How to Prepare for Admissions Tests

Admissions. David Fischer/Getty Images

Unlike most public schools, not everyone who wants to attend, can. In fact, there's an application process, and as part of that process, most private schools require some kind of test for admission, particularly for the middle and upper grades. Independent day schools usually require the ISEE, or Independent School Entrance Exam, while boarding schools often require the SSAT, or Secondary School Admissions Test. Some schools will accept both, and still, others, have their own tests. For example, Catholic schools require different tests, such as the TACHs or the COOP or HSPT.

But these entrance exams don't need to be stressful or be an obstacle to obtaining a private school education. Check out these general strategies to prepare for a private school admission test:

Get a Test Prep Book

Using a test prep book is a great way to get more familiar with the test itself. It gives you a chance to look over the structure of the test and get a sense of the sections that are required, which usually consist of reading, verbal reasoning (such as identifying the word that is synonymous, or the same as, the given word), and math or logic. Some tests also require a writing sample, and the test prep book will offer some prompts similar to what you might experience when you take it for real. The book will also help you get a sense of the format of the sections and the time allotted for each. While the various admission test organizations typically offer review books and practice tests that can be purchased. You may even be able to find online practice tests and sample questions for free.

Take Timed Practice Tests

Practice taking the test under simulated conditions, by giving yourself only as much time as the test allows. Be sure to pay attention to how you pace yourself on each section and note if you are taking too much time, or if you are rushing. Instead of getting hung up on one question, mark any question you are unsure about and go back to it when you've finished the other questions. This practice helps you get used to the environment in which the test will be given and prepare you to better manage your time and practice test-taking strategies. If you practice the entire test session, meaning, you simulate the full timed test experience, with breaks, it also helps you adjust to spending that much time sitting and working in one place. This lack of ability to get up and move around can be an adjustment for many students, and some truly need to practice sitting still and being quiet for that long. 

Boost Your Weak Areas

If you find that you are consistently getting certain types of test questions wrong, go back and correct those areas. For example, you may need to work on one area of math, such as fractions or percentages, or you may need to work on improving and expanding your vocabulary by making flash cards with the most commonly used vocabulary words on these tests, which are available in the test review books.

Hire a Tutor if Necessary

If you cannot boost your scores on your own, consider hiring a tutor or taking a test-prep course. Be sure that the tutor has experience preparing students for the test you are taking and do all the homework and practice tests that are part of the course to get the most out of it. Chances are, you're missing out on key strategies rather than needing to learn more, so a tutor who is skilled in the test itself is more important than a tutor experienced in English or math. 

Read the Directions Carefully

This seems obvious but is often an important strategy for test-taking success. Students often read the questions incorrectly or skip them completely, which may mean that even though they know the answers to the questions, they get them wrong. It's important to make sure you slow down and read the directions carefully and even underline KEY words such as "EXCEPT" or "ONLY" to make sure you are answering exactly what each question asks. Sometimes, there are hints right within the question itself!

Get Ready for Test Day

Know what you need for test day, including the proper identification and writing implements. And, don't forget to eat breakfast; you don't want a rumbling tummy distracting you (or people around you) during the test. Have the directions to your test site ready, and arrive early so that you can use the restroom and get settled in your seat. Be sure to also dress in layers, as temperatures in testing rooms can vary; it's helpful to be able to add a sweater or coat if you're cold or remove your sweater or coat if the room is warm. Proper footwear can also be helpful, as cold toes when wearing flip flops could be a distraction if the room is cool.

Once you're there and settled into your seat, be sure to familiarize yourself with the room. Know where the doors are, find the clock in the room, and get comfortable. When the test begins, be sure to listen carefully to the directions that the test proctor reads, and fill in the test sheet properly, as directed. Do not skip ahead! Wait for directions, as disobeying the instructions that are given could result in disqualifying you from the exam. During each section testing period, pay close attention to the time, and be sure to check that your test guide and answer sheet question numbers correspond. Bring snacks and water so that you can refresh yourself during breaks.

Follow these guidelines, and you're sure to have a positive test-taking experience. If you don't you can always take the test more than once. Go online to the test organization's site to see how often you may take the exam, and if there are any restrictions you need to be aware of before you register for a second or third testing date. Good luck!

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski

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Your Citation
Grossberg, Blythe. "How to Prepare for Admissions Tests." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Grossberg, Blythe. (2023, April 5). How to Prepare for Admissions Tests. Retrieved from Grossberg, Blythe. "How to Prepare for Admissions Tests." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).