99).  Percentiles are considered heavily by admissions officers.


We are now in the summer season for the ISEE, which means that students can find out how to register here to take the test for testing from April through June. Students can register for paper testing at a testing site, online testing at a Prometric testing center, and online testing through an ISEE At Home Proctor. 


SSAT


The SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) is another exam used by private independent schools. Families using this test for admissions must sign up for the Upper-Level SSAT. You can take this more than once. A student’s score is not the full determining factor when they apply to independent schools.


The test is a total of 2 hours and 55 minutes (3 hours and 5 minutes with breaks), with 167 questions, of which 150 are scored. Answers are either five choices or an unscored essay and there are five sections: two English, two math, and one essay (there is an additional unscored experimental section). The first section is Quantitative I (Math), which has 25 questions and is 30 minutes long, containing algebra, geometry, and other quantitative questions. The second section is Reading (English), which has 40 questions and is 40 minutes long, containing passage-based questions. The third section is Verbal (English), which has 60 questions and is 30 minutes long, containing 30 vocabulary and 30 analogy questions. The fourth section is Quantitative II (Math), which has 25 questions and is 30 minutes long, containing algebra, geometry, and other quantitative questions. In both math sections, calculators are not allowed. The final section is the Essay, which is a maximum of one and a half pages and timed for 25 minutes. Students must write a story using one of the two starting sentences such as “From where I stood it looked like…” Each section is scaled out of a range of 500 to 800 and the total score ranges from 1500 to 2400. Students receive their percentile rankings, which are considered heavily by admissions officers.


To take the SSAT in 2021, students must sign up for either Computer-Based SSAT at Home, Computer-Based testing at a Prometric Test Center, or Paper-Based testing with Flex dates at a testing center. Click here to read more about the SSA and sign up for one of these options. 


TACHS


The TACHS is the Test for Admission into Catholic High School. It is primarily used by Catholic schools as part of the application process. A student’s score is not the full determining factor when they apply to Catholic schools. Students rank their top three Catholic school preferences on the exam, and the codes for these schools can be found on the TACHS student handbook here. You can only take this once


The test is a total of 3 hours, with 200 questions. Answers are either four or five choices and there are four sections: two English, one math, and one abstract reasoning. The first section is Reading (English), which has 50 questions and is 35 minutes long, containing two subsections: vocabulary (20 questions, 10 minutes) and reading comprehension (30 questions, 25 minutes). The second section is Language (English), which has 50 questions and is 30 minutes long, containing two grammar-correction subsections: spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and usage/expression (40 questions, 23 minutes) and paragraphs (10 questions, 7 minutes). The third section is Mathematics (50 questions, 40 minutes), and contains two subsections: concepts, data interpretation, and problem-solving (32 questions, 33 minutes) with word problems, operation, and data analysis and estimation (18 questions, 7 minutes) with questions involving approximating. The final section is Ability (50 questions, 32 minutes) which contains two subsections: similarities and changes (40 questions, 25 minutes) which involves patterns and sequences, and abstract reasoning (10 questions, 7 minutes) involving inferences. 


All questions are worth a point and there is no penalty for guessing. The student’s raw score is scaled out of a range between 200-800 points, and students receive their percentile ranking. Admissions officers consider the percentile rank more than the scaled score. Students rank their top three high school choices, and these are the only schools that will receive their scores. Eligibility for the TACHS opens on August 23rd, 2021, and closes on October 24th, 2021. To read more about the TACHS, click here


HSPT


The HSPT or the High School Placement Test is primarily used by Catholic schools as part of the application process. A student’s score is not the full determining factor when they apply to Catholic schools and can sometimes be used for decisions for scholarships. You can only take this once. 


The test is a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes, with 298 questions. Answers are either three or four choices or an unscored essay and there are five sections: three English, two math. The first section is Verbal (English), which has 60 questions and is 16 minutes long and contains vocabulary, synonyms, antonyms, sentence completions, analogies, and logic questions. The second section is Quantitative (Math), which has 52 questions and is 30 minutes long,  and contains primarily arithmetic-based questions. The third section is Reading (English), which has 62 questions and is 25 minutes long,  and contains short-passage-based questions and a 22 question synonym section at the end of the readings. The fourth section is Math, which has 64 questions and is 35 minutes long and contains once again mostly arithmetic-based questions. In both math sections, calculators are not allowed. The final section is the Language (English), which has 60 questions and is 25 minutes long, contains punctuation, parallelism, subject/verb agreement, and other grammar and spelling questions.


All questions are worth a point and there is no penalty for guessing. The student’s raw score is scaled out of a range between 200-800 points, and students receive their percentile ranking. Admissions officers consider the percentile rank more than the scaled score. Test dates and in-person eligibility vary for each school; to find out more information about registering for this exam, contact your target school directly to find out their testing date(s).


Though there are many admissions tests for NYC high schools, as you can see, there is quite a lot of overlap. By being prepared and studying in advance, your child will be in good standing by the time they take their test. Make sure you find out which schools on your list require these tests. Best of luck!

Maybelle Keyser-Butson is a junior at Bard High School Early College Queens. She enjoys reading, spending time with friends, and singing.

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