Chicago High School Admission Success Through Smart Middle School Strategies

Chicago high school entrance exams creep up fast. Follow these year-by-year middle school strategies to reduce stress and get your child prepared for success.

When your child reaches middle school, their academic focus shifts toward getting into their Chicago high school of choice. It may seem far too early to think about high school — especially from a fifth- or sixth-grade perspective — but you can’t be too prepared for what’s ahead, says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services with Academic Approach, a Chicago tutoring and test prep company.

Because getting into their Chicago high school of choice depends on admission test scores and grades, late elementary to early middle school is exactly the time to pay attention to your child’s academic strengths and areas of improvement.

Several Chicago high school entrance exams to consider

“It doesn’t matter if your student is planning for the Chicago Public School selective enrollment pathway, the independent school or the Catholic school pathway, the fifth-grade concern should be about making certain their grades are at the highest level possible. That’s the key,” Ferguson says.

This much is clear: your child does not need to spend three years preparing for the high school admission test. But your student should be earning good grades in all core subjects for several years leading up to their high school entrance exams.

“Just like with college admissions, having three or four years of strong grades on their transcript is always going to be more important than one day’s worth of test scores. And for middle school students hoping to get into their Chicago high school of choice, academics is a priority,” Ferguson says.

Maximizing middle school, especially in the spring and summer

What are the best ways to maximize the middle school academic experience, year by year? Here, Ferguson shares his top suggestions for how to best succeed in middle school when attending a high school of choice is your child’s goal.

Fifth and sixth grades

Some elementary schools continue through sixth grade while others consider fifth grade to be part of middle school. Regardless of your child’s situation, fifth grade is a good time to figure out your child’s academic strengths and where they might be struggling.

Because of the pandemic’s effects on early education, your fifth-grade student is in a unique cohort. “These students were the benefactors of a really difficult period of building core skills,” Ferguson says.

Research shows that kids in first and second grade who learned remotely have a greater uphill climb, so if you or your child’s teacher is seeing classroom difficulties, now is the time to figure out where the gaps are and start to fill them.

A good place to start is a review of your child’s MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test scores that track academic growth in math, reading, language usage and science. Talk with your child’s teacher about what the scores mean and what areas, if any, they suggest improvement in.

“Meeting with a tutor can help your student keep their grades high and at a level where they will be competitive when they are applying to high school,” says Ferguson. “But working with a tutor can also help your child get used to the material on the test so it’s not a big shock to the system when it comes time to dig into preparing for the high school entrance exam.”

When the MAP test is on the horizon, talk with your child about why they should take the test seriously and help them begin practicing good test-taking habits, like prioritizing sleep and a nutritious breakfast several days before the test.

Brain-Engaging Activities for your Middle Schooler to be Prepared for High School

And, if you have younger children who are also taking MAP tests, it doesn’t hurt to practice these same habits with them to build a mindset of always doing your best on a standardized test while keeping anxiety to a minimum.

Seventh grade

Academic performance in seventh grade is important because Chicago high schools will look very closely at your child’s grades. Having the best transcript possible means your child will have choices when it comes to deciding where to attend high school.

“They do look at progression and growth, but your child’s last opportunity to show what they’re capable of academically is through their grades as a seventh grader,” says Ferguson.

In seventh grade, your child will begin to focus on the Chicago high school entrance exams they’ll take in the fall of eighth grade.

Now is the time to learn exactly what is on each of these tests — the Chicago Public School High School Admissions Test (HSAT), the Catholic High School Placement Test (HSPT), the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), or the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) — and find out how your child may perform on whichever tests they’ll take.

Have your child take a diagnostic test and review the results with an expert. At Academic Approach, the test and comprehensive review is free of charge. The spring of your child’s seventh-grade year is the ideal time for this because you can act on areas of concern over the summer months and help your child be ready to take the fall tests.

Academic Approach offers an affordable, convenient High School Entrance Exam Prep Class designed specifically for seventh- and eighth-grade students who will be taking any of the entrance exams in the fall. This live, online class provides 15 hours of instruction with two full-length practice tests to build confidence.

“We get calls from families who didn’t know that they could help their child prepare and the entrance exam is a month or two away. And now there’s a level of anxiety for the student,” Ferguson says. “Getting the diagnostic test as soon as possible so you know how much work is going to be involved in preparing for the entrance exam is the most important step.”

At this stage, knowledge is power, and it’s important to know where your child stands. “If your child is in great shape, we’re always going to be honest and say they’re fine,” he adds. If there’s work to be done, start early and give your child time to fill in learning gaps and feel confident come test day.

Expertise brought to you by Academic Approach. Learn more about the High School Entrance Exam Prep Class and how to best prepare your child for success at

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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