1. What's the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

Both exams are acceptable to all colleges. There’s no “better test”—it’s about what’s the right fit for your student.

2. Which exam should my child take?

We recommend having your student take a practice SAT and a practice ACT and then comparing scores to see which exam is the better fit. It's important to consider a student’s strengths when picking which test to focus on. The biggest challenge on the ACT is time. Students who work well under time pressure or tend to have extra time thrive on the ACT. One challenge of the “new” SAT is the no-calculator math section; students who are good at mental math and shorthand arithmetic tend to thrive there. ACT reading questions tend to be more fact-based and literal, while SAT reading questions tend to be more challenging and inferential; ACT math tests a lot of geometry and trigonometry, while SAT math is mostly focused on algebra and data analysis. The ACT has a “science” section that tests scientific literacy; the SAT does not have a science section. Both tests have an optional essay, which students who are applying to highly selective colleges should complete.

3. How have the SAT and ACT changed recently?

In 2016, the College Board completely overhauled the SAT. For over a decade prior, the SAT had been scored out of 2400, but now it is again scored out of 1600; the math section is scored out of 800, and the reading and writing sections scores are combined and scored out of 800. There are no longer questions that directly test vocabulary. The revised SAT writing section is now passage-based grammar, rather than discrete sentence revision questions. The reading section now incorporates interpreting charts and graphs. The SAT also added in a no calculator math section. The new SAT essay tasks students with doing a close reading analysis of a short written passage. Recent changes to the ACT are much smaller. The ACT recently introduced “paired passages”—reading passages that feature two thematically linked texts. The ACT essay also went through a major revision; the new task asks students to address an issue through the lens of three different perspectives.

4. Does my PSAT score matter? Why study for the PSAT?

Most people think of the PSAT as just “practice.” It’s not. While PSAT scores do not get reported to colleges, the PSAT is the qualifying test for National Merit Scholarships. If an eleventh-grader scores well on the PSAT, he/she can become a semifinalist for a National Merit Scholarship—something that looks very good on a student’s resume when applying to colleges. ​​ If your son or daughter intends to apply to Ivy League or other highly selective colleges, it’s a good idea for them to do some preparation for the PSAT.


1. What is the ISEE?

The ISEE is an exam students take to gain admission to selective, private, middle and high schools. It features four multiple choice sections and an essay. The Verbal Reasoning section tests a student’s vocabulary and facility with context clues, the Quantitative Reasoning and Math Achievement sections tests a student’s facility with word problems and complex math concepts, and the Reading section tests a student’s ability to identify big ideas and details in several short reading passages.

2. How many times can I take the ISEE?

The simple answer: Most students can now take it twice. Thanks to a recent change by the Educational Records Bureau, there are now three “testing windows” during which students are allowed to take the ISEE: August-November, December – February, and April – August. However, only the first two of those windows fall during the regular secondary school admissions window.

3. Do I have to take it twice?

No. If a student hits his/her target score range the first time he/she takes ISEE, prep is done.

4. What are the different "levels" of ISEE?

LOWER LEVEL: The Lower Level ISEE is for students in Grades 4 and 5 who are applying for admission to Grades 5 and 6. We recommend starting prep in August, working towards taking the exam in November and again in December. MIDDLE LEVEL: The Middle Level ISEE is for students in Grades 5 and 6 who are applying for admission to Grades 7 and 8. On the Middle Level ISEE, the Quantitative Reasoning section is split between word problems and quantitative comparisons. The mid-level ISEE may be the hardest standardized test your child ever takes. Unlike other entrance exams, the mid-level ISEE tests math concepts that are FAR beyond grade level, including some 9th and 10th grade math. It is heavy on algebra and word problems. Expect questions on slope, Pythagorean theorem, special right triangles, triangle similarity, and coordinate graphing. Doing well on the mid-level ISEE requires significantly more preparation than doing well on either the upper or lower level exams. We recommend starting prep in the summer after 5th grade, with the goal of taking the exam in November and then again in December. UPPER LEVEL: The Upper Level ISEE is for students in grades 8-11 who are applying for admission to grades 9-12. On the Upper Level ISEE, the Quantitative Reasoning section is split between word problems and quantitative comparisons. The math sections test topics that go up to 12th grade math, including matrices, polynomial factoring, and absolute value inequalities. We recommend starting prep in August, working towards taking the exam in November and again in December.

5. Why's the Middle Level ISEE so hard?

The Middle Level ISEE, taken for admission to grades 7 and 8, features math that goes far beyond grade level. Though the test is graded on a curve, the math on the test still presents a unique challenge, especially to 6th graders.

6. When should my student take the ISEE?

We suggest students take the exam for the first time in November, and then again in December. This provides enough time for students to prepare for the exam, but also ensures that it’s done before Christmas. We don’t think students should have to study for ISEE over the holidays!

7. How much should my student prep for the ISEE?

For the Lower and Upper Level exams, we recommend 4 months of prep, starting in August. For the extremely challenging Middle Level exam, we recommend 6-7 months of prep, starting in June.

8. What is ISEE prep, anyway?

Test-taking, like trumpet playing or swimming or chess, is its own unique skill. During sessions, our tutors teach students dozens of ISEE-specific strategies that help them avoid traps, manage their time, and guess effectively. Students then practice these strategies during weekly homework assignments. We also help students develop “test-week” game plans, so that they walk into the ISEE feeling confident and prepared. Because of the unique challenge of the mid-level ISEE, when preparing students for that exam, Ivy Method's tutors will also also teach students new math content they haven’t yet seen in school, starting with the fundamentals of algebra and building to more advanced topics.

9. How is the ISEE graded?

The Short Answer: The ISEE is graded on a curve. The “stanine” score, a number from 1-9, represents how well a student did in comparison to his/her same-aged peers. These stanines are not evenly distributed: 87% of students score between 4 and 7 on each section, while only 3% of students receive a 9. The Long Answer: A student’s raw score—how many questions they got right—is first converted into a numerical score between 700 and 900 that’s essentially meaningless, then converted into a percentile that compares a student to his/her same-aged peers. (For example, if a 6th grader were in the 60th percentile for reading, this means that she scored better at the reading than 60% of other 6th graders in that section.) Each percentile is converted into a “stanine,” a number from 1-9 that corresponds to the student’s percentile. These stanines fall along a bell curve, and are NOT evenly distributed—only 3% of students get a 1 or a 9, while 19% of students get a 5 and 16% of students get a 6. Percentile | Rank Stanine 1–3 | 1 4–10 | 2 11–22 | 3 23–39 | 4 40–59 | 5 60–76 | 6 77–88 | 7 89–95 | 8 96–99 | 9

10. What's a good score? Does my child need all 9s?

No, your child doesn’t need all 9s! For the most competitive schools in Los Angeles, 7s and 8s are good target scores. We have, however, occasionally seen top schools admit students with 5s and 6s because they submitted fantastic applications. Secondary schools also know that kids sometimes have a bad day. If a kid does poorly on the ISEE but has a strong application package, schools will sometimes ask to see ERB scores.

11. Do you also help with middle/high school applications?

Yes! We also offer application review and comprehensive admissions consulting services at the middle, high school, and college levels.