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5 Tips for Excelling on the SHSAT



The SHSAT is how particularly gifted New York grade-school students gain admission to one of eight prestigious specialized schools in the city. Eighth- and ninth-grade students invest significant time into SHSAT preparation to secure a spot at one of these schools.


There’s no secret to succeeding on the SHSAT, but there certainly are some strategies you can use to maximize your chances of success. Below, we outline five tips to help guide you through the grueling SHSAT testing process.

1. Choose the Right Approach

There are two different aspects to the SHSAT: the English language arts (ELA) section and the mathematics section. In the ELA part, students are asked to identify and correct grammatical errors, refine the writing quality of a text, and extract the meaning of a reading, drawing their own interpretations. In the mathematics section, students are confronted with both word problems and computational questions meant to test a range of math skills, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They must also display an understanding of decimals, fractions, and statistics.


Students are free to choose which part they complete first. The order can greatly influence your confidence during the test, resulting in an increased or decreased final score, so reflect on your own test-taking style and determine which approach is right for you. Do you want to start with your strong section to boost your confidence and put you in the right mindset to take on the more difficult part? Or do you want to start with your weaker subject so that you face less time pressure for the more challenging section? It comes down to the individual, so do a bit of introspection to determine what works for you.


2. Know How to Pace Yourself

The SHSAT differs from typical standardized tests in that it doesn’t set time limits for the mathematics and ELA portions, allowing students to divide the overall test time however they wish. Test-takers can use this feature to their advantage by pacing themselves wisely. For some, such as those who lose track of time or those who get stuck on a particularly difficult question, this is an additional challenge. However, if you apply the right methods, this can help you maximize your grade on the test.


Before beginning the test, determine a basic plan of how long you’ll spend on each portion of the test. The ideal strategy differs from student to student, but some prefer to allocate 90 minutes to each section, whereas others set aside a bit of extra time for their weaker subject. If you’re having difficulties determining the best pacing technique for you, an expert professional tutor may be able to guide you in identifying your test-taking style.


3. Elevate Your Chances of Guessing Right

You won’t lose points for wrong answers, so you should answer all questions on the test, even if it’s just a wild guess.


In most cases, though, there are techniques to narrow down the possibilities. For example, instead of trying to pick the right answer immediately, you can first try to eliminate the wrong answers. While reading through the questions, it’s a good idea to cross out answers you’re certain are incorrect. That way, even if you still aren’t sure about the right answer, your chances of guessing correctly are significantly higher.


If you’re looking at a multiple-choice question, try determining the answer on your own before taking a look at the answer choices. Some of the incorrect answers may try to lead you astray, but if you think rigorously about the question first, you can stay focused on the right answer.


Don’t get stuck on a single problem. Keep moving forward. There’s no defined order you have to complete the questions in, so if you’re having particular difficulties with one question, just skip it for the time being and work on the next one. The answer may come to you as you work through other problems, and if it doesn’t, just return to it at the end and make your best guess. Remember, all the questions are worth the same number of points, so aim to complete as many as possible.


4. Work Backward on Math Problems

Can’t figure out a math problem? Start with each answer choice and work backward to see if it makes sense. If you still can’t determine the one correct answer, this approach can help you use the process of elimination to narrow it down.

5. Support Your Answers in the ELA Section

In the ELA portion of the test, giving the correct answer isn’t enough. You need to justify your thinking. Make sure to relate your choice to a specific point in the text that supports your answer. If you can’t find support in the passage, perhaps you haven’t selected the correct answer.


The SHSAT is not easy. It’s meant to identify the most talented students in NYC. However, there’s more to this exam than knowledge alone. Students who master the art of test-taking witness significantly higher scores than their peers. Of course, you’ll still need to prepare diligently, but the tips we’ve outlined in this post should enhance your chances of achieving a high score on the test and gaining admission to one of NYC’s top schools. And if you want to elevate your chances even further, work with a professional SHSAT tutor.

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