Guest Post Written By: Ivy Tutors Network
The ISEE and the SSAT are the two exams used by independent and boarding schools to evaluate students for admission. There are four levels of the ISEE (Primary, Lower, Middle and Upper) and two for the SSAT (Upper and Middle), depending on the grade a student is applying to. The Upper Level is required for high school, the Middle Level for grades 7 and 8, etc.. Although they are just one component of the application package, strong test scores provide objective evidence to the admissions committee that your child is academically competent and prepared for the challenges of high school.
For many students, taking the ISEE or SSAT will be their first time sitting for a long standardized test with a high stakes outcome. There’s pressure on them to perform well, as their scores can impact where they go to high school. This pressure can be too much for some students (and parents!), so it’s essential to be smart and strategic about test prep in order to maximize results and get ahead of test anxiety, therefore removing unneeded stress from the school admissions process.
The first step is to choose which exam your child should take. New York City schools will accept either the SSAT or ISEE, but you should still check the individual requirements of the schools you are applying to be 100% sure (in the past, the ISEE was for private day schools and the SSAT for boarding schools). We don’t recommend taking both exams unless it is absolutely necessary.
The ISEE and SSAT are very similar in terms of the content covered, though there are some differences in the test structure and what material is emphasized. For example, the verbal section on the SSAT is considered harder than that on the ISEE, so strong humanities students may prefer the SSAT. Likewise, the math sections on the ISSE are more difficult than those on the SSAT, so this could be the better option for more math-oriented students. Another major difference is that the SSAT takes off points for wrong answers, while the ISEE just counts the number of correct answers. This difference means that students need to study a different guessing strategy depending on the test they choose. For more information on the differences between the two exams, check out this article here.
To choose which test to take, we recommend students take a diagnostic exam for both the ISEE and SSAT. If a student scores higher on one than the other, then that is the exam to focus on. Students will also often have a preference for the structure of one test over the other, so it’s important to have a little experience with each test before deciding.
Both tests can be given online at home, online at a test center, or as a paper test. You should find out whether your school is going to administer a paper test, and if not, you can sign up for the ISEE here and the SSAT here.
It’s important to note that while the SSAT can be taken multiple times a year (there are test dates every month), the ISEE can only be taken up to 3 times per year, or once every testing season (Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer). We recommended signing up for your test dates early to ensure a spot and avoid late registration fees.
Students applying to high school should take a diagnostic test and begin studying for the ISEE in 7th grade. Due to the pandemic, many students have not yet caught up to grade level, so we recommend diagnostic testing about a year before the test date, which is earlier than our recommendation prior to the pandemic. While students may be flourishing in schools and getting straight As, many schools are very behind grade level, especially when it comes to math; starting early allows for extra time to fill in these content gaps. A well designed test prep program also has the added benefit of getting students up to speed in their normal course work (improved grades) and making sure they are well prepared to be confident and eager high school students.
We highly recommend signing up for an account with Test Innovators for either the ISEE or SSAT. Test Innovators is endorsed by the ERB and uses real ISEE and SSAT testing materials.