SSAT

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 SSAT

Overview

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. Inspirica’s approach to the SSAT 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 three levels of the SSAT is composed of an essay prompt and several multiple-choice sections that fall into one of three categories: Quantitative, Verbal, and Reading. The number, order, and length of the sections differ significantly between the three levels, however; visit the SSAT’s website for detailed information on the level of the test that your child will be taking.

The defining feature of the SSAT is the difficult blend of content knowledge and refined technique that it requires from test-takers. This is best seen in the Verbal section, where the analogy question-type combines challenging vocabulary with a question format that is unfamiliar to most students, making preparation twice as difficult. Don’t stress, though: our SSAT 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 three types of multiple-choice section on the SSAT. On the Elementary Level test, this score is simply equal to the number of questions your child answered correctly in that section; no penalty is applied for incorrect answers. On the Middle Level and Upper Level tests, however, a penalty of one-quarter point is deducted from for each incorrect answer.

Then, using a process called equating, the SSAT will produce a scaled score for each type of 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 SSAT will compare your child’s scaled scores to those of previous test-takers and produce a percentile for each type of section, as well as an overall percentile. The essay is unscored and will simply be included as a timed writing sample if you choose to submit the score report for that test date to schools.

It is important to note that the scaled scores and percentile scores your child receives are calculated by comparing their results only to students of the same grade and gender. Because of this, an 8th grader does not need to get nearly as many questions correct on the Upper Level test as an 11th grader does in order to attain a given percentile score.

The SSAT itself does not superscore, or combine individual section scores 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, however, pick and choose which test dates you send to schools through your account on the SSAT’s website.

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 SSAT. 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 Middle and Upper Level tests are administered on eight Standard test dates each year, while the Elementary Level test is administered on five of those dates. Standard testing is administered at official test centers, which are typically schools approved by the SSAT. You can search for the test center closest to you using the SSAT’s test center locator.

Additionally, all students are allowed to schedule one Flex test date. Flex tests are typically administered at the offices of independent Educational Consultants rather than at schools and are therefore not bound by the same schedule as Standard tests. To register for a flex test date, you will need an access code which can only be obtained directly from the educational consultant with which you are scheduled to tests. You should therefore only register for a Flex test date after making your appointment with your EC.

Between the eight Standard tests and one Flex test, each student is able to take the SSAT up to nine times in a calendar year, school application deadlines permitting, and it’s 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 SSAT, visit their site and follow the corresponding instructions. Testing accommodations must be approved prior to test registration and will expire during the summer following the testing season. Please note that it is the responsibility of a each family to provide the equipment, materials, and personnel necessary to support approved accommodations. For more information, please refer to the Testing Accommodation Guide for Students available through the SSAT website.

Inspirica’s Approach

For most students, the SSAT represents a challenging combination of entirely unfamiliar material and familiar material presented in an entirely unfamiliar way. Typical homework in our SSAT programs includes drills centered on specific content areas, practice with individual question-types, and perhaps the most important component – timed test sections. This will ensure that your child is addressing every element needed to be successful on the SSAT, 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 SSAT that are impossible to replicate through homework alone, which is why regular practice tests are a staple of our programs. Your child’s tutor will help set up a schedule of periodic practice tests that provide the opportunity to practice the techniques they have learned while familiarizing them with the experience of taking the full test straight through. Then, your tutor will go over the results in detail, using them to craft an updated practice plan.

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

Get Started Today

To learn more about how we can help your child prepare for his or her SSAT, schedule a consultation with one of our Program Coordinators today.

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