SHSAT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
(a.k.a) How to choose a specialized high school?
(a.k.a) How to prepare for SHSAT – Specialized High School Admission Test?
By SamSchool Learning Center

(The information given here are personal opinion / suggestion of the author. Readers are advised to consult educators / guidance counselors in their respective schools to make their own decisions.)

What does SHSAT stand for?

SHSAT stands for Specialized High Schools Admission Test.

What is SHSAT?

SHSAT is an admission test conducted by the New York City Department of Education ( for students who seek admissions in one of the specialized high schools in New York City.

What are Specialized High Schools?

NYC Department of Education has classified the following nine high schools in New York City as “Specialized High Schools”:

— Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (Manhattan)

— Bronx High School of Science (Bronx)

— The Brooklyn Latin School (Brooklyn)

— Brooklyn Technical High School (Brooklyn)

— High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College (Manhattan)

— High School of American Studies at Lehman College (Bronx)

— Queens High School for the Sciences at York College (Queens)

— Staten Island Technical High School (Staten Island)

— Stuyvesant High School (Manhattan)

There is at least one specialized high school in each borough of the city. Except in LaGuardia High School, admissions to other specialized high schools are based on SHSAT score. In LaGuardia High School, admissions are based on previous academic records and auditions.

What is “special” about “specialized high schools”?

Specialized high schools are just like any other high schools – except that students in specialized high schools have been offered admissions based on SHSAT score. Admissions in non-specialized high schools are based on other criteria such as previous academic records, residential location of the students, etc.,

In general, most students in specialized high schools have certain minimum level of academic skills in math and English – which helps them to perform well in high school. As a result, the Regents score, SAT score and college admission rates in specialized high schools are generally higher than other high schools.

Does that mean students in non-specialized high schools do not perform well?

That’s not true! Students in many non-specialized high schools perform as well as those in specialized high schools. In fact, according to US News (2012), top 3 high schools in New York City are actually non-specialized! (See: US News New York High Schools.)

Here are US News New York State Ranking for some of the specialized and non-specialized high schools:

State Rank 1: The Baccalaureate School for Global Education, Long Island City, New York (non-specialized)

State Rank 5: High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, New York (non-specialized)

State Rank 6: The High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Bronx (specialized)

State Rank 7: Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Jamaica (specialized)

State Rank 8: Townsend Harris High School, Flushing (non-specialized)

State Rank 9: Stuyvesant High School, New York (specialized)

State Rank 10: The Bronx High School of Science, Bronx (specialized)

State Rank 13: Staten Island Technical High School, Staten Island (specialized)

State Rank 25: New Explorations Into Science,Technology and Math High School, New York (non-specialized)

State Rank 31: Eleanor Roosevelt High School, New York (non-specialized)

State Rank 34: Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences, Brooklyn (non-specialized)

State Rank 45: NYC Lab High School for Collaborative Studies, New York (non-specialized)

State Rank 49: Academy of American Studies, Long Island City (non-specialized)

If specialized high schools are not “much better” than non-specialized high schools, how does it help to take SHSAT and seek admission in a specialized high school?

Though US News and other rankings indicate a few non-specialized high schools as better than specialized high schools, it is a definite fact that students in specialized high schools perform consistently better than most other high schools. (As mentioned earlier, this can be attributed to the fact that students in specialized high schools have certain level of academic skills in math and English, as tested by SHSAT.)

Also, preparing for SHSAT itself is a rewarding experience for students to enhance their academic skills better than ever before! No matter what the outcome of SHSAT is, students who take a professional test prep course for SHSAT benefit immensely both in math and English. In fact, this advantage will help them for years to come!

Therefore, all students must do their best to prepare well and take the SHSAT challenge – irrespective of their academic levels. If a student makes it in SHSAT, it’s good. But if a student did not get adequate score in SHSAT, he/she still gained tremendously by preparing for the test.

(At SamSchool, our students practice as many as 3,000 math exercises and hundreds of verbal section exercises during the SHSAT Prep. Naturally, this reflects in their extraordinary improvement in academic performance! Here are a couple of comments by a parent:

When my daughter Omolara came to SamSchool, her math was very weak. At SamSchool, we noticed an immense improvement in her math skills and confidence. We thank you for making this possible. You have a genuine interest and love for our children. You gave them extra sessions and even tutor them after hours. This is very impressive and shows dedication and commitment. We have only great things to say about SamSchool and would recommend your program any day. Oluremi Omotosho, mother of Omolara Omotasha (SHSAT 2011).

I just wanted to say thank you once more for the positive impact you had in Omolara’s life last year. Your classes gave Omolara so much confidence in herself and she was the Valedictorian of her class this June. She also applied and was accepted into the Gateway to Medicine Program at Brooklyn Tech. My entire family is grateful to you. Oluremi Omotosho (Omolara’s Mom) – Email sent on July 2, 2012.)

So, which specialized high school is best for my child?

That’s a million-dollar question!

Though many students want to go to Stuyvesant High School and Bronx Science High School, one of the most important criteria to consider is the everyday commute. For instance, for a student living in Bayside (Queens), it will take one-and-a-half hours to reach Stuyvesant High School – if the trains and buses are running ok. This commute will be much longer when it rains, snows or someone sneezes loudly.

The student has to be on the bus / train at 6:30 a.m. to reach Stuyvesant High School on time at 8 a.m. We leave it for you to think what time the student has to wake up and whether he/she can have any breakfast at all… The student will come back home by 6 p.m. and do homework and assignments till 10 p.m. or even later before going to bed.

There is a specialized high school in each borough for the benefit of the local residents of the borough. All specialized high schools are good and comparable to each other in performance and academic records. In fact, smaller high schools tend to perform better than the bigger ones, as the US News ranking shows. Here is an interesting article in New York Times (January 25, 2012): “City Students at Small Public High Schools Are More Likely to Graduate, Study Says.”

New York Times article We recommend Queens High School and Lehman for many of our students living in Queens and Bronx. These students do as well as those who have gone to Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Academic life in small schools are highly motivating and helpful in many ways.

In summary, academic objectives and achievements are not compromised in any way in small or “less-known” high schools in comparison with the “well-known” large high schools.

(I’ll write another article, one of these days, on “How to choose a high school in New York City?”)

Is Queens High School safe?

We hope you are not asking about the building of the high school! :)

You are probably asking about the neighborhood… Well, the campus, which is inside York College, is very safe. As long as the students do not try to “explore” the neighborhood (of ANY HIGH SCHOOL IN THE CITY), it is safe. the safety records of Queens High School, which is operating for 10+ years now, is impressive. (Many also ask: In what way the subway ride and 3-blocks of walk on Manhattan Chambers Street to Stuy is safer than Queens Jamaica or Bronx?)

How many questions are in SHSAT?

SHSAT consists of 2 parts – Verbal and Math. Each part has 50 questions and therefore, there are 100 questions in the test. (Well, actually the verbal part has only 45 questions, but 5 of them have score of 2 points each.)

Is there any ELA in the test?

The test does not have any sections for English Language Arts. However, there may be a few language arts questions in reading comprehension.

What are the subjects covered in the test?

Just math and English.

Are there any writing or open-ended questions?

No, there is no writing. All questions are multiple choice questions. Each question comes with 5 possible answers.

I did not do well in 5th, 6th and 7th grades. Would I be eligible to take SHSAT?

Yes. Previous performances are not considered for SHSAT!

What is the total score in SHSAT?


Are all correct answers get the same points?

No, NYC Department of Education evaluates the test based on a “secret” formula. So, some questions are worth more points than others.

Is there any negative scoring?

No, all incorrect answers are ignored. That’s why students should mark answer for all questions – including the ones they don’t know.

How long is the test?

In terms of number of pages, SHSAT runs to about 25 pages.  In terms of time, you have 150 minutes for the entire test.

What is the “passing score” in SHSAT?

There is no passing score in SHSAT. Out of about 30,000 students who take the test, about 3,000 – 4,000 top-scoring students are offered admissions in specialized high schools.

If a student gets 500 out of 800, will he/she get SHSAT admission?

If 3,000 – 4,000 students get 501 and above, the student with 500 will not get an offer! But in the past years, the lowest score for admission is around 470 out of 800.

That means only about 3,000 to 4,000 students score about 60% and more. The remaining 25,000+ students score lower than 60%. That would help you to know how challenging SHSAT is…

What are the cut-off scores for each specialized high school?

The cut-off scores vary each year. Here are approximate cut-off scores for a few specialized high schools:

Stuyvesant – 560 to 570

Bronx Science – 495 – 500

Brooklyn Tech – 475 – 480

How many times can a student take SHSAT?

Just twice. Once for 9th grade admissions (when the student is in 8th grade) and the next for 10th grade admissions (when the student is in 9th grade).

Who are eligible to take SHSAT?

A student must live in one of the 5 boroughs of New York City to be eligible to take SHSAT.

Can students from other locations / states take SHSAT?

If a student moves into New York City (5 boroughs) before the schools reopen in September, the students can take a special SHSAT in summer (usually in the end of August). Successful students start the school year in a specialized high school.

(At SamSchool, we have several success stories of out-of-city students who took our Early Prep / Summer Prep courses for summer SHSAT. Many have bagged admissions into Stuy and Bronx! In fact, SamSchool’s highest SHSAT score was obtained by Alexandrino Danilov (got 711 out of 800) who took the 9th grade SHSAT in summer!)

Ok, now, how to prepare for the SHSAT?

Unlike tests kids take in school, SHSAT is very different and very challenging. It does not just test to see if a student knows how to divide a fraction by a decimal number, but, rather finds out if a student knows how to apply fractions in an application. Take a look at these sample math questions from an actual SHSAT:

P is a point that is not on line m. How many lines can be drawn through P that form a 30 degree angle with line m?

A train traveling at a speed of 30 miles per hour passes point A on its way to point B. At the same time, on a parallel track, another train traveling at a speed of 70 miles per hour passes point B on its way to point A. If point A and point B are 300 miles apart, how far from point B will the trains meet?

Similarly, the verbal section tests the reading and analytical skills of the student, like these:

Which of the following situations is most like the one involving sea otters and sea urchins as it is presented in the passage?

John will not go to the party if Sarah goes. Sarah will go to the party if Peter’s mother comes home in time. Based only on the information above, which of the following must be true?

So, SHSAT Takers and their parents must become aware that most students – even students getting 90% in school – need to prepare extensively for SHSAT.

The first step is to determine what kind of tutoring or test prep a student needs. At this time, we need to differentiate between “tutoring” and “test prep”. By “tutoring,” we mean teaching the basic concepts and problems based on them – such as how to divide a fraction by another fraction or a decimal number.

Test Prep, on the other hand, is developing necessary skills to score high in SHSAT. Some of these test prep skills are –

–Understanding / comprehending a variety of SHSAT-style problems in each topic. (At SamSchool, we solve over 3,000 SHSAT-style problems!)

–Techniques to solve such problems in under 90 seconds.

–Learning and practicing skills to approach various segments of the test in the most effient way and complete the test on time.

So, “tutoring” is much like learning how to drive a car the first time and “test prep” is learning how to win a car race.

(Did you know that, at SamSchool, we administer an admission test to determine if a student needs “tutoring” or “test prep”?)

Generally, it’s a good idea to start SHSAT Tutoring or Test Prep early, so the student will have adequate time to learn, practice and feel confident about SHSAT. 7th grade January is a good time to begin SHSAT Prep.

Next, here are ways to prepare for SHSAT Prep:

Self Prep: Except for a very small number of students, this is not recommended because the students may not know the best techniques for doing the test well.

Prep by Parents: Besides the fact that many kids do not want to learn from their parents, it is also a fact that parents are not test prep professionals. Knowledgeable parents may offer some help with math and reading, but, for best results, please leave this job to test prep professionals! 

Private tutoring: If a students needs to learn / review basic concepts, private tutoring will be helpful. But private tutors may not be test prep professionals and may not have necessary outfit to accomplish a successful test prep.

Some parents and students believe that only one-on-one tutoring would help. But very often, well-structured group classes motivate and challenge the students much better than one-on-one tutoring. In general, group classes try to elevate students to a higher level…

Professional Test Prep: Just a handful of institutions and private tutors offer professional test prep which can be determined by factors such as the use of structured course material, who conducts the classes — a tutor with little experience or a test prep specialist with experience in SHSAT, etc.,

How to find a good test prep professional?

A few questions would help you to recognize a good test prep professional…

–How many students did you teach in the last few years and how many got SHSAT admissions?

–How many years of experience does the instructor have in SHSAT Prep? (Asking “For how many years have been offering SHSAT classes” or “how many years old is your tutoring center?” will not help…)

–Do you have structured course material?

You can also refer to the old students of the tutor / institution to learn if the course was helpful.

Is it enough if a student takes a test prep course in summer?

It depends on the basic skills of the student. If a student is strong in math and reading, a summer test prep will be good enough. But, most students will benefit by a longer test prep.

How many practice tests should a student try?

Many students try to do every available practice test in the world! That’s not necessarily the best way to prepare for SHSAT.

The best approach involves 3 steps:

(1) Review math and reading skills with exercises. (Several weeks)

(2) Practice SHSAT-style exercises (not full-length practice tests) in each topic and learn techniques to solve various types of problems and time-saving techniques. For instance, a student can do a hundred SHSAT-style exercises just in percentages. (Several more weeks)

(3) Do full-length practice tests only after steps (1) and (2).

(At SamSchool, students take their first full-length practice test only in August! After each practice test, we analyze the strong and weak areas and discuss how the student could have done better in terms of topics, techniques and time. In all, our students do about 8 to 10 full-length practice tests during the test prep, but only after steps 1 and 2.)

What are the precautions to consider for SHSAT Prep?

–Don’t listen to any advice / suggestions / recommendations / rumors of your classmates. They know just what and how much you know and nothing more!

(A student taking SHSAT enrolled for a swimming class because his classmate told him that chances of getting Stuy is higher if a student knows swimming! After the SHSAT, the student got a medal in swimming but not any SHSAT offers…)

–Do not go to a tutoring class just because your friend is going there! Assess what exactly you’d need to score well in SHSAT.

–Don’t follow any advice from the web without consulting your teacher / guidance counselor / parent. (Example: For reading comprehension, a website suggests to read only what you need to answer the given question! This will be disastrous in many situations…)

Can we contact you if we need help or advice with regard to SHSAT?

Advice? We are very good at that…  Send your questions online at:

(This article corresponds to: SHSAT Tips, SHSAT Prep, SHSAT Test Prep, SHSAT Tutor, SHSAT Tutoring, SHSAT Help, SHSAT Tips, SHSAT suggestions, SHSAT FAQ.)

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