How to Prepare for SSAT and ISEE Testing

March 27, 2024

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You know your child will be applying to a new school in the fall, and you know that’s going to include a myriad of tasks: interviews, application essays, school visits, and of course, standardized tests. While some schools have gone test-optional, many still require tests, and high test scores can still be beneficial even at test-optional schools. We know it can be confusing figuring out how to prepare, when to prepare, and even what test to take! If it all seems a bit overwhelming, have no fear: read on to learn the answers to all of your questions.

MY CHILD IS APPLYING TO AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL. WHAT TESTS SHOULD THEY BE PREPARING FOR?

If your child is preparing for entrance into an independent school, your child will likely need to take either the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) or the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). Generally speaking, day schools in New York prefer the ISEE, while boarding schools prefer the SSAT. That being said, many schools accept either one, and if you’re applying to a mix of boarding schools and day schools, you should pick one test. You can decide which to take by researching which test is required by the schools you’re applying to. If you find you can use either test, it may be beneficial to have your student take a practice of each test to see which feels more comfortable, or which they score higher on, and then put your efforts into preparing for that test. We do not recommend preparing for both tests at once if it can be avoided—while the tests are similar, there are a few key differences, and students tend to do better when they remain focused on one test at a time.

To learn more about the ISEE, read our ISEE FAQ post here. To learn more about the SSAT, read our SSAT FAQ post here. 

MY CHILD IS ALSO APPLYING TO A SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOL. WHAT TESTS SHOULD THEY TAKE?

If your child is preparing to apply to specialized high schools (such as Stuyvesant or Bronx Science), your child will need to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). If they’re applying to both public and private schools, they will need to take the SHSAT and one of the private school tests. While the tests are not exactly the same, there is some overlap in content between the SHSAT and the private school tests, and students should prepare for both simultaneously.

IS TESTING REALLY NECESSARY?

Admissions testing is currently required at some independent schools, but not all. Many schools went test-optional during COVID, and some remain so. However, with universities across the country reinstating admissions testing (read more on why here), there is a possibility independent middle and high schools will follow this trend. Additionally, even at schools where admissions testing is not required, high test scores can further strengthen an application, as it adds one more point of reference for schools deciding between many competitive candidates. We recommend that all students applying to private middle and high schools prepare for testing.

WHEN AND HOW SHOULD I START PREPARATION?

Testing timelines look different for each student, depending on their extracurricular activities, their school workload, and their summer plans. That said, all students can start by scheduling a diagnostic test to get a sense of their strengths, areas that need work, and to better know how much time they’ll need to prepare. Data from a diagnostic test is invaluable—it lets students know what they’ll need to focus on when they study, and how much time they should allot. We recommend taking a diagnostic in mid-spring ahead of admissions to ensure you have plenty of time to prepare. 

To schedule a diagnostic test, email info@smartcitytutoring.com. After you have your test scores, one of our team members will follow up to help make a personalized plan for your child based on their scores.

WHEN WILL MY CHILD TAKE THESE TESTS?

Most students take their entrance tests in the fall and/or early winter. Students can only take the ISEE once per season, so most students take it once in the fall and once in the early winter. Students can take the SSATs as many times as they’d like, and it is generally offered about once a month, so most students take it two or more times in the fall and early winter. The SHSAT is only offered once a year on a specific date, typically in October or November—you can find this date on the DOE website when it is released.

HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD THEY SPEND PREPARING?

Preparation timelines vary widely. If a student does extremely well on a diagnostic test, they may only need a month or two of preparation ahead of their exam. If a student struggles greatly, they may need much more time to get comfortable with the material and testing strategies. When planning, families need to consider their summer plans and how much time a student has in their schedule during the school year. Some students are away all summer and need to prepare before and after travel; other students have demanding sports schedules and take advantage of free time in the summer to prepare. On average, students need 2-3 months to adequately prepare for these exams, but some may need more, depending on their starting point.

DOES MY CHILD NEED A TUTOR OR A CLASS?

While some students are able to prepare independently, most students benefit from a tutor or a class to guide preparation. There is a lot of information on the ISEE, SSAT, and SHSAT tests, and some of it exceeds the curriculum students see in school. A tutor or a class helps guide students through unfamiliar topics and keep them on schedule as they prepare. A tutor or teacher can also help diagnose issues students may have, and can help find a strategy that works for them. While classes are good options for some, one-on-one or small-group tutoring allows for more personalized feedback and appropriate pacing for a student. 

To get started with a tutor, email info@smartcitytutoring.com or fill out our inquiry form. To learn more about our group tutoring options, visit our website’s group tutoring page.

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