SSAT/ISEE Prep and the Admissions Process: A 2021-2022 Overview

For many families, the independent, private, and boarding school admissions process can be intimidating. And that’s probably an understatement: this process tends to feel a bit like arm-wrestling an octopus, only the octopus is cheating. Not only does each individual school have its own set of admissions policies and procedures, but many also include a requirement to submit standardized test scores. This often puts parents in the unfortunate position of having to tackle the standardized test prep process for the first time in an unfamiliar context.

Most schools require the completion of either the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT); many prefer one or the other, but some accept scores from either test, so the very first step as you begin the application process is to check with each school to which you’re considering applying. Once you’ve done that and are ready to start SSAT or ISEE test prep, there are three key features common to both tests that are essential to understand.

Three Key Features Of The SSAT and ISEE


1. First, both tests are designed by the test-writers to make students feel uncomfortable while taking them. Although many of the concepts tested will be familiar to most students, the format in which those concepts appear will almost certainly be new, making the structure of the test one of its major challenges.

The predictability of this challenge, however, is what makes these tests so “preppable”: with proper instruction and practice, students can learn the ‘rules of the game’ and successfully answer questions that they would otherwise get wrong.

2. Although the scores on both tests are presented in different formats on their respective score reports, the methods used to calculate those scores are essentially the same. Rather than being compared to an objective set of standards, students are instead compared to each other, with the score reports showing a set of percentiles or stanines that rank applicants against their peers.

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 specifically to serve the schools that aim to attract a 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 it makes creating a test-preparation plan an essential part of the application process.

3. Finally, both tests allow students to test multiple times, and it is generally to your 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 six times each year. The ISEE, however, is administered using a testing seasons calendar that divides the year into three 4-month periods; students are 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 is therefore an essential part of the prep process; yet another thing that the friendly neighborhood test experts at Inspirica and Noodle Pros can help you with!

An Overview Of The SSAT, ISEE, and Test Prep


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 probably the most common.

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

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 comprising a range of ages, with the most common being the Upper Level test taken by students applying into grades 9-12.

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

Get Started with SSAT and ISEE Test Prep Today


It’s not too late to start preparing to take either the SSAT or the ISEE for this application cycle! If you want help prepping or want to discuss the test prep process and the optimal prep plan for you, or even if you just have questions about private school admissions, we know some people who can help.

Inspirica’s structured one-on-one programs combine curated top-of-the-line curriculum and experienced tutors to get you the scores you need at a price you can afford; buy online and get started tomorrow, or talk through the process with a test prep expert first. If you’re looking for customized one-on-one prep that’s 100% tailored to your unique needs, Noodle Pros has dozens of expert SSAT/ISEE tutors with decades of combined experience; set up a consultation today. We can’t wait to get started.