What's on the HSPT? How Do I prepare?

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The High School Placement Test (HSPT) is the entrance exam required by many Catholic high schools. Its content is somewhat similar to that of the SSAT and ISEE, but the HSPT is much faster paced: the SSAT has roughly twice as many questions as the other two tests but the test runs for about the same amount of time. The individual questions, though, tend to be less intensive with fewer moving parts. 

The HSPT is scheduled to run for about two and a half hours, including two short breaks. During that time students are asked to speed through 298 total questions. The Verbal section consists of 60 questions and runs for 16 minutes; the Quantitative section has 52 questions in 30 minutes; the Reading section has 62 questions in 25 minutes; the Math section has 64 questions in 45 minutes and the Language section has 60 questions in 25 minutes. Each question is worth one point and there is no penalty for incorrect answers. The test is entirely multiple choice and does not include any short answer or essay questions. The test also offers optional sections in Catholic Religion, Mechanical Aptitude and Science that some schools require, so you will want to check with the schools to which your student is applying before signing up. 

The math and quantitative sections of the test deal with basic math skills and vocabulary and do not allow use of a calculator. The multi-part word problems that students encounter on the SSAT and ISEE don’t show up on the HSPT – instead the questions are shorter and get straight to the heart of some basic math skills. These sections involve lots of arithmetic, exponent rules, order of operations and fluency with mathematical vocabulary, but do not assume that a student is taking an Algebra course nor do they delve deeply into geometry. The questions do not necessarily focus on the specific math that a student will be learning in eighth grade, so it’s important for students to review some of the specific topics to ensure fluency with all of the material. 

The verbal section of the test is focused on vocabulary and presents a hodgepodge of synonyms, antonyms, sentence completions, analogies and general logic questions involving similarities and differences among words. Students tend to be more familiar with the words on the HSPT than they might be on the SSAT or ISEE, but they are not given as much time to thoroughly think things through. As always with the HSPT, moving quickly and confidently is the key.

The reading section consists of short passages with a focus on topics from history and the humanities: outside knowledge about the topic is not assumed. The speed of this section can be particularly challenging for some students, so practice with the pacing can be very valuable. Additionally, students need to be aware that there is a short, 22 question synonym section at the end of the reading passages. For some students, it may be beneficial to practice finishing the vocabulary first, then going on to tackle the passages at the beginning of the section.

The language section focuses on grammar rules and spelling. While some of these questions can be answered just by “hearing” the sentence and spotting answers that just sound wrong, many deal with more subtle usage of grammar rules. The finer points of punctuation, parallelism and subject/verb agreement are frequent topics of this section. Area schools seem to vary quite a bit in their approach to grammar instruction, so some specific review of these topics can be very beneficial. 

Unlike most other admissions tests, students are not allowed to take the HSPT more than once: getting it right the first time is vital. You don’t want to become aware of a problem area once it is too late, so reviewing the material and working through practice tests before sitting for the real exam can ensure success.