Students and Families - Blog

Summer prep for SSAT or ISEE? Time to start on independent school admissions essays?

Summer has just begun, but is it already time to think about fall testing and admissions essays?  We tackle these questions in our latest entry.

Does my student need to be preparing for the SSAT or ISEE over the summer?

Not necessarily. However, there are specific skills that can be worked on during the summer break. One that we recommend is vocabulary development. Both the SSAT and the ISEE have sections that test vocabulary, but vocabulary development is also one of the best predictors of reading comprehension in general.

All of our prep books include vocabulary components, and the coursebooks (Success on the …..) have complete vocabulary lessons. Another great resource is This Web site uses the same question format as the synonyms sections on the SSAT and ISEE. This site also tracks words that students miss and adjusts the difficulty level. Perhaps more importantly, students can feel good about using The site donates rice to third world countries- ten grains of rice for every question that your student answers correctly.

The summer is also a great time to address math deficiencies. If you have a student that generally does well with math, then you can wait until closer to test time to start working on the different problem types. However, if your student struggles, the summer is a good no-pressure time to work on those skills.

Another consideration for summer preparation is when your student will take the SSAT or ISEE. A lot of students take the test for the first time in November, which gives time to prep after school starts. However, some families prefer to have their student test in October. If this is the case, preparation should start at the end of the summer. If your student will be taking the ISEE, however, we do not recommend testing in October. A student can only take the ISEE once in an academic year so we advise that you give your student more time to prepare before he or she takes the ISEE.

What about admissions essays? Should I be thinking about those now?

You can certainly start thinking about essay topics. Many independent schools use the Standard Application from the SSAT Board (a sample is available at Schools that do not use the Standard Application often have essay questions that are very similar.

The best essays come from a fair amount of “percolating time”. Rome was not built in a day and neither are great essays. It takes time for students to sort through what is most important about themselves and organize their thoughts.

At the very least, students should at least be introduced to the essay questions and begin to think about possible topics. A child who may be able to calmly evaluate different topics during the summer may become argumentative and rigid with the added pressures of school work and taking the SSAT or ISEE.

How do we choose a good essay topic?

We often recommend that parents begin by thinking about the stories that they tell about their children. These are the stories that start with “I knew my child was going to be X when Y happened. For example, maybe you knew your child was going to be adventurous when he or she learned to swim by throwing himself or herself in the pool.

These stories give insight into the core of who your child is. And they are unique to your child. If you think about the stories you tell to describe your child, they are not about times he scored the winning goal, or the time she won the state science fair. The story you tell is about how hard he worked before he scored that goal or the nerve it took her to approach scientists and ask for help from experts.

Have your child think about the times when he or she felt at the top of his or her game. To be a little new age-y, when did your child feel like her soul was vibrating in harmony with the universe? When was the last time that he felt truly filled with wonder? Schools want students that are passionate, engaged, and curious. Help your child pick a topic that showcases these characteristics.