Practice makes perfect, and there’s no such thing as too much time when it comes to preparing for the SHSAT. We encourage students to begin prepping for the test in 7th grade and continue in the summer before 8th grade.
Balancing schoolwork, extracurriculars, high school applications and test prep can be difficult for students and parents alike. The SHSAT is only given once, at the end of October, and there is no opportunity to retake it. Starting in 8th grade, after school is in session, leaves only about seven weeks to prepare for a really important and challenging, 3-hour exam. For these reasons, we recommend that students begin preparing for the SHSAT during the summer months, if at all possible.
Kids often struggle with boredom and too much downtime when school is out of session, and possible restrictions on group activities like summer camps and beach trips this summer will compound this. What better way to utilize this free time than by alleviating some of the pressure in the academic year ahead? When students begin SHSAT prep over the summer, they often find themselves better able to concentrate on the task at hand since they don’t have other assignments. This alleviates the pressure of such a big test, which many students find daunting.
Test prep is all about practice and consistency, and every student deserves enough time to properly hone her skills. Since the SHSAT is held at the end of October, starting over the summer gives students plenty of time to prepare without having the pressure of the test hanging over them for too long.
Here’s how you can start:
1. Research Specialized High Schools.
Before your child jumps into SHSAT prep, make sure the Specialized High School route is right for her. Discuss specific academic interests with your child, speak with school counselors about your options, and attend some virtual tours and open houses on school websites.
2. Read, read, read.
The ELA portion of the SHSAT tests reading skills and knowledge of the English language. Many students have trouble retaining pertinent information when reading prose passages on the test, or struggle to get through this section in time. The best way to work through these challenges in advance is by engaging in a regular reading regimen. Students who read on a regular basis have an easier time retaining information, acquire a more robust vocabulary, and often develop the ability to read passages more quickly. Read our in-depth article about vocabulary building!
3. Take a practice or diagnostic test at home.
The best thing to do when it comes to jumping into test prep is to take a diagnostic test. It can be empowering to understand what the gaps are and how much studying is needed to fill those gaps. This will also help parents, tutors and teachers get a sense of how to best support the student through his studies. Ivy Tutors Network now offers an at-home SHSAT mock test, so you can start test prep with confidence that you are targeting your most needed areas.
4. Pick up an SHSAT workbook and start practicing.
If a 7th grader does even just an hour a week of SHSAT practice, she will be in better shape than the vast majority of other students by the time they get to 8th grade. The NYC Department of Education releases a free SHSAT student handbook every year with practice questions, but you can also pick up a workbook online or at a bookstore.
5. Brush up on math skills.
The SHSAT asks students to utilize problem-solving skills in Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry. Whether starting to prepare for the SHSAT at the end of 7th grade, the summer between 7th and 8th grades or at the beginning of 8th grade (right before the exam), many students may not have yet learned some of the math topics they are expected to know for the SHSAT. This can make the test seem much harder. Encountering math that is foreign to the student can feel devastating and make the student lose confidence in her abilities.
6. Time your practices.
Many students forget to consider time management when they prep for the SHSAT. Once the student has gotten familiar with the format and content of the test, make sure he gets in the habit of timing himself when practicing so he can gauge his progress.
7. Get help.
Ivy’s tutors are experts at helping students learn smart studying and test taking strategies, understand key concepts and build confidence, skills that are vital for the SHSAT, SAT, ACT and more. Regular tutoring sessions can create necessary structure and reinforcement that students often need to practice consistently. We also offer SHSAT Strategies, a small group online workshop where students take a diagnostic exam, review content and learn tricks and strategies for excelling on this challenging test.
The SHSAT can be an overwhelming challenge that can easily provoke anxiety and dread in the first months of eighth grade. It doesn’t have to be. The key is starting early, with regular reading and practice targeted to the skills and areas that the student needs most.
The students who get into the specialized schools aren’t geniuses; they weren’t born knowing how to take the SHSAT. In fact, what unites them is that they all wanted it really badly and studied hard to make it happen. That is the kind of work ethic that makes students thrive at the specialized schools and beyond.