The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is something that will, or has, plagued every person in our school. Around this time of year is when most students begin to study for this test. I’ve been through the process and I know the stress, so I thought I would share my personal approach to the exam.
Before I divulge my tips, I should mention that it is 100% okay if a specialized school is not for you. It just means you might have a different approach to how you want to spend the next 4 years of your life. One student in our school who didn’t take the SHSAT related, “Sometimes the Specialized High Schools can be extremely stressful and you’re better off in a different school where you’ll enjoy it more.” However, for many like myself, a Specialized School is the way to go. In this article, I will focus more on the 3 high schools that interested me the most: Stuyvesant High School, Staten Island Technical High School, and Brooklyn Technical High School.
Choosing a School
What to Consider:
- Location of the School. You may think (for example) that Stuyvesant is only an extra 20 minutes from your house than Brooklyn Tech, but once you actually get to High School, those 40 minutes lost per day may be drastic.
- Transportation. I know a lot of parents may feel overprotective of their children about this, while for others it’s a no-brainer. Either way, make sure you know how to get to each school. Stuyvesant: train, express bus. Brooklyn Tech: train. Staten Island Tech: bus. Be warned- I have done my research and student Metro Cards DO NOT cover express bus trips, which cost $6.50 per ride.
- Neighborhood. Consider that you will be spending a sizeable portion of your day there, maybe even going out for lunch or food after school.
- Programs. If you like the AP courses, and regular classes, that’s a really important indicator. Don’t forget to consider if your area of interest is taught in the school. Why be a Stuy-or-Die student if you don’t think that the school programs fit you?
- Clubs/Sports. Extracurricular activities are where you make friends. CHOOSE WISELY! Clubs and Sports are just important as academics for many in high school.
What is the SHSAT?
The Specialized High School Test is a test for 8th and 9th graders who wish to attend a Specialized High School. Most students already know that the test is 150 minutes long, containing a Verbal and Mathematics section. The test is in late October.
How I Studied
My studying approach was extremely different from the approach of most students in our school – and I only recommend it for those who have will power. Instead of taking test prep courses, I studied myself. I borrowed “Kaplan New York City Specialized High School Admissions Test 2013” from my local library, as well as “Master the NYC High School Admissions Tests” (Peterson’s), 7th edition. Finally, I bought “Barron’s SHSAT: Specialized High School Admissions Test, 2nd Edition.” Barnes and Noble sells it for about 10 dollars. I gathered all these materials by late June, about 4 months before the test. The school provides an SHSAT Test Prep booklet, and about 2 weeks of studying was devoted to that book alone. I completed one practice test over the course of a few days, solving problems about half an hour a day, at my own pace. I just wanted to familiarize myself with some of the content of the test. On my first practice test, I had a raw score of about 70. But this was the first time I had ever even tried an SHSAT problem. I completed the second practice test with a time limit. I received about a 75 raw score on that test.
After finishing that booklet by mid-July, I moved on to Kaplan’s Test Prep book, simply because it seemed to have thorough explanations of what I needed to know. I read through the whole book and completed all the practice problems over the course of a month, studying an average of an hour each day, including weekends. I took notes on the “100 Math Concepts”, as math was my weaker point. I struggled with the quadratic equations and geometry, not understanding an average of 10 of the important concepts. I decided to disregard them, which was wise because this info was not on the test. We would only learn them in the middle of Algebra! I completed another practice test in early August, this time in Kaplan, and scored a 90. I left one practice test for October.
Next, I started on the Barron’s book in mid-August. I kept the same pace as with Kaplan, and finished the whole book. I completed ALL of the practice tests, scoring an average of 85-90 on them all. I finished this book by Mid-September.
Finally, I worked on Peterson’s book until early-October, completing about 5 of their mini tests. This book was probably the least helpful to me.
In Mid-October, I completed my last Kaplan test, and received a whopping 99 raw score! I didn’t study after this.
BTW: I would rank (from difficult to easy) the books as: Barron’s, Kaplan, and then Peterson’s.
Do I suggest my studying technique? Are you a devoted student? Do you do all of your homework? Do you show initiative? If you answered yes to all of that, then you probably have the willpower to do the same thing I did. But be warned, studying alone isn’t easy. You need to be truly motivated. I admit, I did slack off quite a few times. But, overall, I pushed myself to my limits.
How Others Studied
I’d say about 90% of the students in my class, maybe more, went to a test prep course. The popular choices were: A+ Academy and Kaplan Courses. I, obviously, don’t have much to say about these courses, although I do know they have cost some students up to $4,000. One student exclusively laid out the Pros and Cons of A+ Academy for me. She said, “It’s boring. We just did the same exact tests week after week (the content changed, but the actual format didn’t). Then, my scores began to drop because it was the same repetitive procedure. And, it took up so much time to go. More than half of my weekends and Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent at A+ Academy. At the same time, I got to learn a lot about the SHSAT, like how they grade it and the specific types of questions they put there.”
The Day of the Test
On the day of the test, I wasn’t particularly nervous. I arrived at the exact time the test ticket said, to Brooklyn Tech, my designated location. I showed my test ticket to the guard, and proceeded to walk into the auditorium. They began filing us upstairs, and I just happened to be in the last group to go up. In the room, we handed all of our electronics to the teacher. I wore a watch, but the room had a functional clock. Once the test started, I began with the Logical section, then the Scrambled Paragraphs, then Reading, then Math. The Logical section was fairly similar to Barron’s and Kaplan. Scrambled Paragraphs were easier than Barron’s, more on level with Kaplan. The Math was easy (like Kaplan) at times, with only a few challenging questions (like Barron’s). Of the 100 essential math concepts in Kaplan, the 10 that I didn’t understand were luckily not on the test. Overall, the test was somewhat easier than I expected.
How to Control the Stress
RELAX! TAKE MY APPROACH: realize that if you don’t get into your dream school, it’s okay! It’s just high school. It’s not about the reputation of the school; it’s about what you make of your experience there.