Cheat Sheet

SSAT & ISEE For Dummies

From SSAT and ISEE For Dummies by Vince Kotchian, Curt Simmons

The Secondary School Aptitude Test (SSAT) and Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) are the two most common standardized aptitude tests used in American private secondary schools. Prepare for the SSAT and ISEE by knowing what to expect on the tests, how to register for the exams, and how to do your best on test day.

How the SSAT Entrance Exam Breaks Down

The SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) explores your ability in a few distinct key areas. In fact, the SSAT focuses on only a few subjects, divided into four sections. With the exception of the Writing section, all questions on the test are multiple-choice.

Section Questions Time Limit
Writing Sample One writing prompt 25 minutes
Quantitative Two sections: 25 questions each, consisting of a mixture of different kinds of questions in each section 30 minutes for each section
Reading Comprehension One section: 40 questions based on about 7 reading passages 40 minutes
Verbal One section: 30 synonym questions and 30 analogy questions 30 minutes

The SSAT has two different versions: The lower level test and the upper level test. The only difference between the two levels of the SSAT is the difficulty. The lower level test questions are tailored for students currently in grades 5 through 7, and the upper level test is tailored for students currently in grades 8 through 11. Other than that, the tests are exactly the same in terms of the types of sections, number of questions, and time limits.

How the ISEE Entrance Exam Breaks Down

The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is a standardized test, which means its goal is to test your achievement level based on the performance of other students in your grade level. The ISEE focuses only on your ability to read and answer questions about the passage, to handle English language questions, to write effectively, and to do the math. The ISEE is divided into four basic sections:

Section Questions Time Limit
Verbal Reasoning 40 questions 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 questions 35 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 questions based on about 6 reading passages 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 questions 40 minutes
Essay One writing prompt 30 minutes

The ISEE has three different versions: The upper level test is for students entering grades 9 through 12, the middle level test is for students entering grades 7 and 8, and the lower level test is for students entering grades 5 and 6. The only difference between these three ISEEs is the difficulty. The upper level test is more difficult than the middle level test, and the middle level test is more difficult than the lower level test. Other than that, the tests are exactly the same in terms of the number and types of sections, although they do vary just a bit with the number of questions and time limits on the lower level test.

Registering for the SSAT

Test dates, fees, and other important registration info for the SSAT are always changing, so check out the SSAT website before you register for the test. Here, you can find the latest information about registering for the SSAT, and you can even register online. Also, if you observe a Saturday Sabbath, the SSAT website shows you how to register for a Sunday exam.

After registration is complete, you receive an admission ticket, which allows you to enter the testing center — so be sure to keep it in a safe place! Most exams begin at 9 a.m. and end around 12 p.m. Check your admission ticket for details and make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes early so you have plenty of time to check in and get ready for the test. You may not be allowed to take the test if you're late, so make sure you get there early instead.

When you take the SSAT, bring your SSAT admission ticket, some form of identification, two sharpened #2 pencils, a good eraser, and a pen for the writing sample. (Note: Make sure the pencils are #2, which is usually labeled on the box and the pencil itself, because other kinds may not be read correctly by the scoring machine.) You can't bring books, papers, calculators, phones, watches with alarms, or basically any other electronic devices. Also, no visitors are allowed in the testing room.

Registering for the ISEE

Registration info, test dates, and fees for the ISEE are always changing, so be sure to check out the ISEE homepage. Here, you can find the latest information about registering for the ISEE, and you can even register online.

The online registration allows you to locate and register for an open test site during various times throughout the year. However, some schools have closed registrations where they test their existing students or students who are applying to the school. Always check with the school you're applying to for more information about registering for the ISEE because closed registrations must be handled by the specific school. Start by contacting the school's admission officer, and go from there. After you register for a test, you can reschedule the test if necessary or access additional information about inclement weather, testing accommodations, and so forth.

When you take the ISEE, bring your ISEE admission ticket, some form of identification, two sharpened #2 pencils, a good eraser, and a pen for the writing sample. (Note: Make sure the pencils are #2, which is usually labeled on the box and the pencil itself, because other kinds may not be read correctly by the scoring machine.) You can't bring books, papers, calculators, phones, watches with alarms, or basically any other electronic devices. Also, no visitors are allowed.

SSAT and ISEE: How to Do Your Best on Test Day

Naturally, you want to do your best on the SSAT and ISEE, so how can you make sure your performance shines on test day? Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Take advantage of practice questions and practice exams on the SSAT and ISEE websites. The more you practice, the better prepared you'll be for the actual test.

  • On test day, listen to all directions and make sure you read all directions on the exam. Nothing is worse than doing the wrong thing because you didn't heed the directions.

  • Watch your time. Both the SSAT and ISEE are timed exams with each section having a certain number of questions and a time limit. Use practice exams to practice taking the test sections within the time limit allowed; doing so helps you get used to the time limit pressure.

  • Read the questions carefully and check all answer choices before you make a decision. Many questions ask you to choose the best answer, so be sure to check out all the answer choices before you bubble one in on the answer sheet.

  • Answer every question you can, but if you just don't know the answer to a question at all, skip it and move on. Don't waste time on questions you can't answer.

  • Use the process of elimination. For every question, you're given a few answer choices but only one of them is correct. Try to rule out answers you know are wrong. Doing so greatly increases your odds of answering the question correctly, even if you're not sure of the answer.

Making the SSAT or ISEE Test Day Easier

You can't make the SSAT or ISEE any easier, but you can start your test day off right and make it easier and less stressful, which can lead to better results on your entrance exam. Here are a few tips to keep in mind on SSAT or ISEE test day:

  • Get plenty of rest. The night before the test is a time to sleep — not a time to text your friends until the early morning hours. In short, go to bed!

  • Eat breakfast. Studies show that students who eat breakfast perform better on exams than students who don't. So be sure to eat a nutritious, well-balanced breakfast (which means you should skip the half box of doughnuts because the sugar high won't help you answer questions effectively).

  • Make sure you or a parent know how to get to the testing center. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than driving around lost when your test is about to begin. Know where to go so there's no stress in getting there.

  • Arrive at least 30 minutes early. This extra time gives you a little wiggle room for problems along the way, and it also gives you a chance to go to the restroom and relax for a few minutes before the test actually begins.

  • Keep it relaxed. Test jitters are normal for everyone, but try to keep things in perspective. After all, the SSAT and ISEE are just exams; they don't measure how smart you are, and they don't predict your future success in life. In a nutshell, the sun is going to come up tomorrow so don't let the test totally freak you out today. Just do your best and work hard, and you'll do great!

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