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. 

SSAT Verbal resources

Now that you and your child have committed to a date to take the SSAT, it’s time to study, right? RIGHT! But what resources should you use? In the past, I’ve recommended Barron’s SSAT practice book (link), (list the others here). Something new that I have liked to incorporate for reading and verbal comprehension is more interactive websites. These sites are great to use to sharpen your verbal toolbox. 


  • One site is a paid resource that you may have heard about called What I like about this resource is that you can select the grade level of your choice, the subject, and over 300 different skills in reading, math, or language arts. At a reasonable price.
  • A free resource is the site This free site has interactive flashcards, quick quizzes, and games. The site uses images to help visual learners remember, audio for the auditory learners to hear the pronunciation of new vocabulary words, and the ability to practice on your smartphone through their app anywhere you want. These are just a few of the great features offered to you. So check it out! 
  • One other site not thought of often is Khan Academy. This site is another free resource. It has a huge collection of resources on almost every subject. The downside is that it doesn’t include test prep resources for SSAT BUT, but it does have a trial section (still free) for English and Language Arts practice for grades 2 through 8th grade. 

Of course, you can always use the workbooks from my last article but there is something more interesting when you can watch, listen, or play your way into learning and sharpening your skills.

Skills of a Great reader/writer

“LOOK! I wrote something”, one of my 5-year-olds squealed out with excitement. To some, this may not seem like a big deal, but for weeks I had been working with a group of kindergarteners to learn to Read and Write their first words to string into a sentence. This is a milestone that made me so proud and happy for them as this marked the beginning of a skill they would use for the rest of their lives. 


Once students have the fundamentals of Reading and Writing and are past the stage of learning to read, parents often ask me how they can help their child become a better reader and writer? Below, are my top 4 skills for becoming a better reader and writer.


Better Reader

  1. Read every day for 20-30 minutes
  2. Read a variety of books, magazines, novels, newspapers, non-fiction print
  3. Look up unknown words and their pronunciation and meaning; try to use them in your everyday conversation if possible.
  4. The most fun of all; Find literature that interests you! You are more likely to continue reading the text if you want to read it. 


Better Writer


  1. READ!!! The more you read, the more vocabulary your child is exposed to and can use those newly acquired words in their writing.
  2. Use your imagination. What better way to express how you feel is by being creative and making things up! Encourage your kids to think out of the box and take chances with their writing. Write about all types of topics; fiction, non-fiction reports, comics, you name it!
  3. If your child gets hung up on spelling, let that be the last thing that they correct in their writing so they can focus on getting words on paper. Once their writing is complete, teach them to go back and circle all the words they got stuck on so they can correct them with your help. 
  4. Create an EZ writing dictionary. I used to love my student-created dictionary when I was younger because it gave me a sense of ownership over the words that were included and the words that I added since I used them often in my writing. 


These are just a few great tips to start helping your child become better Readers and Writers over time. 

Keeping up During School Breaks

The holiday season, and any school break for that matter, bring a time when parents, students, and teachers look forward to the days they can sleep in and share traditions with family and friends. But this is also a time when children see their break as a chance of sweet freedom from studying for quizzes, reading at night for book logs, and completing weekly minutes for iReady or any similar program. As parents, we want to allow them to relax but you should also consider wanting to keep a routine so when they do resume classes it doesn’t feel like a daunting task to get back into. 


4 Simple Tips on Keeping Up Academically During School Breaks


1. Depending on the age of your child, decide together what time would be a great time for them to continue to read for 20 to 30 minutes every single day. Keeping this habit will help them gain knowledge and vocabulary.


2. Allow your child to pick out a chapter or picture book for themselves. This way you know that they are truly interested in what they’re getting ready to read. (Parents, don’t forget that graphic novels are also really popular among children and they don’t even realize that reading through comics is still reading, so don’t discourage this.)


3. Not every parent is going to be able to sit and read the book themselves especially if it’s a chapter book. So, what I suggest is: Have a set of generic questions that you want your child to be able to answer and they can either orally tell you parts of the story and then write the responses down in a journal. Divide this journal up into a couple of different sections 1- for spring break,1 section for Thanksgiving and Christmas break, and then another section for summer; this way, for that entire year you will know they have a journal to write the responses to the book they are reading. Not only are they Reading and Responding but they are practicing their writing skills and later on you can discuss it.


4. If your child is Artistic or likes arts and crafts, create a project for them to make. A diorama, draw a picture, or anything that will tap into their creative side. Remember you don’t want to have them dread this time, you want this to be something that they will look forward to doing. If you need to go on Pinterest to look up some ideas or go on Teacher-pay-Teacher to find questions, those are great sources to start with.


If it’s Math your child needs practicing, flashcards and practice books are quick and simple to do. Once a day to sharpen their skills and that’s it! 

Pushback is expected since your child has been looking forward to a break but they will thank you later when their grades show improvement as well.

Preparing for Parent-Teacher conferences

Parent-teacher conferences don’t have to be daunting for both parent and teacher; just make sure you go in prepared with a clear understanding of what you’re there for. It’s your right as a parent to ask. At any point in the year, you can request a conference and the teacher can do the same.


From experience in the classroom, it’s better to be the parent that is checking on their child through emails, texts, class dojo, or face-to-face conferences with a teacher than to have never shown your face at all except for field trips, parties, or the end of the year promotion ceremony. 


Here are some things you will want to know when you go in for a conference about your child’s academic progress in school. 


Top 5 tips to make sure you leave knowing:


  1. Child’s reading level; what can they do, what do they need help with. 
  2. Child’s strengths and areas of improvement in math.
  3. A printout of their grades
  4. Proof of their work in a journal or portfolio 
  5. Child’s behavior in class. 


Meetings are your way of checking in and making sure that if your child’s grades are not where they should be, you can swoop in and help your student; either with extra practice work or by hiring a tutor. 


Be realistic and make sure you are not going 2 weeks before progress reports or report cards go home and ask for extra credit or how your child can bump up their grade. Scheduling appointments soon after progress reports are better because you typically have 4-5 weeks to help improve their grades.