Building an SSAT or ISEE Preparation Plan

  • Posted By: Kimi Rosadini
  • May 6, 2019

Making a plan for ISEE or SSAT test preparation but not sure where to start? This article will take you through some basic information about the tests, what to consider when planning your test prep, and how the Test Innovators platform will give you the most actionable diagnostics and results when you’re starting out.


Getting Acquainted with the SSAT & ISEE

It’s a good idea to begin your preparation by understanding a bit about how the SSAT & ISEE work. If you’re still getting acquainted with the two tests, check out our SSAT or ISEE Overview to see their structures, content, and levels. Depending on the schools you’re applying for and the level you’re taking, you may have a choice of which test to take and in what format.

On paper or on the computer?

The computer or paper distinction will affect the atmosphere you take the test in and how you prepare for Test Day. The testing bodies for the ISEE and the SSAT have different rules, so you’ll want to decide on format before jumping into test prep and making a strategic plan.

SSAT Easy: it’s only administered in paper form! The Enrollment Management Association (EMA), the official testing body for the SSAT, has a Find a Location search on its website.

ISEE If you’re taking the ISEE, you may have a choice depending on the level you need to take. The Educational Records Bureau (ERB), the official testing body for the ISEE, allows for many options for administration of tests:

  • Paper/pencil or on the computer (with the exception of the Primary level, which is only administered on the computer)
  • Either individual or group format
  • At an ERB Member school, an ERB office, or a Prometric site

If you’ve decided to take the test on a computer, here’s a list of over 400 Prometric locations worldwide that administer the ISEE for students entering grades 5-12. The ISEE website also has more detailed registration information for the other setting and format options.

You don’t always need to make the paper/computer decision before starting to prepare, but it’s good to know if both options are available to you based on location and level.


Now that you’re familiar with the official testing options available to you, you’re ready to start formulating a plan for preparation!

Test Innovators and Strategic Preparation

Once you have a lay of the land, how do you make a strategic prep plan? At Test Innovators, we want to empower each student to set themselves up to succeed through strategic preparation and practice. Our platform is designed to give a student as much actionable information as possible to improve learning, performance, and comfort with the test.

We stress the importance of full-length practice tests so much because they are the best way to track progress and growth over time, get comfortable with the test-taking experience, and adjust your prep plan as you improve. Think of practice tests as checkpoints in between the practice and mastery of material through exercises and studying.

Along with choosing the right resources and services to prepare, you’ll want to consider your student’s own style of learning, pace, and areas for improvement. Many students struggle with things like time management or keeping their cool when encountering new material on standardized tests.

Addressing these, and other hiccups easily conquered with time and practice, can increase performance more than you might expect. Read on to see how our platform helps you with time management skills and structuring your preparation to get you comfortable and confident before Test Day.


Get comfortable with the real Test Day format


One goal with our practice tests is to help simulate the actual full-length test as much as possible in content, style, and difficulty.


So once you know whether your child will take the real test on paper or at a computer, you’ll want them to take at least one practice test in that same format.


Think of the first time you did a PowerPoint presentation. Even if you go over all the slides in your head and know the content backwards and forwards, that’s not the same as doing a practice run-through of the presentation out loud or in front of a friend. You want to make sure it flows, you’re comfortable clicking through at the right times, and that you know the feeling of standing next to the slides, referencing them but not reading word for word. If the first time you present it is the day of the presentation, you could easily slip up somehow.


The same applies to what might be your child’s first important standardized test experience.


The atmosphere may be stressful and something like bubble answer sheets can be tricky to keep track of. Bubbling in your #15 answer in the #14 space, even though #14 stumped you and you were going to come back to it…continuing through to the end only to realize what you did....this is a massive mistake we only want you to make once—and certainly not on Test Day.


Knowing that admission to certain schools is on the line can often add stress too. With some of your at-home test prep, you’ll want to mimic the environment of the actual day as much as possible. Maybe something as small as taking a practice test in the real-day format, in jeans and a t-shirt at a table (rather than pjs on a couch), could make the difference in cultivating a focused, game-on mentality for Test Day.

Time Management: Online for a Baseline


Although many overlook it in favor of trying to perfect every concept, effective time management is a very critical strategy for any kind of standardized test.


For argument’s sake: if you had 10 minutes to do 20 questions, half of which were difficult (taking you more than 30 seconds) and half of which were easy (taking you 30 seconds or less), would knowing every concept backwards and forwards necessarily be your only test prep strategy? We hope not!


We always recommend the online format for your first full-length ISEE or SSAT practice test so you can take advantage of the instant diagnostic analysis and, more importantly, see whether time management is something your child needs to work on (hint: it almost always is in some shape or form).


Your Test Innovators Timing Graph


For each section you complete on the Test Innovators platform, you’ll have an interactive graph, like the one below. This will give you much richer analysis than the simple scoring method you’d find in a test prep book, and it will establish a baseline to help you visualize the kinds of questions or strategies you need to hone.


Green is correct, red is incorrect, yellow is viewed but unanswered, and the x-axis shows you amount of time in minutes spent on each question (y-axis).


Here’s some sample analysis for this section and how the student can improve his/her test taking in the future:


#4&17: Great job! You quickly realized that these questions would take a lot of focus and time away from other questions you had in the bank!

#11: You got this one right but maybe want to review to make sure you have a concrete hold on the material.

#14: Nice! You knew how to do this question and answered it quickly.

#15: Oops! You used a lot of time on this one and got it wrong. Pay particular attention to studying and then practicing this concept.

#19: Unfortunately, this question ate up a lot of time and you ultimately left it unanswered. Next time you notice yourself spending so much time on a question you’re not confident about, evaluate whether you should cut your losses and move on.

#24&25: Notice that by not having concrete time management strategies in place, you ran out of time before even viewing these questions (which might have been easier than others). It’s best to leave yourself at least a few minutes at the end to review and finalize harder questions you didn’t fully complete.


(Keep in mind, the ISEE has no wrong answer penalty and the SSAT does! Read more on what we think about the SSAT wrong answer penalty.)


Analyzing on-paper practice test results


You may be thinking: that timing analysis looks great but my student is taking their test on will I be able to gauge their time management skills? Even more, some students are used to making notes in the margins and writing out work right next to the question, rather than testing on a computer.


Even if you use the paper versions of our practice tests, you’ll be able to input the answers later and get the analysis by question type and difficulty. There’s also an online bubble sheet option that will give you some of the timing analysis while letting you practice with the paper format. You’ll do everything the same as a paper test, except when you bubble in your answer, it will be on the computer rather than the paper!


Getting the most out of Practice


Ultimately, each student will have their own process and pace for test preparation. What’s important is to adapt that enough to be comfortable with the conditions and style of the actual test. Always take at least one full-length practice test in the format you’ll see on Test Day and use all available practice tests as progress reports in between studying and practicing. And don’t forget to take full advantage of our timing analytics so your student knows which question types and strategies to work on.


Now get prepping!