5 Strategies to Prepare for the ISEE and SSAT

How to Prep for Private School Admissions Tests

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If you are thinking of applying to a private school in the fall, it's never too early to get started addressing items on the admissions checklist. For example, in addition to beginning work on the application and the candidate’s and parents’ statements, the applicant can study for the ISEE or SSAT, which are the required admissions tests at most private schools for students in grades 5-12. While the scores on these tests will likely not in and of themselves make or break a candidate’s application, they are an important part of the application portfolio, along with the applicant’s grades, statement, and teachers’ recommendations.

Here’s more information about how the SSAT and ISEE are scored.

Here are some ways applicants can best prepare for the ISEE or SSAT and for the work that lies ahead in private middle and high school:

Tip #1: Take Timed Practice Tests

The best strategy to prepare for test day is to take practice tests—whether you are taking the ISEE or SSAT (the schools you are applying to will let you know which test they prefer)—under timed conditions. By taking these tests, you will know which areas you need to work on, and you will feel more comfortable taking the tests when it counts. Here are some other strategies to prepare for the tests.

Tip #2: Read as Much as You Can

In addition to broadening your horizons, independent reading of high-quality books is the best preparation not only for the ISEE and SSAT but also for the complicated reading and writing that most college-preparatory private schools demand.

Reading builds your understanding of the nuances of difficult texts and your vocabulary. If you are unsure about where to start, begin with the 10 most commonly read books in private high schools. While it’s not necessary to have read this whole list before applying to a private high school, reading a few of these titles will expand your mind and vocabulary and acquaint you with the kind of reading—and thinking—that lie ahead of you.

By the way, it’s fine to read contemporary novels, but try to tackle a few of the classics as well. These are books that have withstood the test of time because they have broad appeal and are still relevant to today’s readers.

Tip #3: Build Your Vocabulary as You Read

The key to building your vocabulary, which will help you on the ISEE and SSAT and with reading, is to look up unfamiliar vocabulary words as you read. Try to use common word roots, such as “geo” for “earth” or “biblio” for “book” to expand your vocabulary more quickly. If you recognize these roots in words, you will be able to define words you didn’t realize that you knew.

Tip #4: Work on Remembering What you Read

If you find that you are unable to remember what you read, you may not be reading at the right time. Try to avoid reading when you are tired or distracted. Try to pick the right time to read—when your concentration is at a maximum point—and try to mark up your text. Use a post-it note or highlighter to mark key passages, moments in the plot, or characters. Some students will also find it helpful to take notes on what they've read, so they can go back and refer to key points later on.  Here are more tips about how to improve your recall of what you read.

Tip #5: Don’t Save Your Studying until the Last Minute

The most important bit of advice is to start your studying several months before the ISEE or SSAT. If you wait until the last minute, you won’t be able to improve your weaker areas. Here are other mistakes to avoid when preparing for private school admissions tests.

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski