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In the upcoming weeks, students across New York State will be taking two days of state testing in both English Language Arts(ELA) and Math. For many students, these annual state exams are their initial entry to the world of high impact assessments, and in New York City, the 7th grade state tests serve as a critical component to most non-specialized public high schools.

While students may study years for the SHSAT and are well aware of the impact their score will have on entry to specialized high schools, they may be less aware of the impact that the State Exam has on their admission chances to other elite public high schools. While the weight of the exam may differ depending on the school’s criteria, it is a central criteria for nearly all top schools. As such, students should be taking their preparation for this year’s State Test seriously, maximizing their chances at all of New York City’s elite public high schools.

In this post, we will look at the similarities and differences between the State Test and the SHSAT, why students should dedicate time to their State Test scores, and how they should prepare differently for the two exams.

Ela State Test Compared to SHSAT Verbal

The ELA State Test has three major question types: multiple choice reading comprehension, short response writing, and essay writing. While the SHSAT has a grammar and editing section with standalone sentences and paragraphs, all questions on the ELA State Test follow from a nonfiction, informational, or literary passage. After reading the passage, students taking the ELA State Test will find 6-9 reading comprehension questions, 2 short response writing questions, or 1 long response essay question.

The passages found on the ELA State Test will generally be of a lower, to significantly lower, difficulty level than those found on the SHSAT. However, what the State Test passages lack in difficulty, they make up for in length. The average State Test passage clocks in at about 1000 words, while SHSAT nonfiction passages average only 500 words.*(at the time of this post, the city has not yet released practice material for the SHSAT with fiction passages. As such, the length for these passages is not included in the figure). Like the SHSAT reading comprehension questions, ELA State Test reading comprehension questions will test a student’s ability to recognize a passage’s main idea, find important details within the passage, and make inferences based on the content of the passage.

While the reading comprehension questions and passages may appear fairly similar, students will tend to find the inferences more complicated on the SHSAT and questions that ask students to find details will more frequently lack corresponding line numbers from the passage–making scanning a more important skill for the SHSAT. These differences, however, are minimal compared to the differences on the non-reading comprehension questions.

The SHSAT grammar and editing section tests students’ ability to understand grammatical and rhetorical norms. The ELA State Test, on the other hand, demands that students put these skills to work. On the first writing type of question on the ELA State Test, students will be tasked with answering a simple question with a basic paragraph, complete with two details directly from the passage. Most students will be well versed with various writing standards and, for this exam, they will want to closely follow those paragraph norms. All answers should have a clear topic sentence, two pieces of evidence directly from the passage, and two corresponding sentences following each piece of evidence. These follow up sentences should show the grader that the student is able to relate the evidence directly to their major claim. These short response questions are graded on a two-point scale, with a fairly low requirement necessary for a full two points. Keep in mind that the readers are reading many responses, so as long as it has the required elements of the paragraph and cogently answers the question(all while keeping minimal grammatical errors), they will be happy to award maximum points.

The longer essay responses are structured very similarly to the short paragraph response answers. These essays are graded on a four point scale, with the vast majority of the point coming from the students’ two body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should have the same elements as those used on the short response answers. For many passages, there will be two different elements to the passage or two different passages with slightly different theses. The intro and body paragraphs should clearly demonstrate that the student comprehends these differences between the passages or changes within the passage and a conclusion should nicely complete the essay.

Math State Test Compared to SHSAT Math

According to the norms distributed by the state, the Math State Test and SHSAT Math section should be closely aligned. However, when analyzing the problem types and underlying structural differences of the two exams, the sections become even more distinct than the ELA and Verbal portion.

Both tests largely focus on arithmetic, proportions, statistics, and algebra/algebraic thinking. A student may as easily see a question pairing negative fractions with positive decimals on one exam as the other. These similarities, however, are largely superficial. Proportions on the State Exam are traditionally between two items and rarely ask the student to identify implicit information. For example, while a question on the State Exam may ask students to increase an item’s price by 15% before lowering it 10%, they will not relate three different items and then ask questions concerning the totals between the items. Arithmetic questions on the State Exam are far less likely to have absolute value, negative exponents, or scientific notation questions. Statistics question on the State Test often include interpreting various data visualization tools, such as box and whisker charts, while the SHSAT will often instead demand that students manage large data sets. Both exams are similar in their tasking students with establishing algebraic equations based on word problems, but State Test questions will often have pre-algebra material–such as combining like terms or distribution–as the end of the problem, while the SHSAT will have these elements as simply the first step.

One major difference between the two exams, is that the SHSAT is a no-calculator exam, while the Math State Test permits the use of calculators for any problem. Due to this, students on the State Exam should always be able to double check their algebra questions by plugging in their values and can success on questions concerning partial or negative numbers even if they lack full mastery. While the SHSAT demands deep conceptual understanding and computations that are both rapid and accurate, the State Exam more highly values the former.