SHSAT info

I'm combining the 3 emails I sent out yesterday in one, easy to read blog post:


So, the specialized high school admissions test. Or SHSAT

It’s the sole admissions method to the 8 test in specialized high schools: Stuy, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech (the original 3 and the largest), Staten Island Tech, York at Queens College, American Studies, HSMSE, Brooklyn Latin. 

Let that sink in. It’s the ONLY admissions method. That one test. No other test scores or grades or teacher recommendations or latenesses. The SHSAT is it.

The SHSAT is 95 questions: 50 math, 45 English (there are 5 scrambled paragraph questions that count for 2 points each). The test itself is 2 and a half hours. Kids have the flexibility to start with whichever section they want and can go in between the two if they wish. There are also no penalties for wrong answers. 

You let guidance counselors know at the beginning of the year that your child is planning to take the test. They give out admissions tickets the week before or so. You cannot take the test without a ticket. You cannot decide last minute to take the test. If you’re even thinking about it, sign up. You don’t have to have your child sit for it if they change their mind.

It’s a hard test, purposely. These are some of the most challenging schools in the city and they’re looking for kids who can handle the workload and rigor. There is material on the test not covered in school. 8th grade math doesn’t cover the algebra included until later in the year. Kids also don’t do scrambled paragraphs as part of their regular workload. 

Time management is key. There are a lot of questions to cover in not a lot of time. Test prep programs and/or tutoring can help with test taking strategies. I watched my son go from not even coming close to finishing a test to finishing with time to spare and check. An analog watch made a difference. PRACTICE made a huge difference. The more kids practice and get familiar with the format and timing, the more comfortable they’ll be test day. Having said that, I know kids who walked in having read through the DOE handbook and earn a seat almost cold. 

Scoring - even though there are 95 questions that you’d think would be worth 100 points (those scrambled paragraphs count as 2 points each), it’s scored on a curve. The first 45 questions of math/English get a few points each. Anything over that, points given per correct answer go exponentially up. So, a kid who scored equally on math and English, say 43 questions correct in each half, will have a much lower final score than someone who got 50 questions right in math and 36 in English. And the scoring system is completely opaque. You never know how many questions your child answered correctly, how many points were assigned to each, what the curve was. In February, on your offer letter, you’ll see their score  (usually in the 400, 500, rarely 600 range) and that’s it, along with the offer if they are offered a specialized seat. 

Cut off scores - there are NO set cut off scores per school. Nor are cut off scores ever published anywhere. When you hear that Stuy is 560 or Bronx Science is 512 (or thereabouts) that’s based on hearsay. There are websites out there collecting data and if someone posts they got in with a 560 but someone else didn’t with a 559, that’s how info is gleaned:

The scores change from year to year and they’re based on how kids rank the schools and test score results. Stuyvesant has the highest cut off score because the most kids rank it first and so they end up with the students with the highest test scores filling their spots. The link above has self reported cut off scores for the past two years and you’ll see things switch from year to year, except Stuy being at the top and Brooklyn Latin being at the bottom. The smaller schools have higher cut offs because they have so many fewer seats to fill. Brooklyn Tech takes so many more students (they offer over 1500 spots) that their cut of is lower. If they had the same number of kids as Science, their cut off would be just about the same. 

These rankings don’t mean one is a better school than the next. It’s all dependent on how kids ranked them.

Ranking: kids fill out their specialized high school application AT THE TEST. You don’t fill it out and submit it. They list their schools, in order of preference, on the test, when they’re taking the test. It’s important you guys make sure you’re all on the same page about ranking. And this might get sticky but bear with me. Kids earn seats based on both scores and ranking. I’m going to use general numbers so you get a sense of how things work. Stuy has the highest cut off. They take the first 1000 kids (this is just an approximate number) who ranked them first (as a general rule of thumb if you don’t rank Stuy first you have no chance of getting in). Meanwhile, seats in other schools are filling up as well, with kids who ranked them first and had high scores. But, at the same time, if a kid ranked Stuy first but didn’t make the cut off, scored high enough to get into their second ranking school, they’re placed there. That score, even as a second ranking, will trump a kid who ranked that school first but has a lower score. The test score always takes precedence. 

Once a cut off is set, all kids who got that score and ranked that school will be offered a seat. If American Studies cut off is 510 then all kids who ranked it and scored 510 and above will get an offer. But, if they didn’t rank it then it doesn’t matter what score they got. So when you hear someone say, “I could have gone to X” what they mean is their score was high enough that they could have earned a seat but didn’t rank it. 

This is a good summary of the SHSAT and what’s involved:

Here’s the DOE’s specialized high school handbook:

Any questions at all, please ask. And I’m posting this in a new SHSAT section on the 411 website so you can go back for easy reference. 


When people talk about the specialized schools they're generally lumped together because of their singular admissions system. But the school's themselves are quite different. 

Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech are the original 3 and they are significantly larger than the rest the first two have over 3000 students, Tech has over 5500. All three have been around for decades and have well established alumni foundations that help support the school. The other 5 were formed during the Bloomberg era. Little known fact - Townsend Harris used to be the 4th specialized high school. It was in Manhattan and broken up and people from the school moved to Queens to restart it there. 

Stuy is known as the most "liberal arts" of the big three, it doesn't have specific focus. Tech is engineering based - all students take 2 years of mandatory engineering courses (although one just became AP of computer science principles). At Science they focus on research - all students have to participate in a research project. American Studies is more of a humanities based school. Math Science and Engineering has more of a math bent. Brooklyn Latin is an IB program. The 5 smaller schools are mostly pretty small. Staten Island Tech has just over 1000 students, the rest far less. 

So within the specialized cohort there are real differences to consider when matching kids to schools. Plus things like commute (that was a major consideration in my house), size, courses offered. I realized after my daughter was already at Tech that they didn't offer a single art class. Their freshman engineering course filled that requirement. 


When thinking about ranking schools, you should rank them in order of preference. Don't rank a school first because of reputation if your child doesn't want to go there. You get what you get and there are no appeals. My husband wanted my daughter to rank Stuy first because it was Stuy. Many do that. But if she earned a seat that would have been her offer and she wanted to go to Tech. And so she ranked Tech first and all worked out the way she wanted to. 

I know many families who ranked Stuy, then Science, got Science, and realized the commute was too much. Tech might have been a smarter option when it turned out distance was an issue. Things to keep in mind.