The Students Trying to Get Ahead in a One-Test System

At Think Prep, a testing outfit near Penn Station, six students bent over desks in a windowless classroom. They’d been there for the past six weeks, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., studying practice S.H.S.A.T. questions. (The program costs five thousand six hundred dollars.)


The instructor, whose name was Andrew, wiped down the board. He’d attended Hunter College High School, another school with exam-based admissions, though it uses a different test. “It’s a mess,” he said, of the S.H.S.A.T. “It’s one test—one test date. You might get sick. You might get nervous. The test itself is a black box. It tests obscure concepts. They don’t release how the scores are calibrated, and there’s a weird curve.”