ISEE and SSAT: Parents Just Don’t Understand

Not much has changed since DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince rapped “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” And while we can’t explain what would motivate a teenager to run off with the family car without permission we can answer the most common questions we’ve had about the SSAT and ISEE.  Here are some answers to some of the more common questions about these two tests:


My child is a great student and succeeds in all their classes.  Why didn’t they score higher on their SSAT/ISEE?

Often, there is not a direct correlation between a student’s success in school and their score on standardized tests, especially in the younger grades when they are not as accustomed to taking these types of tests.  Tests in school and standardized tests are often very different in format, scope and scoring. Understanding how the SSAT or ISEE works will go a long way in helping them succeed. Before taking any admission tests you should at very least take one full-length timed practice exam.


Why is the same SSAT test given to different grade level children?

There are actually multiple levels within the SSAT; the Upper test is for students in grades 8-11 and the Lower test is for students in grades 5-7.  Now if you think back to what you knew in 11th Grade versus what you knew in 8th Grade, you’ll probably realize that you learned quite a bit in those intervening years.  So how can the SSAT reasonably span three to four grades?  The answer is: it’s not all that reasonable, but that’s the way it is.  Similarly, the ISEE test spans multiple grades in three levels, Lower for 4th and 5th graders, Middle for 6th and 7th graders, and Upper for 8th to 11th graders.


If my 8th grade child is being compared with an 11th grader, then how will they succeed on the test at all?

There will be material on the test that your child doesn’t know how to approach or has never encountered.  But odds are that the other students in your child’s grade won’t have ever seen it either.  Students’ scores are evaluated in relation to the scores from students in their grade nationally; students are not stacked up against kids older or younger than them.


Okay.  But I still want to give my kid a leg up.  Can it be done?

Of course!  (1) You need to know how the tests work, and (2) you kid needs to be confident in the stuff she does know  For example, the SSAT gives one raw point for a correct answer and deducts a quarter of a point for an incorrect answer (unanswered questions don’t count in either direction).  Students should use this knowledge to their advantage.  If a student rushes through the section to get through every question—even the ones they have no idea how to approach, they will lose tons of raw points due to inaccuracy.  On the other hand, if they spend time correctly answering the questions they know while leaving the others blank, they will be more successful.  Of course there needs to be a balance between accuracy and speed, and that’s where practice and studying come in.  In order to develop pacing skills and feel confident in the test material, students need to study and learn strategies for approaching certain problems.  Although they may know how to get the correct answer for a problem, they may not know the fastest, most effective way.  Studying and test preparation is crucial.


How does the ISEE compare to the SSAT?

While the material of the two tests is very similar, the scoring is very different.  No points are deducted for wrong answers on the ISEE, which means that no question should be left unanswered!  Of course, students shouldn’t rush though the test, but the last minute of each section SHOULD be devoted to bubbling in any empty answers.  With regards to material, the SSAT has analogies while the ISEE has sentence completions.


How can I help?
DON’T: tell your kid to try on every question

DO: work on vocabulary with your kids!  Make it a game and challenge each other. (if the child gets a definition right he gets a dollar and if he gets it wrong he owes a quarter – money motivates!)

DO: review math formulas and rules with your child.  Have her explain it to you!

DO: enroll your child in a test prep program!  Helping kids understand tests and succeed is what we do!

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