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Set Goals:

Set task-based goals to effectively improve your score. Ultimately, everyone wants to target a certain score, but practicing concrete skills is perhaps the best way to achieve your target.

Set Goals

What is your overall goal for taking this course? In the past, that question would have been “What is your goal for taking the SHSAT, a test taken by nearly 30,000 New York City (NYC) students each year seeking to attend one of nine specialized public high schools?” Today, that question and its answer are too narrowly focused given recent changes in the SHSAT exam. We believe the new SHSAT is an exciting way for any middle school student anywhere to launch his or her understanding of the SAT and PSAT before completing all the coursework required for those college admissions exams. As a result, we have designed our course not simply to improve SHSAT scores and help students gain admission to a NYC specialized high school, but to develop the skills required to deconstruct and take advantage of the SAT and PSAT as well. The goal of this course is more broadly defined to also provide 6th to 9th graders everywhere a head start on college admission exams.

In our opinion, New York City has taken the SHSAT in an exciting and somewhat different direction than other school districts. The original motivation was to make the SHSAT more accessible and deliver an exam that better reflects what students learn in the classroom while providing the same level of difficulty for 8th and 9th grade NYC students. We believe this will prove to be a sage step in the right direction that will also have additional, perhaps unintended positive consequences. The new SHSAT, like the popular standardized exam for college admissions, the SAT, has recently changed. In both cases, the new exam is more closely aligned with the common core standards and includes a math and ELA exam. The ELA exam includes a reading section and sections on Writing and Language skills. The new SHSAT answer formats have changed to four multiple choice answers and grid-in answers for certain math questions exactly like the SAT and PSAT. The parallels between the exams are astounding and we suspect the SHSAT will continue to change to include literary passages, paired passages, and other formats currently on the SAT, but not yet available on the SHSAT. We believe the benefits of this change will extend beyond a better SHSAT to additionally help NYC students become better prepared for the PSAT and SAT. There is a strong correlation between performance on middle school standardized math and ELA exams and SHSAT performance. Likewise, we suspect a similar relationship can extend from high school to college admission exams. The new SHSAT exam, with the correct focus in training, is an obvious foundation to potential improved performance on college admission exams. That is why we have designed this course to get students both ready for the SHSAT and to build a solid framework for success on the PSAT and SAT. We think the new SHSAT could become a standard that has ramifications beyond just New York City. This course may be a unique approach to the SHSAT, but it is a time proven strategy for college admission exams that should benefit 6th to 9th grade students everywhere.

Whether you are a NYC student preparing for specialized high school admission or a middle school student looking to get “smarter” about the PSAT and SAT, it is important to set goals. All too often students study the “dumb way”. They buy a book and read it cover to cover or take practice test after practice test and do not improve. They’re usually surprised, but we aren’t. These methods alone are not efficient ways to improve scores without something extra. Students will make more effective gains if they to learn how to think like the test and put a lot of effort into identifying and correcting their own weaknesses. The good news is any student can do it! In fact, if you can read American English reasonably well you can succeed on the SHSAT reading section and ultimately PSAT and SAT reading as well. Throw out any private thoughts like, “I know I am not smart. I never was good at English!” Your score on the SHSAT reading exam is a reflection of how hard you work and how smartly you study.

The most popular way to set goals is usually to target a particular score, but it is not the training approach we suggest. Admission to a specialized high school, for example, generally requires getting 2 out of 3 questions correct — more than 8 out of 10 for a school like Stuyvesant. It is an easy exercise for any student to calculate how close she is to that goal. For 37 reading questions that benchmark is about 25 correct answers and a score of 20 out of 37 would suggest the student needs to answer 5 more questions correctly to reach the cut-off threshold on reading. Of course, the cut-off is determined by the total score, not just one exam section, but we prefer to focus on skill-based goals rather than score. Score is a useful benchmark, but improvement requires students learn the skills covered in this course and focus on analyzing their own results. In practice, we suggest task-based goals like the following which will drive to the core of each student’s understanding of the exam:

“I want to identify every wrong answer in this reading passage.”
“I want to get a perfect score on inference reading questions, which are a trouble area.”
“I want to get an entire section correct where I know all the meanings of words.”

 This approach is different than stating, “My goal is to get 25 out of 37 on the reading section.” Another common question is, ”How long must I practice to improve 5 raw points?” That is particularly difficult to assess and varies from student to student and we find most students, themselves, do a poor job assessing how long or little time it will take. A rough outline of task-based goals gives some sense of the different tasks required and the difficulty of scheduling a particular score increase. Typically, students need to get a general grasp of the test mechanics outlined in the course. Recall, the SHSAT reading exam is designed in a specific way to repeatedly ask questions in weird, detailed ways often to trick test takers. Once students feel more confident about the mechanics of the test design, then it is essential to analyze their own mistakes in detail to understand why they made the mistakes. The goal is not simply to identify the mistake after the fact, but understand why it happened and what can be done next time to avoid similar mistakes. The faster students excel at tasks related to the test design and their own weaknesses, the more likely they are to efficiently improve scores. A good score is more a reflection of accuracy and attention to detail than IQ which means — this is the good news — anyone can learn to succeed on the SHSAT standardized reading exam.  

TIP: If you think it is nearly impossible to get a score high enough to gain entry to a specialized high school, try thinking about the cut-off target, approximately 2 out of 3 questions correct, in the following way. Students who answer just over 1 out of every 2 questions correctly with confidence can guess randomly on the rest of the exam and their expected score will be right at or slightly above the needed score for specialized high school admission. Can you set a target goal of being able to answer half the questions on the exam correctly with confidence? If so, you are a potential candidate for a specialized high school!
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