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Throughout New York City sits nine of the cities most elite public high schools. These high schools, aptly named Specialized High schools, provide academic instruction to the city’s brightest students. These high schools each have focused specializations and educate students using the most effective instructional methods. Since these schools are public high schools, any student can apply for admissions for one of the highly coveted seats. The SHSAT is a standardized assessment that is required for any specialized high school-hopeful.

Students prepare for at least a year for their SHSAT testing date to adequately prepare to show their knowledge on this rigorous standardized assessment.

At its core, the SHSAT is an academic competition designed to challenge the state’s brightest students to earn a space at the most elite high schools in the city. So, many students often view this as a challenge that needs to be conquered.

To prepare for the SHSAT, you must first understand what the test is, what is on the test, and your chances of earning a coveted seat at one of New York’s top high schools.

Let’s dive in!

What is the SHSAT?

The SHSAT, or Specialized High Schools admissions test, is a standardized assessment that is offered to all 8th-grade students within the five boroughs of New York City.

The test is administered in October, and students are notified of their acceptance into one of the specialized high schools in March.

This assessment will test students on their math and ELA knowledge covered up to 8th grade and score them on their ability to identify answers from a list of options correctly.

Students are expected to take the assessment in the borough in which they live; however, they can attend any of the high schools (pending acceptance, of course).

On testing day, students will rank their preferred high school on their test, so students and parents must discuss their options before testing day.

Per the Stuyvesant High School website,

“The same exam is given for all eight schools, and students who qualify will be offered a seat in one of their choices. The qualifying score depends upon the number of seats available and the scores of all the candidates. The tests are graded and arranged in rank, from the highest to the lowest score. Each school has a number of freshman and sophomore seats to fill. Seats are filled, starting with the highest test scores. When all available seats have been filled, the cutoff mark is determined.

Students who miss the cutoff of their first-choice school may be assigned to their second choice school if their score is above the cutoff for that school. This procedure continues until all seats in the specialized high schools have been filled.”


Why Should I Take the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is a test that is administered to 8th-graders throughout New York City. There are many benefits to taking the SHSAT, including:

Exposure to high-stakes standardized assessments.

There are many standardized assessments that a student will have to take over their academic career, so the more exposure a student gets, the better. Students will at least have to take state standardized assessments and the SAT. But this doesn’t include any additional standardized assessments such as the GMAT, GRE, and more.

An understanding of your test score in correlation to your academic knowledge.

Many students feel comfortable with what they have learned in core classes. In short, they know the material. However, when put under the stress of a standardized assessment, the scores they earn might not accurately reflect that.

When students take the SHSAT, they will identify if they are demonstrating their knowledge accurately on standardized tests. If their scores are lower than expected, they can target and prepare for those specific sections for future assessments.


The opportunity to attend one of New York’s top-ranking high schools.

The Specialized High Schools in NYC are some of the most coveted spots in the world for teens.  

“Although each of the specialized high schools has its unique features, Stuyvesant emphasizes mathematics, science, and technology education. Stuyvesant also offers many intriguing electives and a wide range of advanced placement courses. Of course, Stuyvesant also offers all the basic New York State required academic courses that each student needs for success in college and beyond. Enrichment courses are available in the Humanities. The exciting and academically challenging atmosphere of the specialized high schools stimulates both the students and the teachers.”

Students will find each school focuses on a unique specialization, offer many courses to challenge and develop them as citizens of the world.

There is the added benefit of future goals for students who attend one of these high schools. Bronx Technical High School boasts a 100% graduation rate (and shares the same statistic with the seven other specialized high schools). Additionally, graduates of these high schools can expect to outscore most of the nation on their SATs and acceptance into their preferred universities and colleges (many Ivy league or internationally regarded).


SHSAT by the Numbers

Let’s dig into the numbers:

With that many hopeful students taking the exam for a seat at one of the nine New York City specialized high schools, you may assume there are many spots open for these students.

There really isn’t. Of the nine high schools combined, there are about 4,500 seats available for incoming 9th-grade students.

For students who are optimistic about their chances of claiming their space in 10th grade, these schools combined only offer a total of 108 seats to prospective 10th graders.

Without sounding like a downer, 8th-graders have the best shot at earning one of those seats, and their chance is pretty low.

That’s why it’s critically important to begin studying for the SHSAT at least one year before the testing date to prepare effectively.


2019 SHSAT Cutoff Scores

High School Lowest Admitted Score (Out of 800) Highest Admitted Score (Out of 800)
Brooklyn Tech 498 631
Stuyvesant 560 665
Bronx Science 525 696
Queens Science @ York 514 524
Brooklyn Latin 488 505
HSAS @ Lehman 524 617
Staten Island Tech 527 688
HSMSE @ City College 519 620

Cuttoff scores for the SHSAT vary from year to year. Most recently, Mayor De Blasio expanded the number of seats for the Discovery Program, which reduced the number of seats available for regular admission.

Since there were fewer seats available, minimum score cutoffs at the scores were increased to adjust for the chance.

Note: Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School (the ninth specialized high school) does not require SHSAT scores, as it requires an audition instead.


The Discovery and DREAM Programs Can Help Hopeful 8th-Graders

  the Department of Education has made an attempt to level the playing field for all students in the city.

With the rollout of the Discovery and DREAM program, students who might be marginalized because of location, resources, and ability have a fairer shot at one of the coveted seats.

The Discovery Program

For students who are interested in attending a specialized high school, but did not secure a seat through their SHSAT scores, there are some opportunities after the testing date to potentially be accepted still.

The Discovery program is a summer enrichment program that works with students who just miss the cutoff score. Students must indicate their high school preferences on their SHSAT test, and the Discovery program will work with the student for their preferred placement.

There are certain eligibility requirements for students interested in the Discovery programs.  

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

  1. 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
  2. Have scored within a certain range below the cutoff score on the SHSAT; and
  3. 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  
      and selecting the school from the list.”

Additionally, the NYC Department of Education offers the DREAM (Determination, Resiliency, Enthusiasm, Ambition, Motivation) program for students.

The Dream program is an extracurricular program that prepares students for the SHSAT.

DREAM Program Overview

The DREAM program is an extracurricular program that requires students to participate on Saturdays and during the summer.

The program’s goal is to provide SHSAT preparation to low income students.

For more information about the DREAM program, please visit the  

Luck is Not on Your Side

As much as we’d like to tell you that everybody who takes the SHSAT has a spot saved for them, it’s just not true. With over 30,000 tests administered each October, and no more than 5,000 seats, more than 85% of all test-takers will experience disappointment.

However, many experts agree that there should be more student representation for the SHSAT. There are, on average, 80,000 students in NYC annually.  Many people agree that 30,000 participants do not accurately represent the student’s in NYC.  Instead, many students assume they will score too low, so they don’t even try.

Many people believe that if more students took the assessmenthere would be a change to the cutoff scores, seat availabilitetcetc.

So, if you are nervous about taking the test, leap, and try!


Manage Expectations

As nice as it would be to think that all of the students who take the SHSAT will be accepted into the school of their choice, the unfortunate reality is that most students will not earn one of these coveted seats.

For many students, the reality that they did not earn a high enough score will be crushing, so it’s important to manage expectations to cope with the disappointment that accompanies a low test score.

Here at ArgoPrep, we value student’s emotional wellbeing, which is why we have created a resource to help wrestle with grade disappointment. If you are dealing with the disappointment that comes with an unsatisfactory SHSAT score, reach out to your family and friends for support as you cope with feelings of inadequacy, anger, or sadness.

SHSAT Format

The SHSAT format follows the same format as most other standardized assessments. There are two sections, math and ELA, and the test runs exactly three hours.

The test will assess the student’s knowledge and skills through a variety of different problem types.


Testing Accommodations

The SHSAT has become increasingly inclusive throughout the past ten years and now accommodates all IEP and 504 recommendations for students. This includes offering extended testing time for students who need it.

Additionally, schools each year serve as hosting sites to allow the exam to be more accessible for students who cannot travel to take the test.


SHSAT Math Section

The SHSAT math section is the second section of the assessment. There are 57 questions on the Math section of the assessment. You are given 90 minutes to complete all of the questions, and calculators are not allowed to solve the problems.

Fifty-two of the questions will be multiple-choice, while five will be grid-in questions.

There will be no explanation of concepts within the test, so it is important to feel prepared before the exam on what will be covered on the assessment.

Of course, there is no specific list of everything assessed on the math section of the SHSAT, so you must study middle school math to have a comprehensive understanding.

The following concepts may show up on the SHSAT:

  • Proportions
  • Probability
  • Absolute Value
  • Consecutive Integers
  • Algebraic Functions
  • Geometry
  • Scientific Notation
  • Percentages and Ratios
  • Special Right Triangles
  • and more

Quick Tips for Crushing the Math Section

For many math experts, this section can feel like a breeze. If you are confident in your math abilities, you may find yourself with extra time left over after completing the questions. If this is you, great! This extra time can serve as a time to recheck your work.

If you are nervous about your math knowledge, there are certain things that you can do to prepare for this section of the assessment.

  • Make sure you have given yourself a lot of time to study and prepare for the assessment. When you give yourself many months to study math concepts, you can identify your trouble spots with enough time to get help to understand the concepts more clearly.
  • Make sure to answer all of the questions, as there is no penalty for wrong answers. In situations where you are running out of time, and still have blank answers, make an educated guess.
  • Read the problem in its entirety before attempting to answer it. It is the test’s job to try and trick you, so there may be additional information at the end of the problem essential to arrive at the correct answer.
  • Take a deep breath before beginning the math section. The biggest mistake that students make is getting too anxious and making careless mistakes.


SHSAT English Section

The English section is the first section of the assessment. Like the math section, the English section is 57 questions, and you will have 90 minutes to complete the section.

There are two parts within the English section. The first part focuses on revising and editing. These questions will require you to demonstrate your knowledge of sentence structure and formation, punctuation, and usage.

The second section, reading comprehension, will assess student’s knowledge of the language; organization, unity, and cohesion; and topic development.

The reading comprehension section includes six separate reading passages.


Quick Tips for Crushing the English Section

  • Determine your strongest ability as it pertains to the English section. Are you stronger as an editor or reader? Start with your preferred section first so that you can get it out of the way.
  • Plan your time effectively to leave space for the reading passages. Since there are six different passages, you want to leave yourself enough time to read the passages and answer the questions.


SHSAT Scoring

Scoring the SHSAT is done a few different ways before your final score is posted. First,  your test must receive a raw score. A raw score is the most basic form of grading, which will take how many questions you answered correctly. This is exactly how a test is would look in school, your math section could look like: 45/57. 

Once a raw score is computed, it is applied to a scale for each section. The highest composite score you can earn on the SHSAT is an 800.

Computing Composite Scores

The SHSAT is unique in it’s grading and point awarding process. What that means is scoring is not linear, like it is in traditional classrooms.

Instead, the SHSAT will give more credit for students who do well in individual sections. For example, if you correctly answer 40 questions on the math section, but only 25 on the English section, the SHSAT will give you a higher composite score than if you would have gotten 35 questions right on both tests.

Composite scores account for the variation of tests so that students feel like they get an equal chance despite taking different versions of the test. This way a student can’t say, “Sally had an easier test than I did!”. Composite scores take away any perceived advantages. Additionally, the SHSAT scores a student higher if they get more questions correct in a single section.

Think about it like a multiplier on a video game. When you continually get questions right, you get a better multiplier, and composite score.

Experimental Questions

The assessment also includes 10 “experimental” questions. These questions do not count towards your final score,  instead they are for research purposes. These questions are random, so students will not know which ones they are.

Advice from Experts

The most reliable experts on the topic of the SHSAT are the students who have practiced and taking the SHSAT test. Here are some of the most common pieces of advice for students preparing to take their exam:

  • When you begin to study for the SHSAT, first start with comprehension of all middle school information. Don’t simply review a concept and say, “Yep! I get that”. Instead, take a concept, practice it, see if you get it correct, and fix any errors.
  • One month before the SHSAT, take as many practice exams as you can.
  • As you study for the exam, try to limit yourself to 1-2 practice tests per month, so you don’t overwork yourself too early in the studying process.
  • If you get stuck on a question, do not stall trying to figure out the answer. Instead, keep moving through the questions and return to your blank questions only if you finish with time to spare.
  • Don’t waste your time studying the schools themselves, when you should be studying for the SHSAT.
  • Stay at least a grade level ahead of all of your academic work. When you are performing at a higher age group, you are more likely to outperform your competition.


Increase Your SHSAT Score

If you are reading this blog post then chances are you’re considering diving into the world of SHSAT prep. Congratulations! This decision could effectively chance the rest of your life.

This decision must be made after considering all of the student responsibilities for earning a high score.  In order to prepare for the SHSAT you must commit many months of intentional test preparation in order to have a fighting chance at earning a high enough score to attend one of these elite high schools.

For some families, test prep courses are too costly (many range in cost up to $2,000 for a 14-week course).

ArgoPrep’s SHSAT preparation program guarantees to improve your composite score at least 10 points. Even better? You can use all of ArgoPrep’s resources for as little as $16 per month as you prepare for the SHSAT exam.

To learn more about ArgoPrep’s innovative and effective SHSAT prep programs, visit our website.


New York City’s specialized high schools can feel like the golden ticket to the rest of your life. With the near-promise of graduation, elite college educations, and more, it’s easy to see why parents and students alike want to gain access to one of the nine high schools in the city.

There is so much a student can do to prepare for this rigorous assessment, so don’t delay! Purchase your ArgoPrep membership today and gain access to the best test prep available!

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