TJ Exam Overview: Information, Insight & Advice

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

If you ended up here that means that you are considering applying for TJHSST, great!

Once you have checked that you are within the TJ school boundary, there are many things that you can do to prepare yourself for this journey. However, we strongly suggest first asking yourself the most important question:

Why do you want to go to TJ?

Do you eat, sleep, and breathe STEM? Are you passionate and curious about a particular area of STEM? If you agree that you are always seeking a challenge, and never stop experimenting with your ideas, this is a great place to start.

Your leading passion for STEM should always be at the center of your prep for this school. The key to success here is not really about high grades, and definitely not just the desire to be in a prestigious school. TJ is an environment for those who have limitless curiosity for the STEM field. It is designed so that the students are able to thrive in curriculum that is based around their desire to learn as much as they can about these subjects. Continually ask yourself why you want to go to TJ? If your answer always brings you back to your love for STEM, you are heading in the right direction.

What are the major hurdles we have to overcome?

It’s no secret that getting into TJ has some major obstacles for prospective students. Whether or not students plan to completely prep on their own, or take TJ prep classes, one thing is certain: students have to prepare themselves for the process. Here are a few things we suggest students begin to think about.

Round One:

The new TJ exam uses the ACT Aspire to test reading and science skills, while the Quant Q is used to test math skills. The combination of these two tests makes up the first test that all applicants must pass in order to be considered for the following round. Here are a few things we suggest when prepping for these sections:

Science (ACT Aspire):

From what we have heard, this is overwhelming the most difficult portion in Round One. Students have said that they poured hours into stressing over the math section, and didn’t put as much thought into the science section. To prepare yourself pick up any updated version of an ACT prep book. Make sure you focus on understanding and explaining your thought process, and not just finding the answer. This part looks for deep critical thinking. Not every student has a lot of experience with this, so make sure you give it proper prep time.

Math (Quant Q):

When practicing any of the Quant Q math, remember that exams like this are pushing you to use lighting fast logic. The exam tests how you answer a wide variety of math problems without much time. There is no way to know exactly what will be on the exam. However just going through the process of solving math problems while on the clock, you will find that you have a confidence boost in that tense moment that you never knew you needed.

Reading (ACT Aspire):

From what we have heard from past TJ applicants, the outline of this section is comparable to any standardized test you have already taken in school. The key here is to read, read, and read some more. Read something that deeply interests you. Read something that pushes your level. And read something that pushes your vocabulary limits to new heights. Some reading should be for fun, just to enjoy and take in the story and vocabulary naturally. Other times we recommend reading with a strategy. Read while seeking out the deeper meaning. Ask yourself critical thinking questions: How did this situation change the future course of the story? Why is a character acting in a certain way? Why does a specific event continually repeat throughout the book?

Round Two:

You made it through the craziness of round one, congratulations!

Now it’s time to dig even deeper into that initial question we looked at, why TJ? The importance of your answer will become increasingly crucial. Here are a few things that we recommend thinking about in preparation for round two.

The SIS (Student Information Sheet):

This is a section that many students overlook. The name is simple and sounds like nothing more than a basic “information sheet”. However, most students found this was the make or break for their acceptance in TJ.

This is definitely not a place to simply list the clubs and activities you have taken part in. One section of the SIS consists of three personal questions that provide the student with the opportunity to express not only their interests and experiences in STEM, but their goals and aspirations in the field as well. Each question has a character limit of 1650, and thus proper prep and consideration goes a long way. Finding your unique voice should be the center of your answers. At this point everyone has proved that they are not only skilled in math and science, but they have an interest in STEM. So we encourage students to dig deep and write about their stand out story in STEM. How did you fall in love with these subjects? Is there a reason that it has always been a part of your life, and you just didn’t notice? Practice writing in your own unique voice, the TJ examiner will love to hear your true passion coming through. If you are not used to writing about yourself and your achievements, then it is important to sharpen your narrative writing skills.

Now, the remaining essay in the SIS…

The “Problem-Solving Essay”:

If a student didn’t know this was coming, they would be completely blindsided. This essay question is a math or science problem (or both!) that requires the student to write about their findings in an essay format. This question has a character limit of 3700, which could feel very short, depending on the question. This essay is looking for far more than your math or science knowledge, it is examining your process. It tests the real life connections you can make in the STEM realm, and your ability to think outside of the box in a deep way.

There are current TJ students who have said they knew for sure they did not have the correct answer to this question. So, how did they still get accepted? They used logical reasoning to show how they came up with their answer. They walked through their thought process, and gave a visual of their understanding, and perhaps even showed where they might have gone wrong. Remember, it is not always about the right or wrong answer. It is showing that you can approach STEM problems in your own unique way. Proving that you don’t give up when facing challenging questions. A display that you are forever learning (even in this exam!).

So how do you prepare for this? Again, read, read, and read some more. Read literally anything you can about science. Having a wide variety of knowledge will go a long way, as past questions have been wide ranging. Listen to science podcasts. Watch STEM based TED Talks. Read science magazines or Online Journals. And read up on new concepts outside of your personal expertise. Find math and science essay problems and try to write a timed essay at the 3700 character limit. Look up the past essay prompts for TJ exams, and see how you would approach the answer.

Teacher Recommendations:

Have you read the mission statement on TJ’s website? (If yes, good work!)

Why do we ask? When asking your math and science teachers for recommendations they are seeking so much more than good grades and high test scores. The teacher is asked to reflect on the schools mission and beliefs, and express whether or not you as a student are in line with these beliefs. As we mentioned before, TJ is not just for those with a 4.0, it is for those who exude a passion for STEM.

As you are prepping for a journey into TJ, keep the words below in mind. As you walk into your current math and science classes ask yourself, am I reflecting the TJ mission and beliefs?

Mission and Beliefs of TJ (1):

“The mission of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is to provide students with a challenging learning environment focused on math, science, and technology, to inspire joy at the prospect of discovery, and to foster a culture of innovation based on ethical behavior and the shared interests of humanity.”

1. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are vital in addressing the complex societal and ethical issues of our time.

2. Students learn best in a community where academic disciplines are integrated, fostering an appreciation of how they interact and form a whole.

3. Global interdependence compels us to understand the languages, systems and diverse cultures of people throughout the world.

4. Literature, music and the arts are essential, timeless aspects of human existence.

5. The methods of science provide discipline to our search for structure in the world.

6. Research stems from a combination of fundamental knowledge, individual creativity, and curiosity.

7. Effective communication is often the only difference between a good idea and a successful initiative.

8. Collaborative learning, athletics, and extracurricular activities develop leadership and interpersonal skills.

9. Responsibility and integrity are core principles in the pursuit of excellence.

10. Learning never ends.

Additional recommendations from the Veritas Team:

Applying to TJ is honestly a bit like applying for College. Besides showing your unique story, another way to show you are a candidate worth noticing is your deep knowledge of the school culture. Educate yourself about the ins and outs of TJ. In addition to taking your own time to reflect on the above mission statement and beliefs of TJ, we also recommend you check out the following:

TJ’s curriculum Overview:

Know what it looks like to be in a TJ classroom, and reflect on the academic goals the school has for its students.

A list of TJ’s class/labs:

When answering the question “Why TJ?” or “What can you gain from/give to TJ?” It is extremely useful to know in detail what the school has to offer. STEM is a wide ranging field. The more specific you can be, the better.

Read the tjToday Online News Site:

This website is ran by TJ students themselves. This can give you a unique view inside the life of a TJ student. Check out projects they are taking on, events that they care about, and obstacles they are overcoming. Show the examiners that you have done your research, and you are deeply interested in adding to the overall TJ way of life.

Follow tjToday on Twitter and YouTube:

The above Online News Site has its own student ran Twitter feed, and YouTube channel! A unique way to gain an inside track to TJ happenings.

Follow the school’s Twitter:

This Twitter feed is ran by the school’s principal. It is regularly updated with current TJ news and current events. Following a feed like this will give you deeper insight into the values and pride of TJ as a school.

Your deep rooted knowledge in the culture of TJ will not only confirm whether or not this school is the right choice for you, but the knowledge you obtain may be the tipping point that makes you stand out from the other star candidates. Hopefully the admissions officers will clearly see that you are not simply applying for the prestige of the school name. Rather, you are applying because this school will bring your love and passion to the next level. Or that you have something awesome that you can’t wait to add to those projects you saw on their twitter feed.

If you are applying to TJ for all the right reasons, your innate curiosity for STEM knowledge will quite obviously shine through the cracks of your life story. Don’t worry about never winning a trophy in a competitive Math Competition. Instead, hone in on your personal drive to discover the unknown. Don’t stress about the one ‘B’ you got in 7th grade. Instead, look forward and focus on your pursuit of lifelong learning. If you can prove your passion, you are the candidate that TJ is looking for.

Dr. Wu and the Veritas Education Team have been proud to work, teach, and learn alongside TJHSST. Check out some of our past TJ Events!

Dr. Ann Bonitatibus (TJ Principal) invites Dr. Wu to speak on “How to Raise an Adult”.

BranchOut! presents at tjSTAR

Dr. Wu at TJHSST: Summer Self-Discovery Workshop

Need some help with your own TJ Prep? We would love to work with you!

Our next TJ Prep Course begins on January, 4th, 2020!

Check out the course info and register to save your spot today!

Are there specific areas of TJ prep that you would like us to cover in more detail? Leave us a comment and let us know!

#tjprep #tjhsst #tjtestprep #tjwriting #tjadvice #tjwritingexam #tjtest #tjexam


(1) TJ Mission Statement and Beliefs:

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