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  • Writer's pictureLindsey Valente

ISEE and SSAT: Plan for Success

If your child plans to apply to private schools this fall, it is the perfect time to create a plan of attack for the standardized tests that many schools require as part of the application process. These tests are one of several tools schools use to understand a student’s academic readiness for their particular program. While strong test scores can help a student’s application, they are by far not the only bit of information a school considers, and they tend to be less important than a student’s transcripts, teacher reports, and interview.

Which Test Should My Student Take?

The majority of schools in the Boston area require the ISEE for children applying to grades 5-8 and the SSAT for students applying to grades 9-12. Double check on the admission page of each school’s website to make sure you are following their specific process. Do not take both exams unless absolutely necessary.

For the ISEE, Students applying to grades 5 and 6 should take the Lower-Level test and students applying to grades 7 and 8 should take the Middle Level test.

For the SSAT, students need to take the Upper Level to apply for high school.

These two tests require different strategies, so start now to familiarize your child with whichever test they will be required to take. On the ISEE, it is important to answer every question and have a strategy for guessing when it isn’t possible to eliminate any answers. The SSAT penalizes students for incorrect answers, so for this test, it is important to decide when to leave a response blank.

10 Test Planning Tips:

  1. Create a timeline. Set up a long-term approach rather than trying to cram in lessons at the last minute to maximize results and reduce test anxiety.

  2. Take a Practice Test. Find out where your child falls without any preparation so they can focus their efforts. Both Test Innovators and Summit Educational Group offer one free practice test.

  3. Plan ahead for any accommodations. Accommodations must be requested prior to registering for a test. Read through the “Testing Accommodations Requirements” for either the ISEE or SSAT to familiarize yourself with the process. Schedule the appropriate testing and doctor appointments now to obtain the appropriate documentation in time.

  4. Schedule two test dates for the fall. I recommend that my clients schedule two test dates, one for November and one for December. The ISEE will only allow you to take one test per “season,” so this gives you the most time to practice and retain the knowledge for the two tests. I also recommend setting up two dates for the SSAT, though your student could take it again in January if necessary. Scheduling these tests early will allow you more choice in location, date, and time of day. DO NOT send the scores to any school at the time of registration. You can always have these sent later once you have received both sets of scores and decided which scores to send. When scheduling these tests, consider: Location of the test. Will your child test better in a familiar location, or a more sterile testing center? Is home too much of a distraction or will it reduce test anxiety? Time of day. Does your child perform best early in the morning? Might they test better mid-morning or in the afternoon? Paper vs. computer testing. Does your child prefer one over the other? Most children have a strong preference, so ask them and then be sure to schedule accordingly. Month of testing. I advise students to test once in November and once in December, but if your child has a big life event or intense sports/performances in these months, aim for October or January to reduce distractions around the test.

  5. Encourage independent reading. Reading is the most influential factor for success on standardized tests. There is no better way to improve a student’s vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.

  6. Have a regular study schedule. Focusing on test prep twice a week starting in the spring prior to the test date. You know how your child works best, so whether it be a tutor, online tutorials, or parent guidance, make a plan and stick to it!

  7. Learn your test. Depending on the test your student needs to take, develop an appropriate test taking strategy. Confidence is key in most standardized tests and knowing what to expect and how to tackle challenging questions will bring that confidence.

  8. Take practice tests. I recommend taking two. Test burnout is real. You want your child to care when it comes time for the actual test. For each practice test, simulate actual test conditions as closely as possible.

  9. Study vocabulary. If you have time after doing the other test prep steps, focus on vocabulary. Reading challenging books is the best way to expand a student’s vocab, however if time is more limited, 15 minutes a day with old school flash cards can’t hurt.

  10. Essay. Don’t focus too much on the writing sample, but don’t overlook it either.

Make sure your student gets a good night sleep and don’t cram the night before the test. Have a plan for testing day and make sure you know where you are going and have plenty of time to get there!

What about “Test Optional” schools?

I encourage all of my families to have their student take the test, even if they are only thinking about test optional schools. It would be a shame to not take the test and then fall in love with a school that requires testing. Depending on the school, test optional may not mean test-optional for every applicant, given a student’s resources and background. If you child takes the test and the scores are not what you had hoped, speak with a trusted educator or advisor about whether or not to submit the scores along with your child’s application.

Feel free to contact me to discuss setting up a specific plan for your child and tutor recommendations based on your student’s specific learning profile. A little work over the summer will help to reduce the pressure this fall.

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