What Is the HSPT and How to Prepare for It?

An Overview of the HSPT

As your child begins the high school admissions process, one of the tests he or she may need to take is the HSPT. The HSPT is administered to current 8th and 9th graders applying to independent high schools.  In the DC area, many Catholic high schools require the HSPT as part of their admissions process. The test is given during the last week of November or the first week of December.  No retakes are permitted.  Typically, the test is used to make decisions about applicants, student placement in advanced classes, and scholarship awards.  It consists of 298 multiple choice questions and takes 3 hours which includes several short breaks.

The test has five parts:


Verbal Skills                  60 questions                16 minutes

Quantitative                 52 questions                30 minutes

Reading                         62 questions                25 minutes

Mathematics                64 questions                45 minutes

Language Skills            60 questions                25 minutes

Total                            298 Questions


The Verbal Skills section tests synonyms, antonyms, analogies, logic, and verbal classifications. The Quantitative Skills and Mathematics sections contain questions testing arithmetic, basic geometry and algebra, series, geometric comparisons and non-geometric comparisons. The Reading section consists of a series of short passages and reading comprehension questions, and the Language Skills section tests capitalization, punctuation, usage, spelling, and composition.

Does my child need to take the HSPT?

If your child is applying to a Catholic high school in the DC area, there is a good chance he or she needs to sit this test – 11 schools in the Archdiocese of Washington require the test.  However, there are some notable exceptions.  The lists below detail schools that require the HSPT and those that don’t require the HSPT but might require a different admissions test.  It’s always best, however, to double check with the school to which your child is applying just to confirm which test it requires.

DC Area Schools That Take HSPT:

  • Academy of the Holy Cross
  • Archbishop Carroll High School
  • Bishop McNamara High School
  • DeMatha Catholic High School
  • Elizabeth Seton High School
  • Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School
  • Gonzaga College High School
  • Our Lady of Good Counsel High School
  • John’s College High School
  • Mary’s Ryken High School
  • Vincent Pallotti High School

DC Area Schools That Don’t Require the HSPT:

  • The Avalon School
  • The Brookewod School
  • Connelly School of the Holy Child (Requires SSAT)
  • Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School
  • Georgetown Preparatory School (Requires SSAT)
  • The Heights School (Requires SSAT)
  • Ann’s High School
  • Anselm’s Abbey School
  • Stone Ridge of the Sacred Heart (Requires SSAT)

How is the HSPT scored?

The test is all multiple choice.  Students get one point for every correct answer.  They receive no points for skipped questions, and there is no wrong answer penalty.  Students will receive a raw score out of 298 which will then be converted to a scaled score within a range of 200-800.  They will also get a percentile score which compares their performance to that of other students taking the exam both locally and nationally, and they will be get a grade equivalent score.  The average scaled score is 500, but generally students in the Washington, DC area perform above the average.

What can my child do to prepare for the HSPT?


  • The HSPT is a fast-paced test. On the verbal skills section, for example, students have to complete 60 questions in 16 minutes which means approximately 16 seconds per question.  Therefore, it’s important that students be familiar with question types so that they waste no time trying to figure out what is being asked on the day of the test.  The HSPT is a fairly predictable test that repeats similar types of questions, but some of these questions are completely different to the types of questions students get in school especially on the Verbal Skills questions.  Therefore, taking a practice test and working on test sections in advance of the test is very important so that students aren’t surprised by question types when they sit the real thing.


  • Basic geometry formulas such as how to find the area and perimeter of a circle, triangle, and rectangle, for example; how many degrees are in a triangle, square, straight line, etc.
  • Grammar rules such as when to use commas and semi-colons, capitalization rules, adjectives v. adverbs

Take a Practice test 

  • Marks Education offers free practice proctored tests every weekend in our offices in Bethesda and DC. 

Test tips?

Don’t get stuck.  Guess and move on.

  • Because the test is so fast-paced, it’s important that students not get bogged down on one question and that they move at a reasonably fast pace. If a student does not know the answer to a problem or thinks it will take a long time to solve a problem, she should bubble in an answer and move on.  In the time it takes to answer one tricky question, she may be able to answer another five less challenging questions. There is no wrong answer penalty, so guessing is advisable if you don’t know the answer.


If you would like more information on taking a FREE practice HSPT, please connect with us!

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