5-Point Road Map to Navigating the ISEE or SSAT

So you want your child to go to private school! Now what?

There’s the application the interview, and then those DAUNTING standardized tests!

As a parent of two applicants, I’ve now been through the process a couple of times. I’m absolutely no expert—just a mom who’s learned a lot from going through the application journey.

The standardized tests and how to approach them were one of our main challenges! There are many different pieces to the testing puzzle. First off, you need to figure out which test your child should take. When do you sign up and where? Can the test be taken multiple times? Should test scores be sent directly to the schools your child is applying to? 

The ISEE and SSAT are tests required when applying to private schools. To give your child the best chance of getting into the school of their choice, these tests absolutely require PREPARATION and PRACTICE! Will a good test score guarantee your child a slot in the upcoming freshman class? No, but a low score can hurt their chances tremendously!

Scary, right?

The good news is that you can take steps to prepare. Use the following five points to help your child navigate the road to ISEE or SSAT success, and absolutely consult a test prep center to guide you through this process. The earlier you start, the better. This will alleviate stress and will help familiarize your child with the strategies.

1. Determine Where to Start

The first step to improving your ISEE or SSAT result is to figure out what needs improving. Every child has different strengths and weaknesses. The best part about scheduling a diagnostic test is that it determines your child’s skill level in both test taking and in the areas of math, reading, and writing.

You can have your child try both tests and see which one he/she is more comfortable taking. The tests are similar, except for some small items. The SSAT has analogies; the ISEE does not. When it comes to scoring, the SSAT penalizes students for wrong answers. The ISEE does not. Some schools require the SSAT. However, if it doesn’t matter, then try to figure out which one is the best fit for your child. 

The test can answer questions such as: Does your child understand the structure of a text? How does your child pace himself while taking the test? Does he rush through the test? In which sections should he work on slowing down? Should he concentrate more on preparing for math, reading, and/or vocabulary? Does the student guess a lot? Answering these questions can help determine the best way to help your child move forward.

2. Create Your Plan

After the diagnostic test, a plan can be developed to achieve your goals. For example, maybe your child needs a lot more help on the vocabulary section. Or they need some basic test strategies to conquer other sections. Here’s where a testing center is an excellent resource to help you develop a plan of attack. 

3. Prep Tools to Achieve Your Plan 

Tutoring is the best tool to help your child. Your tutor will review the diagnostic test and put a plan in motion to conquer the test. Your tutor will likely recommend a practice review book and other tools such as: Quizlet for Vocab, and freerice.com to build vocabulary. ISEE and SSAT tutors have the knowledge to help break the test down into manageable pieces and create a custom plan of attack to help your child to succeed. The goal here is to BUILD your child’s confidence with lots of prep tools. 

4. Practice. Practice. Practice.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” –– Alexander Graham Bell

Encourage your child to practice. The more sample tests your child takes prior to the actual test, the more confident he/she will feel during the test. I recommend even simulating taking the actual test multiple times at home or in a library. Have your child wake up early and sit at a desk with a timer. Full-length tests will help build up your child’s mental endurance and their ability to finish all of the sections. 

5. Keep Calm and Test On! 

BREATHE and stay calm. It’s natural for your child to have anxiety about the test. The test is long and the thought of sitting at a desk for hours can be frightening. It’s important to remind your child to relax and keep calm. Teach them to take three deep breaths and...PAUSE...if they feel anxious before or during the exam. They also need to be reminded that the test is just one component of their entire application. 

Ready to take action? Begin by finding a reputable test prep center in your area. If you are in Fairfield County, I highly recommend Greenwich Education Group. They have always been extremely helpful and can aid your family in developing your child’s five-step road map. Extremely qualified education consultants and tutors will offer you all the tools to create your child’s personal action plan. 

Best of luck with your private school admission! 


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Suzanne Wind lives in CT with her husband and three children. When she’s not chauffeuring and managing her children's educational and social activities, she’s the Director of Marketing for the Old Greenwich-Riverside Community Center. Suzanne is also the author of the award-winning social skills activity books for kids, The SMART Playbook, and Lil’ Champs Play it SMART. In addition, she’s a regular contributor to mom blogs such as blissfullydomestic.com.