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  • Ali Frank

High School Admissions Testing for Math

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

Looking for high schools for your middle schooler? This week’s guest blogger, Ali Frank, answers your question about the math portion of admission testing.

What math subjects/topics are on the SSAT? 

Number sense, pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry are the concepts covered on the SSAT. 

What level of math do I need to finish to do well?

In theory, your child should have completed pre-algebra, and at least a half year of algebra to do “well” on the math section of the SSAT. Unfortunately, public schools in SFUSD and many of the independent schools do not teach algebra in the 7th or the 8th grade. 

However, it depends on which independent and public high schools you are considering for your child. Some schools require an 80% overall score to offer admissions; other schools weigh the scores differently based on the mission of the school. 

How long should I allow for studying if I am on the SFUSD math pathway?

If you are on the SFUSD math pathway, your child should start studying in 7th grade for the math section of the SSAT. Your child is likely “behind” for the concepts covered on the math portion and therefore needs to catch up in order to have a higher math score. 

What score is needed to get into a great high school?

As written above, it depends on the schools you are considering for your child. Math based schools, like Proof, require a higher overall math score. Other bay area independent schools do not require scores that are in the eightieth percentile or higher. These schools weigh the individual scores differently based on the individual student, their grades, interviews, and extracurricular activities. 

Is there a score or range that high schools look for in San Francisco? 

This is based on the schools that you are considering. I always recommend that students take a practice test in the spring (most independent schools offer this option) and take two “real” tests in the Fall. This gives families an option of the scores they wish to use for the overall application. 

For the middle school, schools give us a choice of SSAT or ISEE, except Convent/SH require ISEE. What is the difference between the two?

The SSAT and the ISEE tests are basically the same with only a few minor differences. The ISEE has computational comparison questions, whereas the SSAT does not. Studying for both the SSAT and the ISEE is a great way to study for the HSPT (for Catholic schools) and for the Lowell Test. Generally speaking, the bay area independent schools take both the SSAT and the ISEE but, historically, a preference for bay area families is to have their child take the SSAT. 

For high school, the Catholic schools have a different test. How are they different from SSAT? Lowell test?

Anecdotally, the SSAT/ISEE are the most difficult of the three tests. Studying for the SSAT/ISEE gives students a solid handle on the information that is covered on all three tests. Study guides available online (Princeton Review is my favorite!) are a great place to get your students on the right path to preparing for these tests. 

Most students enrolled in independent schools for a number of years are not well versed in the tips, strategies, and overall ins-and-outs of standardized tests. Simply practicing the types of questions, and learning some strategies is a great way for any student to prepare for these tests. There are a myriad of online resources, both paid and unpaid, for students to use as resources. Other favorites include: Test innovators (paid subscription), varsity tutors (free online resources), and Barron’s workbook (online and book editions). 

If my kid is in public school, and hasn’t covered some math topics on these tests, what can I do? 

If your child is not enrolled in pre-algebra in seventh grade, nor will they be enrolled in algebra in eighth grade, you should sign them up for a class, or hire a tutor to get them on the right track to be successful on the math section of the SSAT/ISEE. Your child should begin working with someone in the early spring to give them enough time to learn the material they may not be exposed to prior to the fall administration of the SSAT/ISEE. Some online classes include: Art of Problem Solving and Apex. I also tutor middle schoolers who would like to move more quickly through math curriculum.

About Ali

I became a teacher by "accident" nineteen years ago, and have never looked back. I love my job. I love that every day is different, I love that each year I meet new people, and that I learn new things every day! My students are my inspiration, and I hope that I am convincing enough that they love math a little more after they leave my class.

I have been teaching math at a bay area private school for the last thirteen years. I recently received my doctorate in Education and have a proven track record of making math real, understandable, and applicable to all levels of math learners. 

Eleven years ago, I created an SSAT/ISEE curriculum which I’ve used to teach group classes (summer and fall classes), and to students one-on-one. I have a proven track record of increasing scores with my tips, tricks, and techniques, and will provide references upon request. 

Please feel free to email with any questions.

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