by Shannon Philpott
When making decisions about a child’s future, parents face many challenges. Beyond choosing the right school to fit the academic, social, and emotional needs of each child, we must also determine strategies to ensure admission into the school of choice. If a private school is part of your plan for parenting children, your child will probably need to take an admissions test.
Establishing a plan to prepare your child for private school admission tests and interviews is the key factor to ensuring a smooth transition and a successful educational journey for the entire family.
The plan for parents and students preparing for the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISSE), a test developed by the Educational Records Bureau, must include tutoring and months of planning, according to Martha Hicks, director of the St. Louis branch of Varsity Tutors, which also has offices in Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Tucson.
“Parents should start preparation early by picking test dates months in advance since students can only take the test one time every six months,” Hicks said. “That is a big burden to carry and a source of panic, so parents should learn as much as they can before the test and seek out tutoring.”
Tutoring can give students a clear advantage, Hicks said. “The focus is very individualized and tutors can see where the weak spots are while helping to refine those skills. We also work on test taking strategies. All of those things help students move through the test faster with a better shot at finishing the exam.”
The tutors at Varsity Tutors, primarily students from Washington University in St. Louis, focus on the five components of the ISSE while working one-on-one with students:
According to the Educational Records Bureau, the ISEE offers three levels of testing for students in grades 4-11 seeking admission to grades 5-12 at independent schools.
Younger students, though, may need additional time to prepare for upper level tests, Hicks said. “With three levels of tests, they are testing students entering a range of grades. An 8th-grader taking that test needs prior exposure to material for an 11th grader.”
Lots of resources available
Hicks suggests that students and parents seek additional resources to prepare. “Some parents don’t realize that there are resources available, such as study groups, study guides, and school resources, as well as tutoring.”
Many of these resources stress the need for test-taking strategies in addition to content-related exercises to address pitfalls for many students. “Students don’t always know how to eliminate answers successfully,” Hicks said. “Others rush through the test, skip a problem, and make errors on the scoring sheet.”
The Educational Records Bureau has published What to Expect on the ISEE, available in PDF form at its website.
Although the testing process may trigger anxiety for many students and parents, Hicks said that it is important to evaluate the entire private school admission process. “It is important to talk to the school officials where your child is seeking admission,” Hicks said. “The ISEE score is just one piece in the entire admission packet. One school may place more emphasis on the score than another.”
Regardless of where the emphasis lies, Hicks said, parents should know that the resources available will help better prepare their children for the admission process. “The more parents can educate themselves about the process, the more it will help their child.”
Shannon Philpott is a writer/reporter with 10-plus years of experience, and a college journalism instructor. She maintains a blog about writing, reflecting, and teaching at shannonphilpott.com.