shsat

What’s Tested on the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is a standardized test administered by the New York City Department of Education that is required for admission into Brooklyn Latin, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, City College, Lehman College, Staten Island Tech, or York College. It is, in fact, the only sole criterion for admission.

Having one test be the only factor that determines whether you are accepted at the school of your choice is rough. However, more than 30,000–40,000 students apply for admission, and the Department of Education needs a way to pare down that number to roughly 5,500. A multiple-choice test given to all applicants is a very efficient way to make the cut because it subjects all applicants to the exact same standard and is very easy to grade.

 

Structure of the SHSAT

There are two sections on the test: English Language Arts and Math. The English Language Arts section has two question types: Reading and Revising/Editing. Though the Math section has only one question type, you can expect to see arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and other math topics on the test.

English Language Arts Section

The English Language Arts section is the first section on the test. It contains 57 questions and accounts for one-half of your total points on the SHSAT. The suggested time for the section is 90 minutes, or 1 hour and 30 minutes. All 57 questions will be multiple choice.

The breakdown of the English Language Arts section is as follows:

English Language Arts Sub-SectionSub-Section BreakdownTotal Number of Questions
Revising/Editing Stand-Alone Questions3–5 questions11 (combined with Revising/Editing Passages)
Revising/Editing Passages1 passage with 6–8 questions11 (combined with Revising/Editing Stand-Alone Questions)
Reading Comprehension6 passages with 6–10 questions each46 questions

Scoring

Scoring for the SHSAT is a little strange. It’s not that the scoring is difficult to understand; it’s just that individual scores matter only to the extent that they are above or below a cutoff line.

Here’s how the scoring works. First, you get a Raw Score based on the number of questions you answer correctly. The test contains 114 questions. 94 of the questions are worth 1 “raw” point, and 20 are experimental questions that aren’t scored. The maximum Raw Score is therefore 94.

Next, your Raw Score is multiplied by a formula known only to the Department of Education to arrive at a scaled score. You receive a scaled score for each section and a Composite Score for the entire test. The highest possible Composite Score is 800.

Admission to all specialized high schools (except LaGuardia) is based solely on your Composite Score. The way this works is that all of the students are ranked from high score to low score and then assigned to the school of their first preference until all the available seats are filled. For example, if Stuyvesant had exactly 500 spaces available and the top 500 scorers all picked Stuyvesant as their first choice, all 500 scorers would be admitted. If the 501st scorer listed Stuyvesant as her first choice and Bronx Science as her second choice, she would be assigned to Bronx Science. In other words, if 500 students were admitted to Stuyvesant and the 500th highest score was 560, then 560 would be the “cutoff” score for Stuyvesant. Therefore, scores are relative; it matters only whether they are above the cutoff, but there is no way of accurately knowing what the cutoff score will be. All you know is that it will likely be a little higher than last year’s cutoff because the test becomes increasingly competitive every year.

SHSAT Timing

When the test begins and you open to the first page, here’s what you’ll see:

PART 1 — English Language Arts

Time — 90 Minutes

57 Questions

The most important thing to remember about SHSAT timing suggestions is that they are just that—suggestions!

Here’s the way it works. You’ll have 180 minutes to complete the entire test. It is recommended that you spend approximately half the time (90 minutes or 1 hour and 30 minutes) on each section. However, if you finish the English Language Arts section early, you can move on to the Math section without waiting for the 90 minutes to end. Similarly, if you finish the Math section with time to spare, you can go back over both the Math and English Language Arts sections of the test.

What this means is that you have both the freedom to structure your time and the responsibility to use your time wisely. While you can spend more than 90 minutes working on the first section, it may not be wise to do so. However, the flexibility you have in skipping around and going back to one section after finishing the other gives you ample opportunity to play to your strengths.

Pacing

You are responsible for setting your own pace on the test. This is a big responsibility that you should take very seriously. Here are some rough guidelines to follow.

English Language ArtsRevising/Editing (11 questions)1-1.5 minutes per question
English Language ArtsReading (6 passages, 46 questions)2-3 minutes reading each passage, 1-1.5 minutes per question
Math57 questions: 5 grid-in, 52 multiple-choice1-1.5 minutes per question

 

Remember that these guidelines are estimates. You will spend more time on some questions and less time on others. However, you must be aware of time if you want to maximize your score. If you’re casual about it, you could find yourself unexpectedly running out of time.

Test Date

The test is administered during a weekend in late October for eighth graders and during a weekend in late October or early November for ninth graders. Log on to schools.nyc.gov for updated information.

Want more info like this? Check out Kaplan’s SHSAT Prep book.