What the HSPT is, why it's important, and how to prepare for it

San Francisco HSPT preparation 20+ years of experience with an expert instructor.

Like many private non-parochial high schools, many Catholic high schools require eighth-grade applicants to complete a standardized admissions test as part of their application. The High School Placement Test (HSPT), owned and managed by the Scholastic Testing Service, Inc. (STS), is one of the most commonly administered of these tests.

The results of the HSPT, along with other information on the application, will be used in the decision whether to admit the applicant; the results are considered another measurement of the academic potential and ability of the applicant (but by no means the only one).

Applicants will typically take the HSPT on a specific date at one of the schools that they're applying to. If the applicant is applying to more than one Catholic school, the school that receives the test score will share that score with other schools if the schools have an agreement to do so. As always, be sure to check for specific details with each high school you're applying to.

The HSPT is a challenging test that requires students to demonstrate mastery of several areas in English and math. It has 5 sections (3 verbal and 2 math sections) with a total of 298 questions to complete in 2 hours and 23 minutes, meaning about 29 seconds per question. It also contains some questions that aren't always taught in school, such as analogies, as well as certain advanced concepts that some students may not have been introduced to yet, such as some basic statistics questions or inference questions in the reading.

Important: Not all Catholic high schools will require a standardized test. While some will require students to take the HSPT, others may accept other tests, such as the TACHS, ISEE, or SSAT. Still others are test-optional, meaning you don't have to submit a test score if you don't want to. Finally, some Catholic high schools are what we call test-blind, meaning they won't use test scores as a factor in the admissions decision (ie, you don't need to take a test for these schools for to get in). So be sure to check with the schools to find out their standardized test requirements. For this article, we'll be focusing on the HSPT.

Why should I take the HSPT? Why is the HSPT important?

There are several important reasons to take the HSPT:

  • Most important: The Catholic high school you're applying to might require the HSPT.
  • The HSPT score is used, along with GPA, your transcripts, application and high school admissions essays (if applicable), as one of the factors to determine eligibility for admission. In short, the higher your score, the better your chances of gaining admission.
  • Finally, some Catholic high schools and programs will use the HSPT score to decide whether to award a scholarship. So a high HSPT score could save you money, sometimes even thousands of dollars!

HSPT Preparation

From what we've heard from schools, many kids take the test cold--they've never seen the test before and don't really even know what's on it. We think all test-takers should prep at least a bit! There are many ways to prepare, from taking a practice HSPT on your own and reviewing it to taking an HSPT course or working with an HSPT tutor.

First, let's take a look at the actual content of the HSPT; ie, what you need to know before you take the HSPT so that you have a better idea of what the HSPT covers.

Overview of the HSPT

The HSPT is a 2-hour and 23-minute test designed to measure students' abilities in certain verbal skills (such as vocabulary and some logic), reading comprehension, mathematics, and language (such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation).

The HSPT has 298 questions in total, which means that test-takers have about 29 seconds per question on average (of course, some questions can be answered very quickly while others will take time).

The test is administered live at one of the schools you're applying to, on paper (ie, not on a computer), and takes about 2.5 to 3.0 hours, depending on length of breaks and how long it takes to get started.

Calculators are not allowed. There is no essay to write. The HSPT has no penalty for incorrect answers, so be sure to answer every question!

Scores will range from 200–800 points total.

Next, the breakdown of the test, using the official names of the test sections, and in the order that you will see them:

HSPT Verbal

The HSPT Verbal section measures the student's English verbal skills using mainly vocabulary and a bit of basic logic.

The most common question types on the HSPT Verbal section:

  • Synonyms. For these, find the answer choice that is closest in meaning to the given word. For example, happy and glad have similar meanings.
  • Antonyms. For these, find the answer choice that is the most opposite. For example, happy and sad are opposites.
  • Analogies. You may have done these before, but maybe not. For these, you need to find two pairs that have a similar relationship. Here's an example of an analogy: Kitten is to cat as puppy is to dog.
  • Logic. Only very basic logic appears on the test. Simple example question stem: Lena is taller than Stan. Stan is taller than Laurel. Lena is shorter than Laurel. You then have to decide whether the third statement is correct based on the first two statements.
  • Verbal classifications. These questions require you to categorize a word, usually a noun. Simple example question stem: A car is a(n) Correct answer: vehicle.

Next on the test is some math, which the HSPT refers to as the Quantitative section.

HSPT Quantitative

The HSPT Quantitative and the HSPT Mathematics sections have a lot of overlap in concepts, but the HSPT Quantitative section poses the concepts more as word problems (as opposed to equations). The section expects students to apply certain concepts in comparison questions. It also has some math reasoning questions, such as figuring out the next number in a sequence based on previous numbers.

For example, you might see a question like this:

In the sequence: IX, XII, XVI, XXI, …, what numeral should come next? Correct answer: XXVII.

Another common type of question is this:

What number multiplied by itself is 200% of 18? Correct answer: 6.

HSPT Reading

The HSPT Reading section has two parts--the Comprehension and the Vocabulary. They are both pretty standard for tests in general, and there should be very little out of the ordinary.

Some of the vocabulary may be unfamiliar, but all HSPT words are generally from 8th grade reading material. For example, a word like exorbitant could probably appear, but not a word like avuncular.

For the reading, test-takers will see a passage followed by some questions. Passages are either informational (for example, a science topic) or literary, such as a story. The questions are pretty standard--what does such-and-such word mean in context, what would the best title for the passage be, why did the visitor to the cottage feel it was acceptable to taste everybody's porridge, etc.

The vocabulary is very straightforward and looks like this:

an exceptional talent

a) extraordinary

b) laudable

c) helpful

d) undeveloped

Correct answer: extraordinary. Note that the questions are written so that context doesn't help; any of the answer choices (all adjectives) could logically modify the noun talent.

HSPT Mathematics

The HSPT Mathematics section is also pretty straightforward; you might encounter an odd question, but most of the questions are quite doable. There will be the usual operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), measurements (be sure to know inches, feet, and yards!), some basic algebra and geometry, and the part that stumps some students--statistics and probability.

There are a lot of question types that could appear, but here are two examples:

Solve: −3 × −5 × −2 = . Correct answer: −30.

and one more example:

22 millimeters is equal to

a) 220 centimeters.

b) .22 centimeters.

c) .022 centimeters.

d) 2.2 centimeters.

Correct answer: 2.2 centimeters. Be prepared for various conversion tasks!

HSPT Language Skills

The last section of the HSPT tests spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and similar English concepts. There is also a short section at the very end that will ask longer questions that require some verbal reasoning.

Some of the questions on this section are tricky because of the particular way that they're constructed. Take a look at this example:

Instructions: Try to find mistakes in usage, punctuation, or capitalization. If you believe there is no error, choose "d."

a) "Would you be interested in learning more?" asked Ekaterina.

b) In the game tug of war, the strongest team wins.

c) She and Xander visited Ripesh and me at home yesterday.

d) No mistakes.

Correct answer: B. We should use stronger for two things, not strongest, which should be used for three or more things. More technically, this is the difference between comparative and superlative.

There are many more question types that can appear on the HSPT; we've shown you a few so that you can get a sense of the test.

How to prepare for the HSPT

There are as many ways to prepare for the HSPT as there are people in the world! But the standard options, which most people will end up mixing and matching:

  • Doing nothing, not even looking at a sample HSPT first. Don't do this. At the very least, take one practice test. You're shooting yourself in the foot by not at least looking at the test first.
  • Self-study for the HSPT. You can search the Internet for HSPT tests or information, much like this article you're reading now. You should at least buy a book, though, since they generally contain a lot of good information and practice, and at the very least, take a full-length HSPT test under realistic conditions. Note: Be wary of free HSPT tests that you find on the Internet. The ones we've seen are very, very bad, ie, they don't have the same content that the real HSPT has.
  • Take an HSPT prep course. TestMagic has some awesome HSPT prep courses with experienced instructors (we've been doing test prep full time since 1998). This is a great value for a group HSPT course--group courses are more affordable per hour of instruction than one-to-one tutoring.
  • Get private tutoring for the HSPT. TestMagic offers HSPT tutoring year-round. Private tutoring is a great option for students with irregular schedules (such as busy athletes) or for students who do best with the full attention of a tutor. However, the cost per hour will be higher than that of a group course. Pro-tip: Consider taking a group course first to get more bang for your buck, and then switch to private tutoring after that to fine-tune skills.


These are some of the most common questions about the HSPT. Many are answered above in the article, but they are also here for convenience.

Can you take the HSPT test more than once?

According to STS, the organization that products the HSPT, students aren't allowed to take the HSPT more than once. If by chance they do take it more than once, then the lowest score is reported. So plan carefully and prepare ahead of time.

However, each school you're applying to makes its own policies, so please be sure to get in touch with the school to explain your situation. For example, if you were very sick on the day you took the HSPT and didn't do nearly as well as you think you could have, maybe the school would consider letting you retest at another school on another date.

Are you allowed to use a calculator on the HSPT?

No calculators are allowed on the HSPT.

What is a good score for the HSPT?

Like most admissions tests in the US, there is no passing or failing score. And whether a score is good or not depends on your goals and the schools you're applying to.

That said, very generally speaking, you will probably want over 400 to be considered for most schools, and closer to 700 (or even higher) for more competitive schools.

What are HSPT percentiles?

You should also see some percentiles listed on your score report, if you request the report. 50th percentile, by definition, is average. Note that you will see, depending on the type of score report you receive, a national HSPT percentile (NP) and a local HSPT percentile (LP).

The HSPT national percentile compares the test-taker with everybody who took the HSPT (in the US). The local percentile is based on the group of test-takers that you're in. This group could be as small as the people who took the HSPT with you in the same room or as large as everybody in your region who took the HSPT; this depends on the "cooperation" of the Catholic schools in your area.

Should I prep for the HSPT exam? And how long should I spend preparing?

Yes, you should prep for the HSPT, even if you only take one practice test before you take the real thing. If someone told you that you could enter their prestigious school, but only after competing in a spanghewing contest, you'd surely want to practice spanghewing before that, wouldn't you?

And how long you should prepare is up to you and your situation. Some people like to study a lot, while others have different priorities. I can say from 20+ years of experience that the students we work with will study anywhere from 5 hours to 20 hours or more. TestMagic HSPT courses are generally about 20–25 hours long, not including outside homework or extra mock HSPT tests.

Note (and this is really the most important general advice I can give to students): The preparation for any admissions test is long-term study. The best way to do this is to apply yourself in school and learn as much as you can while you're in school--go the extra mile to learn vocabulary, to get all the math questions right even if your teacher marks you only for completion, to write longer essays, to memorize the words you misspell, to take extra notes in History or Social Studies, to watch YouTube videos on history for explanations of events you didn't know about, etc. If you develop this habit now, you'll be in great shape in the later years of your education and career.

How do I register for the HSPT exam? How much does the HSPT cost?

In general, registration for the HSPT is handled by the high schools that you're applying to. Each will have its own procedure for registering, which they should inform you of when you start the application process. However, for detailed information ahead of time, you should contact each school individually.

Note: The registration fee for the HSPT is frequently included in the application fee, though some schools may charge a fee to administer the test. Again, please check with the high school you're applying to to make find out for sure.

I have an IEP or learning differences. Does the HSPT allow extra time or other accommodations?

STS, the organization that manages and creates the HSPT, does not itself have policies for testing accommodations. Rather, they allow the individual high schools to create their own policies for extra time.

STS does, however, have answer sheets with large bubbles available by request for test-takers with visual impairments. You can request these through the school you're applying to.

In short, if you need testing accommodations, you need to contact the high schools you're applying to to find out their requirements and the specific accommodations they can make.

Does the HSPT have an essay?

Nope, the HSPT does not have an essay to write, though of course, the school you're applying to may require you to write an essay on a particular topic of their choosing as part of their application.

Final thoughts

First, congrats on making this big step! The next few years of high school will be pivotal in terms of the college you attend. Taking the time to research the HSPT is a great step and bodes well for the other admissions tests you may take in the future (for college or even for grad school).

The HSPT is quite manageable, but students need to get used to the timing (it's a pretty fast test) and some of the oddball questions that show up.

Update: Self-study

If you'd like to prep for the HSPT on your own, you need good material! The STS (the organization that creates the HSPT) doesn't publish any official material, so you'll need to buy something written by another company. This is what we currently recommend for this situation: https://amzn.to/3RISJX4 Note: It's a good idea to purchase this early; sometimes they sell out.

Last updated: 2023-10-03 by Erin Billy


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