Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
How is preparing for the ISEE or SSAT like baking the perfect macaron?
Are you considering a tutor for your child who is preparing for the ISEE or SSAT? You might ask yourself, for example, “Is there any difference between a test prep tutor and, say, my trusted math tutor?” You might also wonder if the price of a test prep specialist is justified.
I’d like to make the comparison that you wouldn’t hire just any baker to execute something as tricky as the perfect macaron—especially if you needed the delicate French pastries for an important event. The ISEE and SSAT are very competitive exams, and applying for private school admissions is a journey that could have life-changing results. It starts with the right ingredients.
The best ingredients yield the best results
Serious bakers know you wouldn’t attempt macarons without using ingredients of exceptional quality. Once they’ve gone through trial and error with different brands, they usually know the exact products they trust to produce the perfect results. They might insist that they would never use anything but a certain brand of butter, for example. Macarons also require specialist tools: a baking thermometer is a must, as is the right piping tips and baking sheet. Small errors in any of the many elements could mean a failed recipe, hours of time lost, and perhaps even a bruised morale.
“Secure tests” and why it’s especially critical to have an expert for the ISEE and SSAT
Most parents are right to start with this question: “What books should my son or daughter use for the ISEE or SSAT?” This question requires especially careful consideration for these exams. The ISEE and SSAT have a unique classification in that they are “secure tests.” This means that previous exams are not released to the public. It’s important to consider the implications this has on the test prep materials industry.
If you are preparing for an exam that is not secure, you can use actual tests to prepare. You know you are using the right materials, as you are using the exams created by the test company itself. Furthermore, the quality of third-party exams is reliable, as these publishers have done frequency analyses, where they have determined trends and patterns on types of questions that appear most frequently—and they can advise you on how to allocate your test prep time.
For the ISEE and SSAT, very limited resources are available through the actual testing companies. Each company has examples on their website, but a test prep program will require materials beyond these samples. So how does one choose what materials to use?
Experts use a variety of materials and determine exactly the right material for exactly the right time
An ISEE/SSAT specialist has thoroughly evaluated the materials that are available, and perhaps has even written some him- or herself. Beyond just suggesting the “right” materials, however, a specialist determines which materials are right for every step along the journey.
The ISEE/SSAT are known among test prep professionals as being perhaps the most challenging exams, relative to the habits and skills that are required at any given level of the exam. Having worked with hundreds of students preparing for these exams, I have seen a wide variety in starting points. Some students need confidence-building and thoughtful scaffolding and support, while others need challenging materials that will help them develop the rigour and habits necessary to earn competitive scores. An excellent ISEE/SSAT tutor will have had the experience to know just when a student needs materials that offer repetition to build a skill and build a student’s confidence, and then carefully monitors when the student is ready for a challenge of a new application or concept. We learn and integrate best when we can connect our learning to what we already know, and part of facilitating this as a test prep expert is in using exactly the right materials at all stages in the preparation.
Success is sweet
You can imagine how triumphant a baker feels when those perfect macarons are ready to be enjoyed. This joy and satisfaction is the mark of a successful ISEE or SSAT program as well. An expert ISEE/SSAT tutor will adapt and adjust the program along the way to ensure success, and a student of this program will feel proud of both his or her work and the accomplishment. Ideally, of course, the end result is admissions offers to schools, but if the program has been guided by a dedicated and thoughtful expert, the process of preparing for the exam will also result in a student with stronger habits, stronger skills, and the confidence to take on future academic challenges.