Test Preparation

Standardized tests are a large part of the admission process at many private schools. Here you'll find information on the most commonly used exams and how to prepare for them. Explore the tests, what the scores mean, and how the schools will use them.
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Updated March 31, 2016 |
Admissions Testing: Preschoolers
The pressure to get your child into the right school starts at a very early age. We look at some of the assessment hurdles your child might face depending on which school you are considering.

When our daughters went to preschool back in the '70s in Garden City, New York, we took them in for an interview, and that was about it. The children were toilet-trained and pretty well socialized. To the best of my knowledge, there were no formal assessments of their cognitive skills and so on. As far as their mother and I were concerned, our daughters were gifted children. We never had any formal assessment of our suspicions until the girls were much older at which point testing confirmed that they were indeed gifted. 

Is your child gifted or bright? There is a difference.  For a detailed explanation of the differences read Gifted vs. Bright: Understanding the Difference

Preschool admissions assessments have changed in the 21st century. Preschools want to know what your child knows and what she is capable of at age two. So, against that backdrop, let's look at some of the more common ways preschools assess their very young applicants. And, perhaps even more important from our point of view as parents, let's try to understand why such testing is necessary.

Common Assessment Tools

The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test is commonly known as Olsat. This test is popular in New York City where it is a requirement for admission into programs for gifted children. The OLSAT traces its roots back to a test developed by Dr. Arthur Sinton Otis known as Army Alpha, which was administered to U.S. Army recruits in World War I.

Another test which you will encounter is the

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Updated May 06, 2016 |
Preparing for TOEFL
Applicants to American private schools for whom English is not their first language must take a test known as TOEFL.
If you are thinking of applying to an American private school and English is not your first language, you will be required to take a test known as The Test of English as a Foreign Language. Known more commonly as TOEFL which is pronounced TOE-full, this is an important part of the private school admissions process.
 
TOEFL used to be a paper-based test which is known as TOEFL PBT. This older method of taking the TOEFL test is being phased out. The newer form of TOEFL is TOEFL iBT. This is the test which is administered online in test centers worldwide. This video gives you an overview of what TOEFL is.

TOEFL is administered in most countries. You take the computer-based test at an examination center under supervised testing conditions. Watch this short video to see how the test is administered. 
 
So let us examine what is involved and how to prepare for the test.
 
What is TOEFL?
 
TOEFL is a standardized test administered by the world-famous Educational Testing Service. ETS is based in Princeton, New Jersey and has been around since 1947. It is an old, very established, highly regarded testing service. ETS is a not for profit organization.  ETS administers all kinds of tests which are given at over 9,000 locations in 180 countries. The tests with which we are probably most familiar are the SAT and AP tests which high school students typically take in their junior and senior years.
 
Why do you need TOEFL?
 
TOEFL
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Updated November 30, 2016 |
Do Your Child's SSAT or ISEE Scores Really Matter?
SSAT and ISEE scores are one part of the total picture which most private school admissions staff review. These standardized tests reveal what you have learned in key mastery areas.

Standardized admissions tests are part of the drill in most private school admissions offices. You may well be wondering why your child's academic transcripts and teacher recommendations from her current school are not sufficient. Why is it necessary to prepare and register for a standardized admissions test? The results of a standardized admissions test indicate to the school what your child knows and doesn't know academically. Essentially, it would serve no purpose to accept your child only to have her flounder academically. You would be unhappy. Your child would be miserable. The school also would be in the difficult position of not being able to deliver the kind of academic results it is capable of achieving. To avoid this losing situation, most private schools will insist on all applicants taking a standardized admissions test.

The two most commonly used admissions tests are the SSAT and ISEE. These tests measure your child's language and math skills. How do the admissions offices use the test scores which the testing organizations send them? Largely for comparison purposes. For example, if a school has an applicant pool with an average verbal score of 600 and yours is 700, you will be at the top of the list in that one aspect of all the factors the school looks at. Conversely, if your quantitative score is 550 and the pool average is 750, you will be at or near the bottom of the list in that comparison.

Bear in mind that the

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Updated June 25, 2014 |
Admissions Test Preparation: 2 Strategies
Admissions tests are supposed to measure accomplishments. But what if your child has serious problems in math or English? What do you do then?
Admissions tests in private schools are supposed to measure your child's aptitude and readiness for the work in a serious private prep school. They are merely one tool for assessing a child's progress to date. Some children have learned their lessons well. Some children take tests well. Other children have deficiencies in certain skill areas. Still others do not test well.
 
Long-term Test Preparation
In a perfect world every child would master all the skills necessary to succeed academically. But children learn differently. Their teachers teach the same material differently. The school expects certain results in certain subject areas. That's why a standardized admissions test is a critical part of most private school admissions requirements.
 
If you can take the long term approach to admissions test preparation, it certainly is the ideal. But you need to start a few years out from the actual admissions test itself. Here's what to do: monitor your child's progress carefully. Identify any deficiencies and remediate them. Hire tutors if necessary. Create and maintain a climate for academic success. Set expectations accordingly.
 
Then about eighteen months before the admissions test date purchase the test preparation materials which are so widely available. Read about the test your child will be taking. Understand what is required. Then have your child take at least 2 practice tests six months before the actual test date. That will give you enough time to tweak any parts of the test which require extra attention.
 
The Crash Course
Last minute cramming can pay
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Updated June 10, 2016 |
Preparing for Admissions Tests
Don't leave admissions test preparation to the last minute. Adequate test preparation will give you the confidence to take the test and do as well as you can.
Preparing for the SSAT and ISEE which most private schools use as part of their admissions procedures requires some advance planning. You can't cram for these standardized admissions tests. Wny? Because you are being tested on your knowledge of subject materials which have been learned over many years. On the other hand there are certain things you can do to make sure you test as well as you possibly can.
 
1. Be familiar with the test format. This requires your actually taking several practice tests. Being familiar with a test format means that you will not waste time trying to understand the test instructions. Every minute is precious in a timed test. The SSAT offers some sample questions for your to review. Work these in a quiet area where you can focus on how the questions are asked. There is no substitute for practice. The more tests you work the more you will relax and be confident the day of the actual test.

2. Purchase a test preparation book. There are several commercial test preparation books.  The SSAT offers its own proprietary test preparation materials. It makes good sense to order both the commercial and SSAT materials. You can only boost your confidence by consistent practice using these test preparation materials. Will these materials improve your scores? Only understanding the test format and the material being tested will produce good results.

3. Understand the scoring. You will lose 1/4 point for incorrect answers or
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