The private school admissions process in NYC is rigorous. Schools evaluate students’ academic and leadership qualities through admissions applications, personal essays, elementary and middle school transcripts, and challenging entrance exams such as the HSPT or the ISEE. Parents must navigate the complex entrance exam schedules for NYC private schools when choosing schools with their children.
So, which exams should your child take, and why?
Let’s examine two common private high school entrance exams: The High School Placement Test (HSPT) and the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE).
HSPT vs ISEE at a Glance
The Format and Test Sections of the HSPT and ISEE Exams
Both the ISEE and HSPT are timed exams with short scheduled breaks between sections. The upper-level ISEE exam is a 2 hour and 40-minute exam. The HSPT is a 2 hour and 30-minute exam.
HSPT vs ISEE Format at a Glance
The HSPT gives students less time to answer more questions. While preparing for the HSPT exam, students must practice pacing themselves to answer as many questions as possible during the testing time.
Questions on both the ISEE and the HSPT are standard 4-choice multiple-choice questions with the exception of the written essay on the ISEE exam.
Independent School Entrance Examination or ISEE
The ISEE is an entrance exam used by independent private schools all over the country. The ISEE test students in the following grades:
- Primary grades: Grades 2-3
- Lower Grades: Grades 4-6
- Middle Grades: Grades 7-8
- Upper Grades: 9-12
For this article, we are only referring to the upper grades ISEE. If your student is planning on applying for an independent private high school that isn’t a Catholic School, chances are they should sit for the ISEE or the SSAT. The ISEE is the preferred exam for many independent day schools. Official information on the ISEE is at https://iseeonline.erblearn.org
Notable NYC Area High Schools that Use the ISEE Exam:
- Xavier High School (multiple entrance exams, including the TACHS, ISEE, or HSPT)
- Staten Island Academy
- Fordham Preparatory School
- The Dalton School
- Trinity School
- Poly Prep Bay Ridge (Test optional for the 20-21 admissions season due to COVID-19)
- Convent of the Sacred Heart
The ISEE tests students similar sections to the HSPT including the following areas:
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Reading Comprehension
- A written essay
The sections and timing of the ISEE exam vary depending on grade level. The ISEE doesn’t score the mandatory essay, but ISEE does send the essay to schools along with the student’s testing scores. This articles compares the upper level ISEE to the HSPT.
Students take the ISEE either in person at a paper testing site or online at a Prometric testing center. Due to Covid-19, as of September 2020, students can sit for the ISEE at home using an online proctoring system.
Challenges of the ISEE
The required essay is one of the challenging aspects of the ISEE. The essay must be in the student’s handwriting and written on the day of the exam. Students have 30 minutes to respond to an essay prompt. ISEE does not time the writing prompt for the primary and elementary grade-level exams.
The ISEE tests multiple grade levels using the same exam. Students may encounter material they do not know. The ISEE scores based on students’ grade level and only compares students in the same grade level. Students should not waste time on any problems that do not look familiar as they likely did not learn the material.
The ISEE has three testing windows per year, fall, winter, and spring. Students can take the ISEE once per testing window. Most students take the ISEE between September and December of 8th grade.
The High School Placement Test or HSPT
The HSPT is the entrance exam for Regis High School, the all-boys Jesuit high school located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Students hoping to attend Xavier high school in Manhattan may also choose to use the HSPT as an entrance exam and scholarship test. Xaverian High School in Brooklyn uses the HSPT as a scholarship exam after students have taken the TACHS. Loyola school on the Upper East Side and Fordham Preparatory School also use the HSPT exam.
Typically, students sit for the HSPT during the first week of November in their 8th-grade year. Due to Covid-19, the HSPT for Regis will take place online on November 7th and November 8th. Students are encouraged to review the tutorial for the HSPT online exam this year. The tutorial helps students familiarize themselves with the online exam format. The online HSPT exam includes timed sections and scheduled breaks similar to the in-person exam.
The HSPT is a challenging exam which tests students in the following sections:
- Verbal Skills
- Quantitative Skills
- Language Arts
Many students begin preparing for the HSPT in their 7th-grade year, taking several practice exams before sitting for the HSPT.
Challenges of the HSPT
Students typically take the HSPT only once, in the fall of their 8th-grade year.
Timing is one of the biggest challenges in the HSPT. Students have a shorter time per question on the HSPT than other private school entrance exams. For example, in the language arts section, students have 25 minutes to answer 60 questions.
Students must practice pacing themselves during HSPT practice exams.
ISEE vs HSPT
Both the ISEE and the HSPT exams test students’ skills in similar content areas. One significant difference is the timing of the exams. The HSPT is a much faster-paced exam that some students find overwhelming. Preparing for the HSPT includes the practicalities of taking an exam with far less time per question.
There are a few distinct differences in material tested on both the ISEE and the HSPT.
The ISEE has a math section similar to the old-style SAT math sections where students compare columns of data and make a quick assessment based on the data given. The HSPT and ISEE both cover similar math concepts. The quantitative reasoning section on the HSPT covers patterns, sequences, and series (about 20% of the quantitative questions). Students must know the material thoroughly for the HSPT to answer the questions quickly enough to finish the entire section. Students should guess on items they do not know for both exams since there are no penalties for incorrect answers.
The grammar and vocabulary sections differ slightly between the two exams. On the ISEE, students are given sentences and asked to fill in the missing word or words. On the HSPT, the students are given vocabulary words out of context, so students must memorize word meaning and use their skills in breaking down words into their roots to infer meaning. The grammar section on the HSPT is challenging. Students taking the HSPT usually require a lot of prep for the grammar section of the HSPT.
Aside from a few differences in testing materials, much of the content tested on both the ISEE and the HSPT overlap. Students can simultaneously prepare for both exams.
Are Students Penalized for Guessing or Wrong Answers?
Neither the ISEE nor the HSPT penalizes students for wrong answers or blank answers. Students should try their best to answer as many questions as possible. Educated guessing is encouraged.
Where to Start Your Child’s Test Prep
Preparing for the private high school entrance exam process begins with taking practice tests. Students take practice tests to get a baseline to compare with future practice tests. Practice tests help us to see where your child’s strengths are and where they need help. We also use practice tests to group students together in tutoring groups. Most students begin test prep during the winter of their 7th-grade year. We do have students and families who choose to start test prep in 5th or 6th grade.
Throughout the exam preparation process, your child will take multiple practice HSPTs and/or ISEEs to evaluate their progress. If you have any questions or want to get started with a practice test, contact me for more information. You can view availability for groups and tutoring at Book Me.