Every snippet found on this post is from the SHSAT Handbook released by the DOE. The following link is a pdf of the relevant pages for the ELA Section. I find that the handbook overcomplicates the test so I selected the most important parts, and added in some commentary. But if you’d like to read their ELA documentation you can use the following download link.
The English Language Arts section consists of 57 multiple choice questions. There is a Revising/Editing section and a Reading Comprehension section.
This post, like the ELA section, has 2 main sections. The first is the Editing/Revising section which has 2 more subsections. The second section of this post is on the Reading Comprehension section.
The Editing/Revising section has 9 to 11 questions. It has two parts, A and B. Questions in Part A are each based on a sentence or a paragraph. Questions in Part B are all based on a single passage that has numbered sentences.
The following are some sample questions. They should give an idea of how difficult the grammar questions are. The vocabulary is pretty standard for late 7th graders and early 8th graders.
Most native speakers can answer these questions based on their intuition. Looking out for phrases that sound awkward is actually a solid strategy. There are of course specific grammar rules that one can apply to every single question in order to be more thorough.
For the most part, reading at or above the 7th grade reading level is enough to do well on the ELA section. Students with higher reading levels will tend to do better on the section as a whole. Students who are weak at reading simply need to practice more. I’ve always found that my students who were initially weak at reading were able to perform excellently by the time they took the exam. The key was to spend more time on reading comprehension prep. Repetition works. It’s as simple as that.
The second part of the grammar section is on structure, rather than grammatical rules. So stuff like transitions, arguments, and the use of precise language. The latter type of questions, also, tends to be easy for native speakers.
Reading Comprehension section
The second subsection of the ELA section is the Reading Comprehension section. This section has 46 to 48 questions. It has both non-fiction passages and fiction passages- including poetry. The questions for both types of passages are similar, as are the strategies. The following chart lists the types of passages that appear. There isn’t much to fuss over. Practice with enough passages so that the genre of a passage doesn’t matter.
The following is a non-fiction passage and 4 sample questions. It should give an idea about the difficulty of the vocabulary.
Another message to the reader
The test as a whole measures competency, time management skills, and the ability to work under pressure. The Reading Comprehension section measures time management skills more than any other section.
The vocabulary found throughout the ELA section is a bit more advanced than the State Tests’. I tell my students that it’s like reading a Y level book after you’ve been reading W level books for awhile. Sure, there is a difference but after you get used to the flow of a more challenging book it all starts to feel the same. A good way to stay prepped is to read at the expected 7th and 8th grade reading levels. Reading some short novels, a scientific magazine, the news, anything that interests you.
The DOE Handbook describes the types of passages on the exam in a pretty scary way. There is a lot of over categorization. I like to describe the passages as the same typical type of non-fiction stuff students read in school. The reading level of the passages is about as difficult as the 8th grade state tests. The Handbook says 7th grade, but I disagree. Even if it were 7th grade level, you need to be better than 90 percent of the other test takers. It doesn’t make any sense to read at the same baseline as everyone else. If you follow the advice that 90 percent of test takers take, you might even perform like them. And that’s not a good thing here.
The specialized schools do not want students who can only meet the federal common core standards. That’s what the public schools are for. To be frank, most students need to practice reading at a higher level than their peers to do well on the SHSAT.