By Nicholas LaPoma, Esq.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Archdiocese of New York has decided to replace the Catholic High School Entrance Exam (CHSEE) with an online Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools (TACHS). Unfortunately, like your grandmother’s meatball recipes, the TACHS exam is very secretive. Outside of the few sample questions in TACHS’s self-published, annual handbook, most preparation materials are spotty at best, because it’s nearly impossible to find any complete practice exams online.
This lack of authentic testing materials leaves many eighth-grade students and their parents panicked about how they’ll prepare for the TACHS exam. To address that confusion, we found two completed practice exams in Peterson’s Master the Catholic High Schools Entrance Exams. Curvebreakers tutors took both exams and classified each question. While the makers of the TACHS haven’t officially endorsed this book, I hope that publishing the question breakdowns will shed some light on how you should study for the TACHS exam.
Let’s begin with a brief review of the TACHS format. The TACHS includes 200 multiple choice questions equally distributed between its four sections: reading comprehension, written expression, mathematics, and abilities. Like its peer exams, the first three sections of the TACHS test their respective topics at the eighth-grade level, and the Abilities Section is similar to a traditional IQ test and asks about pattern recognition.
Section 1: Reading Comprehension
The Reading Comprehension Section tests your ability to recall details about the plot of a passage. Note how “Information Recall” questions, which include any question that asks for a specific plot detail, were the most popular question. This means that students hoping to succeed on the TACHS should focus on developing close-reading skills. The TACHS Reading Comprehension Section is fast-paced, so learning how to annotate may help you become a more efficient test-taker.
“Vocabulary-in-context” questions, which asks you to define a word or phrase based on its use in the passage, also appear frequently. Although most of the vocabulary words that we encountered on these two exams were quite common, you should still study essential vocabulary lists. Reviewing eighth-grade vocabulary will also prove useful in the Written Expression Section. You should also become comfortable seeing vocabulary words in context, because a word’s context may alter its meaning. In addition to your structured vocabulary studying, try reading independently to expose yourself to new vocabulary words. Similarly, while all but one of the passages in the two Reading Comprehension Sections were prose, you should be able to read and analyze poetry. An exposure to eighth-grade poetry in school or independent reading may better prepare you for the TACHS. Consistent, long-term reading will set you up for success on the TACHS — and help you become a better student!
“Inference” questions ask you to predict something not directly stated in the passage. Answering these kinds of questions correctly, along with “Main Idea” and “Tone” questions, relies on having a good understanding of the passage. Again, close-reading skills and meaningful annotations will help.
Section 2: Written Expression
The Written Expression Section tests your grammar knowledge and writing abilities. The most frequent question type in this section asks whether or not a given word should be capitalized, so you should focus on learning rules for capitalization. Questions with commas were so common that we decided to place them into their own category, but when comma questions were combined with general “punctuation” questions (which included all other punctuation marks, like apostrophes, question marks, and colons), this comprised the third-most frequent question category. More traditional “grammar” topics, like subject-verb agreement and verb tenses, also appear frequently.
We saw this as good news: you can prepare for the Written Expression Section by reviewing eighth-grade grammar skills! By studying capitalization rules, punctuation placement, and verb conjugation, you’ll be able to answer over half of the questions correctly. Since these topics aren’t always covered in public middle schools, we’d recommend that students use outside review sources. Grammar rules are mostly standardized across the English language, so you need not purchase a TACHS-specific grammar book, though this may help.
You’ll notice that the second-most frequent question category is “Spelling.” These questions comprise nearly a fifth of all questions on the TACHS Written Expression Section. Remember how I mentioned how studying vocabulary lists might be useful in the Written Expression Section? This is why. You won’t be able to know whether or not a word is spelled incorrectly unless you’ve seen it multiple times. And unlike the vocabulary-in-context reading questions, the words you’ll be asked to spell are somewhat advanced. So, when you study your vocabulary lists, practice spelling each word. While there are some rules you can learn (“i after e except after c”) and commonly misspelled words (“commitment,” not “committment”), the best way to succeed on spelling questions is to maintain a diverse vocabulary.
The third-most frequent question type, “Topic Development,” might not be considered a “traditional” grammar topic. Topic Development questions focus on effective writing. They ask about transition words, word choice, and the clear expression of ideas. Students uncomfortable with writing may struggle with Topic Development questions, because they may “feel” arbitrary, but studying transition words and their applications and vocabulary lists will prepare you for these questions.
Section 3: Mathematics
Word problems dominate the Mathematics Section. Typically, a word problem will test a concept from another category, such as geometry or “Operations.” “Operations” is a broad category that includes arithmetic, PEMDAS, adding/subtracting fractions, exponents, decimals, and ratios. You should practice word problems that test eighth-grade mathematics concepts. Becoming familiar with this question style will help prepare you for the questions on the TACHS Mathematics Section.
The final ten questions of each TACHS Mathematics Section, at least in the Peterson’s book, asks you to estimate results. You may have to estimate the answer of a four-digit subtraction question or a fraction-to-decimal conversion. The catch: you’re not allowed to write anything, so you’ll need to estimate mentally. To succeed on questions in this somewhat strange category, practice rounding and mental math. You might want to brush up on your arithmetic, anyway, for the “Operations” questions, so work estimating into your normal problem-solving routine by estimating the answer before calculating it.
Around five questions will ask you to interpret data from a chart. You can prepare for these questions by becoming comfortable with reading charts and graphs. You might get some exposure to graphs in your classes, but be sure to find materials that specifically test your graph-reading abilities. Take this as an opportunity to interest yourself in data representation, too! You’ll get plenty of practice by reading the bar graphs and pie charts that you encounter in daily life.
Section 4: Abilities
The Abilities section tests abstract pattern recognition. The strange combinations of shapes and shades tends to surprise many students, so I think that the best way to prepare is to review the Abilities Section in TACHS’s published handbook and any other preparation materials you can find. You’ll become more ready to take on these wacky questions if you expose yourself to this question style beforehand.
So, how should you study for the TACHS?
I’ve now outlined what I feel is a comprehensive study plan. By categorizing each question from two practice TACHS exams, we’ve now outlined the topics that appear most frequently. Hopefully, you’ll be able to succeed on the TACHS exam by studying these question categories.
Want to prepare for the TACHS Exam? Check out Curvebreakers’ online, 20-hour TACHS Review Class!