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Preparing for the SSAT and ISEE Tests

Young girl taking a test

The process of applying to private high schools can be extremely daunting and the standardized tests are often the most challenging part. The ISEE or SSAT test may be the first standardized test your child has ever taken and understanding the basics of these tests is essential to feeling prepared for the application process. Read on to find out what these tests are and how you can help your child prepare for them.

What is the SSAT and the ISEE?

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) and the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) are aptitude tests used for admission into private junior highs and high schools. The tests are around the same length and contain five similar sections in writing, reading, verbal, mathematical achievement, and quant.

Remember that test scores aren’t the only factor in private school admissions. Admission committees will also look at various other things such as recommendation letters, transcripts, interviews, extra-curricular etc.

What are the key differences between the SSAT and the ISEE?


The biggest difference between the two tests is that students taking the SSAT are penalized a quarter of a point for every incorrect answer, while the ISEE test does not penalize you.

Both tests have four multiple-choice sections, but you’ll get four scores for the ISEE and three scores for the SSAT. This is because in the SSAT the two math section scores are combined. If your child is strong in math, it is often recommended to take the ISEE to highlight their ability.

How many times can you take the tests?

There is no limit to the number of times you can take the SSAT test and it is offered eight times per year. In comparison, the ISEE test can only be taken once in any or all three annual testing seasons.

Should my child take the SSAT or the ISEE?

The most important thing to consider when deciding which tests your child should take should be what your child’s top choice schools require. You should let your decision be guided by the schools that show a clear preference but for the schools that accept both tests, here are some other things to consider:

Is your child stronger in verbal or math?

If your child is more confident with their verbal/writing skills, then it is recommended that they take the SSAT test as its verbal section is recognized as being harder than that of the ISEE. The math section is more challenging in the ISEE, allowing children with better math skills to stand out.

Does your child get anxious in exams?

If it is likely that your child will perform less strongly due to exam nerves it may be a better idea for them to take the SSAT test. As the SSAT test is offered eight times throughout the year, your child will have more opportunities to retake the test than the ISEE.

If your child is prepared…

It is important to remember that the decision between which test to take is not a deal-breaker because as long as your child is well prepared, they have a good chance of performing well in either test.

Top Tips for Test Prep

1. Start Early

The earlier your child starts preparing, the more time they will have to become comfortable with the test’s content, format, and difficulty. A good time to start thinking about test prep is around a year to six months before they plan to sit the test.

2. Reading

There is no better way to improve comprehension and vocabulary than reading regularly. It is guaranteed to improve both their writing and verbal skills, which are both essential parts of the ISEE and SSAT tests.

3. Math is not solely computation

The SSAT website advises that your child practices their spatial skills, patterns and sequencing as the standardized math tests are not solely based on computational skills. They recommend practicing things like time and money concepts and learning to create graphs.

4. Practice Tests

Getting your child to complete SSAT and ISEE practice tests is the most reliable way to be able to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. This will give them a better idea of what they need to work on and lead to more efficient studying.

We can help

If you’re looking for more ways to prepare your child for the ISEE or SSAT tests, start your 5-day free trial of Atom Learning for success in the classroom, entrance exams and beyond.

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