Tag Archives: Standardized Tests

19 May 2021

Key Differences between the SSAT and ISEE

To some, the private school admissions process has become as daunting as the college admissions process. One of the many elements required to apply to private schools is the ISEE or SSAT. For many students, this is one of their first experiences sitting for a standardized test. As such, it can be a bit scary for students and their parents. But it doesn’t have to be! Here’s what you need to know:

What’s the difference between the SSAT and ISEE?

These tests are similar in many ways. Both have a quantitative reasoning section, which tests a student’s problem solving skills and command of mathematical reasoning. Both tests also include a reading comprehension section, as well as a verbal reasoning section that involves synonym questions Finally, both tests end with a timed essay which requires a student to showcase their descriptive writing skills.

In addition to the quantitative reasoning section, the ISEE has a mathematics achievement section, which tests students’ understanding of content and skills taught in school. Overall, the math content on the ISEE tends to be slightly more advanced than that of the SSAT. For this reason, and because the ISEE has two math sections instead of one, the ISEE is generally best suited to students whose strength is math. 

The ISEE’s verbal reasoning section is slightly less challenging than that of the SSAT, as it consists of synonyms and sentence completion questions. The SSAT’s verbal section tends to be more difficult —  it includes a portion that tests a student’s command of analogies. Due to the challenging nature of this section, and because the SSAT only has one math section, the SSAT is usually better suited to students whose strengths lie in English and language arts.

The only way to know for sure which test is the best fit for a child is for them to take a mock test of each. Their experience with each test, along with a professional assessment of the scores, can help to determine which test a student should pursue.

When should my child take the SSAT or ISEE?

Most students take these tests in the late fall or early winter. Schools usually want to see scores by January, so families should count backwards to decide which test sittings are best suited to the timeline for admission. 

How many times can my child take the SSAT or ISEE?

Each test has slightly different rules regarding this. Students can take the ISEE once per season. The fall season concludes at the end of November, and the winter season starts in December. So most students sign up for a test in each season. The SSAT’s rules are less restrictive; students are permitted to take the tests as many times as they’d like.

When should my child start preparing for the test?

Most students benefit from three to six months of tutoring leading up to their first sitting of a standardized test. Of course, this varies depending on a student’s baseline score, so it’s important for any student beginning the test prep journey to start with a mock test. 

Do you have more questions about ISEE/SSAT prep? I’d be happy to answer them! Reach out to me at lauren.singerman@sentiaeducation.com.

Lauren Singerman

Director of Tutoring, Sentia Education

04 Mar 2021

Embracing Small Wins

It’s a tricky thing, embarking on standardized test prep. So many students and their families have voices in their ears, bombarding them with widely varying opinions regarding how to do it “right.”

“She’s going to need to meet with a tutor twice a week for a full year to come even close to the score she needs.”

“My son takes a practice test once a week! It’s the only way to do it!”

“No 8’s and 9’s on the ISEE? Forget about applying to any decent schools.”

These opinions can come from friends, family members, admissions counselors, tutors…anyone who has been through the process and considers themselves an expert.

Here’s the thing, though: the tests are standardized. Students aren’t. A student is not a number on a score report. And the number on the score report isn’t the final say in admissions.

After many years as a tutoring company administrator and tutor for various standardized tests, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of managing expectations. And here’s what I know: if a student meets with a tutor once a week for a few months, is motivated and focused in sessions, asks questions, does their homework, and takes a mock test roughly once a month, that student is very likely to improve their score. That improvement comes from a combination of learning new material and new strategies, learning how to manage time, and becoming more comfortable with the format of the test. 

But what will that improvement look like? It’s not the same for everyone.

A student’s final score is almost always directly proportional to where they started from. If an ACT student comes into test prep having forgotten most of what they learned in Algebra, the priority will be to strengthen their confidence with those basic skills before moving on to more advanced math topics. And the speed with which they absorb and retain those skills will dictate how much more material is covered. If this student started with a 20 on the Math section of their first mock, and – within four months of tutoring – they’re up to a 25, that is a huge win in my book. Five points is quite a leap. Now, a 25 is not a 34, which is closer to what most students and their parents would like to see. But for that student, considering where they started, a 25 should be seen as a great accomplishment. It should be celebrated! 

Celebrating small victories is crucial to progress in the test prep process. Giving students permission to focus on small achievements boosts their confidence and motivates them to continue to improve. Focusing on what they don’t have or haven’t achieved can lead to frustration, a feeling of helplessness, and – therefore – diminishing returns. 

A tutor can set a student up for success with these small victories by working with the student to set reasonable goals. For example: answering the first 25 questions of the ACT Math section correctly on their next mock; writing down their own word choice for the synonym portion of the next ISEE mock before looking at the answer choices; really drilling the comma rules and nailing those questions on the next SAT mock test. 

In a process that can feel overwhelming and intimidating for many, setting realistic goals and managing expectations only sets students up for success. This idea has guided my work as a tutor and administrator for many years, and I think it has had a hand in helping my students to feel empowered and motivated in their navigation of the test prep process.

Lauren Singerman, Director of Tutoring