11/09/2011 09:38 am ET Updated Jan 09, 2012

Surviving the Massive Crowds to Test into NYC's Specialized High Schools

It was a cold, wet, snowy Saturday when almost 750 students lined up at Stuyvesant High School to take the dreaded SHSAT, the Specialized High School Admission Test.

It starts like this: You just entered eighth grade in New York City, and you realize you have to leave your old school and move on to a larger, more rigorous high school. For everyone who thinks it is going to be easy enough to just sit back and write a sentence in response to a paragraph question, then you better change your attitude quickly. While being time consuming and difficult at some points, the high school search is actually really fun and different. You might see a school that you are dying to get into and the only way to get in is to get good grades, show yourself off in the interview, and answer the essay questions very carefully and thoughtfully. When you get all of these steps done, there is only one thing left: the tests. The high school tests consist mainly of the ISEE (Independent School Entrence Exam), the SHSAT (Specialized High School Acceptance Test), and the SSAT (Secondary School Acceptance Test). If you live in Manhattan, you will be taking the SHSAT at Stuyvesant High School as I did this Saturday.

Some tips are to bring as many sharpened #2 pencils possible, bring some water, and to stay calm and to not be nervous. I had gotten in line to enter about 45 minutes early, and there was already a fairly long line. When I got there, there was a great big sign that said, "NO PARENTS BEYOND THIS POINT," along with, "No cell phones, calculator watches, and no food." My parents and I had packed some candy bars just in case I had gotten hungry during test. I said goodbye to my parents and went off to go wait on the line. It had been raining all morning, but it got cold and very strange when it snowed, on the 29th of October. There were people who had to wait for 45 minutes in the cold, when they had already been rained on before. Another rule is always be ready for the worst on a day as important as this test day. After waiting for the long period of time, we were finally allowed into the building.

Once I was inside, students who were helping the school handed me a yellow card and said, "This card has your room number, do not loose this card!" I had room 640, so I went up two escalators (yes, Stuyvesant has escalators), and entered my room. I was told to sit down and to just relax because there was another 30 minutes until the test. While waiting, I thought about everything I was learning with my tutor and I also thought about just staying calm. While doing this, one of my friends from school walked in, and my immediate reaction was to say hi, but I stopped myself. This leads me to my second rule, if you see a friend, but they don't see you, leave them alone. They are trying to focus and stay in the zone -- you can say hi after.

After seeing my friend, the loudspeaker started giving instructions about the test and how one should treat it. They said the strangest thing during the announcements. They said if you have a phone please turn it off. Not "please bring it up to the front immediately." Then we were told to begin the test. I had 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, to complete the test, no breaks. I started with the scrambled paragraphs, which I'm not going into any detail on because this is a test, and if I told you the answers, that would be cheating. After the paragraphs, I decided to move onto the math. Right when I looked into the math section, someone asked to go to the bathroom, and they were allowed to. This too makes no sense to me, what if they have their phone and they just go to the bathroom to go check answers and then just walk back into the classroom knowing the correct answer. I didn't want to waste my time thinking about this so I continued with the math. While doing the math, I looked up at the clock, and thought I only had 30 minutes left! I panicked and started rushing and not doing the work. Then I realized 10 minutes later, that I actually had an hour and 30 minutes, so I had to go back and do all of the work again. This is the third rule, always know when the test ends exactly, because I didn't know when it did end, I rushed and had to take more time to redo all of the questions.

After a long time, the test was finished and I got to go and talk to my friends to see what they thought about it. We all agreed that some of the questions were easy while others were much harder. In the end, there aren't very many public high schools that I want to go to, so the SHSAT was a good practice test for me. I will post about the ISEE when I take it. Until then, have a nice day.