Even in middle school, a student’s time might not wholly be one’s own. Preparing for two exams could hinder the student’s schoolwork and extracurricular activities. The question then boils down to: “With limited time, on which test should one focus one’s attention?”  Below, we provide some considerations.

In Essence

  • The ISEE, Independent School Entrance Exam, is likely required by non-Catholic schools
  • The HSPT, High School Placement Test, may be required by Catholic schools
  • Catholic schools may accept the ISEE, but non-Catholic schools will not accept the HSPT

Rumor might suggest that the ISEE is the more difficult test of the two. In essence, the ISEE and HSPT cover much of the same material, thus the student might prepare for both tests by focusing on a single exam.

However, the ISEE and HSPT present the material in different ways that might affect the student’s ability to answer the questions. A student might do well in answering quantitative comparison questions on the ISEE, but is given pause when faced with geometric and non-geometric comparison questions on the HSPT.

Parents should take into consideration which schools the student wants to attend and determine which exam each school requires for the admissions process. If the student only wants to attend Catholic high schools, then the question might already be answered.

However, certain Catholic high schools require the ISEE instead of the HSPT, and the competitive nature of private schools might require the student to take both exams to safeguard the student’s education at a private high school.

Students should first become familiar with the material and types of questions each exam contains by taking an ISEE and an HSPT cold (no preparation) from start to finish under the correct time limitations. Afterwards, parents should highlight the student’s weakest areas and compare each exam for similarities in weaknesses.

Once the student’s weaknesses are discovered, the student can prepare appropriately by focusing on these weaknesses through self-practice, working with a tutor, and/or enrolling in an ISEE or HSPT preparation course.

When preparing for either test, students must remember that standardized test strategies alone will not help one score well. The student must fully understand the concepts addressed by either test, just as it is in the classroom when preparing for a midterm exam or the final exam. Guess work might lead students to the correct answer, but it will not effectively support them as they continue their academic careers.


  1. Most students are better off focusing just on the ISEE if they plan to apply to both Catholic and non-Catholic schools, and the Catholic schools also accept the ISEE.
  2. However, if students must take both the ISEE and the HSPT, there is significant overlaps in tested concept, so the time will not be wasted.
  3. Both the ISEE and HSPT test fundamental concepts in math and reading. To do well, students must have a strong understanding of these tested subjects.

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