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.

Check out this article for more information about how the SSAT and ISEE are scored.

Taking the test doesn't have to be a nightmare, and doesn't require expensive tutoring or prep sessions. Check out these simple ways in which you 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. It also can help you get more accustomed to what is expected and the strategies you need to really excel, like how much a wrong answer might affect your score and what you can do about it.

 Here is an article with some 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. Some people suggest taking a quick crash course in Latin to better understand most root words. 

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. Avoid dimly lit or loud areas when trying to read. 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

It's important to note that studying shouldn't be a once and done thing when it comes to preparing for your test. Get to know the sections of the test well in advance, and practice. Take online practice tests, write essays regularly, and find out where you need the most help.

Waiting until the week before the ISEE or SSAT test date isn't going to give you any sort of benefit when it comes to excelling. Remember, if you wait until the last minute, you won’t be able to discover and improve your weaker areas. 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski