CPS Selective Enrollment Test: What You Need to Know

Chicago eighth graders take the CPS selective enrollment test for a chance at a coveted high school place. Here’s what you need to know about this exam in order to prepare.

As a Chicago middle school parent looking ahead to high school for your child, you face decisions about your options. At the center is the CPS selective enrollment test, a high school entrance exam that can determine whether or not your child may attend one of 11 selective schools in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district.

The CPS selective enrollment test is now called the CPS High School Admissions Exam, says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director at Academic Approach, a tutoring and test prep provider in Chicago.

“There used to be different ways to test into different types of schools within CPS, and selective enrollment schools are the most competitive (of all the possible schools and programs). This is a unified test for getting into one of these specialized schools. The test is incorporated into the school day and taken by all eighth grade students in CPS,” Pedersen explains.

If your sights are set on your neighborhood high school in Chicago, your child’s score on the selective enrollment test will not be taken into account. “But all students have access to the test to give them the opportunity to see if they want to attend a more selective school,” Pedersen says.

There are about 4,500 spots in CPS selective enrollment high schools, says Andrew Ferguson, Academic Approach’s Director of Client Services, and, for many families, attending a neighborhood school is not an equivalent option.

“There is pressure on students to perform well because the quality gap between schools is huge,” Ferguson says. The top selective enrollment schools in Chicago are also consistently the top schools in Illinois and in the nation. Families whose students do not earn a seat in one of these schools often elect to attend a private school — or even move out of the city to have access to a higher quality suburban high school.

The CPS selective enrollment test provides a hefty 50% weight to your student’s application, with the other 50% coming from their seventh-grade academic performance.

A tiered evaluation process for selective enrollment test scores means 20% of a student’s score is based on their rank against other students taking the test and 80% is based on a four-tier system according to a student’s geographic location in Chicago, based on socioeconomic data and census tracts.

What this means is that students in for example, will need the highest grades and the highest possible CPS selective enrollment test score to remain in the running for a seat at a selective enrollment school.

Other high school entrance exams

Students take the CPS selective enrollment test in the fall of their eighth grade year. Many also take tests for parochial, independent and boarding schools during the same time period.

Pedersen says. “Because selective enrollment is not a sure thing, students often seek other options so not all their eggs are in one basket.”

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a nationwide test for entrance to schools across the country. Locally, students taking this test are looking to attend one of the top three independent schools: Francis W. Parker School, Latin School of Chicago or University of Chicago Laboratory School. Independent schools may also consider interviews, grade history and other standardized tests for admission, as well as family legacy attendance.

Many boarding schools in Chicago and nationwide require a score from the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT), and parochial schools may require students to take the High School Placement Test (HSPT).

Figuring it all out

Admission to a selective enrollment school could be significant for your child, so it makes sense to prepare carefully for the CPS selective enrollment test. Getting help can make all the difference, whether that requires early academic tutoring to achieve the best possible grades or test prep — or both.

There’s simply not as much information available about the CPS selective enrollment test as the SAT or ACT for college entrance, so it’s important to reach out to testing professionals to gain a clearer picture about the test itself, testing schedules and how your child’s grades will impact their score goals. And plan to gain this understanding early.

“We try to have this conversation in the spring of seventh grade or earlier,” Pedersen says. “Part of this is because of the weight put on grades and students need to finish strong academically. The difference between an A and a B could mean the difference between getting in and not getting in.”

When choosing support for your child, consider the stress your 12- or 13-year-old may be experiencing. Seek out tutoring and test prep professionals who know how to work with this age group.

“The biggest challenge is meeting students where they are developmentally. They’re not all in the same place with social-emotional development or executive functioning,” Pedersen says. Tutors at Academic Approach are specially trained to work with younger students and help them remain calm and focused in order to meet their goals.

“Not every high school entrance exam covers the same content areas, and the tests have varying degrees of focus, but each test covers reading comprehension, math and vocabulary or verbal skills. Our tutors help students gain these skills and learn how to apply them to different exams, some of which are scheduled very close to each other. This goes back to having a strong plan for the different exams your student is pursuing. We start with the content and build toward differentiation,” she says.

Middle school students typically lack the maturity to lead the charge, so parents need to take a stronger role than they will when their child is prepping for the SAT and ACT, Pedersen says. Start by having conversations with your child about their goals.

“It’s important that your student has an active role in the conversation,” she says, adding that even if you’re not yet talking about high school at home, your child is likely hearing about it in their classrooms at school.

“Talk to your child about their growth and why you’re helping them prepare,” she says. “This will help them understand why the skills they learn will be beneficial.”

Learn more about Academic Approach. Visit academicapproach.com.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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