NYC Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT)

The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) is used as the single determining factor for admission to the NYC Specialized High Schools, except for Fiorello H. La Guardia High School, which is a performing arts school.

Students, who would like to attend one of the NYC Specialized High Schools, should speak to their guidance counselors as soon as possible when 8th grade starts to get an admission ticket to sit for the test. The SHSAT is typically administered toward the end of October when a student is in 8th grade. Students receive their results from the test in the spring.

NYC Specialized High Schools that Require the SHSAT

Many people wonder how many specialized high schools there are in NYC. Well, there are nine, but only eight of them require the SHSAT. Fiorello H. LaGuardia HS is a performing arts school and doesn’t require the test. The eight NYC Specialized High Schools that require the SHSAT for admission are considered elite high schools that rank as some of the top high schools in the country. Below is a list of the eight specialized high schools. Each link gives more information about the school and the admissions process.

Ranking Schools

When students sit for the actual test, they will have to bubble in their preference of schools by ranking their top three choices.

There is a lot of confusion with this because of misinformation and bad advice. The best advice is to simply rank them in the order of schools you would like to attend.

Be aware that Stuyvesant High School consistently has the highest cut-off score, which means it is the most difficult one to get into. Because of that, it wouldn’t make sense to rank it as number two or three. If you have a score high enough to get into Stuy, you will have a score high enough to get into your top choice also. Therefore Stuy is not a good second or third option.

Staten Island Technical HS
Staten Island Technical HS located in the New Dorp neighborhood of Staten Island is one of the NYC Specialized High Schools

How Admission is Determined

After the tests are scored, all of the students are put in a list from highest score to lowest score.

The system automatically goes down the list and places students into schools based on their rankings of the schools and available seats.

For example, when it gets to a student, it will check what the students top choice is. If that school is not filled, then the student will be placed into that school. If the school is filled, it will look at the second choice, then the third. If all three schools are filled, the student will not be accepted into a specialized high school for the 9th grade.

SHSAT Scoring

The two sections on the SHSAT are scored independently. The number of correct questions are scaled to give scaled scores for each section. They are then added together to create a composite score. Students will only be notified of their composite scores, not the breakdown on the two sections.

How Scoring Works

Cut-Off Scores

SHSAT Score Calculator

 

How to Register for the SHSAT

There are three ways to sign up for the SHSAT:

  1. Guidance Counselor: Sign up for the test through your guidance counselor in the beginning of 8th grade
  2. MySchools Website: The MySchools website is used by students to apply to high school programs, and it can also be used to register for the SHSAT.
  3. Family Welcome Center: You can visit the Family Welcome Center to sign up for the SHSAT. On Staten Island, the Family Welcome Center is located in the Petrides complex.

SHSAT Test Dates

2019 SHSAT Test Dates for 8th Grade Students

The SHSAT will be administered on Saturday, October 26, 2019 and Sunday, October 27, 2019 for current 8th grade students. Students will be assigned one of the dates, not both.

2019 SHSAT Test Dates for 9th Grade Students

All first-time 9th grade students will take the test on Sunday, October 27,2019.

Special Testing Dates

Current Grade 8 and first-time Grade 9 students who are English Language Learners or students with disabilities who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 Plans that include testing accommodations will take the test on Saturday, November 7, 2019 or Sunday, November 17, 2019.

Make-up tests will also be administered on Saturday, November 7, 2019 and Sunday, November 17, 2019. Students will need to get approval for a make-up test and will be assigned a date.

 

Preparing for the SHSAT

Many students wonder how they should prepare for the SHSAT. Well, the good news is that the SHSAT tests ELA and math skills, the same two subjects that most NYC students have been tested on since 3rd grade.

Of course, the test is more difficult than the NYS math and ELA tests. It has to be. In order to separate the top students from the rest, there has to be difficult questions. If every student was able to get high scores on the test, there would be no way to identify the strongest students.

Like with most standardized tests, students can benefit from test prep.

Regardless of what test you are preparing for, we always recommend to start with a practice test.

Taking a practice SHSAT will not only provide the student with a starting point to measure progress from, but it will also introduce the student to the test. This will make understanding strategies and lessons easier when preparing for the test.

How long is the SHSAT? A major problem for many students is timing. The test is three hours long. To most parents, that might seem like a long time, but for students it isn’t. First of all, there are 114 questions that need to be answered in that time period. The other reason it isn’t a long time for most students is that students are used to getting as much time as they need on state tests and aren’t conditioned to work quickly with a time constraint.

Here is one of our blog posts with a tip for answering questions on the SHSAT.

Some students who have to prepare for the SHSAT will also have to prepare for the TACHS (Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools). There is some overlap of content on the two tests. Here is a blog post detailing how to prepare for the SHSAT and TACHS at the same time.

We have a few ways of helping students prepare for the SHSAT.

Online SHSAT Prep

Our online SHSAT prep is an affordable, self-paced, personalized prep course. As of writing this, we have 22,807+ practice problems. For more information about our online test prep click here.

SHSAT Tutoring

We provide 1-on-1 tutoring at our office in Staten Island, NY. If you would like to set up a schedule, find out more information, or come in for a free practice test, call (917) 722-0677.

SHSAT Prep Classes

At our office we also offer in-person prep classes that are limited to 8 students per class. To view class schedules and get more information, click here.

 

What’s on the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is a 3-hour long test with an English section and a math section. Students are able to use the 3 hours however they like, so they can start in either sections and spend as much time as they want per section.

The English Section

The English sections tests students on their revising & editing skills and on their reading comprehension skills.

There will be about 20 revising & editing questions on the test. These types of questions present students with a sentence, a paragraph or a passage and ask students for the best revision to parts of the text. Questions could include grammar, punctuation, usage, and relevant information.

Approximately 37 questions will be devoted to reading comprehension. Reading comprehension questions resemble common-core type questions, including questions that ask students to find supporting evidence. A surprising part of reading comprehension is the inclusion of a poem. The 2019 test actually included two poems.

All of the English questions are multiple-choice questions.

The Math Section

The majority of the questions on the Math section are multiple choice. Approximately 5-7 of the questions will be grid-in questions, similar to the SAT. Students are only given credit for correct answers; partial-credit is not given. The entire test is graded automatically by a scanner.

Math on the SHSAT includes: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data, and probability.

A big part of the 2019 test involved percentage that required a lot of work on paper. Calculators are not permitted on the test.

Is the SHSAT All Multiple Choice?

The test is almost all multiple choice, except for approximately 5-7 math questions that are student response questions. However, the those questions are just marked right or wrong. No partial credit is given. Students’ work will not be reviewed.

Is the SHSAT Hard?

Yes. The test is designed to be difficult. The test must separate top performing students from lower performing students, so the test must be hard enough to do so. If the test was easy and everyone was able to get 100% correct, then there would no way to determine who gets accepted and who doesn’t.


 

SHSAT Practice Test

Taking a full-length SHSAT practice test is the best way to start preparing for the real test. A full test will be a total of 114 questions: 57 ELA practice questions and 57 math practice questions. On the real test, there are 114 questions, but only 100 of them count toward your score. The problem is that there’s no way to know which questions count and which ones don’t, so you have to take all of the questions seriously. Your SHSAT practice test should include 114 questions because the test has a strict time limit to complete it, so a test with 14 less questions and the same amount of time will give you a false measure of your score. You can a full-length SHSAT Diagnostic test here on our website. It is a FREE SHSAT practice test.

SHSAT Practice Test PDFs

Older SHSAT Practice Test PDFs

It’s important to note that these older tests do not reflect the current format of the test. Two differences you’ll notice across the entire test is the number of answer choices (the old version had 5 answer choices compared to the current 4) and the number of questions (the old test was out of 100 since scrambled paragraphs counted as 2 each, while the new test is out of 114).

The biggest differences are in the Verbal part of the test, Part 1. In these tests there are scrambled paragraphs and logical reasoning questions, which are not on the current version of the test, so they could be skipped. Also, note that these practice tests don’t include revising and editing questions, which the new test has. The reading comprehension is still good practice; even though, the questions are slightly different. The new version includes supporting evidence questions.

Finally, there are difference for the math section. The differences include the lack of student-response questions, the number of questions, and slightly different topics.

However, the old practice tests can still be a good source of additional practice.

How Do You Prepare for the SHSAT ELA Questions?

Every year when we work with students, it is always obvious which students read for fun. The students who read more often out perform the students who don’t on the reading comprehension section. The passages on the SHSAT are much more difficult than the passages on most of the other 8th grade test, including the state test and the TACHS. Students who read more often are much better at understanding the complex texts that appear on the test. Therefore, if time is on your hands, start reading. It will make you more prepared for the SHSAT, make you more prepared for the SAT (about three years later), and might just make you smarter 😉

However, if time is not on your hands, there’s still hope. There are strategies for answering SHSAT reading questions. The most important part of the strategies is identifying what type of question you’re being asked. Each question has its own tricks and common trap answers, so learn the different types of questions first.

Preparing for the Revising & Editing questions is different than just brushing up on grammar. Not all topics in grammar are test on the SHSAT, so taking a test prep course is worth it because it will save you time and help you focus your attention on what is most important to learn for the test. For example, spelling is an important skill, but the SHSAT does not test students’ ability to spell.

How Do You Prepare for the SHSAT Math Questions?

With math, practice makes perfect. More precisely, perfect practice makes perfect. Similar to the advice for the Revising & Editing questions, not all topics of math will appear on the SHSAT. Also, some topics that do appear, appear much more often than others. Mastering those topics can do a lot more for your score than mastering a topic that may only appear once on the SHSAT. Our On-Demand, Online SHSAT Prep Course has over 24,000 sample math questions.

 

DREAM Program

DREAM (Determination, Resiliency, Enthusiasm, Ambition, Motivation) is an extracurricular academic program that prepares eligible New York City public school students for the SHSAT.

As of 2019, DREAM’s two programs, the DREAM-Specialized High School Institute, and the DREAM-Summer/Fall Intensive, will merge into one program, DREAM-SHSI. The program will begin in February of a student’s seventh grade year.

If a student is accepted, they must commit to participate in the entire program.

The Dream Program Runs:

February–June of seventh grade, Saturdays only

July and August after seventh grade, Monday–Thursday for five weeks

September–October of eighth grade, Saturdays only

DREAM-SHSI Application and Enrollment Process

Letters to eligible students will be sent to their homes and schools in November, with instructions on how to apply. Applications must be completed by December 13.
Families apply by following the enrollment instructions in their letters.
If there are more applications than available seats, a random selection will be conducted, and a waitlist will be created.
Offer letters will be mailed to families and schools in December or early January.
Classes will start on Saturday, February 1, 2020.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for DREAM-SHSI students must meet all of the criteria in Part A, and one of the criteria in Part B:

Part A
Students must:

Be a current NYC resident
Be enrolled in the seventh grade in a DOE public or charter school
Score a minimum of:
3.2 on the 2019 grade six English Language Arts, and
4.0 on the 2019 grade six Mathematics NY State tests

Part B
Students must EITHER:

Meet income requirements based on federal guidelines, as informed by the family income inquiry form(Open external link), regardless of district of residence.
OR

Live or attend school in NYC school district 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, or 32.

 

Discovery Program

The Discovery program is a summer enrichment program for eligible rising ninth grade students who take the specialized high schools admissions test (SHSAT) and score right below the cutoff score. Eligible scores will vary from year to year and will be based on seat availability.

Students will only be considered for Discovery programs at the specialized high school(s) they list on their SHSAT answer sheet.

To be eligible for the Discovery program, a specialized high schools applicant must:

Be one or more of the following: a student from a low-income household, a student in temporary housing, or an English Language Learner who moved to NYC within the past four years; and
Have scored within a certain range below the cutoff score on the SHSAT; and
Attend a high-poverty school. A school is defined as high-poverty if it has an Economic Need Index (ENI) of at least 60%. You can see a school’s historical ENI by visiting the School Performance Dashboard(Open external link) and selecting the school from the list.
If students are eligible to participate in the Discovery program, we’ll let them know in the spring as part of their high school results. Families of eligible students should then meet with their current school counselor to discuss the Discovery program application.

Students who participate and complete program requirements are admitted to the specialized high schools. By the summer of 2020, 20% of seats at each specialized high school will be reserved for participants of the Discovery program.

 

SHSAT News

The SHSAT has been in the new recently because it has exposed a problem that exists in the NYC DOE. Data has existed for years that shows a gap in academic achievement among students of different races. It is a difficult problem to address, no doubt. However, it became a very clear one when the low number of black and Hispanic students and the high number of Asian students in the specialized high schools was pointed out.

This was not always the case, though. At one point, the majority of the students who attended Brooklyn Technical High School we black and Hispanic. In 1989, the school’s student body was 51 percent black and Hispanic (https://nypost.com/2019/03/25/what-brooklyn-tech-tells-you-about-de-blasios-massive-segregation-claim/). A big change happened when “student tracking” done away with and advanced academic programs were no longer available in key communities.

May or Bill de Blasio has tried to eliminate the exam a few times. At one point he even offered to put gifted and talented programs in all of the middle schools if the test was scrapped, which makes the consideration of eliminating gifted and talented programs even more puzzling.

Mayor de Blasio’s first attempt at increasing the number of black and Hispanic students included an overhaul of the test. Scrambled paragraphs and logical reasoning questions were removed from the test. Revising and editing questions were added, and the number of answer choices for each question was reduced from five to four. These changes made the SHSAT more similar to the SAT.

How Intermediate Schools Would be Affected

Who Wins, and Who Loses, in the Proposed Plan for Elite Schools?

At the Christa McAuliffe School in Brooklyn, three quarters of the eighth graders were offered seats at the city’s specialized high schools this year. That number would fall to 7 percent under a new plan.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/29/nyregion/specialized-school-exam-losers-winners.html

What About Gifted & Talented Programs?

The NYC Department of Education has a program to identify students who excel in school, specifically math and ELA. It’s called the gifted and talented program. It appears to be a program that actually works. The majority of students who are accepted to the NYC Specialized HSs are students from the gifted and talented programs.

In our opinion it seems that students are accepted to the Specialized high schools because they were given a better education in the G&T programs or that they were accepted because they were correctly identified in the G&T application process. Whatever the reason is, it seems like more G&T programs would help more students get better educations and give more students an opportunity to get into a NYC Specialized High School. Eliminating the G&T programs would be detrimental to students’ education. However, that is something that has been proposed.

Desegregation Plan: Eliminate All Gifted Programs in New York

A group appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed seismic changes to the nation’s largest school system.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/26/nyregion/gifted-programs-nyc-desegregation.html

What about the Asian Americans?

Why Asian-Americans Feel Powerless in the Battle over New York’s Élite High Schools

Yuh-Line Niou, a Democratic State Assembly member who represents a downtown Manhattan district that is more than forty per cent Asian, expressed concern about the way that the proposal was rolled out. “Historically, Asians have never been given much of a say in civic or political matters, and here the Mayor is again deliberately cutting them out of a discussion that intimately affects their lives,” she said. Moreover, the problem begins far earlier than high school. “By the time we face segregation in our high schools, it is a symptom of our system’s failings, not the cause,” she told me. “How can we expect to heal a tree of a root disease by trimming its leaves?”

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/why-asian-americans-feel-powerless-in-the-battle-over-new-yorks-elite-high-schools

Past SHSAT Questions from Previous Handbooks

There have been some changes to the math section over the years. One of the biggest changes is the fact that there are student response questions in addition to multiple choice questions. The test also changed from 5 multiple choice options to only 4. The overall number of questions also changed from 50 to 57 math questions.
To practice, it is a good idea to use previous sample questions from the NYC DOE as a reference. Here are three sets of previous questions from the Specialized High School Handbooks:
Math Questions from the 2018-2019 Handbook
Math Questions from the 2016-2017 Handbook
Math Questions from the 2015-2016 Handbook

In addition to the questions, we have over 22,000 practice questions included in our Online SHSAT Prep Course. Join today and start increasing your score.

Additional SHSAT Resources

SHSAT Score Calculator
SHSAT Prep
Online SHSAT Prep
SHSAT Cut-Off Scores
Tip for Answering Questions on the SHSAT