The 2018 SHSAT Guide

The 2018 SHSAT Guide

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For 7th graders, spring is an exciting time of year filled with field trips, school dances, and fun academic projects and competitions.

But if you’re thinking about applying to one of New York City’s nine specialized High Schools in fall 2018, it’s also time to start thinking about the SHSAT.

Last summer, we shared some ways students can prepare for the test. Since then, there have been major changes to the test that all students planning to take the exam should know about.  

I Need a Refresher… What’s the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is the scholastic achievement examination used as the sole factor to determine admissions to New York City’s Specialized High Schools (with the exception of LaGuardia High School).

Who Takes the SHSAT, and When?

All current New York City residents in 8th grade or in 9th grade for the first time who plan to apply to one of the Specialized High Schools must take the SHSAT.

The SHSAT is administered in the fall (mid-October for 8th graders, mid-November for 9th graders) for admission to Specialized High Schools in the following school year (i.e., students seeking admission for September 2019 will take the test in fall 2018).

What’s “New” About the New SHSAT, anyway?

The fall 2018 Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) will have an updated test design.

  1. There are fewer multiple choice answer choices. All multiple choice items will have 4 answer choices instead of 5 answer choices.
  2. Some questions don’t count towards students’ scores. Each section of the 2018 SHSAT includes 10 items (of the 57 total) that are not counted in the student’s score but that are being tried out – or “field tested” – for possible use in future SHSAT tests. You will NOT know which items are scored and which are field test items, so you should try to answer all items in each section.
  3. It’s now 20% longer! The overall testing time has been increased to 180 minutes (from 150 minutes previously). 
  4. The section ordering is up to the student. Students may choose to complete either the English Language Arts or Mathematics section first.
  5. The Verbal Section is now the ELA Section. There have been changes to the Verbal/ELA Section (even from the 2017 test), which you can read about below.

What’s actually tested on the “New” SHSAT?

The SHSAT has two sections: English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS SECTION (57 QUESTIONS)

The English Language Arts (ELA) section consists of two parts:

  1. Revising/Editing. The Revising/Editing section may have up to 11 total questions. Revising/Editing items assess students’ ability to recognize and correct language errors and to improve the overall quality of a piece of writing.
  2. Reading Comprehension. There are up to 48 items in Reading Comprehension.
    Reading Comprehension requires students to read five or six passages, each of which is followed by up to ten questions assessing students’ ability to understand, analyze, and interpret what they have read.

MATHEMATICS SECTION (57 QUESTIONS)

The Mathematics section consists of word problems and computational questions with either a multiple-choice or grid-in answers. There are 5 grid-in Math items and 52 multiple-choice items. The Mathematics section asks students to solve word and computational problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Some word and computational problems will also include working with fractions, decimals, and statistics.

So, How Do I Prepare for the SHSAT?

If you’re thinking of applying for admission to a Specialized High School in 2019, the summer before 8th grade is the perfect time to get a head start on preparing for the fall exam.

To begin preparation, you can purchase an official SHSAT study guide. You can also consider getting a private tutor to help build familiarity with the question types and content of the exam.

If you’d like expert one-on-one help preparing for the exam, Smart Alec has dozens of excellent SHSAT tutors available throughout New York.

2018 Smart Alec Scholarship Winner Announced!

2018 Smart Alec Scholarship Winner Announced!

Smart Alec is very pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Smart Alec Scholarship is Marlon Josiah Nario. As the winner of the 2018 Smart Alec Scholarship, Josiah will receive a $2000 scholarship and $2000 of private tutoring.

The Smart Alec Scholarship asked students to tell us about who inspired them (in any medium), and for his winning entry, Josiah submitted an audio essay J Dilla’s influence on music production and how he has inspired his own pieces.

You can listen to Josiah’s audio essay here.

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If you’d like to listen to more of Josiah’s original music, you can visit his SoundCloud page here.

The SAT vs The ACT: Which test is right for you?

The SAT vs The ACT: Which test is right for you?

“Should I take the SAT or the ACT?” It’s a question most college bound high schoolers will ask themselves at some point and for good reason. The tests are now equally accepted at the nation’s top universities and liberal arts colleges, so there’s no real advantage to taking one over the other (generally speaking).

In fact, the only real reason to take the SAT instead of the ACT or vice-versa, is that there’s a good chance that one or the other is a better fit for an individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and test-taking style. So how do you tell whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit for a particular student? Luckily, our test prep experts have designed a short diagnostic quiz that will do just that. 

By answering these 16 simple questions about how they perform in different conditions and their personal preferences, students can get a baseline understanding of which exam is right for them!

It takes less than 5 minutes and can save students months of prep time for the wrong exam. There are no wrong answers, so just be honest– happy quizzing! 

Results will be email to you at the address provided.
Please reach out to us at help@smartalec.com with any questions.

How to Prepare for the SHSAT

How to Prepare for the SHSAT

The Specialized High School Admissions Test (or the SHSAT) is a daunting prospect for any eighth grader hoping to attend one of the 8 specialized high schools in New York City that require the exam to apply.

We’ve outlined the 4 tips your student needs to know as they begin preparing for the SHSAT:

  • Play to Your Strengths

The SHSAT is made up of two sections. First, the English Language Arts (ELA) section tests a student’s ability to notice and correct grammar errors, improve a piece of writing, and understand and interpret what they have read. Second, the Mathematics section tests a student’s ability to solve word problems and computational questions involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals and statistics.

The SHSAT allows students to choose which section to take first, and choosing a certain order on test day could greatly impact a student’s confidence throughout the exam and their ultimate score. For some students, it might be better to start off with their stronger section so they can feel confident moving into the rest of the exam. For other students, it could be advantageous to start with the section they want to spend more time on so they do not feel rushed for the second section of the exam. We’ll discuss timing more in number 2.

  • Timing is Key

One of the most interesting – and potentially overwhelming – parts of taking the SHSAT is figuring out how to pace oneself on the test. Unlike other standardized tests, there are no set times for the Mathematics and ELA sections; students can spend as much or as little time as they need on each section. While this can be an advantage to a skilled test taker, this could hurt the student who doesn’t keep their eye on the clock and gets stuck on a harder math problem or a challenging reading comprehension passage.  

Going into the exam, it’s important that students have an idea of how long they’d like to spend on each section. Is it better to spend an even 90 minutes on each section, or is it more advantageous to allocate a bit more time to a weaker section? The approach is different for each student, and a good tutor can help determine which timing strategy would work best for a student depending on their specific test-taking strengths and weaknesses.

  • Guess Smart

The SHSAT has no penalty for wrong answers, so students should never leave questions blank – even if they have no idea what the right answer is.

If your student doesn’t feel confident that they know the right answer to a question, they can still use process of elimination to increase their chances of getting a right answer. As they read through questions, students should do their best to cross out the answers that they know are definitely wrong. This will help your student narrow down their choices, getting them closer to the correct answer.

  • Practice Practice Practice

After reading through these tips, the next thing your student should do is take the official practice SHSAT provided by the Department of Education. When your student takes the exam, try and make the testing environment as realistic as possible. For example, your student should take the exam in the allotted time (180 minutes), be sitting at a table, and avoid taking breaks to look at their phone or eat a meal.

After your student finishes the exam, have them check their answers against the answer key to see the kinds of mistakes that they made. Perhaps they made careless errors on the Mathematics section or they weren’t quite “getting” the meaning of the reading comprehension passages. Your student can then focus their test preparation on these challenging areas so they can get their ideal score when it comes to test day.

Hopefully these tips will help your student get off on the right foot as they work to prepare for the SHSAT in October.

If you’d like to discuss your student’s SHSAT prep timeline or talk about specific strategies to help your student get into their top choice specialized high school, please feel free to give us a call at (646) 583-3611 or submit a request here.

How to Get the Best Tutor for Your Buck

How to Get the Best Tutor for Your Buck

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Private tutoring isn’t cheap – we get it – so it’s common sense to want to get the best possible price for the best possible service.

But how do you know if you’re getting a good deal for your money? Is that tutor you found on Craigslist for $15 an hour a steal, or are they going to literally steal your television? Is it really worth spending north of $200 an hour for that fancy test prep company?

Luckily for you, there are some really simple ways to ensure that you’re getting the best private tutors at the best possible price.

1. Don’t Use a Brand Name Tutoring Company

I know this is a strong statement to make, but it’s true – if you want the best value, don’t go with a brand name tutoring company. Why? Because traditional tutoring companies like Princeton Review and Kaplan pay their tutors around $20 an hour to start and charge customers $135 an hour (and up!).

This means that the person who is actually working with your student will be making less than ⅙ of what you’re paying per hour. Do you think they’re going to be motivated to do everything they can to help your child succeed? Probably not. Or at least not as much as if they were getting a bigger piece of that hefty hourly rate.

It’s not always bad to work with a traditional tutoring company as there’s security in knowing and trusting a brand. If you end up going this route, ask how much your tutor is actually being paid per hour.

2. Do Ask Around (but don’t stop there)

Ask your friends and family if they’ve used a tutor before or check with your school if they have tutors they recommend. Then ask how much these tutors cost. But don’t just accept this recommendation and stop there.

Go online and search for tutors in your area to see if the prices match up. If you find that there are tutors with strong education backgrounds and experience working with students available for significantly less, then your friend may not have gotten the best deal.

Wondering where to look online for actually qualified tutors? Read on.

3. Go Online (but focus on individual tutors)

Look for tutoring companies with professional and up-to-date websites, but don’t stop there. Focus your search on companies that include tutor profiles where you’ll be able to read about each individual educator. These companies will let you search at specific price points for tutors who teach the subjects your child needs help with, so you can make sure you’re finding exactly the type of tutor you’re looking for. Smart Alec, my company, does this quite well (if I do say so myself), as do Wyzant and Revolution Prep.

However, with so many tutor options, it’s hard to determine who’s actually going to be the best value for your money. Some companies – like Smart Alec – have stringent tutor-hiring requirements so you have a guaranteed high quality of tutors. Other companies – like Wyzant – have many reviews which you can use to get a sense of a tutor’s teaching quality. If the site has neither rigorous tutoring-hiring practices or reviews, you may want to look elsewhere.

And, if you’re struggling to figure out how to choose a tutor, check out our guide here.

4. Different subjects have different price tags

As you dig through tutoring options, it’s important to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Don’t get too caught up in the prices you see as you scan through tutoring sites – different subjects can be very different rates depending on where you live. For instance, homework help for an elementary student will almost always be less than half the price of SAT or ACT prep. Tutors who specialize in higher level classes and exams like college level chemistry or the LSAT will probably be even more expensive than that. So if you find a tutor who is only $50 an hour for elementary school math and then see a tutor is charging $70 for calculus tutoring, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the cheaper tutor is the better deal.

When you’re searching for the best value tutor, it’s a good idea to avoid the big brands, ask around, go online and note that different subjects have different standard prices. While there’s not one perfect way to find the best tutor for your buck, it’s important to remember that the easiest way to waste money when it comes to tutoring is to hire the cheapest tutor you can find. By simply going for the cheapest option, your child will likely have a bad experience and you’ll be flushing money down the drain.

Instead of looking for the lowest absolute price, look for a tutor whose price you can afford and whose credentials are amazing.The potential payoff of finding the right tutor for your child is tremendous, and with the availability of great, affordable tutors, you’ve got no reason to settle for anything less than the best.

How to Choose a Tutor in 4 Questions

How to Choose a Tutor in 4 Questions

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Your child paid attention in math class, studied their notes and did the algebra problem sets twice. Everything should be falling into place for them, but for some reason the concepts just won’t stick.

If this sounds familiar, it might be time to get your child a bit of extra help. You’ll want to choose a tutor who’s going to work well with their unique personality and learning style. With the wrong tutor, students can get even more discouraged, but, with the right math tutor, students can discover their academic potential and build self-confidence in new and exciting ways.

But how can you tell what makes a good teacher for your child? Answer these four questions and you will be a long way towards determining if a tutor is actually a good teacher and if they are a good match for your child, before they ever meet.

1. How well do they know the subject?

Obviously if the tutor can’t teach math, then nothing else really will help, so we need to start here. But how can you figure out if they know their stuff if you haven’t taken an algebra or calculus class in twenty years? Check to see if they majored in math or a science that would require solid math fundamentals (like physics, chemistry or biology). If they don’t have a degree in these areas, have they taught the class or subject in a classroom?

If your student is in high school or college, it’s important to choose a math tutor with a depth of knowledge. In this case, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that a math tutor can teach at least one course level above your student. For example if you are looking for a high school precalculus tutor, you also want to make sure that the tutor can teach calculus. If your student is studying pre-algebra, their tutor should certainly have a mastery over algebra (through algebra 2, preferably). Having this base of knowledge means that the math tutor is going to be able to help your child dive deeply into the subject. A math tutor whose knowledge ends at your student’s grade level may not be able to explain the “why” behind important concepts.

2. How good are they at actually teaching?

Just because someone earned perfect grades in their calculus course doesn’t mean they’re automatically good at teaching that material. Do you see any evidence that the tutor is able to communicate complex topics simply and effectively? Do they cite experience working with different kinds of learners when you speak with them on the phone? When you choose a tutor, you want to look for tutors who talk about their passion for teaching, the joy they get from helping students, and the reasons they tutor. Most educators who take the time to talk about these things are genuinely passionate about helping students.

Of course, the best way to see if they are a good tutor is to actually watch them teach. Some sites, like Smart Alec, actually include video math lessons so you can see how individual tutors communicate and teach.

3. How successful have they been?

When choosing a tutor, look to their track record with students. If you’re going through a company or service, ask how they selected the tutors they work with. Do they have to have a certain number of hours tutors have to fulfill or specific qualifying credentials? If not, are there reviews? You obviously want a tutor who has proven they can help students succeed. You can either limit your search to only looking at tutoring companies that have stringent tutor-hiring requirements or you can look on sites like Wyzant that have many reviews of tutors to help you.

If you’re nervous about the teacher’s quality (or if you just want more of a sense of how the tutor teaches), ask them for a few references. Talking to former – or current – students will give you a sense of how the teacher communicates and if they can actually adapt their expertise to your child’s needs.

4. Are they a good personality fit for your child?

Once a tutor meets all the other requirements, you should choose a tutor that your student actually wants to work with. The wrong personality fit can mean the difference between a successful lesson and a painful one. You know your child best, so think about whether they need a more authoritative teacher or if they’re going to respond better to a more relatable one. Will they connect with a math tutor who is very energetic and animated or one that is more reserved and calm?

This is where bringing your child into the decision making process can really pay off, especially if you have an initial consultation at a tutoring company or a tutor’s profile up on your computer. If your child thinks the math tutor looks like someone they may want to work with, letting them make the final call can go a long way towards having them buy into the tutoring process and ultimately making the tutoring relationship more productive.

So don’t just go with the first math tutor you come across. Look at how deep their knowledge goes, how good they are at communicating that information, how successful they are, and finally, whether or not your child is going to respond to their personality. With the right math tutor, your child will be feeling more confident and capable in no time.

You’re Delusional About Your Essay — Here’s How to Fix It

You’re Delusional About Your Essay — Here’s How to Fix It
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It’s late. You’ve just cranked out a brilliant essay, and the last few pages practically wrote themselves. This may be your best work yet, and you’re sure that your teacher is going to be blown away.

But a week later you get your essay back, and it’s bleeding red ink and scarred with a less-than-stellar letter grade.

How did this happen? Why did your brilliance go unrecognized? The answer to this age old question is, almost always, a lack of editing…

Editing is so often the difference between an incredible piece of writing and a complete mess. You know that game where you tap out a beat and a friend tries to guess which song it’s from? The song is so obvious to you, but for your friend it’s incredibly difficult to guess. That’s because our minds are remarkably good at superimposing sensible patterns of our own creation onto chaos, whether it’s the erratic tapping that you firmly believe is the beat to T-Swift’s “Shake it Off” or the paper you wrote that failed to effectively get its message across. This disconnect between the words on the page and what you’ve written is the real reason great editing is essential to any successful paper.

Of course, simply understanding that your literal writing is different than your imagined writing isn’t enough to make a piece great. It does, however, position you to be exponentially more effective in your editing. Because you know that your brain is lying to you when you read your essay, you can learn to expose those falsehoods and edit your paper as if you were an objective observer with the following four techniques.

1. Back Away from the Computer Screen

First thing’s first — get away from your essay. Literally. Just don’t look at it for a full 24 hours, including a night’s sleep.

After some time away from your paper you’ll immediately start to notice where your ideas don’t come across as effectively as you’d imagined. Give it a good read over and take notes on what worked and what didn’t. Maybe a structural change is required, or you notice that one paragraph is weak compared to the rest of the paper. The moral of this step is don’t be afraid to make larger scale changes. Once you’ve gone through and re-written and re-structured the most obviously lacking parts, then it’s time to move onto the next phase of the editing process.

2. Change Your Context

The second method is to change the context in which you’re viewing your essay. This is the best stage for finding awkward sentences, grammatical mistakes, and not-so-smooth transitions.

The easiest way to change your context is to simply print it out. Read through your paper with a brightly colored pen and don’t be shy or overwhelmed by the amount of ink on the page. Remember, no one writes perfectly the first time around.

3. Get Vocal

Once you’ve fixed the larger mistakes, go through your essay with a fine-tooth comb. Read it aloud to yourself, or better yet (and probably even more painful), record yourself reading your paper and play it back. Hearing your paper read aloud will distance you from what you think you wrote, and force you to edit what you’ve actually written. It also makes bad sentences, poor word choices, and residual grammatical errors stand out like sore thumbs.

4. Get Perspective

If you’re working on an especially important assignment, this is when you should start thinking about getting a fresh perspective. Once you’ve done all of the above, show your work to a friend or teacher, or you can even get a professional to look at it like those on Smart Edits (www.smartalec.io).

While objective edits can sometimes be hard on the ego, editors will be able to eliminate unnecessary sentences (or even paragraphs) that you’re too fond of to judge extraneous. An expert will go a long way towards helping you focus your ideas, finding your voice and polishing your product. There’s a reason publishing houses employ teams of editors after all.

These incredibly simple techniques go a very long way towards helping you see your writing through the eyes of your readers. They break the illusion of superimposed greatness and allow you to see the words on the page, warts and all. So before you hand in your next paper, try to give yourself some space from it, print it out and listen to it. Once it truly sounds brilliant, then you can turn it in confident that you’ve written something worthy of that amazing brain of yours.