Private School Elementary Entrance Exam Tips – Draft 1

The TOP 6 Things Every Parent Should Know About Private School Entrance Exams(SSAT and ISEE)

SSAT or ISEE, Don’t stress! 


Every year kids are tested in verbal, math, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension skills for admissions officers at independent private schools across the state. They are evaluated and compared to their peers, in their grade level, state, and across the country. Talk about pressure to perform! As parents, we get worked up about the numbers, what it all means, and wonder whether your child is measuring up to certain standards, how you can help, and most importantly, will my child be admitted into that prestigious school you’ve been looking at.


I’ve got you covered. What you CAN do for the exams. 


  1. Secure the test date and write it on the calendar. If you are really serious about doing well, you will find out the exact date or date range (Month) early on in the year and let that be your guide to help plan study sessions for your child. 
  2. Come up with a study plan weeks before the SSAT or ISEE.** (Another post about this)
  3. Speak with your child’s teacher to see if there are any resources to help support your child at home. Sometimes the teachers have extra practice work they are willing to provide, such as practice tests for the SSAT or the ISEE. If not, don’t worry, there are plenty of resources online that can be found; it just takes a little effort and planning on the parent’s part. (Another post about this)
  4. Consider getting a tutor. Tutors are great resources for helping you and your child do well in school and on tests. They can provide one-on-one assistance to your child and give you feedback on what they recognize as strengths and weaknesses in your student. (Another post about what to look for in a tutor)
  5. Purchase practice books with sample tests to prepare or go online to find many more practice tests.
  6. Study/practice at least 2-3 days a week during daytime hours. On the other days of the week, have your child read independently. Sounds silly, but reading helps build vocabulary and reading stamina. Two things your child will definitely need when taking long standardized tests. You never know what words they’ll encounter in the reading portion of the test and how long it will take them to read, so if they practice every night for 20-30 uninterrupted minutes, reading for the same amount of time the day of the SSAT or the ISEE will be a breeze! 


Stay tuned in for the next post that will discuss the study plan, annotation strategies, and the types of things you should look for when choosing a tutor for your child


Most parents, like myself, would do anything to make sure that their child gets the best of what you can offer to make sure that in the end, they are placed at the top with the best advantage. 


I get a lot of parents who come to me and ask me; How can I prepare my child to score high on the Secondary School Admission Test or Independent School Entrance Exam (SSAT or ISEE)? 


What I like to do is give parents and students a couple of tips that I know will be beneficial for them now and with other future admissions assessments that they will take throughout their educational career.


In this series of articles, I’ll be giving you an easy overview of the tests, what not to do and what TO DO on the tests; so you’ll want to stick around to read all three. 


But first, what are the SSAT and ISEE? You know your child has to take it, but what does it cover? The Secondary School Admission Test, also known as the SSAT is a standardized test that students in grades 3-11 take if they want to get into a private independent school


What this test is not:


One misconception is that it is an achievement test; in fact, it is very far from that. The test isn’t measuring that you’ve mastered a certain subject area, instead, it is looking to see if you know the basic math, verbal, reading comprehension, and writing skills to do well at the private school. 


What it IS:


Competitive schools want to know that you’ll be able to keep up with the rest of the student body. Some schools look only at these scores and others look at the scores and any teacher recommendations to consider the whole child; in my opinion, this is a good thing because some kids aren’t great test takers or you never know what factors could have affected the child that day if they are typically good in one subject area over another. 


There are three levels of the SSAT. In these levels, they separate the test takers by grade level. 


  • The elementary level is for 3rd and 4th grade, 
  • The middle level is for 5th through 7th grade, 
  • The upper level is for 8 through 11th grade. 




The Independent School Entrance Exam or the ISEE is another assessment that helps determine admittance into top-rated private schools based on your scores with other children in the same grade level. While the test is similar to the SSAT there are differences in the number of questions given. One big difference is the primary level for students in grades 1 and 2. The students taking this primary level exam will have to take an auditory comprehension portion which consists of 6 questions in 7 minutes. This is only for the primary 2-level students. Primary 3 and 4 do not have to take the auditory exam. 


Minor differences


All of the exams come with a writing prompt, but only Primary 2 and 3 have a prompt with a picture. The ISEE has a sentence completion portion and quantitative reasoning section whereas the SSAT does not. Instead of sentence completion, the SSAT simply has an analogy section. 


What about the scoring?  


The goal, as with any test, is to get the highest overall score. One strategy we’ve all been told to do on a test when you don’t know the answer is to simply take a good logical guess. This works for the ISEE but not so much for the SSAT. If you get a question wrong on the ISEE, there are no points deducted; you just don’t get points added to your overall score. On the SSAT, if you guess and get a question wrong they take ¼ of a point away from your overall score. So be strategic in picking your answers on the exams. 

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