How can my 8th grade son study for the Specialized High School Admissions Test? We are new to the city and don’t know how to proceed. We have heard that you need a tutor and don’t know how to find one, or if there is time for tutoring.
Dear Bewildered Mom,
Many students postpone prepping for the SHSAT until school starts, so it’s not impossible for your son to begin now. In the two months he has left before the October test, he will have to juggle his homework with sessions by a paid tutor or devote regular time to a study program of your own devising. In the first case, there is a lot of money involved -- upwards of $100 per individual session, less for group sessions. In the second case, lots of self-motivation is required, plus a small investment in study guides.
You can find many private tutors by searching online. There is a website that offers recommendations by parents at Parents of New York Teens, services such as Partners with Parents, New York Academics and of course, the well known Kaplan, which also offers some free diagnostic tests and seminars around the city.
Many private -- and usually costly -- programs offer intensive courses that begin in early September. Some are taught by specialized high school graduates. Another thought: contact a current student or recent grad for one-on-one help. You could try calling the parent coordinator at one of the specialized schools to get suggestions.
For do-it-yourself prep, start with the sample exam in the Specialized High School Handbook. He can use it to become familiar with the format of the test and to find out where he needs more study. Then, I recommend prep books such as those published by Barrons, and McGraw- Hill. Take enough of the tests published in these books and he will probably cover all the material likely to show up on the real thing.
I highly recommend Tutor in a Book: Better Grades as Easy as 1-2-3, by Alexandra Mayzler and Ana McGann, published by Adams Media. It is very helpful as a guide to how to develop good study habits and to prepare for other tests such as Regents and SAT. The two authors combine their experience as students and tutors to provide the tools for ongoing successful studying. These include organization, time management, study techniques to fit your learning style, study partners (parents!), asking teachers for help and most important, keeping up to date. All of which add up to a real understanding of the subject and a well-prepared test-taker.
The books cost a fraction of the price of paid courses, and you can probably arrange a book swap with other parents whose children have already used the guides. Many schools offer their 8th graders prep classes, so ask about that when your son registers for school.
During the year, 7th and 8th graders can get a leg up on learning by signing up with non-profit organizations that offer after school homework help and other activities. At some of them, like Goddard-Riverside, volunteers do after school tutoring with kids, but students must commit for the school year, not just prepping for the SHSAT. Take a look also at Insideschools' Free Programs which lists resources for in-depth learning experiences during the school year and in the summer.
For those who qualify, there are programs that are targeted to poor kids and under-represented groups like African Americans and Latinos. The Science Schools Initiative helps more of the city’s black, Latino and poor students score at or above the cutoff for admission to specialized school. The Saturday program, run by a team of graduates from the city’s elite public high schools, selects promising 7th graders who would not be able to afford tutoring on their own. Some 64 students attended last year and 28 met cutoff scores.
DREAM- SHSI is a 22-month extracurricular program of rigorous coursework designed to assist eligible NYC public school students prepare for the SHSAT. DREAM – SHSI coursework emphasizes verbal and math skills, problem-solving, critical analysis, time management, and test-taking strategies specific to the SHSAT.
Coming up, on Sept. 10, the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Diversity Committee is hosting a discussion on the SHSAT, which will include test-taking tips. It's free but your son must RSVP. Get the details on the Insideschools calendar. [Update: Sept. 6 - the event is full; no room for more attendees].
Beginning on Sept. 12, don’t forget that your son must request a testing application from the guidance counsellor. He'll need that to get a ticket to the exam. The deadline to get it is Oct. 10.