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This lesson unit introduces the SHSAT reading exam section and  outlines the TestPrepSHSAT reading course. Other SHSAT reading courses do little more than provide practice passages or suggest students read more or read with purpose. Few to none actually teach students how to think like the exam and take advantage of the specific rules and design of standardized reading exams. This course will not only prepare students for the SHSAT, but it is the ideal platform to teach enterprising 6th to 9th graders how to approach the PSAT and SAT as well. We suggest students begin with reading because the rules pertaining to other parts of the SHSAT will make more sense once the reading section is completed.

What is the new SHSAT ELA exam and what is included?

The entire SHSAT Math and English Language Arts (ELA) exam is a 3-hour standardized admission exam given each fall toward the end of October to nearly 30,000 8th and 9th-grade students in New York City seeking to gain admission to one of nine specialized high schools. Each of these specialized high schools offers a challenging curriculum and top-tier education tuition-free to motivated New York City students who do well on the exam.

The SHSAT exam changed for the calendar year 2017 to align the exam closer to skills taught in New York City classrooms as part of the common core curriculum. One significant change included replacing the old 45 question verbal exam with the new 57 question ELA exam — only 47 questions are graded and 10 unmarked questions will be used to field test future changes to the exam format. Old scrambled paragraph and logical reasoning sections were eliminated in favor of 20 revise/edit questions that align more closely to the Writing and Language common core. It should also be noted that this format also aligns the SHSAT exam more closely to the format of the new SAT exam for college admissions. Additionally, the number of reading questions increased to 37 questions and 6 passages with approximately 6 questions each. The non-fiction only passage topics cover history, anthropology/sociology, the arts, science, and biographies, but that may change in the future to include literary and other fictional topics. The total exam time was extended to 90 minutes, so students have approximately 90 seconds to answer each question — the same as before the changes. For each reading passage, that amounts to about 9 minutes of budgeted average time. Students often budget 3 minutes for reading and 1 minute per question on each passage, but no passage is alike. Reading, which was already the largest part of the SHSAT verbal exam, is even a larger fraction of the new SHSAT as a result of the changes. The following course will focus on helping students excel at this important SHSAT exam section.

What is the TestPrepSHSAT Reading Course and how can you benefit?

This ELA reading course is designed to teach 6th to 9th-grade students how to effectively study for and improve their reading scores on the SHSAT admission exam in approximately 10+ hours. Furthermore, the course is designed to develop the skills required to excel on the PSAT and SAT standardized reading exams which students frequently take in the years following the SHSAT. The SHSAT changes and proposed potential changes mirror the new SAT exam and both exams are more closely aligned with the standard core curriculum than ever before. As a result, the lessons in this course will directly translate to improved PSAT and SAT scores and develop a student’s understanding of the unique design and features of the SAT. For the first time ever, students at the middle school level can effectively learn the SAT through high-quality SHSAT preparation without being constrained by the lack of exposure to high school level subject material like Algebra 2 or trigonometry — some advanced middle school topics are, however, included. Whether your student is in New York City taking the SHSAT exam or a middle school student simply looking to get a head start on the SAT and PSAT, this course will teach many of the strategies and approaches to excel on these standardized reading exams. Note, when I say SHSAT throughout, I generally also mean SAT and PSAT unless otherwise stated.

How can I make the most of this course?

Students of different experience levels with SHSAT reading may choose to follow the course in different ways — a person with little exposure to the SHSAT might choose to read and practice everything in order, while a student with more experience might skip directly to certain chapters. In either case, the common attribute of successful test takers will be hard work and smart study. That includes learning the particular design features of the test as well as relentlessly analyzing mistakes to find ways to avoid similar errors on the real exam.

Understanding the exam is instrumental in effective preparation:

Standardized reading exams like the SHSAT or SAT are not like a typical classroom English course where creativity and unique insights are rewarded. The design of standardized, multiple-choice reading exams requires greater objectivity. There must be only one correct answer and the exam cannot be designed to leave any uncertainty as to the correct answer. Subjective insights cannot call into question one answer choice versus another. Each question must be carefully developed and reviewed based on the rules of the test designer. Otherwise, hundreds or thousands of students each year would call into question the validity of the exam. As a result, students must often suppress their inclinations, honed over many years of reading and writing class, to make subjective inferences and draw sometimes reasonable judgments based on the text. Instead, students must develop a different set of analytical skills geared toward excelling at the “evidence-based reading” on the SHSAT, PSAT, and SAT exams.

The main reason for mistakes on the SHSAT, PSAT, and SAT:

SHSAT mistakes very often result from reasons other than lack of prior knowledge in the subject matter and that is perhaps more prevalent for reading where prior subject knowledge is not critical in the same way it is on the math exam. Most students think good grades in algebra, geometry, or English class will necessarily translate to a high SHSAT math or ELA score. That is not necessarily true. While subject knowledge is an essential requirement, it is not sufficient. Prior exposure to courses like algebra and geometry are a huge plus in math for example. Both topics comprise a large part of the math test and there is a chasm between students who have seen these courses early enough to gain familiarity and those who have not seen the material or are currently taking such courses when the SHSAT exam is given in late October in the 8th grade. If this is an issue for you, consider planning ahead and preparing early for the SHSAT. That said, even among students with excellent grades and top-level state math and ELA exams scores, only about half the test takers will gain admission.

The SHSAT — and SAT and PSAT for that matter — ask questions in strange ways. Questions often repeat topics and phrase prompts in ways students are not used to seeing in their classroom setting. Accurately diagnosing what the question prompt is asking is a large part of the battle. Moreover, questions are written in ways that require test takers pay extra careful attention to detail. Every word is important and a loss of focus will result in mistakes that often separate two students who both have a strong grasp of the subject matter. The following typical reasons for mistakes on the SHSAT explain why student results do not always correlate with school grades. One or two reasons may come as a surprise. In either case, this course will teach each student how to evaluate their own results and weaknesses to improve their score on the SHSAT.


  1. Subject-Matter Knowledge – does not know the subject matter or have confidence in the procedures to solve
  2. Time Pressure – student runs out of time before finishing
  3. Confused by Question Prompt – cannot identify what the question is about
  4. Misses Details – did not pay attention to a particular word or detail in the prompt or answer choice
  5. Calculation Errors – student made an execution error while solving

The big secret of standardized reading exams like the SHSAT, PSAT, and SAT:

Every correct answer on the SHSAT or SAT reading section will either restate the text or provide an example consistent with the text. Restatement of text occurs when two different text samples with different words express the same idea. Alternatively, a correct answer can provide an example or scenario that exactly matches the description provided in the text or vice versa — the correct answer describes an example presented in the text.

The correct answer to an SHSAT reading question is always clear and definite and it can be objectively determined like solving 2 + 2 = 4 in math. This fact may come as a surprise and seem counterintuitive to many readers. Untrained test takers often waiver between two or more choices believing one option is as justified as the other, yet each SHSAT reading question is carefully designed to point to only one solution based on the text. That last part is worth restating. Each correct answer to an SHSAT reading question can be objectively determined, not by superior insight or creative interpretation, but from an accurate reading of the text. The exciting news is that almost any student can learn to do this well. The following course will begin to teach students to approach standardized reading exams in an entirely different way based on the design of the exams. The test taker who still thinks two answer choices are equally likely is either missing the relevant text or not reading the passage literally. Don’t let that be you.

Welcome to the READING instruction unit.

Reading Introduction

The goal of this exercise to expose students to the reading test, provide some background related to question types, typical answer options, and the need to develop an organized process to answer questions more accurately. The unit was developed prior to the new exam changes, but the core ideas remain unchanged.



Do you know the different types of questions that are asked after every reading passage and in what order they appear? 

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