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Last Updated On: February 1st, 2021

The Character Skills Snapshot is a tool that the admission teams of private schools use to learn more about students outside the confines of the standard application process–interviews, essay questions, and test scores. It presents the student with real life scenarios where they must choose what responses are most or least like them.

What is the Character Skills Snapshot?

The Character Skills Snapshot is a test designed to measure your child’s levels of initiative, intellectual engagement, open-mindedness, resilience, self-control, social awareness, intellectual curiosity, and teamwork. Basically…a personality test for the admission office.

Who administers the Character Skills Snapshot?

The Enrollment Management Association aka the EMA.

How much does it cost?

The Character Skills Snapshot is offered in conjunction with the SSAT (almost identical to the ISEE). It’s free for any student that has taken an SSAT or is registered to take one.

If you haven’t taken an SSAT, you can sign up for the Character Skills Snapshot separately and pay a $40 fee. Here’s how to register for the Character Skills Snapshot when you aren’t signed up for the SSAT: Registering for The Character Skills Snapshot (non-SSAT)

For a brief glimpse into the changes to the ISEE and SSAT amongst COVID closures, check out our blog: ISEE/SSAT Testing Policy Updates in Response to COVID-19

How long does it take to complete the Character Skills Snapshot?

About 25-30 minutes depending on how much time your student needs to think critically. It is untimed, so give them as much time as they need.

Does every school require the Character Skills Snapshot?

No. Only a handful of independent schools use this report. The school should list on their website whether their admission professionals will be requiring the CSS.

Does the school receive my child’s results immediately?

No. You can designate them to receive the CSS report when it’s released or send them on your own, but you will always get a chance to receive the results first.

Does it outweigh any cognitive assessments like the SSAT or ISEE?

It doesn’t outweigh scores, grades, and writing samples, but this additional information certainly plays a large role. Assessment tools like interviews and the Character Skills Snapshot really allow schools to gather a holistic approach to a student. This kind of application process is the key to finding students that best fit their school environment.

Amy Walia-Fazio, Director of Secondary Admissions at Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, states, “Who you are as a school is who a student should see from the moment they enter the admissions process. At Crossroads, this meant making the student, rather than the school, the focus of our admissions process. The Snapshot was the ideal tool to help us do that.” The Character Skills Snapshot | EMA



These categories are considered the essential character skills that an admissions office will seek out in individuals.


Two main subcategories:

Intellectual Engagement- Do they like academic challenges? Do they aspire to learn despite difficulty?

Open-Mindedness- Are they eager to learn new subjects? Do they approach school and the world with a sense of curiosity?


Three main subcategories:

Initiative- Is your kid a procrastinator? Do they begin work with the intention of finishing it?

Resilience- How do they handle stress and unforeseen circumstances? Do they adapt well?

Self-Control- How does their behavior manifest in a classroom? Do they know how to control their emotions?


Two main subcategories:

Social Awareness- Does your student understand the socially acceptable and appropriate response in real-world situations?

Teamwork- Is your child good at working in groups and feeling empathy towards others?

Now what you’ve been waiting for…

What do the questions look like?

Forced Choice Question– Usually this will give the student three options to the question. They must then choose what is LEAST like them and MOST like them. There will always be one answer that doesn’t get selected. The only drawback here is that sometimes all of the options are terrible. This is really frustrating when trying to make a good impression. Sometimes your child just won’t resonate with any of the “MOST like me” choices. Just encourage them to answer the questions to the best of their ability while putting their best foot forward. As a parent/guardian you aren’t allowed to assist them with their Character Skills Snapshot, but you can definitely provide moral support in the next room.

One example EMA provides of a forced-choice question:

For more sample questions visit an updated list from EMA: Character Skills Snapshot Sample Items The Character Skills Snapshot

FYI: The Character Skills Snapshot is updated each year and it’s important you seek out the most updated information when preparing for this online assessment tool.

Situational Judgment Question– These questions are all about scenarios. The student will be given a situation with a conflict. Usually these conflicts are academic-related such as disagreements between students working in a group or an argument between a teacher and the student. The four answer choices are ways that the student could potentially react. They have to select which choices are appropriate in the scenario aka the appropriateness on a scale of 1 to 4. Multiple choices can be deemed appropriate or inappropriate. Essentially the student must think about interactions with others and how to resolve the conflict. Occasionally, the questions can also demonstrate parent-student conflicts. Be sure to encourage your child to answer scenario questions truthfully and from their perspective.

One example EMA provides of a situational judgment question:

What do the results mean?

There are 3 different levels in the snapshot results: Emerging, Developing, and Demonstrating. The EMA creates a sample size of 5,000 students. Then your student’s answers are compared and “scored.”

Emerging– In this category, your student fell below the 25th percentile. THIS ISN’T BAD. Receiving “Emerging” just shows that the student chose other skills to be more “MOST like them.” Remember we will all have strengths and weaknesses within these results and students are forced to answer every question even when some answers don’t align with their values.

Developing– Here the student has scored at or above the 25th percentile. Basically they are meeting the same skill level as their peers. They are not hitting the 75th percentile and knocking this skill out of the park, but they are definitely well versed in this arena. They have shown personal growth and maturity at this level.

Demonstrating– Obviously this is the best score to receive because it indicates your child is scoring at least in the 75th percentile and or above that. Remember there is no way for a student to score this in every category. I love seeing students with a few Demonstrating and a few Emerging qualities because it shows they have really solid strengths and really shapeable weaknesses. In my opinion it’s so much easier to have a child that has stand out qualities over a child that has an average score in everything. It’s the same concept as reading a persuasive essay with a passionless “I did what the teacher said” argument over one that makes wild claims and has incredible thought-provoking evidence. I would much rather read the latter.

Just remember all scores are good. This is more like a personality test than a measure of cognitive assessment. This online assessment tool is truly centered around non-cognitive behaviors and responses. It is unconventional and it is meant to be viewed that way. Allow your child to be themselves, respond honestly, and dive into their critical thinking.

When are the results released?

EMA does a funny release of the snapshot reports. They have scheduled release dates and if you take the Character Skills Snapshot during a certain window of time, that reflects when your report is being released. Refer to this EMA chart for guidance on this:

Helpful Hints:

If you’re still feeling a bit lost and want further assistance with the Character Skills Snapshot, try checking out one of the Enrollment Management Association’s 20 minute webinars:

If you’re unsure if this is the right time for your child to be an SSAT test taker, check out our blog on the SSAT: How to know if you’re prepared for your SSAT test

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