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Preparing for High School Admission Tests ISEE / SSAT / SHSAT / HSPT

Updated: May 5, 2022

Competitive private schools, boarding schools, and most specialized New York City high schools require that students take a standardized admissions exam. At most schools, these test results need to be submitted as part of the application process. Careful, timely preparation can make a big difference. To alleviate stress and help a student perform to the best of their ability, a student should start to prepare for the test during the spring or summer before they plan to apply.

Many students in New York City and the surrounding areas take one of the following:

  • ISEE for independent private schools

  • SSAT for boarding schools

  • SHSAT for specialized NYC high schools

  • HSPT for Catholic high school entrance and merit scholarship consideration

Most students prepare for just one of these tests. If a family is leaning in the direction of private day schools but still considering boarding school, the student can focus on preparing for and taking either the ISEE or the SSAT, as most boarding schools and independent schools will accept either test.

Why is it Important to Prepare for a High School Admissions Test?

For most students, the admissions test will be the longest test they’ve ever taken. The ISEE takes 160 minutes and the SSAT, SHSAT, and the HPST last about 180 minutes. Focusing for this long even with breaks can pose new stamina challenges for many students. Building that stamina for test day is an integral part of preparation and takes place alongside academic preparation.

Beyond the length, high school admissions tests are challenging because they frequently include concepts that have not yet been introduced to the student. For example, students applying to grades 9 through 12 take the same upper level ISEE test, which includes higher-level math topics and more sophisticated vocabulary. An eighth grader will encounter concepts on the test that they have never before seen. The goal of test prep isn’t to master everything that will be on the test, but for students to feel confident in the knowledge and skills expected at their grade level as well as strategies for navigating the test itself.

Admissions test preparation also eases the transition to high school’s greater academic demands and more advanced subject content. While preparing for the admissions test, your eighth grader will be able to preview some of those more complex subjects while they gain test taking strategies and practice essay-writing skills, all of which will be essential skills for their high school career.

When Should My Child Start Preparing for a High School Admissions Test?

For eighth grade students, the high school application process can feel like a marathon between tours, open houses, writing essays, interviews and other application requirements. Tackling test prep during the summer alleviates pressure for the school year ahead. If a child is away at summer camp or traveling for much of the summer, test prep could begin in the spring of seventh grade and resume during the last few weeks of August, continuing through the fall semester. Taking a practice test can help pinpoint exactly when your child should start preparing.

Test dates vary depending on which test the student is taking. Here’s a quick overview:

  • ISEE: students can only take this test once per ISEE season. The fall season runs from August 1 through the end of November and the winter season starts December 1 and runs through March. Since most applications require the test scores no later than mid-December or early January, this allows a student to take the test twice if needed: once in the fall season and once in the winter season,

  • SSAT: flexible options offered throughout the testing year (August 1 – July 31)

  • SHSAT: offered in the late fall for eighth graders

  • HSPT: offered in the late fall

High School Applications

High school admissions tests are just one part of the application for independent and boarding schools; interviews and teacher recommendations are also very important elements of an application. These schools are looking for students who will excel in their program and who will also fit into the school’s culture and community, so they take a holistic approach when evaluating student applications, and interviews and teacher recommendations provide greater insight. That said, strong test scores add to an already-compelling application and help your student stand out amongst a competitive set of students.

Our Approach for High School Test Prep and School Placement

As school placement counselors, we can help with all steps of the application process, from the school search to test preparation to application completion including essay and interview preparation.

When preparing a student for testing, we first establish a baseline score. The student takes a practice test either at home or with a member of our team proctoring the test. This practice test is taken without accommodations (such as extra time) in order to establish the student’s existing strengths and identify gaps in knowledge or skills.

Following the baseline practice test, we analyze the results and create an individualized study plan to make test preparation as efficient as possible. With this information, we match the student with a tutor who is a good fit based on the student’s learning profile and personality. At MAIA, we typically recommend one or two tutoring sessions per week for 1.5 hours per session, splitting sessions between math and language arts, and building stamina as we go. We administer another practice test at the 6/8-week mark of test prep to gauge progress and make adjustments to the study plan.

For more information on how we can help, please visit our website at .

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