Frequently asked questions

There are countless reasons why tests feel stressful–for kids and for parents! Like anything else, good habits and strategies can be built. Of course, there are countless factors that create the right conditions for learning and building habits: accurate, engaging materials; perceptive adults who recognize the academic and emotional needs of the child; an efficient plan, but one that allows for flexibility. Students will make good progress when we have these items in place.

Some of the content on the ISEE and SSAT is above-grade level. This is intentional on the part of the exam writers.

The best way to start preparing for the ISEE or SSAT is by taking a diagnostic exam. From there, I analyze the results and start mapping a program tailored to your child. Students might be getting test questions wrong for a variety of reasons: a lack of content knowledge, inability to remember previously learned material, simple computation errors, lack of confidence, test anxiety, and underdeveloped test skills and habits. The luxury of 1:1 tutoring is that I can identify the specific habits and skills that will be most impactful for each individual student and target our work accordingly.

While a diagnostic exam is the right starting point from the academic perspective, it might not be the right starting point for the child from a morale perspective. If your child is anxious about the exam before even taking a diagnostic, it might be counter-productive to have him or her take a full test to start. If you’d like to discuss the best way to approach the diagnostic piece with your child, drop me a line.

Many students find the SSAT harder for a few reasons. The SSAT has a wrong-answer penalty, so you lose 0.25 points for every incorrect response. Additionally, there are 5 answer choices per question. For the ISEE, there are only 4 answer choices per question, and there is no guessing penalty.

Next, let’s look at the tests section by section. Each test has a verbal reasoning section. For the SSAT, this section contains synonyms and analogies. Many students find analogies challenging. The ISEE, however, has synonyms and sentence completion questions. Most students find the verbal reasoning section for the ISEE easier.

For the math sections, some students find the SSAT easier. The ISEE covers a bigger variety of math topics, so students are more likely to see a few questions with more advanced topics.

The reading comprehension sections for both exams are pretty similar. The SSAT is more likely to have a couple of excerpts from older texts. These texts feature longer, more complex sentences and somewhat outdated words and phrases. While this may be only a couple of the passages, some students will find these intimidating and they may lose valuable time on these harder passages.

The essay is similar for both exams: students have 30 minutes for the ISEE and only 25 for the SSAT. The SSAT offers 2 choices for the prompt, however, and the ISEE only offers 1.

In some cases, the choice of which exam to take may be determined by your school list. Many schools will accept either test, but some schools require one and not the other. Check your schools’ admissions pages or get the help of an educational consultant to help you organize your school list and keep track of the various requirements.

Lastly, if you start the process early, you might consider having your student take a practice section or 2 from each exam to see what the student feels is the better fit.

There are several things to consider for this question. Firstly, depending on your location and the time of year, you may be limited by what is available.

Some sections of the exam might be easier or harder depending on the format, and depending on your child’s skills and comfort. The math sections, for example, may be easier on paper, as students will be more likely to write out calculations, and being able to write directly on the page with the question might improve accuracy. The essay is another section that may be significant for your child: will your child be able to compose and type an essay in just 30 minutes (for the ISEE) or 25 minutes (for the SSAT)?

Another category of considerations is comfort. The majority of students feel some level of pressure or anxiety when it comes to taking tests, so it’s worth taking into account what conditions will more likely put your student at ease. Will your student benefit from the structure of taking the test in a room with other students and a proctor who is there to make sure things run smoothly? Or will your student perform better in the familiar setting of home? It’s worth thinking through these details to choose the test format that will help your child perform his or her best.

For the ISEE, most families are usually notified of their scores in about a week, give or take a few days. When taking the ISEE as a computer-based exam, the results often come within a couple days. For the SSAT, score reports are usually sent in about 2 weeks.

The ISEE and SSAT are offered as paper-based tests at the American School in London.

The ISEE is also offered as a computer-based test at the Prometric site in London.

The quality of the practice materials for the ISEE lower level test varies widely. I recommend Test Innovators, which is an online resource, The Tutorverse, which is a book, and to add a bit of joy to the process, I recommend Watermelon Math. The math concepts are specifically curated for the lower level ISEE and the middle level SSAT.

Also, try my Lower Level ISEE Verbal Reasoning Practice section.