Testing requirements to get into a Catholic high school differ depending on where you live; and the level of importance that's put on the entrance tests depends on the school to which you apply. Which test you need to take, too, depends on the school. Although the COOP and HSPT are the two most commonly used exams, some schools require you to take the SSAT or ISEE instead. Here's a quick overview of what you can expect on each of these exams.
Cooperative Entrance Examination (COOP)
The format of the COOP changes every year. Multiple-choice options are labeled either A, B, C, and D or D, E, F, and J. This change in lettering is done to help you keep track of the questions you're working on, especially if you skip a question and plan to go back to it. You should expect questions in the topics of sequences, analogies, quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, reading and language arts, and math.
Like most standardized tests, you receive a "raw" score that is then converted into a "scaled" score. The scaled score helps administrators compare your score with the scores of other students who took the same test. You're also given a percentile rank, which is your standing in relation to the other test takers.
The raw score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly. The good news is that you aren't penalized for incorrect answers, so make sure you answer every question, even if you have to guess.
Your score on this test is used for both the admissions process and determining your placement in the ninth grade. You can take the COOP exam only once, so make sure you're well prepared.
The High School Placement Test (HSPT)
Developed by the Scholastic Testing Service, the HSPT is a multiple-choice exam. Optional tests also exist that aren't required by all schools — Catholic Religion, Mechanical Aptitude, and Science - but the results of these optional tests aren't included in the final HSPT score. When you apply to take the HSPT, ask your advisor whether the schools you're applying to require any of these optional tests.
The HSPT is a multiple-choice exam. Although the number and types of questions on the HSPT have been fairly stable throughout the years, it is subject to change. At the time of writing, the test is divided into sections covering Verbal Skills, Quantitative Skills, Reading, Mathematics, and Language Skills.
Like the COOP exam, your raw HSPT score is based entirely on the number of questions you answer correctly - you don't lose points for incorrect answers — so make sure you answer every question on the test. Your raw score is converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800; that's the score the admissions personnel use to evaluate you.
The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT)
The SSAT (administered by the Secondary School Admission Test Board, or SSATB) is a standard admissions test used by independent high schools throughout the country. The SSAT is divided into a Writing Sample section, in which you're expected to write a brief essay in support of an argument; two Quantitative (math) sections; a Verbal section containing synonym and analogy questions; and a Reading Comprehension section.
Except for the Writing section, all questions are multiple choice. Unlike the other test scores, SSAT scores are based on the number of questions you answer correctly minus a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. There is no penalty for not answering a question. Thus, guessing at answers is a riskier game here.
Despite the similarities in their abbreviations, the SSAT has nothing to do with the PSAT or SAT.
Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE)
Administered by the Educational Records Bureau, the ISEE consists of four multiple-choice sections — Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement — and one half-hour essay question.
Your score is reported in three ways for each multiple choice section:
- Scaled Score: A score between 760 and 940 that documents your overall performance on each test.
- Percentile Score: A score from 1 to 99 that shows how you compared to a "norm" group for that test.
- Stanine Score: A score from 1 to 9 that is derived by dividing the entire distribution of students' scores into nine segments. This score permits comparisons between a student's performance on the ability tests (Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning) and the related achievement tests (Reading Comprehension and Mathematics Achievement, respectively).