Most private schools require an admissions test as part of the admissions process. The two most common tests are the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), and there are several other tests used by parochial schools.
Dates, fees and times offered vary by test and schools have different admission deadlines. Make sure to look at information from both the testing agency and the school at least a year in advance of the desired admission date to make sure their deadlines are met.
Why Take a Test?
The reason for testing is to give the schools a tool to measure different students from different backgrounds on the same categories of learning on an equal footing. The same rationale carries through from private school testing to admissions tests used when entering colleges and universities and then graduate schools. Additionally, private schools use the test to help place students in academic programs where they will succeed. Each school evaluates test scores according to its own standards and requirements.
Independent School Entry Exam
The Independent School Entry Exam (ISEE), offered by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) has three versions: the Lower Level is for applicants to grades 5 and 6, the Middle Level for grades 7 and 8, and the Upper Level for grades 9 to 12. The ERB offers free "What to Expect on the ISEE" preparation material for each level and a comprehensive student guide with testing dates at their web site.
At each of its three levels, the ISEE consists of three parts: carefully constructed and standardized verbal and quantitative reasoning tests that measure capability for learning; reading comprehension and mathematics achievement tests that provide specific information about a student's strengths and weaknesses in those areas; and, an essay section.
ISEE test results include a Test Profile, which contains information on how the student's performance compares to other candidates in the same grade who have taken the test in the past three years. The Analysis section gives detailed information on the individual student's strengths and weaknesses, based on the specific types of questions he or she responded to on the ISEE test.
Secondary School Admission Test
The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is administered on two levels: the Lower, for students in grades 5 through 7, and the Upper, for students in grades 8 through 11. The multiple-choice aptitude test consists of verbal questions to test vocabulary, verbal reasoning and ability to relate to ideas logically; quantitative (math) questions to test ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, elementary algebra and geometry, and concepts; and, reading comprehension sections.
In addition, the test includes a writing sample portion, which asks students to respond to a topic statement. The essay is not graded, but a copy accompanies each SSAT score report sent to a school. A study guide with practice tests is available for $29 from the web site.
SSAT results include scaled scores - verbal, quantitative, reading and total - as well as percentile ranks for each category, compared with other students taking the SSAT over the past three years. For students in grades 5-9, national percentile rankings are provided to compare the student's performance to the national student population, including those not taking the SSAT. For students in grades 7-10, the results also predict twelfth grade SAT scores.
Other Private School Tests
Other tests - primarily used by parochial high schools - are the Cooperative Admission Exam Program (COOP), which provides a sample test and student handbook at their web site, and the Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools (TACH), which provides a student handbook at their web site. The High School Placement Test (HSPT) from Scholastic Testing Service also is used by parochial schools and other schools for testing eighth graders for placement into high school.
Other Test Preparation
In addition to the free ISEE prep materials, numerous private companies offer test preparation classes, and a variety of test preparation books are available at bookstores to help students get ready for these private school admission tests. It is recommended that students take a few practice tests to become familiar with their format before taking the actual test.
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