top of page

Let's Talk Testing

There are many components to a successful school application. You will be carefully crafting parent statements, researching schools for great interview questions and answers, and thinking about how best to present your child’s supplemental materials. There are also teacher recommendations which carry a great deal of weight as they help admissions officers round out their understanding of your student.

And then there is testing. While many NYC private schools have gone test optional during the pandemic, there are still plenty of others that require a standardized test as part of the admissions process. There are two main tests that NYC children can take when applying to private school and understanding what these tests entail is key to setting your child up for success!


The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a standardized test that is broken into four age divisions: Primary for those applying to grades 2 through 4, Lower for applying to grades 5 and 6, Middle for applying to grades 7 and 8, and Upper for applying to grades 9 through 11. The ISEE has four sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, and math achievement, as well as a 30-minute essay, and it takes one to three hours to complete, depending on your age group.

As the ISEE is a test that students can take once per testing season, we recommend your child takes it in early November and, if needed, again in December. Families can choose to only send the best score.


The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is similar to the ISEE in several ways. It also has various age levels: Elementary for those applying to grades 4 and 5, Middle for applying to grades 6 through 8, and Upper for applying to grades 9 through 12. It is broken into different academic sections: quantitative, reading, verbal, another quantitative, and experimental, plus a 25-minute writing sample. The SSAT takes about three hours to complete.

The SSAT can be taken several times per testing year. (The Middle/Upper Level can be taken three times for a computer-based test, and six times for a paper-based one.) We recommend that students also take it between September and December, enabling them to submit their best score to those schools that require standardized testing.

ISEE versus SSAT

There are three important distinctions between the ISEE and the SSAT. First, in terms of content, the ISEE covers more advanced math than the SSAT. Students who are stronger in math tend to do better on the ISEE for this reason. Second, while both tests have an essay prompt, the SSAT has five multiple-choice answer options while the ISEE has four. Third – and perhaps most important – the SSAT penalizes students ¼ of a point for each wrong answer. This can make some students unsure of themselves during the test. Many prefer the ISEE where points are not taken off for wrong answers, enabling them to take guesses without being penalized.

The bottom line

The pandemic has forced a new conversation about the pros and cons of standardized testing. Some schools have opted to go test optional and discovered that they actually prefer their own in-house assessments, while others have decided that standardized tests truly help them find the students who will thrive in their classrooms. The bottom line is that for several schools, standardized testing is here to stay. Getting familiar with the test formats, taking practice tests, and strengthening certain skills through tutoring will ensure that your child is set up for success.

Interested in learning more about admissions testing or other pieces of an application when applying to NYC private schools? Call us at The Admissions Plan to find out how we can help you navigate the process!


bottom of page