Last Updated On: July 1st, 2024

Who takes the SSAT?

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is required for entry into some independent schools. While most independent day schools in Los Angeles use the ISEE (if they require an admissions test), many boarding schools and schools in other states require the SSAT, and some schools allow students to choose which test to take.

The SSAT has three levels:

• Elementary: Students currently in grades 3-4
• Middle: Students currently in grades 5-7
• Upper: Students currently in grades 8-11

What is the content and test format of the SSAT?

SSAT Test Section # of Questions and Types Content Timing
QUANTITATIVE 30 multiple-choice Basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; Place value; Ordering of numbers; Fractions; Basic concepts of geometry; Basic concepts of measurement; Interpretation of graphs 30 minutes
VERBAL 30 multiple-choice Vocabulary; Analogies 20 minutes
READING 28 multiple-choice Locating information in 4 short passages; Demonstrate comprehension and understanding of key ideas; Distinguishing literal from nonliteral language 30 minutes
WRITING 1 prompt Written response to picture prompt. This section is not scored. 15 minutes
EXPERIMENTAL 15-17 multiple-choice Mixed content of verbal, reading, and math. This section is not scored. 15 minutes

SSAT Test Section # of Questions and Types Content Timing
WRITING 1 prompt Written response to a creative writing prompt. This section is not scored. 25 minutes
QUANTITATIVE 1 25 multiple-choice Arithmetic; Algebra; Geometry 30 minutes
READING 40 multiple-choice Recognize a main idea; Locate details; Make inferences; Determine the author’s purpose; Understand and evaluate opinions/arguments; Make predictions based on information in the passage/td> 40 minutes
VERBAL 60 multiple-choice Synonyms; Analogies 30 minutes
QUANTITATIVE 2 25 multiple-choice Arithmetic; Algebra; Geometry 30 minutes
EXPERIMENTAL 16 multiple-choice 6 verbal, 5 reading, and 5 quantitative questions. This section is not scored. 15 minutes

How is the SSAT different from other tests?

One big difference between the SSAT and similar tests is that it has a guessing penalty. The SSAT Middle and Upper Levels award one point for each correct answer and deduct one quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. Unanswered questions neither gain nor lose points. Since guessing can result in a penalty, it is crucial to eliminate one or more choices before guessing. Your tutor will help you master these skills. The Elementary Level does not penalize for wrong answers.

Like the ISEE, another difference between the SSAT and other tests is that it includes above-grade-level concepts and questions that a student will likely not have encountered at school, even if they excel at their grade-level work. It’s also a very fast-paced test. Many test-takers, especially younger ones, should be prepared to encounter challenging questions and to know when to skip a question.

How is the test scored?

The SSAT Middle and Upper scoring model includes raw scores, which are found by subtracting a quarter of wrong answers from total correct answers. The Elementary scoring model’s raw scores are calculated by total number of correct answers. Raw scores are then converted into scaled scores, which depend on test difficulty. Lastly, percentiles are calculated from 1% to 99% to show how a student compares to others of the same gender and grade level.

When and where is the test administered?

The SSAT offers computer-based at-home testing, computer-based testing at Prometric Test Centers, and paper-based testing. For the middle and upper-level, computer-based tests are offered on a regular basis on designated testing dates and can be scheduled here: SSAT At-Home Registration or SSAT Prometric Registration. The Elementary test is only offered on paper.

Registration for the paper test will open and test dates will be announced on August 1, 2024.

Can students take the test more than once?

Students can take the paper-based middle and upper-level test up to 6 times in a year and the elementary-level test up to 3 times. Students can take the computer-based test (either test-from-home or prometric testing center) up to 2 times per year.

How should students prepare for each section of the SSAT?

Verbal:

Since the verbal section is mostly a vocabulary test, the best way to raise the score is to improve one’s vocabulary! In addition, students should learn analogy strategies.

Students should gain experience reading a variety of short (1-5 paragraph) passages and be prepared to encounter texts at an advanced level. In addition, they should learn and practice strategies specific to multiple-choice reading tests, such as being wary of extreme language and “one word wrong” answer choices, rereading key sections of the text to answer specific questions, and finding evidence to support inferences.

Math and Quantitative:

Test-takers should be prepared to encounter multi-step word problems related to a variety of topics. Since the test is fast-paced and calculators are not permitted, they should also be fluent in their basic math facts. In addition, they should be prepared to encounter math vocabulary, algebraic notation, and math concepts that are advanced for their grade-level.

Writing:

Students should practice with timed writing and be prepared to plan, write, and proofread a composition in just 15 minutes for the elementary test and 25 minutes for the middle and upper levels. While a single paragraph will likely suffice for the elementary test, students taking the middle and upper-level test should be prepared to write multiple paragraphs.

How should students prepare for the entire test-taking experience?

Because the SSAT test requires sustained focus with multiple sections, it’s vital that students practice with full tests alongside individual test sections. They should follow this general advice:

1. Start with a diagnostic test (full-length or shortened) to get an idea of your starting point.
2. Score the diagnostic, and then review it (ideally with a tutor) to identify your strengths, weaknesses, and area of need.
3. Learn and practice with strategies, skills, and concepts you need to improve your score.
4. Once you’re familiar with most or all of the test content and test-taking strategies, take full-length practice tests. Mimic test-like conditions by taking the test in one sitting in a quiet environment, completing each section without help, turning off electronics, using the same test format (electronic or paper) you’ll use during the test, and following the same break schedule as the actual test.
5. Score the practice test and use the results to identify where you need further practice and preparation.
6. Be confident and do your best on test day, but also leave time in your schedule to take the official test again, if needed.

If students are also taking the ISEE, do they need to prepare separately for the SSAT?

Much of the content of the SSAT, such as advanced vocabulary and math concepts, is also found on the ISEE. That said, there are certain types of questions on the SSAT, like analogies and poetry passages, that are not found on the ISEE. Students who are preparing for both tests should start with the one that’s required for their top choice schools, and then plan to spend a little time going over the question types and strategies specific to the other test. If students can choose between tests, it’s usually best to focus on one test instead of two.

Is there any benefit to test preparation besides getting a good test score?

Students who effectively prepare for the test strengthen their vocabulary, reading, and math skills, which is helpful to both their general academic progress and their test scores. Many students who prepare for admissions tests like the ISEE and SSAT report improved grades and significant progress in their core academic subjects because of all of the hard work they put into their studies.