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Independent School Admission Testing: What Are the Options?



Throughout the United States, many independent and parochial private schools require students to complete testing as part of the admissions process. Each school will have different requirements based on the applicant's grade.


Middle and high schools usually require a standardized test that assesses math and verbal skills as well as a writing assignment.


The two most common tests are the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). These tests cover the same topics, but they are slightly different in terms of scoring, scheduling, and the types of questions asked.


Although still a required piece of the application for most schools, admissions officers realize test scores do not tell the full story about a child. Most schools will place equal value on the applicant’s interview, record of achievement, teacher recommendations, and student and parent written statements.


Major Differences Between the ISEE and SSAT


If your child has the option of taking either test, it is important to know the differences between the two exams so you can make an informed choice.


Key differences between the ISEE and SSAT include:


· Score Report: One of the most significant differences between the ISEE and the SSAT is the score report. The ISEE presents four section scores, while the SSAT shows only three. Although both tests have four multiple choice sections (two math, one verbal, and one reading), the SSAT combines the two math section scores into one number on the final report, while the ISEE keeps the two separate. Therefore, students hoping to highlight their abilities in math might benefit from taking the ISEE.


· Guessing strategy: The Middle and Upper Level SSAT have a guessing penalty: students receive one point for each correct answer, zero points for questions left blank, and lose 1/4 point for each wrong answer. This scoring model can sometimes increase feelings of anxiety for nervous test takers. The ISEE does not remove points for incorrect answers. (This means that there is no penalty for guessing on the ISEE.)


· Writing sample: As part of both the ISEE and the SSAT, students complete a non-scored writing sample. This writing sample is sent to schools along with scores on the multiple-choice sections of the test, and admissions departments consider it as part of a student's application. On the ISEE, students are prompted to write an expository essay, while the SSAT provides Middle Level testers the choice between two creative writing prompts and offers Upper-Level testers the choice between a creative prompt and an expository prompt.


· Verbal section: Both the ISEE and SSAT ask students to answer synonym questions. In addition to these, the ISEE features sentence completions, while the SSAT has analogy questions. A student should try each of these types of questions and see which is more aligned with their learning style and academic strengths.


· Math vs. English Language Arts (ELA): The SSAT or ISEE will be more or less difficult for students depending on whether they are stronger in math or ELA. The verbal section on the SSAT is considered harder than the ISEE, while the math sections on the ISEE are likewise considered more difficult than those on the SSAT.


· Scheduling: Students can take the SSAT multiple times throughout the year. In fact, there are test dates offered every month. The ISEE limits students to testing 3 times within a 12-month period, or only once per testing season (Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer).


Understanding these differences and your child's strengths can help you decide which test will best represent your child in the admissions process.


By Erin Brady & Stacey Kinnamon


Erin Brady serves a dual role as Co-Director of Private Client Services and one of Bennett’s Global Team Leads, supporting Bennett’s consultants in Canada and parts of the U.S. In the latter, she oversees consultants working with families relocating to Greater New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Phoenix, and Toronto. She also serves as the Bennett International liaison for a leading global investment banking, securities, and investment management firm in New York. Erin joined Bennett in 2006 and has worn many hats over the years, consulting with families relocating to areas throughout the U.S and to non-U.S. locations; she eventually focused on U.S. boarding school and New York city placements, PreK through grade 12, though she was frequently called on for other tasks such as co-managing special projects and serving as the Senior Account Representative for a large Global Relocation client.


Stacey Kinnamon is a Special Needs Education Consultant. She obtained her law degree from New York University and worked as an attorney for nine years before she and her family relocated to London. After six years, Stacey and her family returned to New York where she obtained a dual Master’s degree in general and special education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education. Stacey has worked as a teacher and as a volunteer in New York City public schools, a private reading tutor, and has a son with learning challenges. She volunteers with the Promise Project, a non-profit, which provides educational evaluations to underprivileged children.



Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.






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