SSAT Tutoring In-Depth

Boarding School Admissions Are Competitive

For many students the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) or the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Examination) is the first test they have encountered that will have significant consequences for their future — and anxiety can be a key factor in the outcome. It is not uncommon for students in this age bracket to feel tremendous pressure as they seek to put their best effort forward, and sometimes that desire can generate a degree of anxiety that impacts performance.

On occasion we see students who have never previously suffered from anxiety succumb to the pressure of of the SSAT. Next Level’s professional SSAT instructors are mindful of the ways in which pressure adversely affects performance, which is why our SSAT tutoring are designed to diminish anxiety and improve test-taking skills. Next Level’s personalized, one-on-one tutoring enables our instructors to directly engage students and teach them how to strategically navigate the SSAT and ensure they achieve their greatest potential.

At the conclusion of each session, our instructors generate a Session Report that provides a summary of the session, including successes, challenges, expectations going forward, and homework. If the parent or student has comments or questions, they can simply reply to the Session Report and our director will follow-up with the instructor. Session Reports are a valuable communication tool that allows parents to stay informed without necessarily having to question their child following each session, which can sometimes exacerbate anxiety.

Parents are Concerned About Their Children

In addition to children feeling significant pressure to do well on the SSAT, of course parents also feel concern, and sometimes a parent’s focus on the exam and their child’s preparation can inadvertently add pressure. Our best advice to parents is to let Next Level Learning’s professional SSAT instructors work with their child on the exam while they take a step back. That approach generally leads to both parents and children feeling less pressure, which can have a positive impact on performance and results. Of course Next Level can’t guarantee outcomes, but we can promise that we will put your child in position to perform to the best of his or her ability.

One of the reasons our instructors write and send a report after each tutoring session is to enable parents to have a glimpse of the session and an idea about progress without feeling compelled to pepper their child with questions and potentially risk ratcheting up the pressure. In the final analysis, parents simply want their children to achieve their greatest potential, and that’s where Next Level ISEE instructors excel. Of course Next Level can’t guarantee outcomes, but we can promise that we will put your child in position to perform to the best of his or her ability.

Should My Child Take the SSAT or ISEE?

While the SSAT and ISEE differ somewhat in structure and organization, both are designed to measure the student’s verbal and analytical skills against those of other students in the same grade. So how do you determine whether your child should take the SSAT or the ISEE? The answer is pretty straightforward: find out what the admission requirement is for the school(s) to which he or she is applying.

There is no hard and fast rule but, in general, the SSAT is required by boarding schools throughout the United States and Canada and the ISEE is typically required by New York’s independent day schools. While most boarding schools typically prefer the SSAT, some will accept the ISEE. If you are considering boarding schools and local private schools, Next Level educational consultants can assist parents confirm which exam is the best exam for your child.

What Are the Differences Between the SSAT and the ISEE?

There are many similarities between the two tests but there are a few significant differences to consider:

  • The SSAT imposes a penalty for incorrect answers. A quarter point is deducted for each wrong question, while no points are deducted for omitted questions. This adds a layer of strategy students must consider to maximize success with the SSAT. The ISEE has no such scoring penalty for wrong answers.
  • The SSAT tends to present questions that require more of a creative, problem-solving approach. Examples may include extrapolating patterns, identifying analogies, difficult word problems, and reading passages that cover a wider range of topics, including poetry.
  • The SSAT contains an ‘analogies’ section that tests vocabulary and reasoning skills in a much different way than the ISEE. The ISEE uses a ‘sentence completion’ section instead.
  • The SSAT gives students a choice of two essay topics while the ISEE offers one essay topic.
  • The way scores are presented may also play an important part in deciding which test to choose (see below for more details). The SSAT reports scores in three sections, verbal, reading, and quantitative/math. Students stronger in verbal/reading may tend to favor the SSAT, as this makes up two thirds of the score, compared to half on the ISEE. The ISEE reports scores two separate language sections (verbal reasoning and reading comprehension) and two math sections (quantitative reasoning and mathematic achievement). As a result, students who are stronger in math may tend to favor the ISEE, as math makes up half of the reported scores (compared to 1/3 of the SSAT.)

Another factor that may play a role in deciding which exam is better for a student is the number of times a test can be taken. The SSAT can be taken three times in the fall and once in the early winter of a student’s 8th grade, whereas the ISEE can only be taken twice in the same period. Some parents see these extra test dates as an opportunity to improve scores or make up for a poor test day performance.

Next Level Learning Can Help You Decide

If the schools to which your child is applying accept both exams, our directors can help you determine the better choice. Once you have determined whether the SSAT or ISEE is better for your child, the next step is developing an effective strategy to prepare for the test. We can evaluate your child’s aptitude, skills, strengths, and weaknesses, and then devise a learning plan that ensures your child is in the best position to take the exam. As with all tests, better SSAT preparation translates into better results. For some students that means getting started sooner rather than later so they can build their skills over time.

Next Level Learning has been helping students gain admission into independent day schools and boarding schools for almost two decades, and we can help parents decide which schools to target. Brainstorming the plethora of options for schools can be frustrating and time consuming and Next Level experts can provide consulting support that will help make the process less daunting. Contact Next Level Learning for a complimentary consultation.

When Should Preparation Begin?

One of the most frequent questions we are asked about the SSAT is when students should start preparing, and the
answer varies depending upon the following factors:

  • Is the student working at grade level?
  • Are there concepts or material on the ISEE that require significant review?
  • Does the student typically perform well on standardized exams or important tests?
  • Is anxiety a factor in performance?
  • Is motivation an issue?
  • Is the student able to commit fully to preparation?
  • Does the student have a learning disability that requires remediation?
  • Does the student have time to complete homework assignments as part of preparation?
  • Is the student applying to highly competitive schools for which a high score is more imperative?

Especially with students in this age range, it’s vital for them not to be in the position of cramming a few weeks or months before the exam. Rushing to prepare immediately before the SSAT generates significant added pressure and can sometimes cause anxiety in students who have never previously exhibited symptoms of being anxious. Even high-performing students often begin preparation a year or more before the exam. We recommend coming in for an initial session and assessment as early as possible. In some instances it will be apparent the student is well-positioned and doesn’t need to begin preparation right away; in other instances we may identify significant areas that need to be addressed over an extended period. If you have doubts or questions about the ideal time to begin, contact Next Level now and we can help you make an informed decision.

When Should My Child Take the SSAT?

The SSAT may be taken as often as a student likes. It is offered eight times throughout the year, which is an advantage over the ISEE. Students typically take it two or three times, often beginning in summer or fall of 8th grade. You can register for the test online here.

What’s on the SSAT?

There are three different ‘levels’ of the SSAT, depending on which grade a student is applying to:

  1. Elementary Level SSAT – for admission to 4th and 5th grades.
  2. Middle Level SSAT – for admission to grades 6 through 8.
  3. Upper Level SSAT – for admission to grades 9 through PG (Post Graduate).

The test consists of a writing sample, four separate sections and an unscored experimental section. The breakdown is shown below:

Upper Level and Middle Level SSAT

Section Questions Time
Writing Sample 1 25 min.
BREAK 5 min.
 Section 1 (Quantitative Math 1) 25 30 min.
Section 2 (Reading) 40 40 min.
BREAK 10 min.
 Section 3 (Verbal) 60 30 min.
Section 4 (Quantitative Math 2) 25 30 min.
Section 5 (Experimental) 16 15 min.
TOTAL 167 3 hrs. 5 min.

How Is the SSAT Scored?

The scores are reported for each of the three sections (with the two quantitative sections combined). The SSAT utilizes a percentile system. Student’s scores are ranked compared to every student applying for the same grade from the last three years. A student’s place in this list determines their percentile.

The nature of scoring and purpose of the SSAT make it a challenging test. It is set up to rank each test taker based on all scores in a ‘norm group’ consisting of competitive, intelligent, and often highly prepared students who are applying to some of the best schools in the country. Scoring 75 percent in a section may only be enough to put a student in the 65th percentile (i.e., having a higher score than 65% of other students).

The writing sample is not scored and instead sent directly to schools, providing admissions insight into a student’s writing skills.

When Are SSAT Scores Released, and Do We Have to Send Them to Schools Regardless of the Result?

SSAT scores are available approximately two weeks after the exam, either by mail or email. You choose which scores you wish to send to schools, either before or after the exam.

What Is a Good SSAT Score?

Given the purpose of the SSAT, a “good” score is somewhat arbitrary and depends solely upon the schools to which a student applies. An important first step in the admissions process is to identify the target schools and consider the scores required for admission.It should also be noted that the SSAT is only one part in the process; there are many other factors a school considers when accepting students, such as grades, application essays, school interviews, recommendations, etc.

The SSAT Flex Test

Students are permitted to take one SSAT Flex Test per year. This is a test administered outside the standard test dates, either to an individual student or group. More information can be found here.

Get Started

No matter where you are in deciding next steps for your child to take the SSAT, it is never too early to speak to an SSAT expert at Next Level Learning and beginning the planning process. As stated, the SSAT is a challenging exam for the vast majority of students, and it is therefore important to ensure you put your child in the best position to excel and perform to his or her greatest potential. Please contact Next Level Learning to obtain the best SSAT tutoring in New York.

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