How Hard Are Barrons Compared To Real Sat Math 2 A Tutor’s Perspective on SHSAT Applications

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A Tutor’s Perspective on SHSAT Applications

I’ve been a tutor in New York City since 2004, and since I’ve specialized in working with high school-aged children, I’ve become quite familiar with the high school application process. There are many secondary school categories and the application process is by no means the same for each category; because of this, the whole process can sometimes seem even more complex and exhausting than applying to college. This essay will try to apply to the special public schools of New York City. Other essays will address application to independent schools and selective, non-specialized public schools.

The easiest selective schools to apply to are specialized public high schools. As I write this, there are nine specialized high schools that base admissions on the SHSAT. Three of them are the old historical giants: Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science. Six others are newer and (mostly) smaller: The Brooklyn Latin School, The High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, The High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, and Staten Island Technical High School. There are only two considerations for admission to each of these schools: New York City residency and SHSAT scores.

Applying is simple, but getting in is difficult. The SHSAT is a 2.5-hour multiple-choice test with a math section and an English section. The math section bears a strong resemblance to the math section of the SAT. Of course, it assumes only an introductory knowledge of algebra, but the “flavor” is the same. The English section of the test is more unusual. In addition to challenging (but common) passages and reading comprehension questions, there are also logical reasoning questions and short paragraphs that students must decode. As far as I know, coded paragraphs are unique among standardized tests.

Not surprisingly, the best way to prepare for this test is to be a good student. The kids who come in are almost always kids who pay attention in class, do their homework thoughtfully, and study. Reading well beyond schoolwork is also an important predictor of success. No matter what anyone tells you, no prep course, no prep material, and no tutor can fully compensate if these factors aren’t already in place. (Furthermore, a student who is not academically inclined and interested in working hard is unlikely to be happy at a specialized high school, even if he manages to get accepted.) Unfortunately, being a good student is not enough. It is unfair, even tragic, that many high schools are not rigorous enough to give their students a fair chance to do well on the SHSAT. At the end of this article, I’ll address some long-term strategies for students going to lower-tier high schools. If your child is already doing all the right things and goes to a rigorous school, there are a number of steps you can take to further improve your child’s chances of doing well on the SHSAT.

Your child may:

o Study on your own, using commercially available preparation books;

o Take a preparatory class;

o Study with a tutor;

or OR, a student can do some combination of the above.

Each of these study methods has its pros and cons. I recommend that parents and children look at options together and make decisions about how to prepare as a family.

Independent study is the cheapest way to prepare, by a huge margin. All it takes is a few test prep books – they’re not expensive and can even be borrowed for free from a library. For highly motivated students who have a strong academic foundation, this can be an effective way to study. I recommend picking a prep book (Barron’s is my favorite) and working through it, cover to cover. You’ll be able to measure your progress and decide if you’re on track to reach your goals. Ideally, you start this process in the spring or early summer before the test, so you have plenty of time to add other study methods if indicated. When self-directed study is effective, it’s wonderful how students can truly take full ownership of their success.

Taking a group class to prepare for the SHSAT is generally my least favorite option. There are many places you can go to take a group class, and obviously some are better than others. Unfortunately, the great players don’t seem to get very good results and seem to take a lot out of their students’ quality of life. Sitting in grueling 3-hour classes with a bunch of other kids, doing a huge pile of homework, and getting little personal attention is do-and-kill in the worst sense. It’s distressing and not particularly educational. It’s cheaper than private tutoring, but I’d say most group classes are a false economy.

On the other hand, there are a few group classes that are actually pretty good. You should look for small groups (no more than 8 students per teacher) and individual lessons that are reasonably long (perhaps 1.5 hours). Teachers must be experienced and must be able to produce excellent references. Obviously, homework and practice tests should be part of the program, but you shouldn’t feel like a class is taking over your child’s or family’s life.

For most students, private tutoring will be the most effective option. Individual attention makes a big difference when working with challenging and potentially tedious material. It’s more efficient, because a good tutor focuses on exactly what an individual student needs, and it’s easier to stay motivated when accountability is provided by individual lessons. Unfortunately, tutoring can be quite expensive. Rates vary widely, but $85 to $150 per hour is the general range you can expect to pay for an experienced and effective tutor. Tutoring is so expensive in large part because tutors have to spend a lot of time traveling between appointments and you are paying for their travel and lesson planning time as well as the time they actually spend with your child.

If one-on-one tutoring is prohibitively expensive for you, but would otherwise be your first choice, there are some strategies you can try to lower your fee. If you know another family who lives very close to you who also wants to tutor, you might consider looking for a tutor together. If you can arrange back-to-back classes, with only 5 minutes or so of transport time in between, it is very likely that you can arrange a discount. Also, semi-private classes (with two or maybe three students and a tutor) and be much more affordable and still very effective. Most tutors do not advertise semi-private lessons, but if you ask, you will find that many tutors are receptive.

A note on what to do if your high school student goes to an academically weak school:

If your child is stuck in a school that leaves a lot to be desired, there are several things you can do to improve the situation. Of course, transferring to a better school is an ideal option, but this is not always possible. Assuming that changing schools is not realistic, I strongly recommend that you make sure your child is receiving additional enrichment. What you do will obviously depend on your budget, time constraints and interests, but you should start as soon as possible that there is a problem at school. The list that follows is not exhaustive, but it will give you a place to start.

or read No matter where your child goes to school, it’s important that they read independently. This becomes very important if the school is poor. For high school students, one book a week is a reasonable rule of thumb. If your child doesn’t like to read, read together. Let your child choose his own books and don’t judge them (unless you feel a particular book is morally unacceptable).

o Do math. Do real math, not just test prep materials. If school math is severely lacking, consider working with a curriculum or enrichment materials at home. I really enjoy all of Edward Zaccaro’s books – they are challenging and thought provoking, with good explanations for home study.

o Go to cultural events. Museums, theater, concerts, walking tours, poetry slams, and book readings can be fun, cheap, and enriching. These are opportunities for exposure to literature, history, art, and science, adding to the stockpiling of foundational knowledge that is vital to effective reading comprehension.

or Take up a hobby. There are a variety of hobbies that provide opportunities to use math and reading in meaningful and concrete ways. Consider robotics, building model railroads, building radios, or working in a community garden. You may want to join a club where you and your child can meet more experienced hobbyists and become part of a community.

o Take classes. Sometimes it is possible to take classes that will help fill the gaps that a weak formal education can leave. Be careful, however, that these classes are useful and not just a series of exercises.

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