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What Is the SHSAT, and Why Should You Take It?



The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), taken by eighth and ninth graders, is the key to admission to some of the top schools in all of New York City. The test is notoriously difficult, with only the most skilled youth attaining a high score and getting into NYC’s specialized high schools. Preparation for the test necessitates a lot of time and effort, with some seeking the services of specialized SHSAT tutors, as those who achieve a high score go on to receive the best education in America’s biggest metropolis.


What Are NYC’s Specialized High Schools?

New York City’s specialized high schools are designed to accommodate the best of NYC’s youth, fostering exceptionally talented students. To attend these schools, children must demonstrate outstanding academic or artistic ability.


Of these nine specialized schools, admission to eight is decided by the SHSAT. The single exception is Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, for which students must audition.

So what are the eight schools for which the SHSAT can determine admission?

  • The Bronx High School of Science

  • Stuyvesant High School

  • Brooklyn Technical High School

  • High School of American Studies at Lehman College

  • The Brooklyn Latin School

  • Queens High School for the Sciences at York College

  • High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College of New York

  • Staten Island Technical High School

These schools are like any other high school, except that their students have had to demonstrate a high understanding of English and math on the SHSAT. These skills are crucial for success in other subjects, so specialized high schools boast higher SAT scores and college admission rates than ordinary high schools.


Who Can Take the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is open to all eighth- and ninth-grade students in New York City. Any student in these grades who wishes to gain admission to a specialized high school must take the exam. Previous academic performance is not considered, so even students who have performed poorly in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades are welcome to participate. Eligibility is determined by grade level and location of residence (one of the five boroughs of New York City), not performance.


The test is available in a range of different languages. Naturally, students can take the test in English, but native speakers of Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese (Traditional or Simplified), Russian, Korean, Bengali, Urdu, and Haitian-Creole can also take the SHSAT in their mother tongues.


Students are allowed to take the test only twice. Eighth graders can take the test to secure ninth-grade admissions, and ninth graders can try their hand at landing tenth-grade admissions.


What Comprises the Test?

The test consists of two sections (ELA and mathematics) of 57 questions each, giving a total of 114 questions. The exam comprises approximately 25 pages, and students are given 150 minutes to complete it.


The ELA section is made up of two different parts. In the first one, students must identify and correct language errors in a text. In the second part, they’re tested on their reading comprehension abilities and must demonstrate their ability to read, understand, and interpret nonfiction texts.

The math section contains both word problems and computational questions. Students must demonstrate their ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, as well as show an understanding of decimals, fractions, and statistics.


How Are Students Graded?

As mentioned above, the SHSAT is divided into two sections: ELA and mathematics. First, individual scores for the two sections are calculated based on the number of correct answers given. Then, these two scores are added together to form a composite score. The Department of Education (DOE) has declared the maximum composite score to be “around 700.”

Not all questions are equal. The DOE uses a secret formula to grade the tests, so some questions award more points than others. However, points are never subtracted for incorrect answers; wrong answers are simply ignored. Therefore, students should make sure to answer every question, even if it’s just a wild guess.


Who Gains Admission after Taking the Test?

SHSAT test takers are asked to list the specialized schools they would like to enter in order of preference. After all the students have been graded, they are ranked on a scale by grade, with the highest-scoring students at the top and the lowest-scoring students at the bottom.


Then, starting at the top of the list, administrators place the best students in their first-choice schools. They work their way down the scale, placing students in their institutions of choice. If all the slots in a student’s first choice have already been filled, the student is placed in his or her second-choice school. If all the slots in that school have also been filled, the student is granted admission to his or her third choice, and so on.


There is no specific passing score. Performance is relative to the other test takers. Every year, approximately 30,000 NYC youth sit down for the test, and only the top 3,000 to 4,000 students gain admission to specialized high schools. This means that if 3,000 to 4,000 applicants score higher than 500, a score of 500 will not be enough to secure admission to one of the schools. However, in past years, admission has been offered for scores as low as 470.


That being said, each specialized high school sets its own cut-off scores. These scores vary from year to year and from school to school. Below are the approximate cut-off scores for three of the schools:

  • Brooklyn Tech: 475–480

  • Bronx Science: 495–500

  • Stuyvesant: 560–570

The SHSAT is complex and multifaceted, so it’s crucial to do your research and form a solid understanding of how the test works before starting to prepare. Start early, because a test of this caliber demands a significant amount of practice and preparation. For the best chances, hire a professional SHSAT tutor to help you prepare. Even though only a minority of students achieve a high score, thorough research and preparation will significantly elevate your chances of success on this daunting examination.

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