Most eighth graders will take at least one of the HSPT, SHSAT, and TACHS high school entrance exams in the fall. Many parents wonder which tests to take and prepare for in seventh grade. The goal of this post is to help you decide which are right for your student. Many students in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan prepare for all three tests, and some even for the ISEE and/or SSAT. Fortunately, recent changes have resulted in material overlap across the exams and this shift makes preparation for all exams more feasible.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the process of choosing a high school. It may be wise to take all exams and choose the best school and/or the one that offers your student the largest scholarship. (Our results 2020, results 2019, results 2018, results 2017, results 2016) A student may have their heart set on a school, but a lot can change in the time between taking the tests in October/November and receiving all results by March.

The Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) is for admission into elite specialized high schools of NYC like Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, Staten Island Technical High School, Brooklyn Latin School, High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College of New York, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, and Queens High School for the Sciences at York College. More info:

The High School Placement Test (HSPT) is the entrance exam for Regis High School. It is also the scholarship test for Xavier High School (Manhattan), Xaverian High School (Brooklyn), and Christian Brother’s Academy (New Jersey). Competitive schools such as St. Joseph Hill Academy and Notre Dame Academy in Staten Island offer scholarship exams with similar difficulty.

The Test for Admission to Catholic High Schools (TACHS) is the entrance and scholarship exam for most Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of New York, such as Monsignor Farrell, St. Joseph by-the-Sea, St. Peter’s, St. Edmund Preparatory High School, St. Vincent Ferrer, La Salle Academy, Dominican Academy, and many more. A complete list, open house dates, and tuition can be found here:

Comparison of admissions, formatting, material, and dates for the SHSAT, HSPT, and TACHS

Reading comprehension is on all tests and is arguably the most important skill to master. Reading comprehension helps in math word problems and most other sections. There are no essays on any of these exams. All exams are composed of multiple choice questions with the exception of 5-7 math questions on the SHSAT. Math is the next most tested topic, although the difficulty varies by exam. Editing/Revising is the only other skill that appears on all three exams. It is most important for the TACHS and least important for the HSPT.

SHSAT Format
3 hours for the entire test. The student can answer questions in whatever order they like and go back to the previous section. This is only allowed on the SHSAT and no other exam. There are no breaks between sections. The SHSAT underwent many changes in 2017, including adding editing/revising questions. They also added a poetry passage and fiction passage to the reading comprehension section in 2018.

  • Editing/Revising 9-11 questions
  • Reading Comprehension: 46-48 questions, including poetry
  • Math, Fill-ins: 5-7 questions – no multiple choices given for these
  • Math, Multiple Choice: 50-52 questions

HSPT Format
Approximately 2.5 hours for the entire test. The student cannot go back to the previous section. There are small breaks after each section. Finishing each section in time is a very challenging aspect of the HSPT.

  • Verbal: 60 questions in 16 minutes
  • Quantitative: 52 questions in 30 minutes
  • Reading Comprehension/Vocabulary: 62 questions in 25 minutes
  • Math: 64 questions in 45 minutes
  • Grammar: 60 questions in 24 minutes

TACHS Format
The TACHS also underwent changes in 2017 to reflect common core standards. Approximately 2.5 hours for the entire test. The student cannot go back to the previous section. There are small breaks after each section. They keep timing and exact format more proprietary but the following is an approximate format and how most of our TACHS practice tests are proctored.

  • Reading Comprehension: 23 questions in about 20 minutes minutes
  • Written Expression (Grammar and Editing/Revising): 45 questions in about 45 minutes
  • Math: 40 questions in about 45 minutes
  • Abilities: 60 questions in about 40 minutes

For the results of practice tests. we breakdown the scores for each type of question so we can focus on the areas where a student is having the most trouble.

Amount of each type of question on the SHSAT, HSPT, and TACHS

If your student is hoping to be admitted to the best high schools in New York, they will likely take the HSPT and/or SHSAT. The SHSAT is most likely the toughest exam your student will have seen in their academic career to date. It compares in difficulty to the SAT (college entrance exam). The math and reading comprehension sections are the toughest on any test, but students are given ample time per question. The HSPT has almost 3 times as many questions as the SHSAT in less time, so success is much more dependent upon speed. For example, the first section on the HSPT gives 16 minutes to complete 60 questions. Most students do not finish their first HSPT practice test in time. Fortunately, the HSPT math is less multi-step and slightly easier than the SHSAT material; however, it is still difficult for an 8th grader. The HSPT has vocabulary and more English Language Arts questions than the SHSAT. For students who are prepared for the SHSAT, the toughest parts of the HSPT are the grammar and vocabulary questions.

Groups of students preparing for both the HSPT and SHSAT are common since the difficulty of the material overlaps considerably. Students who are prepared for these tests are generally prepared for anything. For students who also want to take the TACHS, Abilities is the only section that needs additional preparation.
Students will take multiple SHSAT, HSPT, and TACHS practice tests over the course of 10 months.

All students hoping to be admitted to a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of New York must take the TACHS. The TACHS covers similar material to the HSPT, but it is generally more straightforward. It gives more time per question than the HSPT. The HSPT has stand alone vocabulary, logic, analogies, synonym/antonyms, and spelling questions. The TACHS doesn’t have these, but it has a unique abilities section that tests spatial skills. In the HSPT grammar section, the student is looking for all mistakes (punctuation, capitalization, and usage) at the same time, which makes it significantly tougher. For the TACHS, the directions alert the student which to look for. The sentences are longer on the HSPT than the ones on the TACHS. The HSPT reading comprehension has longer sections than the TACHS and has 22 vocabulary questions directly after it in the same section.

Another common combination of preparation is HSPT and TACHS for students that have decided they want to go to a Catholic high school. For this, we primarily prepare for HSPT and add abilities. Students will take multiple HSPT and TACHS practice tests over the course of 10 months.

All students preparing with us take an initial practice exam in order to identify the best course of action, establish a baseline to compare to future exams, and potentially schedule similar students with similar goals in groups. The first practice test to begin preparing for the fall exams is usually offered in December or January of 7th grade. Some ambitious students opt to start in 5th or 6th grade. Preparing over the school year will reinforce the material to better incorporate it into their long term thinking and increase their grades, which are also important for high school entrance.

Whichever tests you decide, group or individual preparation is designed around what each student needs in order to maximize their results, learn as much as possible, and hopefully have fun. Tutors can help prepare your student for any combination of exams, including the SSAT and ISEE. Contact me for more info or to sign up for a practice exam offered at any of the dates on that page.