The SHSAT is one big, problem-solving game, given to you as a multiple-choice exam (except for the new 5 grid-in questions on the math section.) Three awesome features of this multiple-choice exam for the new SHSAT include: 1) you have fewer answer options (four instead of five) for each question; 2) you will only have one correct answer per question; and 3) wrong answers don’t count against your score—only correct answers are scored, so you need to answer all questions, even if you aren’t 100% sure you’re right.
Before we tackle specifics of the SHSAT, let’s talk about basic strategies for taking any multiple-choice exam that will really help you on the SHSAT.
Tip 1: Easy Questions First!
Most students open up a test book, and work the problems from start-to-finish, left-to-right, top-to-bottom. This is a bad way to take a test! Why? You’ll sap your energy working questions that you should really come back to, and your confidence might be shaken for questions you should easily know by questions that sucked up your time.
You already know how important time management is for this exam, and so you know you want to dedicate the most time for questions that aren’t obvious right away. So, before you answer any questions in any sub-section of the test, scan the questions briefly and put a star next to the questions that jump out to you as ones you can easily answer. Then, start with those questions! You’ll have finished a large part of the test…correctly…and then you can spend the rest of the solid amount of time you have left to questions that need a little bit more work.
Tip 2: Visualize the Answer!
Another mistake students tend to make is that they look at what four answers are options under each question before they think about what the correct answer could be. But, your first thought is often right when you approach multiple-choice. That doesn’t mean your first guess is often right—instead, you should visualize the correct answer before you see which answers are available to you.
Most multiple-choice questions should be done by working the answers. But, working the answers after you already have a sense of what the answer should be will put you on the right track to eliminating answers that you know can’t be correct, and then honing on the proper answer that is listed. So, visualize the correct answer first if you can, and then be smart about eliminating wrong answers.
Tip 3: Wildly Wrong Answers! Sibling Answers!
Once you’ve answered the questions on the sub-sections that are obvious to you, you can go back to the ones that will require a little bit more time and work. Remember, this is a problem-solving game, even more than it is a test about skill. So, know how the game is built. Here’s an inside tip you need to know about people who are writing the SHSAT: they will always give you an answer choice that is wildly wrong. For challenging questions, find the one answer that is wildly wrong, and cross it out!
That will leave you with three answers. Of those three, two of them will be sibling answers. Sibling answers are closely related, look a lot alike, and it can be confusing to tell them apart. When you get sibling answers, ignore the answer that is not a sibling. It won’t be correct. That leaves you with a 50% chance of getting the answer correct, even if you aren’t sure about which of the siblings is the right answer.
Tip 4: Never, Always, All, None!
Which answers are almost never a correct option? The choices that include absolutes are almost never correct. (We can’t use an absolute to absolutely deny the correctness of any absolute!)
If you see answer choices that include the words “Never, Always, All, or None”, put an asterisk by them, and be on the look-out. Typically, the only correct answer choices that include an absolute are questions for which every answer choice contains an absolute. If you know this ahead of time, it can save you time. You’ll only need to carefully read answer choices with your asterisk only if the other answer choices just don’t fit.
Tip 5: LETTER OF THE DAY!
Here’s a strategy you absolutely need to use on Test Day: Letter of the Day! Before you take the test, pick out your favorite letter, A, B, C, or D. That single letter is your Letter of the Day. For any question that you have visualized the correct answer, eliminated obviously incorrect answers, can’t find the siblings, and still can’t come up with the right answer, you are going to answer with your Letter of the Day. It’s the Letter of the Day because you are going to use the letter you have chosen every time you have visualized, eliminated, and are stuck.
Why? This is a pretty basic tip based on math. Statistically, you have a better shot at getting some answer correct using your Letter of the Day then you do randomly selecting answer choices, filling in bubbles based on some tree pattern, or by picking whatever answer you used in the question that preceded the one on which you’re stuck. So, after you’ve done all your work and you are still stuck—LETTER OF THE DAY!
Be smart about Letter of the Day, though. Let’s say that your Letter of the Day is ‘B’, and you are on a problem that you have visualized, worked, and eliminated an answer choice as obviously false. If the answer choice you’ve eliminated as incorrect is ‘B’—guess what your answer choice won’t be, even if it’s the Letter of the Day. Use the Letter of the Day in cases where you’re actually stuck, rather than on answers you know can’t be true. Also, if you’ve been able to get down to the sibling answers on the exam, but neither of the siblings is your Letter of the Day, choose the sibling answer over the Letter of the Day. Letter of the Day is for when you’ve used the other tips and you still aren’t sure.