ISEE

The SSAT and the ISEE: Entrance Exams for Private, Independent, and Boarding Schools

For many families, the process of applying for admission to independent, private, and boarding schools can be intimidating. Not only does each individual school have its own set of admissions policies and procedures, but many include a requirement to submit standardized test scores, too. This often puts parents in the unfortunate position of having to tackle the standardized test preparation process for the first time in an unfamiliar context.

Most schools require the completion of one or the other of the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and the Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT). However, some accept scores from either test, so it is important that you check with each school to which you are considering applying as you begin this process. The tests are in many ways similar to one another, but there are some important differences to consider. Our Program Coordinators are here to provide advice and support every step of the way.

Three Key Features of the Tests

There are three key features common to both tests that are essential to understand as you begin the testing and application process.

First, both tests are designed by the test-writers to make students feel uncomfortable while taking them. Although most of the concepts tested will be familiar to most students, the format in which those concepts appear will almost certainly be new to them, making the structure of the test one of its most predictable challenges. This predictability, however, is what makes these tests so amenable to preparation: with proper instruction and practice, students can learn to see through the test-writers’ misdirections to successfully answer questions that they would otherwise get wrong.

Second, although the scores on both tests are presented in different formats on each test’s score report, the methods used to calculate those scores are essentially the same. Rather than compare test-takers against an objective set of standards, students are instead compared against one another, with the score reports showing a set of percentiles or stanines that rank applicants against one another. These are methods of calculation used by all standardized-test makers, and for most of the nationally prominent tests, these methods usually result in scores roughly correlated to students’ success in school. But because the SSAT and ISEE are designed to serve the schools that aim to attract the small subset of students who are among the best in the nation, this subjective method of comparison usually results in scores well below what parents anticipate as they begin this process. This gap between expectations and reality can often be closed with time and effort, but this once again illustrates the need for a preparation plan as part of the application process.

Third, both tests allow students to test multiple times, and it is generally to your child’s advantage to test more than once. Part of beating any test is giving yourself as many opportunities as necessary to succeed, and taking the test multiple times can be a great way to maximize chances for improvement. For the SSAT, the process of testing multiple times is fairly straightforward, as the test is administered on a set schedule eight times each year. The ISEE, however, is scheduled using administered using a testing seasons calendar that divides the year into three 4-month periods, with students limited to one test date per period for a maximum of three tests per calendar year. Planning a testing calendar well in advance of application deadlines therefore becomes an essential part of any preparation process.

An Overview of the ISEE

The Independent School Entrance Exam is used for admission to private elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. There are four levels of the test – Primary, Lower, Middle, and Upper – each used in the admissions processes for students of different grade levels. Each level of the test is taken by students representing a range of ages, with the Middle Level test taken by students applying into grades seven and eight being the most common.

For more, see our complete breakdown of the ISEE, including details on test format, scoring, registration, test dates, and our approach to preparing for this test.

An Overview of the SSAT

The Secondary School Admissions Test is used for admission to private elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the United States. There are three levels of the test – Elementary, Middle, and Upper – each corresponding to one of the aforementioned three admissions processes. Each level of the test is taken by students across a range of ages, with the most common being the Upper Level taken by students applying into grades 9-12.


For more, see our complete breakdown of the SSAT, including details on test format, scoring, registration, test dates, and our approach to preparing for this test.

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To learn more about how we can help your family as it prepares to complete these application processes, schedule a free phone consultation with our team of Program Coordinators today!

An Overview of the ISEE

Overview

The Independent School Entrance Exam is used for admission to private elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. There are four levels of the test – Primary, Lower, Middle, and Upper – each used in the admissions processes for students of different grade levels. Each level of the test is taken by students representing a range of ages, with the Middle Level test taken by students applying into grades 7 and 8 the most common. Inspirica’s approach to the ISEE starts with the fact that a student’s experience with the test will vary significantly depending on their age, which means that the optimal course of preparation will vary as well. Your tutor will help determine the best way for your child to prepare and then use that plan to ensure that your child is in the best possible position going into test day.

Format

Each of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels of the ISEE is composed of four multiple-choice sections followed by an essay prompt. The four multiple-choice sections are, in order, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement; the length of the sections, in terms of both the number of questions and amount of time allotted per section, differs significantly among the three levels. The Primary Level test is entirely distinct from the others, as it’s structured very differently and has several subtypes depending on the age of the student. Visit the ISEE’s website for detailed information on the level of the test that your child will be taking.

The defining feature of the ISEE is the difficult blend of content knowledge and testing techniques that it requires from students. This is best seen in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the Upper and Middle Level tests, where the quantitative comparison question-type tests challenging math concepts using a format that is entirely foreign to most students, making preparation twice as difficult. Don’t stress, though: our ISEE programs blend content and technique in whatever proportion is optimal for each individual student, so we’ll make sure that your child goes into test day as prepared as possible.

Scoring

First, your child’s raw score will be calculated for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the ISEE; this raw score is simply equal to the number of questions that your child answered correctly in each section, as the ISEE does not apply a wrong-answer penalty.

Then, using a process called equating, the ISEE will produce a scaled score for each section; these scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the sections that your child completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed.

Finally, the ISEE will compare your child’s scaled scores to those of previous test-takers and produce a percentile and a stanine for each section. A stanine is a score from 1 to 9 that is relates a student’s raw score to its location on a bell curve. More than half of all students will score in the 4-6 range, with progressively fewer students obtaining a given stanine as the scores get further from the mean of 5. A student with a stanine of 8 will be among the top 11% of testers; a student with a stanine of 9 will be among the top 4%.

The essay is unscored and will simply be included as a timed writing sample available to schools along with submitted scores.

It is important to note that the scaled scores, percentile scores, and stanines your child receives are calculated by comparing their results only to students of the same grade and gender. Because of this, a 6th grader does not need to get nearly as many questions correct on the Middle Level test as a 7th grader does in order to attain a given stanine.

The ISEE itself does not superscore, or combine individual section percentiles from multiple test dates to obtain a maximum overall percentile; if you wish to send scores from multiple test dates to schools, you must send the entire score report from each test date.

You can pick and choose which test dates you send to schools through your account on the ISEE’s website, however; additionally, many schools will perform their own version of superscoring by combining the highest score for each section from the score reports that you submit in order to get a picture of your child’s “best” performance on the ISEE. For the most accurate information about how an individual school handles superscoring, be sure to contact that school’s admissions department directly.

Registration and Test Dates

The ISEE is administered using a testing seasons calendar that divides the year into three 4-month periods: August-November, December-March, and April-July. A student may test once in each of the three seasons for a maximum of three times per calendar year. Tests can be taken at a variety of ERB-approved sites that include both schools and Educational Consultants’ offices.

It is generally to your child’s advantage to test more than once. Part of beating any test is giving yourself as many opportunities as necessary to succeed, and taking the test multiple times can be a great way for your child to maximize their improvement. To register for the ISEE, visit their website and follow the corresponding instructions.

The ISEE makes every effort to accommodate students who are unable to take the ISEE under standard conditions due to documented learning differences or physical challenges. Accommodations that a student receives are not flagged on score reports. To request ISEE accommodations, you must create a parent account and submit your application directly through the ISEE website. Complete instructions can be found here, along with information on how to contact ERB should you have any questions or concerns.

Inspirica’s Approach

For most students, the ISEE represents a challenging combination of entirely unfamiliar material and familiar material presented in an entirely unfamiliar way. Homework in our ISEE programs includes drills centered on specific content areas, practice with individual question-types, and perhaps the most important component – timed test sections. This blend of practice will ensure that your child is addressing every element needed to be successful on the ISEE, from content to timing to overall strategy, and your child’s tutor will go over each assignment with your child question by question to maximize its impact.

There are certain aspects of taking the ISEE that are impossible to replicate through homework alone, which is why regular practice tests are a staple of our programs. Your tutor will help set up a schedule of periodic practice tests that will give your child the opportunity to practice the techniques they have learned while also familiarizing them with the experience of taking the full test straight through. Then, your child and their tutor will go over the results together in detail, using them to craft an updated practice plan.

For ISEE programs, students take practice tests using the Test Innovators platform. This system constructs its practice tests using an extensive pool of data gathered from students, parents, and counselors, allowing them to mirror the question-types and content that appear on the real test. The platform tracks a student’s work in real time on a question-by-question basis, allowing your tutor to deconstruct their results in order to pinpoint exactly why and how the right answers were right and the wrong answers wrong.

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To learn more about our ISEE tutoring, please schedule a call with one of our Program Coordinators.

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