Specialized High Schools Admissions Test

The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) is an examination administered to eighth and ninth grade students residing in New York City and used to determine admission to all but one of the city's nine Specialized High Schools. In 2008, about 29,000 students took the test, and 6,108 students were offered admission to one of the high schools based on the results.[1] On average, 30,000 students take this exam annually. The test is given each year in October and November, and students are informed of their results the following March. Those who receive offers decide by the middle of March whether to attend the school the following September. The test is independently produced and graded by American Guidance Service, a subsidiary of Pearson Education, under contract to the New York City Department of Education.[2]


The SHSAT is used for admission to the following schools:[3]

According to a New York State law known as the Hecht-Calandra Act, this is the only method that these schools may use to determine admission.[4] Admission to the remaining specialized high school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, is determined by audition or portfolio rather than by exam.[5]

Testing locationsEdit

The test is given in late October (8th grade) or early November (9th grade and 8th grade with IEP's, 504 plans, and ELL). The test is administered at testing centers located in each of the city's 5 boroughs. In recent years, students who attend school in Manhattan take it at Stuyvesant High School, in the Bronx at Bronx High School of Science, in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Technical High School, Sunset Park High School,[6] and James Madison High School, in Queens at Long Island City High School, Hillcrest High School, or John Adams High School, and in Staten Island at Staten Island Technical High School.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 exam was delayed to January 27, 2021, and students took the test in their own classrooms to avoid potential health risks of large gatherings.[7] Results were released on April 29, while results for non-specialized were released on May 21, a departure from previous years when all public high school admissions were released simultaneously.[8]


Students must choose which schools they wish to apply to (up to 8) and indicate them in order of preference on an application portal before the day of the exam. The test is offered to all eighth and ninth grade students residing within New York City,[9] but the majority of the applicants are eighth graders.[10]

The results of the SHSAT are ordered from the highest score to the lowest score. The list is processed in order by score, with each student being placed in their most-preferred school that still has open seats, and continuing until there are no remaining open seats at any school. The grading of the test is not proportional to the raw score and is formulized by the New York City Department of Education.[11]

Examination formatEdit

The SHSAT tests for grammar and ability in both English and mathematics. The examination is 180 minutes long. It is recommended that 90 minutes be divided for each section, but the time can be divided in any way students wish. There is no break between the sections. Electronic calculators and other calculation aids may not be used during the test.


57 multiple choice questions:

  • 9-19 revising/editing
  • 6-7 nonfiction and fiction passages with a total of 46-48 questions
  • All questions are multiple choice questions


57 multiple choice questions and 5 grid-in questions:

  • Various mathematical topics tested
Basic math
Basic Coordinate Graphing
Word Problems


There is no penalty for wrong answers.[12] The total number of correct answers (the raw score) is converted into a scaled score through a formula that the Department of Education does not release, and which varies from year to year. This scaled score, an integer between 200 and around 700,[13] is used to determine a student's standing. The scaled score is not proportional to the raw scores.[14]

The cut-off scores for each school vary yearly, determined simply by the number of open places in each school and how the candidates score. Students are notified of their scores in March. The Department of Education does not publish score results; the numbers below are self-reported by interested parents on public forums.[15]

In 2020, the cutoff scores were the following: Stuyvesant: 566; Queens Science at York College: 535; Bronx Science: 532; Staten Island Tech: 551; HSMSE @ CCNY: 523; HSAS @ Lehman: 520; Brooklyn Technical: 507; and Brooklyn Latin: 498.

In 2021, the cutoff scores were the following: Stuyvesant: 560; Queens Science at York College: 485; Bronx Science: 517; Staten Island Tech: 525; HSMSE @ CCNY: 515; HSAS @ Lehman: 507; Brooklyn Technical: 492; and Brooklyn Latin: 481.[16] The lower cutoff scores can be attributed to the reduced number of test-takers.

The 9th Grade SHSAT cut-off scores tend to be much higher due to limited seats for incoming 10th graders in the schools. Some schools such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science may only have 5-10 seats each year for incoming 10th graders while Brooklyn Technical High School, being the school with the most students, may only have around 20-30 seats. Depending on the year, the number of seats is available in the NYC High School Directory Book given to all students applying for admissions to a high school. Each year, an average 50-60 ninth-grade students get into the Specialized Schools, out of an estimated 3,000 students.

Department of Education programsEdit

The New York Specialized High School Institute (SHSI) is a free program run by the City of New York for middle school students with high test scores on citywide tests and high report card grades. The program's original intent was to expand the population of Black and Hispanic students by offering them test-taking tips and extra lessons, however, anyone can apply. As of 2006, 3,781 students are enrolled at 17 locations. They spend 16 months, starting in the summer after sixth grade, preparing for the test.[17]

Certain applicants who have scored just below the cut-off score and are recommended by their guidance counselor may qualify for the Summer Discovery Program. Successful completion of this program allows the students to gain admission to a specialized high school. The students must:[5]

1. have scored within a range below the cut-off score on the SHSAT; and
2. be certified as disadvantaged by their middle school according to any one of the following criteria:
a. attend a Title 1 school and be from a family whose total income is documented as meeting federal income eligibility guidelines established for school food services by the NYS Department of Agriculture; or
b. be receiving assistance from the Human Resources Administration; or
c. be a member of a family whose income is documented as being equivalent to or below Department of Social Services standards; or
d. be a foster child or ward of the state; or
e. initially, have entered the United States within the last four years and live in a home in which the language customarily spoken is not English; an
3. be recommended by their local school as having a high potential for the specialized high school program.


In November 2005, a New York Times article found that students scoring in the 90th percentile on both sections would not gain admittance to their first choice schools; meanwhile, those scoring in the 99th percentile on one section and the 50th percentile on the other, would.[18] This happens because the final grade and percentile represent the total score and the curve within sections.

Admission is based solely on how the student does on the SHSAT. The New York City Department of Education created the New York Specialized High School Institute (SHSI), a free program run by the department for middle school students with high test scores on citywide tests and solid report card grades. The program's original intent was to expand the population of African American and Hispanic students in the science high schools by offering them test-taking tips and extra lessons; however, students of any racial or ethnic background can apply for admission to the institute. Just like the schools, however, these test-prep programs have seen attrition among black and Hispanic students.[19] As of 2006, 3,781 students are enrolled at 17 locations. Students spend 16 months, starting in the summer after sixth grade, preparing for the test.[20]

In October 2013, it was reported that the number of African American and Latino students being admitted into SHSAT schools over the past five years had declined. In response, the Community Service Society and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR), asserting that New York state law (the Hecht-Calendra Act of 1972) requires only three schools (Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Stuyvesant) to use the SHSAT for admissions and that the five other schools that use the SHSAT for admission are not required to do so, and that their doing so violates the civil rights of black and Latino students.[21][22] The position of the New York Department of Education is that applicants for all eight specialized high schools are legally required to take the SHSAT."[21][22] The OCR opened an investigation which is still pending as of 2019.[23]

In addition, many disagree with de Blasio's moves to increase the African Americans and Latino number of students in the Specialized High Schools. As of 2015, there has been widespread dissent among Asian Americans, who account for 2/3 of the population attending the top 3 specialized high schools. Mayor de Blasio's administration began to look at alternatives to the SHSAT score as the sole means of admissions. Factors such as attendance, GPA, ethnicity, personal recommendation, and geographical locations are considered. A coalition of alumni associations, alumni, and parents of the SHS's was formed to combat these changes.[24] An argument that is used is that admission is a zero-sum game, and by bestowing admission to Blacks and Latinos, the city is essentially taking seats from one minority (Asian Americans) and giving it to another. Most students in SHSs eat free or reduced lunch, a status granted to families close to the poverty line.[25]

Use by TJHSSTEdit

A modified version of the SHSAT was last used by the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology of Northern Virginia for the Class of 2021. TJHSST's version of the test offered only two hours to complete the test rather than the 150 minutes of the original SHSAT. Additionally, it contained five Logical Reasoning questions and reduced the number of Reading Comprehension questions in each reading passage to five. TJHSST did not use a formula to determine a scaled score, instead requiring that an applicant had a raw score of at least 60 and a GPA of at least 3.0 and using a sliding scale to determine which of the remaining applicants became semifinalists.

Sliding ScaleEdit

  • Raw score of 60 or higher for a GPA of 3.50 or higher
  • Raw score of 65 or higher for a GPA lower than 3.50 but at least 3.25
  • Raw score of 70 or higher for a GPA lower than 3.25 but at least 3.0

Applicants were required to meet the sliding scale in order to proceed to the second round. Additionally, applicants must have had a Mathematics score of at least 30 in order to proceed.


  1. ^ "Chancellor Announces Specialized High School Admissions Results". New York City Department of Education. February 5, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  2. ^ Feinman, Joshua. "High Stakes, but Low Validity? A Case Study of Standardized Tests and Admissions into New York City Specialized High Schools" (PDF). EDUCATION POLICY RESEARCH UNIT. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  3. ^ "Test Information: Specialized High Schools Admissions". NYC Department of Education. 2010. Archived from the original on April 6, 2010. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  4. ^ Kim, Rachel. "Racial Disparity at Stuyvesant". Stuyvesant HS Spectator.
  5. ^ a b "NYC DoE Specialized High Schools Student Handbook" (PDF). NYC Department of Education. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  6. ^ "Specialized High Schools Student Handbook". schools.nyc.gov. NYCDOE.
  7. ^ Jorgensen, Jillian (January 21, 2021). "Students Will Take the SHSAT in Person Next Week". NY1. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  8. ^ "Specialized High Schools". web. New York City Department of Education. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  9. ^ Krane, Stephen (2001). New York City Specialized Science High Schools Admission Test. ARCO. p. 5. ISBN 0-7689-0711-X.
  10. ^ "2020 SHSAT Cutoff Scores". AdmissionSquad. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  11. ^ "How the High School Admissions Process Works". NYC Department of Education. 2010. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  12. ^ "SHSAT Test Tips and Strategies". Peterson's. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved January 25, 2021 – via Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "NYC Guide to the Specialized High Schools Admission Test for 2021 Admissions". NYC Schools.
  14. ^ Zimmermanwd, L.; Wheaton, Pamela (February 13, 2007). Specialized HS results out; more schools, fewer applicants. Inside Schools. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  15. ^ "Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) - Yearly Testing - New York City Department of Education". schools.nyc.gov. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  16. ^ "Specialized High School SHSAT Cutoff Scores for 2021". www.theschoolboards.com. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  17. ^ Gootman, Elissa (August 18, 2006). "In Elite N.Y. Schools, a Dip in Blacks and Hispanics". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  18. ^ Herszenhorn, D. M. (November 12, 2005). "Admission Test's Scoring Quirk Throws Balance Into Question". The New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2019.
  19. ^ Shapiro, Eliza; Lai, K. K. Rebecca (June 3, 2019). "How New York's Elite Public Schools Lost Their Black and Hispanic Students". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  20. ^ "Secret Apartheid II". Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. 1996. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  21. ^ a b Rachel Monahan. "Drop in black, Latino numbers in elite NYC schools could be reversed". New York Daily News. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  22. ^ a b Philissa Cramer, Complaint targets elite HS admissions process, not just outcome, Chalkbeat (September 27, 2012).
  23. ^ Christina Veiga, Four takeaways from New York City’s response to discrimination charges in specialized high schools lawsuit, Chalkbeat (January 18, 2019).
  24. ^ http://coalitionedu.org/
  25. ^ https://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/handle/gpp/2699

External linksEdit