Getting into Private School
The SSAT is probably unlike any test your student has ever taken. That’s because it’s designed to find the best students in a large pool of excellent students. The SSAT’s questions are significantly different—in their difficulty and their content—from questions on other standardized tests, to the point that your student isn’t even expected to know everything that’s on the test! This means that, in order for your student to have the best chance at getting a score that’ll help them get admitted to their school of choice, they’ll need to prepare for the test.
There are a lot of test prep options out there, from tutoring, to books, to online services. We’ve compiled a list of 5 of the best test prep options we’ve found. But first, here are some things to consider before choosing a prep solution:
- How does your student learn best? Some students learn best in a self-paced program where they are in control, while others may benefit from the more rigid prep plan that a tutor or a class can provide.
- Where are you now, and where do you want to go? It’s important to have an idea of your student’s score goals, and to know where they stand at the beginning of the preparation process. That means taking a full-length test that provides scores and quality feedback, and comparing that performance to where they need to be. If you don’t know what score your student needs to aim for, check out the target scoring information that
There are many reasons why a private, independent, or boarding school could be the best option for your student. They typically offer thrilling academic challenges, extensive STEM or arts programs, or other remarkable resources. Their student-teacher ratios are excellent, and faculty may have advanced academic degrees and strong professional reputations. While only about 10 percent of students attend private schools nationwide, private school admissions is selective and competitive.
To help distinguish applicants, private schools use standardized testing. The admissions process, especially for those migrating from public to private, can be an eye-opening experience. The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT) are the most commonly used admissions tests for private, independent, and boarding schools. The High School Placement Test (HSPT) is often used by Catholic schools for entrance into grade 9.
The ISEE and SSAT are long multiple-choice tests lasting 2-3 hours and potentially covering above-grade-level content. For the 4th grader applying to private middle school, this might the first time they have undergone two hours of solid testing with only one or two short breaks. The best starting point is always to have your student take a full-length diagnostic test. It’s important to know where your child is starting from so that you can help them get to where they need to be.
ISEE & SSAT Similarities and Differences
Start by looking at the websites of your target schools or giving the admissions offices a quick call to
Editor's Note: I am most grateful to Kate Fisher, who is an expert in admissions essays with Noodle Pros, for explaining how to handle the inevitable essay portion of your child's private school admissions application. ~Rob
If your child is applying to a private middle school or high school, he or she will likely have to write an admissions essay. It is important to remember that this is not a college admissions essay, which means that the standards used to assess your child’s writing ability are lower. However, this also means that it’s much easier for admissions officers to quickly identify essays that a parent, teacher, or tutor has had too heavy a hand in.
It is extremely difficult to disguise adult involvement in an essay that is supposed to be written by a child applying to middle school or high school. You may feel uncomfortable allowing your child to submit his or her essay without reading it over. If you choose to help him or her by proofreading or editing it, remember to make sure the language, syntax, and sentence structure remain age-appropriate. No private school admissions officer expects a rising sixth grader to write as well as an award-winning novelist, let alone a college-educated adult.
The best way to ensure the success of your child’s admissions essay is to show how to choose the right essay. Most private schools ask applicants to choose one prompt from a list of several. Helping your child brainstorm which topic to write about
I asked the experts at Noodle Pros for suggestions as to how to improve quantitative scores on the commonly used private school standardized admissions test, the SSAT. Their answers follow. ...Rob
Four Noodle Pros give advice on how to improve your SSAT quantitative score:
1. Be thorough.
Write out your math as thoroughly and as clearly as you can. Even when you can do much of the calculation in your head, it helps a lot to have your step-by-step thinking on paper in front of you. Many times when you get lost or stuck, you can look at what you have written and find your way out of a jam. You can also find and fix the errors in your thinking or your calculation more quickly and more accurately when you can see the work in front of you. Don't do all your math in your head! - Brendan Mernin, 27 Years Tutoring
2. Be confident.
Students do their best when they feel confident. The challenge in maintaining good morale is that the difficulty of the exam can cause students anxiety. Remember that, according to the SSAT website, the SSAT writers design the questions so that only 50 to 60 percent of the test-takers get the question right. Help your child maintain a realistic view of what is expected, and take on preparation in reasonable “chunks.” Start by mastering the questions on content your child already knows, gradually pursue new content or new applications of content, and remind your child