I wrote this post because the DOE makes a problematic claim in their handbook. I don’t think the following quote is accurate.

The test measures knowledge and skills students have gained over the course of their education. Keeping up with schoolwork throughout the year is the best possible preparation.
Department of Education

The first thing I’d like to clarify is that the exam is on some early 8th-grade topics in addition to 7th-grade topics. The topics will be familiar, but the difficulty of the questions will be at a higher level.

I also disagree with the last sentence: “Keeping up with schoolwork throughout the year is the best possible preparation.” Keeping up with schoolwork is the least you should do to prepare for the SHSAT.

Just about anyone can master all the topics and solve problems. Keeping up with schoolwork is only a prerequisite. Doing well on test day requires a different set of skills that school curriculums do not prioritize. Their priorities include:

  • making sure their students can write a grade level essay
  • read at an adequate pace
  • and do well on their untimed common core State Tests.

Objectives of the State Test vs the SHSAT

Most public school curriculums are designed to create State Test success stories. Let’s consider the objectives of the two exams.

Purpose of the State Test

The DOE uses the State Test to measure their students’ progress relative to the rest of the country. The questions on the test are there to check whether students are keeping up with standards. It’s an optional test at most schools, so it’s not like a “gatekeeping” test. It’s also a tool used to figure out which schools deserve funding and which schools to shut down.

Purpose of the SHSAT

The SHSAT is a gatekeeping test. The DOE uses it to weed out as many students as they can while allowing enough people to pass. They make questions difficult enough to stump 80 percent of test takers. That is their only intention, plain and simple. It’s a merit-based test, rather than a check by the Federal Government to achieve standardized education.

Another big difference is that the SHSAT is 3 hours of working on one question after another. Students have to read multiple passages and solve 114 questions, all without a single scheduled break. Even using the restroom counts against their time. The State Tests, on the other hand, are untimed.

The 3-hour duration of the SHSAT requires students to have a level of stamina and fortitude that cannot be developed through school curriculums alone. Combined with the pressure of exam day, it’s also a psychological test for many.

Same topics – more tricks

When you look at the SHSAT through this lens, you will notice that they design questions with built-in tricks. Same topics as the State Tests, but more tricks. They develop traps in such a way so that they go unnoticed by the majority of test takers.

The only way to avoid their tricks and traps is to work on as many practice questions as possible. All so that you can train your mind to stay on guard, and to keep your stamina up. Kind of like training for a marathon…

Metaphors aside, your mind gets better at identifying their traps through more exposure. The more practice questions you face, the more exposure you will have. Your composure and stamina during tests will also improve as you complete more 3-hour practice tests.