Standardized Testing in an Un-Standard Year: Here Comes the SHSAT

The pandemic has left eighth-graders to deal with an uncertain future regarding high school admissions. What are their responses to the upcoming SHSAT?

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By Sabrina Chen

Most Stuyvesant students remember the day they took the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). They remember the fluorescent school lighting, the yawning teenagers, the screeching of pencils on paper, and the collective sigh of relief once the proctor signaled the end of the exam. But the experience of this year’s incoming batch of SHSAT-takers is different; the pandemic has postponed testing to late January.

Nathan Boccara, an eighth-grader at Booker T. Washington School, has mixed feelings about the postponement of the test. “It would just be nice to get it over with, but I’m fine with taking it in January because it’s not like school is unaware of the extra studying we’ll have to do. Teachers will probably let us have less homework so we can study,” he said. The winter break gave him a lot of extra time to study, so he was able to take practice tests daily. Now that online school has resumed, he has less time to take practice tests, but he still has time to study. “I’m aiming for a score of 800,” he declared half-jokingly.

Sophie Marabello, an eighth-grader who also attends Booker T. Washington School, expressed similar opinions in an e-mail interview. “I think that the test being postponed until January is ultimately good, as it allows me to have more time to prepare and get ready for it, but it also caused a lot of stress because I didn't know when it was going to be held,” she said. Marabello elaborated on her study habits, writing about her prep classes. “I got more time to study this year than people usually had, but all of the classes were online. I have two prep classes a week, which are both two hours long,” she explained.

Other students feel more frustrated about the postponement of the SHSAT. “It is a little frustrating after spending a lot of money on prep just for it to be postponed,” Connie Liang, an eighth-grader at Lab Middle School, said. Liang explained that she couldn’t help but feel as if her extensive prep over the summer was all a waste, as she has forgotten some of the material after so many months. However, when asked whether she believed that fewer kids will be inclined to take the test this year in light of COVID, she said, “No, I don’t think so. But, I do think that it’ll take longer to get the test distributed to everyone.”

Eric Wallick, an eighth-grader at Rodeph Sholom School, was also frustrated with the test date delay. In an e-mail interview, he said that not knowing when the test would be administered messed with his study plans. “I was studying for the test assuming that it would be in October, and when I heard about the delay, I was thrown off my studying schedule. I ended up in a loop of not knowing what to study but instead constantly looking back at the same things,” he explained.

However, Wallick did admit that the postponement allowed him to have more time to study. “The SHSAT preparation has changed because I had way more time to study. I started preparing in July, and when it did not occur in October, I knew I would have more time. With the school year back, I decided to prioritize regular school [over] studying [for the test],” he said.

Similar to Wallick and Liang, Chhaheda Khan, an eighth-grader at Baccalaureate Middle School, was frustrated at having the test delayed. “At first, I studied hard and thought I was going to do [well], but then they gave no updates the entire summer from July to November […] I went above and beyond my limits all these months. I studied [for] all those months, and I did not get a single update on what was going to happen,” Khan expressed. In Khan’s view, it is unfair to the thousands of students who were kept in the dark for months, only to be bombarded in the middle of the school year. While she acknowledged the fact that it allowed students to study more, she found it difficult to dedicate adequate time for both the exam and school work. “I have tons of homework given daily, along with tests, projects, and whatever the world decides to throw my way. I used to study for six hours every day during the summer, but now I’m so caught up with school that I’m having a hard time setting any time aside to study for this test,” Khan said.

Liang acknowledged a key change in the SHSAT this year, which is that the test will be administered in the students’ respective middle schools. “I feel more comfortable in my middle school because I know my environment; Stuy is a massive place, and it is a bit scary taking such an important test in a foreign atmosphere.” Liang is also grateful that the test is being administered at all. “I’m just glad they’re going to have it this year in person rather than online,” she said.

Liang’s mother shares a similar opinion on the SHSAT. Translated from Chinese, she said, “I’m just happy that the SHSAT is being administered at all this year.” She briefly explained that this is the fairest system since everyone will be taking the same test and school-given grades would be completely irrelevant. “Different schools have different grading systems and fluctuations in their grading as well. This will make the testing more transparent and fair.”

Boccara’s mother, Wendy Butler, wished that the SHSAT had not been postponed. “The postponement forced the kids to spend more time preparing and spend less time on other important activities like schoolwork and extracurriculars,” she said. Butler believed that the test could have been administered earlier than January. “There is no reason they couldn’t have taken those same precautions as they are taking now back in October, or even November, so I guess in that respect, it makes [it hard for me] to understand the reasons for the delay,” she said.

In spite of all these difficulties, the SHSAT is now on track for the end of this month. There is nothing to do now but review last-minute formulas and get a good night’s sleep. As Liang said, “I’m just hoping for the best.”