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SHSAT Overview: What to Expect on the Exam

The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is a standardized test students in New York City take to gain admission to one of the city’s specialized high schools. These schools offer a challenging and rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college and beyond. The SHSAT is a critical component of the admissions process. Students who do well on the test have a better chance of getting accepted into one of these schools.

The SHSAT is a challenging test requiring students to demonstrate their math and English language arts knowledge and skills. The test is divided into two sections: English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. The ELA section consists of multiple-choice questions and requires students to read and analyze passages, answer questions about grammar and comprehension. The Math section also consists of multiple-choice questions and covers pre-algebra, algebra and geometry.

What is the SHSAT?

The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is an exam students take to gain admission into one of the nine New York City Specialized High Schools. It is the only criterion for access to eight schools, except for the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which requires an audition or portfolio for admission.

Purpose of the SHSAT

The purpose of the SHSAT is to identify and select academically talented students capable of handling the rigorous curriculum of specialized high schools. These schools offer advanced programs in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), humanities, and the arts.

Who takes the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is taken by eighth and ninth-grade students who are residents of New York City and attend public, private, or parochial schools. Students who are homeschooled or attend schools outside New York City can also take the test.

When is the SHSAT administered?

The SHSAT is administered annually in late October for eighth-grade students and early November for ninth-grade students. The test is typically administered on a Saturday and Sunday, with students assigned to one of the two days based on their last name. Recently however, the SHSAT has been administered on a school day.

What is the format of the SHSAT?

The SHSAT consists of two sections: English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. The ELA section contains 57 multiple-choice questions and requires students to read and analyze passages, revise and edit sentences, and answer questions about grammar and vocabulary. The Mathematics section contains 52 multiple-choice questions and 5 student-response questions that cover arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

What to Expect on Test Day

Arriving at the Test Center

On test day, students should arrive at the test center at the time on their SHSAT test ticket. It is essential to arrive on time to avoid unnecessary stress or delays. Students should also make sure to bring their testing ticket with them, which needs to have been signed by their parent or guardian.

Checking In

When students arrive at the test center, they must contact the proctors. Students must present their testing ticket and a valid photo ID during check-in. The proctors will also provide instructions on what to do with personal belongings, such as cell phones or electronic devices.

Test Materials

Students will receive all necessary test materials, including scratch paper and pencils. Calculators are not allowed for the SHSAT, so students should practice their math skills without a calculator in advance.

Test Timing

The SHSAT is a timed test, and students will have a set amount of time to complete each section. It is essential to keep track of time and pace oneself accordingly. The test site will instruct students when to start and stop the test. Students are given three hours for the whole test – each section is not timed individually.


There are no scheduled breaks during the SHSAT, but students may take a break if needed during the test. However, the clock will continue to run during any holidays taken, so students should use their time wisely.

Test Scoring

The SHSAT is scored based on the number of correct answers, with no penalty for incorrect answers. The raw score is then converted to a scaled score ranging from about 100 to 400 for each section (the actual scoring scale is not shared publicly). The scores from both sections are then added to determine a student’s overall score.

How to Prepare for the SHSAT

Study Materials

Many books and resources are available to help students prepare for the SHSAT. Some popular options include the official SHSAT handbook, Kaplan Test Prep, and ArgoPrep. Caddell Prep has the most up-to-date on-demand SHSAT prep course. It is essential to choose study materials that are up-to-date and relevant to the current version of the test.

Students should also consider working with a tutor or attending a test prep program to receive personalized instruction and guidance. These options can benefit students who struggle with specific subjects or concepts.

Test-Taking Strategies

Students must develop effective test-taking strategies to maximize their scores on the SHSAT. Some approaches to consider include the following:

  • Reading the directions carefully and thoroughly before beginning each section
  • Skipping difficult questions and returning to them later
  • Eliminating obviously incorrect answer choices to narrow down options
  • Managing time effectively to ensure all questions are answered within the allotted time

Practice Tests

Practice tests are an essential part of SHSAT preparation. They allow students to become familiar with the format and content of the test, identify areas of strength and weakness, and develop test-taking strategies.

Students should take multiple practice tests in the weeks leading up to the SHSAT. Simulating test conditions as closely as possible, including taking breaks at the same intervals as the actual test, is essential.

Stress Management

Preparing for the SHSAT can be a stressful experience for many students. It is important to prioritize self-care and stress management techniques to ensure students perform at their best on test day.

Some effective stress management techniques include:

  • Getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Meditating or practicing relaxation techniques
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member about feelings of stress or anxiety


Overall, the SHSAT is a challenging exam that tests students’ knowledge and skills in math and reading. It is the sole criterion for admission to New York City’s specialized high schools, some of the country’s most prestigious public schools.

Students who are preparing for the SHSAT should focus on developing their math and reading comprehension skills, as well as their test-taking strategies. They should take advantage of practice tests and study materials and seek guidance from teachers, tutors, or other experts.

While the SHSAT can be stressful and intimidating, it is essential to remember that it is just one part of the admissions process. Students should also focus on their grades, extracurricular activities, and other accomplishments, influencing their acceptance to specialized high schools.

Ultimately, the SHSAT is a challenging but rewarding opportunity for students seeking a rigorous and competitive education. With the proper preparation and mindset, students can succeed on the exam and gain admission to some of the best high schools in the country.

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