Part 6: Excelling in the Higher Ability Selection Test (HAST)

If I want to enter a Selective High School in Years 8- 12, do I need to sit the HAST? How should I prepare for it?

selective-schools-guide-excelling-in-HAST mobile


Some Selective Schools require you to sit an entry test called HAST developed by ACER if you wish to enrol in Years 8-11. These schools include:

  • Caringbah High
  • Girraween High
  • Gosford High
  • Manly Selective
  • North Sydney Girls
  • St George Girls
  • Hornsby Girls
  • Normanhurst Boys
  • Fort Street High (Year 11 only)

The HAST test contains different levels. Year 7 students hoping to gain entry in Year 8 need to sit the Junior Secondary HAST test. Years 8 and 9 students hoping to gain entry in Year 9 and 10 respectively, need to sit the Middle Secondary HAST test. Years 10 and 11 students hoping to gain entry in Year 11 and 12 respectively need to sit the Senior Secondary test.

The HAST tests all contain four components:

  • Mathematical Reasoning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Written Expression
    • Part One: Discursive Task
    • Part Two: Creative Task


Let’s go through each part carefully.


Mathematical Reasoning

This test consists of approximately 30 multiple choice questions which are to be attempted within 40 minutes. Here are some tips on how best to prepare for this section:

Preparation Tips Exam Tips
The questions usually require problem-solving. In order to excel in this area, it’s important that you have a basic understanding of algebra and solving simultaneous equations. Be careful of trick questions. Make sure all the other options you did not select are wrong.
Calculators are not required, but they have been allowed into the exam in the past. Draw diagrams and make sure to label each part so you don’t make any silly mistakes.

Reading Comprehension

This test consists of approximately 40 multiple choice questions which are to be attempted within 40-45 minutes. They require an understanding of complex texts. To excel in this section, make sure you:

Preparation Tips Exam Tips
The questions usually require you to understand a wide variety of different texts. The best way to prepare is to read challenging books and not just fiction. Make sure you are familiar with poems as well! Make sure to read all the options as some answers are more correct than others. Be extremely careful of the wording in the questions, for example ‘must’ vs ‘might’.
The words used in the texts are often complex. Remember that the HAST is supposed to be challenging. The best way is to increase your vocabulary to ensure you have a full understanding of the texts. Do not rely on your personal knowledge when answering the questions. Look at what is provided for you!

Abstract Reasoning

This test consists of approximately 30 multiple choice questions which are to be attempted within 30-40 minutes. This section is quite hard to prepare for as it doesn’t rely on what you know but rather logical reasoning. However there are still things you can do to increase your confidence in the exam room:

Preparation Tips Exam Tips
The questions are somewhat similar to the University of New South Wale’s ICAS Science competitions. You can find practice questions here. Don’t be scared to rotate your exam book when you are trying to work out the pattern!
Some questions may list a set of facts where you must then make an inference based on those facts. There are a number of textbooks with lots of practice questions available in bookstores. There may be more than one pattern! Make sure you have eliminated all the other options.

Let’s walk through a question together. Imagine if you were given this in the exam:


  1. What comes next?

The correct answer is D. This question is quite challenging. The star alternates between moving two and three positions diagonally. The heart moves one position diagonally. Both alternate between being white or grey. If you didn’t get it, there’s always time to practise!


Written Expression

This test consists of two writing tasks, each of which must be completed within 25 minutes. It changes year to year but you may be required to write a creative and a discursive piece or you may be required to do just one and not the other. The writing will be assessed on the following criteria:

  • Thought and content
  • Structure and organisation
  • Expression, style and mechanics


A creative writing question might look something like this:

Often in books or on radio or television, a person in a story says ‘Safe at last!’ when they reach home or find hiding places.

Write a story which uses ‘Safe at last!’ as an important saying.


A discursive writing question might look something like this:

Is social media a distraction? Justify you answer.


This section is notoriously hard due to the time constraint. Here are some of our tips:

Preparation Tips Exam Tips
The stimuli are often specific. We do not recommend that you prepare pre-written answers. If you do not respond to the stimuli, you will not be awarded any marks. While the time constraint can be challenging, make sure you take 5 minutes to plan your response! Remember that part of what you are being assessed on is structure. Make sure your writing contains a title and don’t forget paragraphs.
Read short stories and pay attention to how authors naturally incorporate imagery, simile and/or metaphors in their stories. Write what you know. Do not write about orphanages unless you have had personal experience volunteering or living in one. When you write something you have not personally experienced, the writing will come off as superficial and unrealistic.


Is doing well in the HAST enough to secure a spot?

Unfortunately, no.

Doing well in the HAST is just the first step. In most schools, they will first select a pool of academically capable students based on their HAST results and in some schools, their NAPLAN results. The schools’ enrolment committee will then narrow down the selection to around 20 students by looking at their extracurricular activities like music, sports or volunteering.

If you want to increase your chances of gaining entry, make sure you take time on your weekend to play a sport or volunteer at your local library. Completing your Bronze Duke of Edinburgh in Year 10 is also looked upon favourably.


Practice Papers and Resources

Here are some helpful past papers and resources:


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