Private schools can give your child a competitive advantage – but they have to get in first.

The SSAT is required for entrance at many competitive private primary, middle, and high schools. In recent years, private schools across the board have reported their lowest-ever acceptance rates. Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut accepts 19% of applicants, Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire accepts 18% of applicants, and Philips Academy in Massachusetts accepts just 14% of applicants. Make sure your child has the SSAT scores they need to get in.

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SSAT Basics

The Secondary School Admission Tests (SSAT) is an assessment for students hoping to earn a seat in grades 3-12 at some of America’s most prestigious private schools. The SSAT has three different levels for which students sit depending on their current grade:

  • Elementary Level for entrance into grades 4 and 5
    • Third-grade test (for entrance in grade 4)
    • Fourth-grade test (for entrance in grade 5)
  • Middle Level – For entrance in grades 6–8
  • Upper Level – For entrance in grades 9–12

Elementary Level SSAT (3rd and 4th grade)

The Elementary (Lower) Level for the SSAT has a different structure and is considerably shorter than the Middle and Upper Levels of the exam.

The Elementary Level SSAT has four sections (1 hour 50 minutes total):

  • Quantitative (Math) – 30 minutes
  • Verbal – 20 minutes
  • Break – 15 minutes
  • Reading – 30 minutes
  • Writing – 15 minutes

Middle Level and Upper Level SSAT

Both the Middle Level and Upper Level SSAT have six sections (3 hours 5 minutes total):

  • Writing – 25 minutes
  • Break – 5 minutes
  • Break (5 Minutes)
  • Quantitative Section I (Math) – 30 minutes
  • Reading – 40 minutes
  • Break – 10 minutes
  • Verbal – 30 minutes
  • Quantitative Section II (Math) – 30 minutes
  • Experimental Section – 15 minutes

Apart from the unscored essay, all questions on all levels of the SSAT are multiple choice.

Who takes the SSAT?

Students hoping to secure a seat at some of America’s most competitive independent and private schools. In recent years, private schools across the board have reported their lowest-ever acceptance rates as students from across the world vie for acceptance. The SSAT (along with the ISEE) serves as a way for students to distinguish themselves when it comes to the application process. Most schools will accept either the SSAT or the ISEE exam.

What is tested on the SSAT?

There are several academic areas that are assessed on the SSAT.

The quantitative sections on the SSAT assess students in basic quantitative concepts, algebra, geometry, and spatial sense. The difficulty of these concepts varies based on the level on the exam being taken.

The verbal section on the SSAT consists of synonym and analogy questions. These sections test understanding of language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings by relating them to words with similar but not identical meanings.

The reading section on the SSAT tests a student’s ability to read and comprehend a textual passage. Unlike questions on other sections of the SSAT, the questions within the SSAT reading section do not generally progress in difficulty as a student works his or her way through the section.

For the writing sample section of the SSAT, test takers are given the following option(s) for the sample:

  • Elementary Level test takers are presented a picture and are asked to tell a story about it
  • Middle Level test takers receive a choice of two creative prompts
  • Upper Level test takers receive a choice of one standard essay prompt and one creative prompt from which to choose

How do I register for the SSAT?

Sign up to take the SSAT at the official SSAT website. There are two options for registering for the SSAT:

  • Standard test – A group administration of the SSAT held at sites worldwide on eight Saturdays each year. Most students will take a Standard test. These test dates are held in January, February, March, April, June, October, November, and December.
  • Flex Test – A group or individual administration on any date other than the Standard test dates. Flex tests may be given by educational consultants or member schools. A student may only take one Flex test in a testing year.

A student may take the Middle/Upper Level SSAT on all eight Standard test dates. A student may only take one SSAT Flex Test per testing year (August 1 – July 31), in addition to the Standard Tests.

For the Elementary Level SSAT, a child may take the Third Grade SSAT only once during the testing year (August 1- July 31), and the Fourth Grade SSAT may only be taken twice during the testing year.

What is the cost to take the SSAT?

The regular registration fee for the SSAT is $84 (Elementary Level SSAT) or $124 (Middle/Upper Level SSAT).

How should I prepare for the SSAT?

Properly preparing to excel on the SSAT can have a significant impact on a student’s success in getting into the school of his or her choice and excelling once they get there. It is important to remember that the students sitting for the SSAT (and the ISEE) are some of the best and brightest from around the world, so the level of competition will be unlike any exam a student has taken before.

There are many resources at a student’s disposal. Whether it’s reaching out to the teacher for extra support, joining a study group, or finding a tutor to help them prepare to pass the test, any additional effort invested now is going to pay off in the long run.

At the very minimum, buying a study guide with practice tests can help get your student get familiar with the content and structure of the exams.

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SSAT Sample Question
  • If 40 percent of a number is 200, then 20 percent of the same number is
  • A 10
  • B 10
  • C 40
  • D 100
  • E 200
  • Answer: D
SSAT FAQs

Is the SSAT easier than the ISEE?

No. One test is not easier than the other. An important thing to understand about the ISEE and the SSAT is that both exams test for the same material. They are offered by different organizations, but students who take the ISEE and the SSAT will have to demonstrate mastery in:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Grammar skills
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Reading comprehension
  5. Logical reasoning
  6. Essay writing

If you want proof of this, go online or to a local store and try to find a book that only covers the ISEE or the SSAT – you will not, because publishers have found that creating separate books is inefficient.


If the ISEE and SSAT are of similar difficulty, does it matter which exam a student takes?

Yes, it does matter. If the content is basically the same, you may be wondering “Why does it matter which test a student takes?” The reason is that although the underlying content is similar, the exams are unique in the cognitive abilities that they are assessing, their structures, and their scoring. These differences will align with the unique strengths of particular students.

For example, a student may be stronger on the ISEE if:

  • The student has a mastery of the material, but has issues with timing and with strangely worded questions
  • The student is stronger on math than verbal/reading – ISEE weighs math heavier than the SSAT (1/2 math on ISEE vs. 1/3 math on SSAT)

A student may be stronger on the SSAT if:

  • The student is good at solving puzzles and dealing with complex wording and concepts
  • The student is stronger on verbal/reading than math (2/3 verbal/reading weight on SSAT vs. 1/2 verbal/reading on ISEE)

These are still just guidelines – Not concrete rules. The best way for a student to decide is to complete a practice exam for each test and see if they have a “test preference” – an exam on which they naturally perform better.


Which schools receive my SSAT scores?

The SSAT will send official score reports only to those schools that students designate. Score reports do not list the number of times the SSAT was taken or the number of score reports on file.


Can students use a calculator on the SSAT?

No. Calculators are not allowed on the SSAT quantitative sections.


Can students “Super Score” the SSAT?

The SSAT does not “Super Score” – Which means that students cannot combine the highest section scores from different test administrations.


Can schools view the SSAT essay?

Yes. Schools can view student SSAT essays.


Should students choose “C” if they do not know the answer?

Student guessing strategy varies depending on the exam level:

  • Elementary Level SSAT test: There is no guessing penalty on the multiple choice questions on the Elementary Level SSAT. Students should do all of the questions they know, then the questions they can eliminate and guess, and then they should guess randomly on the remaining questions in a section.
  • Middle and Upper Level SSAT tests: Correct answers are worth one point; incorrect answers deduct one quarter of a point. If you can eliminate at least one answer, you should guess. If cannot eliminate any answers, leave the question blank.

    Are some test dates easier than others?

    There is no statistical advantage in selecting one test date over another. Students should choose test dates that make the most sense for their schedule and their preparation.


    How is the SSAT scored?

    At all levels, students receive the following information for the four scored sections:

    • Scale score:
      • Elementary level: Scale of 440-710 for Verbal, Quantitative, and Reading (1320-2130 total)
      • Middle and upper levels: Scale of 500-800 for Verbal, Quantitative, and Reading (1500-2400 total)
    • Percentile (1 to 99)
    • Predicted Grade 12 SAT score range (Grade 7 to 10 only)

    Scores on the ISEE are in comparison only to students in the same grade who have taken the test during the past three years.


    Is there a “good” SSAT score?

    There is no one “good” SSAT score. The quality of a score depends on the school(s) to which a student is applying.


    What is the deal with the “experimental section?”

    The Middle and Upper Levels of the SSAT include a 15-minute unscored section (16 total questions) at the end of the exam which is used solely for research purposes. This section is used to test questions that may appear on future versions of the SSAT. The experimental section is required for students taking the Middle and Upper Levels of the SSAT.

Still have questions about the SSAT?

Call an Academic Advisor. Our advisors are test prep experts, and they can answer your questions, offer advice, or help you create a test prep plan.

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