After the Tests: Lessons from the SSAT, ISEE, & HSPT

Congratulations on making it through the middle school testing season! You can finally file, recycle, or burn all of your study materials. Hopefully, the experience turned out to be more pleasant or productive than you originally expected. At the least, you can say that it’s behind you. 

As you return to your regularly scheduled school year already in progress, we would like to encourage you to look at your testing experiences as more than just a set of tasks that you successfully completed. Take every event — yes, even every hoop you have to jump through — as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and about the world you’re learning to manage. The process of learning about, preparing for, and taking a standardized test may contain lessons beyond those covered by SSAT, ISEE, or HSPT multiple-choice questions.

Nuts & Bolts: Mastering Content

What did you see on your entrance exam? While content varies from test to test, each exam exposed you to all kinds of specific questions. How can you make the most of what you encountered? Did you notice a general preference for one section or the other? Was it more interesting understanding an analogy, or did you get more of a rush deciphering a multilayered math problem? Perhaps you were better able to stay engaged on the historical or humanities passages, but you had trouble caring about the characters in the narrative fiction or poetry passages? Or maybe it was the other way around?

The tests also let us know where we might be able to brush up on a subject that we thought we knew better or when to get extra help when a certain topic comes up in the classroom. Though the tests are behind you, you can take what you learned about your knowledge base and use this to help you perform even better in school. Don’t forget to think about your relationship with your tutor or instructor. What helped you stay interested in the process or remember a lesson? What was a challenge or remained unclear? Additionally, you can use your experience to encourage you to develop your academic skills outside of school, such as more regular reading aside from what has been assigned to you.

Knowing Your Process

Secondary school admissions tests challenge students and families to fit a time-consuming class, test, and study schedule into their already full lives. What did this experience show you about the way you organize your assignments and your time? Did you start the process early enough considering your goals? Were you diligent about your daily vocabulary or math review, or did you have to fit these in when possible? Was getting to the homework a last-minute race or were you able to schedule it in during the week? When did you tend to forget things or drop the proper procedure just to finish before meeting your tutor? What stress relief techniques worked during this whole experience and which proved less helpful?

Take some time to think about what routines worked well in terms of studying and reviewing before tests. It is also productive to acknowledge and understand what did not work well. What would you do differently, or what might you recommend your younger siblings try instead? Remember, it is ok — in fact, it’s helpful — to admit something did not work out as planned. This knowledge can help you not only on future standardized tests, but on school exams and on all sorts of personal projects as well.

Postgame with the Home Team

Perhaps the most valuable insight to be gained from the tests is how did your family respond to the task, and does this fit with your family’s ideal method of problem-solving? Did your parent provide all of the direction, or did they simply take the lead and hand out assignments? Did you understand what it was all about, or were you simply doing as you were told? Some parents lean toward having more planned out for the student, while others find ways to get the student’s feedback on the process and the potential candidate schools. When was your parent most helpful with the process? When did you appreciate being able to decide and do more on your own?

Ideally, you and your family took a little time after the last test to debrief the process from start to finish. What helped everyone to feel more successful and enjoy the process more? What changes could be made for future family projects, to ensure the more pleasant and effective experience for all? How about giving and receiving feedback? What communication habits made people feel heard without leaving someone on the defensive? Think about what elements your family would like to change and which ones they would like to carry forward into future team projects.

Whatever you take from this testing experience, we hope that it gives you the opportunity to be both more effective as individuals and more connected as a family.