Competitive private day schools and boarding schools are operating with varying and evolving test-optional policies. Many will require admissions testing in the fall. Like at the college level, test-optional policies ought to be considered cautiously, and we strongly recommend planning to exceed any minimum admissions requirements in order to be more competitive. To this end, many families wonder about the best approach to ISEE or SSAT preparation.
For any grade level transition between grades 5 and 11, we recommend starting about a year in advance with an eye toward official testing in November and December. While test preparation and school planning can certainly feel overwhelming, there are many factors within a family’s control, and starting early provides a structure that’s comforting for both children and parents. By initiating the SSAT or ISEE planning process about a year in advance, families stand to create the greatest number of school options.
Many families currently enrolled in private schools with CTP testing assume that CTP testing and ISEE testing are very similar, but they’re not. While they do share the same publisher, the ERB, the tests serve different purposes and have different formats. Like the NY State Testing Program in public schools, the CTP is designed as a grade level achievement test, whereas the ISEE (as well as the SSAT) is designed as an above-grade level measure:
- The lower level ISEE test is designed for admissions to grades 5 and 6, and it covers math content and vocabulary well through 7th grade.
- The middle level ISEE test is designed for admissions to grades 7 and 8, and it covers math content and vocabulary well through 9th grade.
- The upper level ISEE test is designed for admissions to grades 9 to 11, and it covers math content and vocabulary well through 10th grade.
The best way to approach SSAT and ISEE preparation is to start early. We strongly recommend diagnostic testing during the winter/spring term so that we are able to better assess instructional needs and pacing over the spring, summer and fall. Sometimes educational testing is needed, too, in order to explore a suspected learning disability and appropriate accommodations. This educational testing should be completed during the spring or summer.
The best approach to SSAT and ISEE preparation is content-based, which means remediating and/or accelerating instruction for each student with the goal of achieving mastery. Surely there are test-taking strategies, but choosing an appropriate strategy generally still requires an understanding of the content. Simply “working backwards” or using “process of elimination” isn’t effective if a student doesn’t have a starting point or means of assessing the reasonableness of an answer choice.
We also value an approach to SSAT and ISEE preparation that focuses on the bigger, more important picture of middle and high school readiness. This readiness includes mastery of a certain body of content as well as a skill set around managing the workload itself (executive functions) and persisting through a difficult task and process (grit). Since the testing has to be done in most cases, it’s best to take advantage of all the learning opportunities related to the testing experience.
There’s also family debate about SSAT vs. ISEE testing, and some families feel they need to prepare for both, which isn’t necessary or advisable. Most NYC independent schools AND boarding schools accept both ISEE and SSAT scores. There are three main factors to consider when making the choice: 1) The ISEE has no wrong answer penalty, and 2) The ISEE presents sentence completions vs. analogies, and 3) The SSAT presents 5 answer choices, whereas the ISEE only presents 4 answer choices. We’re happy to discuss these factors further as they relate to your family’s situation.
For 7th grade students interested in specialized public high schools, there is SHSAT testing to manage as well. Historically this testing happened in October, but this past school year, it occurred on November 17, 2022. The previous school year, this testing occurred in January 2021. We do not yet have confirmation of the test date for Fall 2023.
Are you ready to start planning?
Please contact our office.By Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed.
Board Certified Educational Planner and Learning Specialist
My Learning Springboard, Inc.