Every good parent wants their children to have the best education possible. The reality, however, is that not every family is lucky enough to belong to a public school district that best suits their child’s educational needs. Thus, we turn to private schools when we want to ensure our children are given the best and brightest educational experience possible. But most private schools will require some kind of high school entrance exam before acceptance can be offered, which is where we turn to our resident test prep experts.

For most private schools all over the world, admissions will be determined either by the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) or the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test.) The tricky part is in determining which test to take — especially when the schools you’re looking at accept both!

But before we jump ahead too far into the process, let’s take a moment to review some of the basics of these exams. Here are five important questions you should know the answer to when considering the ISEE or the SSAT.

What are the ISEE/SSAT tests?

Both the ISEE and the SSAT are exams used for private high school admissions. Whereas the SHSAT is exclusive to the New York City specialized high schools, the ISEE and/or the SSAT will be accepted by the vast majority of private institutions in New York City. Moreover, the administration of these tests is not limited to the greater New York area; private schools across the country and beyond also accept these exams.

In addition, these tests come in three different flavors depending on the age and grade of the student: lower level, middle level, and upper level. Since we’re discussing these exams as they pertain to high school admissions, your child will be taking the upper level test.

Of the two, the SSAT is the more commonly used exam for private school admissions. In fact, you might say that when it comes to high school entrance exams, the SSAT is to the SAT what the ISEE is to the ACT. This is another way of saying that while the tests have quite a bit in common, they also bear enough important distinctions that warrant a closer look when you’re deciding which exam to take. We’ll cover how they’re similar and how they’re different below.

What’s on the ISEE/SSAT?

Both tests contain five sections. The ISEE is divided up thusly: Verbal Reasoning (e.g. synonyms and analogies), Quantitative Reasoning (math), Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and a 30-minute essay portion known as the Writing section. The SSAT is broken up similarly, except that the two math sections are both called Quantitative Reasoning.

How are the ISEE/SSAT tests the same and how are they different?

As we saw from the point above, there are many similarities between the two exams. While the differences between the two are slight, the distinctions are nevertheless important to keep in mind. Consider Reading Comprehension, for instance: the ISEE test favors contemporary non-fiction, while the SSAT test may include fiction and poetry. Therefore, if you’re stuck choosing between the two tests, you should look at how your child does with non-fiction as opposed to fiction. If they struggle with fiction or poetry, perhaps the ISEE is a better option.

Another important distinction involves the ability to take the test again in order to improve your score. While both the ISEE and the SSAT encourage multiple attempts for maximum score improvement, the ISEE limits the number of attempts to three. Meanwhile, the SSAT allows you to test as many times as you’d like (although your child might resist a fourth SSAT attempt).

How are the ISEE/SSAT tests scored?

On the ISEE, each question is worth one raw point. The raw score on your child’s score report indicates the number of questions answered correctly. This raw score is then converted into a scaled score ranging from 760 to 940. Thus, every ISEE score report will consist of four scaled scores, one for each subject.

The SSAT is scored similarly, but because both math sections make up the Quantitative portion of the exam, your child will receive three scaled scores instead of four. A more important distinction concerns incorrect answers: the SSAT includes a guessing penalty, resulting in a ¼ raw point deduction for every incorrect guess. The ISEE, on the other hand, contains no such penalty: incorrect answers will not count against your raw score at all.

In both cases, the Writing section does not receive a score. Instead, the essays are sent to the admissions committees of the schools your child is applying to.

Why are the ISEE/SSAT tests important?

Because the SHSAT is such a competitive exam — approximately 25,000 students take the test each year, and only about 5,000 students are accepted into the specialized high schools — many students and parents will look into private high schools that accept the ISEE test or the SSAT test as an alternative. Moreover, both the ISEE and the SSAT are considerably easier to take, and with so many schools accepting ISEE/SSAT results across the country, these tests might be a better option for students overwhelmed by the SHSAT stakes.

Although these tests aren’t particularly well known, they hold the keys to several competitive and prestigious private schools that could open up many incredible opportunities for your child down the line — especially when it comes to college admissions. Best of all, because the ISEE and the SSAT are administered fairly regularly — the SHSAT is only offered once a year — your child will have plenty of time to prepare and improve their test prep skills.

For more information on how A-List Education can help your child succeed on the ISEE/SSAT, click here for a free consultation.