Eighth-graders who plan to go to Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago next year will have to have their No. 2 pencils sharpened and ready to go a little earlier than in previous years. The Office for Catholic Schools announced Aug. 15 that the high school entrance exam will be given at 8 a.m. Dec. 2 this year. In previous years, the entrance exam was held the first Saturday in January. The exam date and policy changes were made after consulting with parents, Catholic elementary and high school leaders, and others. Moving the test date earlier in the school year gives families more time to identify schools and research financial aid resources before deciding on the most appropriate high schools for their children. “Our Catholic high schools are some of the finest in the country,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools. “By changing our recruitment practices, parents will be able to better evaluate their options and select the high school that best fits their child’s needs.” Maria Hawk, the regional director of secondary schools and board development, said the move will allow high schools to offer financial aid packages to accepted students before the students must register for the coming school year. “Some schools were already doing that,” Hawk said. “But for most of them, families would have to register, usually with a non-refundable registration fee, before they found what they could expect in financial aid. Someone said it was like buying a car and driving it off the lot without knowing what the monthly payment would be.” Most schools register new students in February or March, which was too soon after a January test for many schools to compile all the information they will need to give students going forward. The Illinois High School Association, which governs high school sports in the state, forbids any school to offer financial aid to a student before that student is accepted. Not all of the 29 high schools that participate in the high school entrance exam were in favor of the change, Hawk acknowledged, because it means a shorter open house and recruiting season this year. However, high schools were notified of the change in February, so they have had close to a year to adjust their schedules, she said. In most other ways, the test process will be the same. Students should show up at the school they wish to attend, since many schools limit some scholarship awards to students who took the test at their facility. Students will only be considered for admission to the school where they took the test until they are either not accepted or notify the school that they choose not to attend. Then their test scores can be sent to other Catholic high schools. Prospective students may pre-register for the entrance exam at their first choice high school beginning November 18, 2017. Pre-registration will remain open up until the date of the exam. All schools charge $25 for the test. The only Catholic high schools that do not participate in the entrance exam are the three schools in the Cristo Rey Network: Cristo Rey and Christ the King in Chicago and Cristo Rey St. Martin in Waukegan. They use an interview process to select students. This year, schools will collect emergency contact information from parents two weeks before the test in case inclement weather forces the exam to be cancelled.