Private School Entrance Exam

Private school entrance exams help admissions officers assess and evaluate an applicant’s readiness and ability to handle the coursework that their school has to offer.

Test scores, along with grades, GPA, interview performance, teacher recommendations, and student/parent written statements complete the whole picture of an applicant. Most schools put equal value on each to determine if the applicant is a good fit for the school. Private school entrance exams help officers choose appropriate classes once they enroll.

While the pandemic had caused many schools to shift their admissions test policies to test-optional, some schools still accept test scores should the applicant choose to do so. Submitting great and impressive test scores would still give you an advantage and show off your aptitude and academic proficiency. So if you’re applying to a private school, whether middle or high school, you can still take the SSAT, ISEE, or HSPT and submit your test score as part of your application portfolio. Make sure you prepare well to achieve favorable results.

Determining which test to prepare for would depend on what type of school you are applying to. Middle and high schools usually require a private school entrance exam that covers math and verbal skills as well as a writing assessment which are covered by the SSAT and/or ISEE. Private Catholic schools usually require the HSPT. Visit the school’s website to know which private school entrance exam they require and how to sign up for them.


The SSAT and ISEE are similar in many ways: they are both composed of 5 sections that test students’ verbal, reading, quantitative, and writing skills. However, there are a few key differences between the ISEE and SSAT: 

  • Score report: The SSAT score report presents three section scores: verbal, reading, and quantitative. The ISEE score report presents four section scores: verbal reasoning, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and mathematics achievement. 
  • Guessing strategy: The Middle and Upper Level SSAT have a guessing penalty of 1 point for each correct answer, 0 points for questions left blank, and lose ¼ point for each wrong answer. the Lower Level SSAT does not have a guessing penalty. Likewise, the ISEE does not have a guessing penalty. 
  • Verbal section: The ISEE features sentence completions, while the SSAT has analogy questions.
  • Reading section: SSAT includes poetry and older style literature while the ISEE generally focuses on more contemporary passages.
  • Math sections: ISEE has quantitative reasoning and mathematics achievement sections, which focus on problem-solving and critical thinking questions. The SSAT has two quantitative sections that are composed of critical thinking and knowledge-based questions. 
  • Writing sample: Students complete an unscored writing sample for both the ISEE and SSAT which is sent to schools together with the scores for the multiple-choice sections of the test.

ISEE Students may register to take the ISEE up to three times in a 12-month admission cycle, once in any or all of three testing seasons. Given the timeline in the Bay Area, students will be able to take it twice, once in Fall and once in Winter.

SSAT – Students may register to take the SSAT once a month with no limit to the maximum number of tests they can register for. There is also an option for a Flex Test. A Flex Test can be taken in the same month as a normal SSAT, which means that families could take two SSATs in one month. That being said, you can only schedule one Flex Test per year. 

HSPT – The HSPT can only be taken once, preferably at students’ most preferred Catholic high school. Please refer to the HSPT website for more details.

Below is a chart of our general recommendation for private school test prep. The diagnostic is a strong indicator of different testing recommendations so again, double-check with our experienced consultants for special cases. Special cases can mean extremely high diagnostic scores or extremely low diagnostic scores.

Summer Start (July – Early September)

November – Take both ISEE and SSAT

December – Take both ISEE and SSAT

Fall Start (September – November)

December – Take SSAT

January – Take both ISEE and SSAT

There is no better way to prepare for an official diagnostic test than taking a practice test that replicates testing environments and procedures. If you are interested in signing up your child for a practice test with us, kindly contact us at (888)521-5243 or email us at Info.

The next step in our process is a complimentary consultation call with a Managing Consultant, Vanessa Phan, who will break down the results of the test and outline the roadmap for the ISEE practice test, HSPT practice test, or SSAT practice test.