High School Admissions Tests

Table of Contents


Students preparing for high school admissions often find themselves taking high-stakes tests for the first time in their lives. Understandably, these students stand to benefit from some very supportive mentoring and coaching. In addition, depending upon the grade school they attend, these students may present a variety of gaps in scope and sequence in their curricula. At Academic Approach, our tutors are prepared to mentor students applying for high school placement with strong, skills-based instruction as well as positive, confidence-building mentoring.

The High School Application Process

High school admissions can be challenging for many students. There are several different tests available and testing towards high school admissions can begin as early as 7th grade. Students should keep many options open for themselves by considering multiple types of schools.  

Admission to private or independent high schools is determined by multiple factors, including class rank, GPA, extracurricular activities, and teacher recommendations. Your student’s performance on high school entrance exams is also a key factor. Preparing for high school entrance exams can be stressful, confusing, and overwhelming for both parents and students. We will work closely with you to tailor our preparation to your student’s needs while helping you navigate the testing process to get the results you desire. Our instructors will engage and mentor your student while building valuable academic skills to use beyond the test.

Contact us to learn more about our customized high school admissions testing solutions!

School Types and Test Requirements

Independent Schools

Require the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE).  Certain independent schools may require the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT)

Boarding Schools

Require the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), although some boarding schools accept ISEE scores

Parochial Schools

Require the High School Placement Test (HSPT)

Chicago Public Schools Selective High Schools

Require the NWEA MAP exam as well as the Selective Enrollment Exam

About the Tests

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is an admissions test accepted by over 1,200 independent schools around the world for entrance into grades 2 to 12.  The test assesses the skills of each applicant, ranking his or her reasoning and achievement skills among students in the same grade.

Schools use the ISEE as one measure among many – class rank, GPA, extracurricular activities, personal essay, and teacher recommendations – of a student’s readiness to do middle school or high school work. ISEE scores are compared with the scores of other applicants and accepted scores at an institution.  Scores can also be used as a basis for awarding scholarships and merit-based financial aid.

Test Format & Structure (Upper Level ISEE)

SectionTimeNumber of QuestionsContent Covered
Verbal Reasoning20 minutes40 multiple-choice questionsAbility to identify synonyms and complete sentences using vocabulary knowledge.
Quantitative Reasoning35 minutes37 multiple-choice questionsKnowledge of arithmetic, basic geometry, algebra, and mathematical reasoning.
Reading Comprehension35 minutes36 multiple-choice questionsAbility to understand main themes, to extract salient details, and to understand meaning in context. Questions are based on humanities, science, and social studies reading passages.
Mathematics Achievement40 minutes47 multiple-choice questionsKnowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, mathematical comprehension, and applications.
Essay30 minutes1 essay questionAbility to organize and express ideas.

Scoring is sent to schools as both a scaled score and a percentile rank. Scaled scores for each section, not including the essay, are between 760 and 940. The percentile rank is based on applicants in the same grade who have taken the test within the last three years. A stanine score is an abbreviated version of the percentile rank and divides students into nine groups based on their percentile.

The essay is not factored into the student’s final score. However, a copy of the essay is forwarded to the schools with the Individual Student Report, which shows scaled scores, percentiles, and stanines. The ISEE does not penalize student for guessing, so students should make their best guess on questions, even if they’re not sure of the right answer.

Test Dates
The dates on which the ISEE is given vary by location.  Visit the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) website to register your student for the test. The ISEE may only be taken once within a six-month period, and it must be taken for admission to a school, not as a practice test.

When testing as part of a large group administration, the test fee is $105. Small group testing at an office is $175 and an individual administration at a Prometric testing center is $185. Additional fees apply for phone registration, late registration, and walk-in registration. To find a list of test dates and the related cost, visit the ERB website.

Students with documented learning differences or physical challenges may request special accommodations, though only certain test sites may be able to accommodate. Requests for accommodations must be approved prior to registering for a test date.

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is an admissions test developed for students who are seeking entrance to independent middle schools and high schools.  The exam is designed to measure a student’s ability in core subject areas independent of a student’s school record.

The purpose of the SSAT is to measure the basic verbal, quantitative, and reading skills acquired over time, which are necessary for successful performance in independent middle schools and high schools.  The results of the test provide independent school admissions personnel with valuable information on potential students, independent of a student’s background or experience.

Schools use the SSAT as one measure among many – class rank, GPA, extracurricular activities, personal essay, and teacher recommendations – in evaluating a student’s readiness to do middle school or high school work.  SSAT scores are compared with the scores of other applicants and the accepted scores at an institution.

Test Format & Structure (Upper Level SSAT)
The SSAT measures three constructs developed over time, both in and out of school: 1) Verbal 2) Quantitative 3) Reading.  The test emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for academic success.

SectionTimeNumber of QuestionsContent Covered
Verbal30 minutes60 multiple-choice questions (30 synonym and 30 analogy questions)Ability to recognize synonyms and to make logical associations between words.
Quantitative (two sections)30 minutes each50 multiple-choice questions (25 each section)Knowledge or arithmetic, pre-algebra, basic geometry, and mathematical reasoning.
Reading Comprehension40 minutes40 multiple-choice questions based on seven passagesAbility to understand main themes, extract salient details, and understand meaning in context.
Writing (Essay)*25 minutes1Ability to organize and express ideas and to support them with examples.

The SSAT is scored in four sections ranging from 500-800 leading to a total score of 1500-2400. Students receive one point for each correct answer but are penalized a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer on the SSAT. However, there is no penalty for unanswered questions. Guessing can be beneficial if multiple answer choices are eliminated. The writing section is not factored into the student’s final score.

Test Dates
SSAT standard tests are held on eight Saturdays during the testing year (August 1st – July 31st). For the 2019-2020 school year, the test will be offered on the following standard test dates:

Standard Test DateRegular Registration
Starts Aug 1, 2019 & Ends:
Late Registration +$45
Begins at Midnight EST:
Rush Registration +$85
Begins at Midnight EST:
Last Day for Registration
(Without Testing Accommodations)
Ends 11:59PM EST:
Sat, Oct 19, 2019September 28, 2019September 29, 2019October 6, 2019Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Sat, Nov 16, 2019October 26, 2019October 27, 2019November 3, 2019Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Sat, Dec 14, 2019November 23, 2019November 24, 2019December 1, 2019Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Sat, Jan 4, 2020December 14, 2019December 15, 2019December 22, 2019Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Sat, Feb 8, 2020January 18, 2020January 19, 2020January 26, 2020Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Sat, Mar 7, 2020February 15, 2020February 16, 2020February 23, 2020Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Sat, Apr 25, 2020April 4, 2020April 5, 2020April 12, 2020Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Sat, Jun 13, 2020*May 23, 2020May 24, 2020May 31, 2020Wednesday, June 10, 2020

A group or individual may request a flex test date outside of the standard test dates. Visit the SSAT websitefor specific test and registration details.

Regular registration for Middle & Upper Level tests is $144 with an additional fee of $45 for late registration and $85 for rush registration.

Students with documented learning differences or physical challenges may request special accommodations. Detailed information about eligibility, requirements, and deadlines can be found on the SSAT website. Requests for accommodations must be approved prior to registering for a test date.

The High School Placement Test (HSPT) is an admission test given to eighth graders who are seeking entrance into specific Catholic high schools. Schools make admissions decisions, place applicants, and determine scholarship awards based on the exam results.

Students must register for the test directly with the schools to which they are applying.  The exams take place at the schools themselves, not at a designated testing site. Students should confirm with target schools for specific registration procedures.

Students may take the exam at only one Catholic school in order to be considered for admission. In the event the HSPT is taken more than once by a student, the lower score is considered to be the final score.

Test Format & Structure

SectionTimingNumber of QuestionsContent Covered
Verbal Skills16 minutes60 multiple-choice questionsSynonyms and antonyms, analogies, logic-based questions, and verbal classifications.
Quantitative Skills30 minutes52 multiple-choice questionsNumber series, geometric and non-geometric comparisons, and number manipulations.
Reading Comprehension25 minutes62 multiple-choice questionsReading aptitude for humanities and short nonfiction and narrative passages, and vocabulary.
Mathematics45 minutes64 multiple-choice questionsSkills, comprehension, and knowledge of arithmetic, basic algebra, and geometry.
Language Skills25 minutes60 multiple-choice questionsCapitalization, grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure.

Each section of the HSPT is reported as a scaled score from 200 to 800. The Scholastic Testing Service (STS) compiles correct answers to obtain a raw score, which it then converts to a scaled score, adjusting for small variations in difficulty among different test administrations. There is no penalty for guessing on the HSPT, so students make their best guess on every question.

Test Dates
Test dates vary by individual schools or dioceses, so contact your target school directly to find out their testing date(s).

The cost to take the test varies from school to school. Many schools include the test as part of the application fee, though some may charge an additional $20-$40 to take the test.

Individual schools have varying policies and procedures around accommodations and should be contacted directly for what those policies and procedures are. The Scholastic Testing Service, which supplies the tests, does provide large print bubble test booklets and answer sheets for those who are visually impaired. These can be requested through the individual school.

The Selective Enrollment Exam is the admissions test for entrance into the Chicago Public Schools’ selective high schools. It is taken by students in eighth grade and measures knowledge and skills in the academic subjects of reading, mathematics, and language.

Gaining admission to a Selective Enrollment High School is incredibly competitive and test scores are becoming an increasingly significant factor in determining acceptance into the top schools.

At Academic Approach, we recommend that students begin tutoring for the Selective Enrollment Exam during the summer before eighth grade; however, students can still achieve great success if tutoring starts during the eighth-grade school year.

Scoring & the Admissions Process
The Selective Enrollment Exam comprises 33% of the Selective Enrollment Composite Score. The Selective Enrollment Composite Score is out of 900 points, with the following possible sub-scores:

  • Seventh grade standardized test (NWEA-MAP): 300 points
  • Seventh grade final grades: 300 points
  • Entrance exam: 300 points

Completion of the Selective Enrollment Exam is necessary for consideration for admission into any one of the Chicago Public Schools’ selective high schools. Selective Enrollment Exam scores, in conjunction with standardized test scores and grades, are compared with other students’ scores and the accepted scores at the given selective high school.

In order to sit for the Selective Enrollment Exam, students must earn at least a percentile rank of 24 in both reading and mathematics on their seventh grade NWEA-MAP test.  Students may take this test in fall of their eighth-grade* year, but only their last score will be accepted for admissions.

*the fall of 8th grade is changing to spring of 7th grade starting in 2020

Testing Dates
The Selective Enrollment Exam can be taken October through January of eighth grade; testing dates can be found on the Selective Enrollment application, which is typically released in September.

On the application, students indicate whether the student will NOT be able to take the test on any of these dates and select a test site where they would like to test. The choice of site does not affect final selection.

The Point System
It is essential to note that one-third of a student’s admission eligibility is determined by their seventh-grade letter grades in Reading, Math, Social Studies, and Science, and an additional third is determined by their seventh-grade qualifying test scores. These two items will determine a student’s likelihood of earning acceptance to these highly competitive schools.

Admittance is determined using a tier system based on the socioeconomic status of zip codes in the city. Students will be assigned one of four tiers based on their home addresses. A certain number of spots at each school are assigned based purely on points ranking, while the majority of seats at each school are equally divided among the four tiers.

Students may only apply to up to six programs and will receive an offer from the school they ranked highest for which they qualify.

More information on the Selective Enrollment application process can be found on the CPS Access and Enrollment website or the GoCPS website.

Every Student is Different

We know our students; each one is unique, and each one requires a different approach, especially during these unprecedented times. That is why our ACT, SAT, and Middle School test prep is customized to each student and school partner.

We improve your students’ standardized testing by tailoring our research-based, expert instruction and curriculum to your needs, and we can get started with you right away.

Our offices are now open, but in a limited capacity. We are still offering online tutoring and all practice tests will remain virtual.

Reach out to us at 773-348-8914 with any questions.