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Last Updated On: March 4th, 2021

So you’ve decided to take the HSPT, now what? Note: if you still aren’t sure which test is best for you or your child, you can find more here. Figuring out how best to prepare for a test like the High School Placement Test (HSPT), or high school entrance exam, can be difficult, especially as you are probably also dealing with the rest of the admissions process for high schools, which can be tricky. Luckily, we’ve broken down the process into a few easy steps:

Find a test date for the High School Placement Test and Register:

The HSPT differs from most standardized tests in that there is no set test date. Instead, schools or archdioceses pick their own test dates (usually in January for 8th grade students applying to high school). Therefore it is crucial that you reach out early to the schools or archdioceses where you are planning to apply in order to find out their test dates and sign up in time. If you need testing accommodations you should confirm that they are available at your test site as well. Some schools (such as Notre Dame High School here in Los Angeles) also offer practice test dates, which can be a good way to practice the test in an environment most similar to your actual exam. Once you have your test date, you can figure out how much time you have to prepare and adjust your preparatory schedule accordingly. Keep in mind that due to COVID-19, many standardized tests have been rescheduled or postponed, so check back with the individual schools in question frequently to make sure you stay up to date on test information.

Create a Test Prep Schedule

Once you know your test date, you will want to figure out a rough test prep schedule. In general, it’s best to start early and spread your test prep out over a longer period of time rather than try to ‘cram’. Most students find it easier to assimilate information in small chunks over a longer period, and a more relaxed timeframe also gives you time to adjust your schedule or change your area of focus if your early practice scores don’t go the way you want. For a January test date, a good start date might be in midsummer or at the beginning of the school year in the fall. Your exact dates might depend on your school or extracurricular schedule. Test prep is important, but you never want it to interfere with middle school work, so if there are months where you know you’ll be particularly busy, plan on doing less test prep during them and focus on doing most of your practice in months where you have less going on. In addition to figuring out when you will start your prep course, set aside some time each week (ideally 2-3 hours) when you can work on your HSPT practice.

Take a Practice Test

Okay, so you’ve figured out your test date, you’ve drawn up a rough schedule for when you’ll begin studying and how much time you can dedicate, what now? Your first step should be to take a practice test. Try to take your practice test in as close to actual test conditions as possible. That means that you should stick rigidly to the time limits of the real test, take the test in one sitting, and take it in as quiet and non-distracting an environment as possible. Having a full multiple choice practice test under your belt will mean that when you sit down to take the actual test you are familiar with the timing and format of the exam, and can feel more confident about the material. Equally importantly, practice test results help you determine which areas you should study in order to most efficiently improve your raw score.

Review Your Practice Test Results

Once you’ve taken your first practice test, you should check your correct answers and incorrect answers and grade yourself to find your HSPT score report. If you are confused about how HSPT scoring works (and it can be pretty confusing!) don’t worry, we break it down here. Take a look at your answer sheet. Are there sections where you went too slowly and had to guess or leave answers blank? Are there more than one or two careless errors per section? Are there any subjects or question types that jump out to you as particularly tricky? If you are leaving sections unfinished, you will want to take more practice sections in that subject and refine your guessing strategy. If you are making a lot of careless errors, do some practice questions more slowly, making sure to check your work or read questions a second time and see if that helps. Writing out your calculations on paper or crossing off incorrect answers in your test booklet may also help. If there are specific subjects where you missed a lot of questions, those should be the first subjects you begin reviewing as part of your test prep. If you are unsure how to review those subjects, you can seek help from a teacher, family member, or tutor.

Begin Working on the Test Sections Most in Need of Improvement, but Don’t Neglect Your Strengths!

The sections where you scored the lowest are where you should start your test prep. Work on practice questions in these sections, go over any unfamiliar concepts with a tutor or teacher, and study any new vocabulary. However, don’t neglect to work on your strong sections as well! Just because a student is already strong in language skills, verbal skills, or reading comprehension does not mean they should spend all their time on math. Improving your quantitative skills would of course be important in this scenario, but there are probably a few reading questions you could get if you worked a bit on that section as well, and both sections will count towards your overall score. It may be easier and more time efficient to make modest gains in two sections by focusing on the easiest questions you missed in each one, rather than spending all your time trying to memorize every last difficult synonym and antonym or solve the most challenging math questions.

Rinse and Repeat!

Keep working on each section of the exam, spending the bulk of your time on the sections that are giving you the most trouble. Do some review (either on your own or with help) and then take more practice sections in those areas to see how you are improving. Repeat the process until you get comfortable in a section before moving on. After a few months, take another practice test to see how you are doing.

Wait, the Test is Only a Month Away and I Haven’t Started Prepping, What Should I Do?

While we recommend starting your test prep early in order to maximize your gains and work most efficiently, that does NOT mean that if you only have a short amount of time you shouldn’t do any prep at all. While you may not be able to expect the sort of test score gains you could expect with an intensive six month process, you can still make some significant improvements in a shorter period of time. At the very least, make sure you take a HSPT practice test and review your incorrect answers. This will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the test format, catch any careless errors you might be making and help you relax on test day. Otherwise, in an abbreviated time frame the same strategies apply as normal, with the only differences being that you probably won’t have time to review every section on the test (so be more selective in choosing which ones to focus on), and you may want to dedicate more hours a week to test prep since you won’t have the luxury of spacing your test prep out over a longer period.

Hopefully these steps have demystified the HSPT prep process a bit for you, and remember, LA Tutors is always there to help if you have any further questions.

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