The best test prep is stress free prep.

When I played the saxophone, I had fun. But I didn’t love it so much that I wanted to practice 8 hours a day. And I was OK with that. I liked goofing around and being able to play what I wanted to. But no one was offering me a spot in their band, and for good reason.

Well the good news with the ISEE or SSAT is that you can practice in just about that way. Of course, the top .01 percent of scores will come from the people who are natural test takers, and the ones who practice for hours every day. But you don’t need to worry that much. If you put in an hour on days that you have nothing else to do, a half hour on days when you don’t have a fearsome amount of homework, and ten or twenty minutes on days you’re busy, you’ll make a big difference in your score. And on the really busy days, if you start practice a good long time before the test, it doesn’t hurt a thing to skip days here and there.

If you happen to be enjoying practicing your test taking skills for a couple of hours every single day, that’s great. But if you’re like 99% of us, you’d rather not stress about it. Stress can be a score killer.

So just make sure that you start early – we like to start about a year before. Think of it this way: If you had to make 1,000 macramé pot holders, you’d probably rather start a year in advance and work calmly every day to knock off a few, right? It’s not only less stressful than trying to do the whole job in two weeks, but the quality of the product is probably going to be a lot better for not rushing. And you’ll probably learn how to macramé better too. Minds take time to get really good at things. Mozart was a child prodigy, but he wasn’t making anyone forget Liberace after two weeks at the keyboard. Diego Maradona was a darn good footballer, but nobody had any idea how good he would be in his first two weeks.

Working a little at a time over a year will not only help you understand how to deal with the test tricks, but it will tell you what you need to focus on. If you’ve forgotten what you learned about means and medians, you’d like to find that out months before the test. If you find out that you’re the type of reader who likes to read a little of the passage at a time and answer a few questions, rather than the kind who likes to read the whole thing, then tackle all of the questions, you’d better know that long, long before the test day so that you can practice your way.


And the really great thing about all of this is that practicing for the test won’t just make you better at the test. It’ll make you better at school. Sharpening your mind up on test questions improves your vocabulary, and makes you think differently about your reading. It helps bring back to the front of your mind all of those funny math principles that you haven’t seen in a year or two, and were just about to forget.


And if you do start well in advance, and test practice really bothers you, just do 10 to 20 minutes a day. It really will help out, and it’s short enough that it won’t make you stress out.