2017 EDITION

The High School Placement Test Guide

The High School Placement Test Summary
What: The ISEE, SSAT, and HSPT are standardized tests that demonstrate a student is ready for high school-level education.
Who: The tests are designed by different academic assessment groups.
Where: The tests are administered by the school a student may attend or at designated schools or professional testing centers nearby.
When: There are different ages when the tests can be and are given, and different, age-appropriate levels of the tests. Testing ranges typically start at fourth grade (to test for fifth grade) and range to tests designed for upper high school students.
How: The tests should be taken with #2 pencils.
Type: Paper and pencil
Why: The test is given to students so that private schools can select their student body from their applicants more simply and more efficiently.
Time: Each test ranges from approximately two-and-a-half to three hours.
Language: The primary language for high school placement tests is English, but tests in Spanish may also be available from the testing company.
Preparation: Study is optional, but recommended, and there are a variety of books, online practice tests, and online study options available.
Cost: The HSPT typically costs 20-25 dollars, and the ISEE and the SSAT range from 80-100. Additional fees may be added to these base prices for customized reporting or enhanced delivery.

By Beau Johnson, Tests.com Contributing Writer

Earning admission to a private high school can sometimes be very competitive. Placement testing is a way for these schools to evaluate their potential students on a few key areas of academic competence, making the admissions process among applicants of various backgrounds simpler and more economical for the institution. Among the many placement tests available to junior high and high schools, a few of the most common are the High School Placement Test (HSPT), Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT).

These tests are created by different publishers: the HSPT is the product of Scholastic Testing Services, the ISEE was created by the Educational Records Bureau and the SSAT is distributed by the Secondary School Admission Test Board.

High School Placement Test Format

While the HSPT, ISEE and SSAT are all uniquely different tests, they all have similar structures and content, like most standardized tests. High school students would do well to familiarize themselves with these types of tests—earlier is better in terms of learning to take them successfully and make a positive impact on their educational future.

The placement tests are similar in that they all test some combination of a student’s verbal skills, quantitative reasoning and reading comprehension or language skills. Almost every area of primary education will be grouped into one of these categories. For example, a reading comprehension section will likely include some social studies, and quantitative analysis might involve algebra.

These placement tests are mostly in multiple-choice formats, with the exception of a written essay on the ISEE and the SSAT. These essays are allotted about 30 minutes of test time but are not graded or included in a student’s overall score. They are sent to school admissions officers so that they may judge an applicant’s ability to communicate in written form.

Test Specifics

The longest test of the three is the ISEE, which is about three hours long. The SSAT and HSPT are approximately two and a half hours each. The HSPT consists of 298 questions, and the school administering the test may choose to include one of three optional tests: science, mechanical aptitude, or Catholic religion. The ISEE and SSAT consist of 160 and 150 questions, respectively, plus essays. There is no penalty for incorrect answers, so a student should never skip or leave any questions blank on one of these tests. Each test computes a final score by tallying the number of correct answers only.

Where? When? Which?

The choice of which test is used to determine a student’s eligibility is decided by the school to which they are applying. Even if a school uses multiple tests, they will typically prefer one over the others. Check with a guidance counselor or other school official to determine which test to take. The test may be administered at the applicant’s school or another area school or other professional testing center. Enrollment is also usually done through the school’s admissions office, which should have more information on dates and locations of testing as well. Students and parents may also check with the test publishers to find out when the tests are offered.

High School Placement Test Fees

The basic rates for taking the ISEE and SSAT start at about $80 to $100. Depending on how you wish the test results to arrive, and the manner in which you choose to make payment, the prices will change a bit. These tests offer additional services as well, such as enhanced score reporting that gives a student more insight into their test performance, but also for an extra fee. The HSPT, on the other hand, usually cost only about $20 to $25, typically payable to the school. For specifics, speak to the school guidance counselor or faculty member in charge.

Looking for more details on the HSPT, ISEE or SSAT? Please take a look at our High School Placement Test Directory.

The High School Placement Test is used by private and parochial schools as part of the admissions process. The test helps to show school administators both a student's current knowledge and future learning potential. Tests are generally multiple choice and can last for as long as three hours. To learn more about high school placement tests, please see our HSPT Test Guide.


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