Best SHSAT Study Guide in 2020 – All You Need to Know

By Bobby-Tariq Tutoring Center | Updated on January 03, 2020

Best SHSAT Study Guide (2020) – All you Need to Know 

If you’re not an expert on the exam yet and don’t know how to study for the SHSAT or what to study for the SHSAT, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with this comprehensive all-you-need-to-know guide. This is the best SHSAT Study Guide you will ever come across. Take advantage of this post to answer all of your questions about the exam, gain insider insight, and learn more about preparing for this crucial next step in your education. Learn about SHSAT Cutoff scores, important math topics & ELA topics. Start reading this guide right away and learn “how to prepare for the SHSAT”.

If you’re a ninth grader who has already taken the exam but would like to retake it, check out our Everything You Need to Know About the 9th Grade SHSAT blog post.  

Table of Contents:

1.   What is the SHSAT?

2.    How many students take the SHSAT? 

3.    How many seats are offered through the SHSAT?

4.    What are the cut-off scores for the SHSAT?

5.    How are these schools ranked overall? 

6.    What makes specialized high schools so special?

7.    What are the SHSAT Math topics? Can I use a calculator? 

8.    What are the SHSAT English topics? How can I best prepare for this Section? 

9.    What are the best SHSAT Practice Tests or Review Books?

10.  Should I take the SHSAT?

11.  How many times can I take the SHSAT? 

12.  Who is eligible to take the SHSAT? 

13.  Is there a Discovery Program for the 8th Grade SHSAT?

14.  Is there a DREAM Program for the 8th Grade SHSAT?

15.  Do I need SHSAT prep or a tutor?

16.  How do I self-study for the 8th grade SHSAT? Are there free online video lessons? 

1. What is the SHSAT? 

The SHSAT, or Specialized High School Admissions Test, is a three-hour-long examination that allows students to gain entry to one of nine specialized high schools in New York City. Registration for the exam begins in early September, when seventh-grade students can reach out to their guidance counselors to enroll for the exam. The exam date is usually at the end of October, but there are make-up exams in early and mid-November. The test is accessible to anyone and everyone who lives in the five boroughs, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

The nine schools that the SHSAT governs are as follows: 

  • The Bronx High School of Science

  • Brooklyn Technical High School

  • High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College

  • High School of American Studies at Lehman College

  • Queens High School for the Sciences at York College

  • Staten Island Technical High School

  • Stuyvesant High School

  • The Brooklyn Latin School 

The exam is composed of English and Math sections, each of which comprises 400 of 800 total points possible. Both knowledge and skills are tested. In the English section, questions test English prose comprehension and revision and editing skills in writing. The Math section tests students’ ability to apply the problem-solving skills they learned in school to novel problems. 


The results are subjected to statistical analyses depending on average scores across students, in order to create a complete picture: a composite score. These results are available in mid to late March

2. How many students take the SHSAT? 

More than 30,000 eighth-graders are expected to take the SHSAT each year during the exam season. This may seem like a lot of students competing for a small number of seats (and it is!) but with preparation, practice, and a strong work ethic, this exam is totally manageable


Each year, there are also about 3,000 students taking the 9th Grade SHSAT, which is even more competitive. Read on to learn more about the number of students admitted for each grade-level and school. 

3. How many seats are offered at each school through the SHSAT?

9th vs 10th grade seats offered in 2020

While these numbers vary slightly from year to year based on a number of factors like school size and capacity, the table above shows the number of students admitted to each of the specialized high schools through the 9th and 10th grade SHSAT exams.  

As you can see above, schools like Brooklyn Technical High School had the greatest number of students admitted (1400) whereas smaller schools like the High School for American Studies at Lehman College could only accommodate about 90 students. One thing is for certain, though – the number of students admitted as ninth-graders is much higher than the number of students admitted as tenth-graders. The best way to gain acceptance into one of these schools is by studying hard for the ninth grade exam. However, there is always hope for the tenth-grade exam, even if fewer seats are available! Schools like Brooklyn Technical High School take a larger number of 10th graders compared to other specialized high schools. 

In 2019, 4,410 of about 30,000 test-takers gained admission to one of these prestigious schools. This means that about 14.7% of eighth-graders who took the test were accepted to a specialized high school. Not bad! Read on to find out more about the strategies that will help you become one of these lucky students. 


4. What are the cut-off scores for the SHSAT?

The SHSAT exam works by using a ranking system. Students are able to rank each of the schools on their exams, and their score cutoff determines whether or not they are able to attend. Most students rank their schools by cutoff score, choosing Stuyvesant High School first, then Bronx Science, the High School for American Studies, the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering, Queens Science, Brooklyn Tech, and then Brooklyn Latin, if they are not willing to make the trip to Staten Island. Ranking by cutoff score is a good strategy, as ranking Bronx Science before Stuyvesant will bar you from attending Stuyvesant even if your score is above 560. Students should think carefully about their rankings and do their research about important factors like commute times, class sizes, and student life at each school before taking the exam. 

The cutoff scores for these schools serve as a guideline for student performance in order to gain admission. While no school requires a perfect 800 out of 800 points, it is best to ensure that you set your own standards high. After all, as Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” It is important to set strong and high goals for oneself in order to create a path towards success. 

To gain high scores and admission to one of the specialized high schools, the best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. Students benefit most when they familiarize themselves with the types of questions that the exam will ask and master them. Our 8th Grade SHSAT prep books and our extreme SHSAT preparation classes will get you on the right track to hacking this exam! We ensure that students are able to BEAST the SHSAT English and Math sections with shortcut techniques, a rich library of SHSAT materials, and tailor-made study guides and assignments.  


5. How are these schools ranked overall?

According to the U.S. News & World Report, which ranks every school in New York each year, here are the rankings for each specialized high school:

#2: Stuyvesant High School

#4: The High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at CCNY

#5: The Bronx High School of Science 

#6: The High School of American Studies at Lehman College

#7: Staten Island Technical High School

#8: Queens High School for the Sciences at York College 

#9: The Brooklyn Latin School

#10: Brooklyn Technical High School 

#31: Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School 


However, while rankings are important, they are not everything. It is important to take these ratings with a grain of salt, as they sometimes have arbitrary standards. These schools are some of the most prestigious and excellent schools in New York City and the United States in general. Factors like location, graduation rate, and retention go into these ratings, and these might not be as important to you specifically as they are to the ranking organizations. To be sure that you pick the school that is the right fit for you, you should be sure to do your own online research and visit high schools that you are interested in applying to. 


6. What makes specialized high schools so special?

The admissions process for other high schools is very specific and takes into account your attendance record and academic record amongst other things. The SHSAT itself is a special exam, because for many it can serve as a second chance. For those who were not serious enough about their education in middle school, taking the SHSAT can be a way to still ensure admittance to a prestigious high school. Just because you were not as strong of a student in middle school does not mean that you cannot improve your work ethic and work harder in high school. Therefore, the SHSAT offers students a very special chance to redeem themselves and attend an excellent school, setting them up for an excellent future. 

The specialized high schools are special because they are home to some of the most creative, intelligent, and talented students from all over the city. Unlike at zoned high schools, students come from all five boroughs, creating a more diverse and well-rounded student body. Students are able to befriend people from different backgrounds in order to learn more about the world. Diversity is a blessing of the world around us – our schools should reflect that. This diversity translates into more understanding and an enriched education; students at specialized high schools therefore usually benefit from higher regents scores, SAT scores, and college admissions rates.

7. What are the SHSAT Math topics? Can I use a calculator?

While the Department of Education doesn’t offer much information about the types of questions that the Math section will consist of, we’ve got you covered with the insider insight. The eighth-grade exam consists of topics from material that students learn in seventh and eighth grade. Specific topics include absolute value, algebraic functions, scientific notation, special right triangles, probability, and more. There are about 57 questions on the Math section, meaning that it comprises about half of your score. The Math section accounts for one hour and thirty minutes of your exam time. The use of calculators is not permitted on the exam. 


8. What are the SHSAT English topics? How can I best prepare for this section?

The SHSAT English section is the first section of your exam. It contains about 57 questions and accounts for one hour and thirty minutes of test time. The first subsection focuses on revising and editing sentences and small passages. Next, students will be tested on their reading comprehension, with passages covering a variety of topics like science, social studies, humanities, and fiction. This is the longest subsection within the English section, and students are reminded to only use the information contained in each passage. There are four types of questions: global, detail, inference, and function. Let’s break these down further below: 

  • Global: Questions that ask you to identify the central themes of the passage.

  • Detail: Questions that target specific details contained within the text. These often start with “According to the passage/author…”

  • Inference: Questions that ask you to find relevant information and apply it to more general statements. 

  • Function: Questions that ask you about why the author chose to include specific words, quotes, or details. 

How can you best prepare for each of these types of questions?

  • Read! Read books, short stories, and novels as much as you can. By building up your reading skills, you’ll be doing yourself a favor on this exam.

  • Avoid common traps that test writers set for students by taking practice exams and learning about wrong-answer traps like extreme positions and misused details.  

  • Be sure to attend our extreme SHSAT preparation classes, which will not only expose you to more passages and questions but also prepare you for each and every trap laid out by the test writers. Be vigilant and take control of your own studying! It will be worth it later.


9. What are the best SHSAT Practice Tests or Review Books?

Bobby-Tariq has got you covered with the best SHSAT Review Books. We have a very apt selection of books that have been written by Mr. Tariq, President of Bobby-Tariq Tutoring Center and creator of the SHSAT Extreme Program. The books are described in more detail below: 

Book 1: Tariq’s Guide to NEW SHSAT MATH

This book is the most comprehensive SHSAT Math book on the market, giving you an in-depth explanation of over 50 mathematics rules that are known to be relevant for the examination. Moreover, there are topic-by-topic exercises, which will allow you to target the specific exam topics that are giving you trouble. Whether it’s geometry, ratios, and proportions, or expressions that have you worried about the exam, using this book will allow you to pinpoint and strengthen your skills. There are about twenty questions per topic, allowing you to gain the experience needed to ace the SHSAT Math section. Moreover, there are six practice exams that will give you the boost you need to get started. 

Book 2: SHSAT ELA Grade 8 & 9

Our book is the most extensive SHSAT English book on the market, giving you a very detailed and realistic view of the SHSAT English section and providing you with four full-length SHSAT practice tests that reflect the actual examination. The book features over 400 questions which will not only a challenge but also strengthen your comprehension of topics in Poetry, Revising and Editing, and Reading Comprehension. The SHSAT English section is often difficult for students who do not have strong reading skills – with this book, you can ensure that you can overcome the traps laid by the test and recognize all of the most important strategies for the SHSAT English section. 



10. Should I take the SHSAT?

The answer to this question is simple: YES! 

Attending a specialized high school is one of the first stepping stones to attending an excellent college or university and to pursuing the successful future that you want. The SHSAT allows students to attend the most competitive, prestigious, and highly ranked schools not only in New York City but also worldwide. Specialized high schools are not only highly respected in New York City but also known all around the world because of what their students go on to do. Did you know that Bronx Science has more Nobel laureates than many countries? Attending a specialized high school is worth it because it will put you in a place where you are surrounded by the greatest young minds of our time. Being in this environment will not only inspire you, but it will also create great intellectual growth


Furthermore, specialized high schools open doors for better opportunities and resources. Not only are specialized high schools funded differently (and better) than other public schools, they also receive many, many donations from notable alumni and others who believe in their mission statements. Attending a school with more resources will allow you to learn more effectively – a school with more money can afford better textbooks, lab equipment, and technology, after all. Furthermore, many internship programs have direct relationships with specialized high schools and prefer to take on volunteers and interns from these schools. One example is YouthBridge NY, which has a special relationship with Bronx Science. 


By gaining more research, internship, and volunteer experiences, you will be supplementing your college applications and creating even more opportunities for yourself. Not only that, many teachers at specialized high schools are Ivy League graduates and can help you define what it is you want to study and where. Moreover, letters of recommendation from these teachers with PhDs and Ivy League degrees look more impressive on college applications.  In addition, many specialized schools have unspoken special relationships with universities. Did you know that about 150 students from Stuyvesant High School go to New York University and Cornell University alone each year? Colleges know about the rigorous educational standards at specialized high schools and account for this during the application process. They know that students from these schools are the top students in New York City and that they are undoubtedly going to go on to do great things. 


Why else should you take the SHSAT? Besides the amazing benefits of attending a top-tier school? 

Besides the possibility to attend one of New York City’s best high schools, taking the SHSAT will also provide you with valuable experience that will help you with other standardized tests. You might’ve thought that your experience with standardized testing was over after the state tests finished in eighth grade – think again. The PSAT, ACT, and SAT all draw from the SHSAT. Taking the SHSAT will allow you to acquire the foundational knowledge necessary to ace all of these other exams, which build on the knowledge that you gained while studying for the SHSAT. 


Test-taking is a valuable skill and will help you get far in life. Did you know that the SAT is actually a measure of future work-life success? By starting with the SHSAT and building your way up to an excellent SAT score, you are paving the way for a successful future in whatever field you are passionate about. 


11. How many times can I take the SHSAT?

You can take the SHSAT two times: once in the eighth grade and once in the ninth grade. Because you only have two chances, it is imperative that you take studying for the SHSAT very seriously the first time around. We recommend that you take practice exams, attend tutoring sessions, and create study materials for yourself. Statistically, students have a 14.7% chance of gaining admission the first time and a 3.6% chance of gaining admission the second time. While your chances are smaller the second time around, enough dedication and practice can make admission a reality. We recommend attending classes at Bobby-Tariq Tutoring Center whether you are applying for ninth or tenth-grade admission, as we provide specialized and individualized services to our students. We have gotten hundreds of students into specialized high schools both in eighth and ninth grade.



12. Who is eligible to take the SHSAT?

Any student in New York City is eligible to take the SHSAT. However, students from other locations will be eligible to take the exam if they move into New York City before schools reopen in September. These students can take the exam in late August, and, if granted admission will start the new school year at a specialized high school.


13. Is there a Discovery Program for the SHSAT?

Yes, there is a Discovery Program for the SHSAT. You might be wondering what that means. The Discovery Program is a summer enrichment program that is available to rising ninth-graders who score very close to the cutoff for the specialized high schools that they ranked on the exam. However, not everyone is eligible for the Discovery Program. The requirements are as follows:

  1. Students must have scored within a specific (but unpublished) range below the cutoff score. 

  2. Students must fulfill one or more of the following criteria: 

    1. Live in a low-income household

    2. Live in temporary housing

    3. Be an English Language Learner who has lived in New York City within the last four years

    4. Attend a high-poverty high school 

If you are eligible to participate in the Discovery Program, the Department of Education will let you know in March when you receive your SHSAT results. Students who attend the summer program are admitted to specialized high schools at the end of the summer. 

In an attempt to diversify specialized high schools, about 20% of the seats at each specialized high school will be reserved for Discovery Program students by the summer of 2020. So, if you’re worried about scoring below the cutoff, just know that you may be eligible for the Discovery Program. 


14. Is there a DREAM Program for the 8th Grade SHSAT?

Yes, there is a DREAM Program for the 8th grade SHSAT. What exactly does that mean? DREAM stands for: 

  • Determination 

  • Resilience

  • Enthusiasm

  • Ambition, and 

  • Motivation 

 The DREAM Program is a program that helps prepare seventh graders who attend public schools for the SHSAT. Starting in February of seventh grade, students attend free preparatory classes. Students who qualify are notified by mail, and can then apply. To be eligible, students must: 

  • Be a current New York City resident

  • Be enrolled at a public or charter school 

  • Score at least a 3.2 on their sixth grade ELA New York State Exam and a 4.0 on their sixth grade Math New York State Exam 

15. Do I need SHSAT prep or a tutor?

While it is possible to self-study for the SHSAT, it is not a recommended strategy. For starters, attending a preparatory class will provide you with a support system and a teacher who is experienced. Think about it rationally: out of 30,000 students who take the SHSAT, only about 4,000 gain acceptance into these top-ranked schools. The students who are able to gain admission are those who practice consistently. The best way to build practicing and studying into your life is by attending a preparatory class. 


By attending an excellent class, you will be able to master the tips, tricks, and techniques that will allow you to gain a top-tier score on this exam. Your teacher will help you pinpoint the areas that you are struggling with the most and help to tailor lesson plans and study guides that are specific to your progress. If classes aren’t feasible for you, you should take advantage of great test prep books which will provide industry knowledge about how to make this exam work for you. Alternatively, you can get a private tutor who will give you individualized attention and make it possible for you to focus on the examination more closely. 


We outlined above the reasons why attending a specialized high school will allow you to be more successful in the future – this alone should be enough motivation to get you up and studying. If you are feeling lost with all of the options for tutors and prep books, we provide excellent and comprehensive resources for finding trusted tutors and the best materials. Mr. Tariq, who is the President of Bobby-Tariq Tutoring Center, provides excellent 1:1 private consultations and SHSAT large group preparatory classes that will help you get a jump start on your academic journey. 


16. How do I self-study for the 8th grade SHSAT? Are there free online video lessons?

The 8th-grade SHSAT is administered in October and November, so it is best to start preparing early if you are aiming to solely self-study. Students should plan to start studying in April or March in order to familiarize themselves with the testing material and their own weaknesses. By preparing early on, you will be best-equipped to take on the examination and ace it. 

A good starting point is using Bobby-Tariq Tutoring Center’s Grade 8 SHSAT Prep, Practice Tests, books, and free online videos. By using these resources, you will put yourself ahead of the curve and gain insight into what to expect on the test. After you are somewhat prepared, you should take advantage of the practice exams published by the Department of Education in the Specialized High Schools Student Handbook. After taking a few practice exams to gauge your progress, you should be sure to evaluate whether or not your current methods are working out. Some schools and libraries provide free resources that you can also take advantage of. 

For students who need individualized attention, in-person lessons, and excellent resources, we recommend that you contact us about our 8th grade SHSAT Prep or Summer SHSAT Prep courses.


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