Everything You Need To Know About The Secondary School Admission Test 


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Overview of The Test

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is a standardized admission test offered by The Enrollment Management Association to students in grades 3–11 to help professionals in private or independent elementary, middle and high schools make decisions regarding student admissions. There are 8 test dates during each testing year (Aug 1 – July 31). Registration is open anytime but fees vary depending on how early you register before your test date. The SSAT takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete and will be spread over a 3 hour period to include two breaks.

The exam consists of 4 sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning: A 30-minute verbal reasoning section.
    • The SSAT’s verbal reasoning section focuses on testing two skills: your ability to identify synonyms and antonyms and your ability to identify words and their relationship to each other. A number of the questions include “complete the sentence” and “choose the best definition questions.
  • Quantitative Skills: Two, 30-minute quantitative reasoning sections.
    • The first part of this section focuses on your ability to work with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; percents, fractions, and decimals; ordering of numbers; ratio and proportion; positive and negative numbers; odd and even numbers; sequences; frequency; basic algebra and geometry; angle measurement; and graph interpretation.
    • The second part of the exam tests your problem-solving skills and your ability to use previous knowledge of mathematical concepts to solve modern problems.
  • Reading Comprehension: A 40-minute reading comprehension section.
    • The reading comprehension portion of the SSAT tests your ability to judge how well you comprehend what you read and your ability to infer vocabulary meaning through reading. When addressing these types of passages, be aware of the author’s main idea, tone, and purpose.
  • 25-minute essay section in response to a given prompt.
    • You will be asked to compose an essay response to a controversial topic. The directions will ask you to write legibly and use only blue or black ink.

SectionUpper LevelMiddle Level
Writing Sample (essay)1 question/ 25 minutes1 question/ 25 minutes
Break5 minutes5 minutes
Quantitative Skills25 questions/ 30 minutes25 questions/ 30 minutes
Reading Comprehension40 questions/ 40 minutes40 questions/ 40 minutes
Break10 minutes10 minutes
Verbal Skills60 questions/ 30 minutes60 questions/ 30 minutes
Quantitative Skills25 questions/ 30 minutes25 questions/ 30 minutes
Experimental Section16 questions/ 15 minutes16 questions/ 15 minutes

All students must know that scrap paper, calculators, calculator watches, rulers, protractors, compasses, dictionaries, thesauruses, cell phones and any other electronic devices are NOT permitted during the actual test.

Remember: the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is an equivalent to the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test).

The test for all levels is available in online and paper/pencil form and is based on the standards of leading educational organizations:

  • The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
  • The International Reading Association (IRA)
  • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

Note: an individual or a group can apply to take the test on a different date through the FLEX SSAT which we will discuss later in this article.

Levels of The SSAT Test

Lower Levelstudents in grades 3 and 4 who are applying to grades 4 and 5
Middle Levelstudents in grades 5–7 applying for grades 6–8
Upper Levelstudents in grades 8–11 who are applying for grades 9–12


Importance of The Test

It’s important for you to understand that although the SSAT test results are a part of the admission process to the independent and magnet schools, the SSAT results alone do not necessarily dictate a student’s acceptance into a secondary school. Schools will do their best to evaluate the student holistically (GPA, SSAT, involvement, sense of leadership, character, etc.) when applying. To put yourself in the absolute best position to choose which secondary school may be the best fit for you, you want to do everything possible to prep and review for your SSAT. So you are aware, with few exceptions, most schools look for a minimum score as part of their admissions requirements. This means that you need a high score to be classified with other top students and, therefore, to increase your chances of going to the school of your choice.

Receiving Your Score

Scores from paper administrations take a little longer to post and are usually shared the following weeks. Schools, however, may receive electronic reports from online administrations as soon as two days after a test. Reports may be available online for families who register for an expedited service fee. If you do not enroll in the expedited score release, families will be mailed their score reports within 7-10 business days. For online SSAT testing, score reports are available as soon as the test has been scored but no hard copy of the test is sent to the home address.

Understanding Your SSAT Score

Regardless of your top schools, to put yourself in the absolute best position to choose which schools may be the best fit for you, you want to do everything possible to prep and review for your SSAT. Confidence matters and you need to believe that it’s possible for you to work towards a perfect score. In fact, a perfect score may be more likely than you think. By understanding the test and by knowing how to prepare for it, your chances of achieving a high score increase remarkably.

Once you believe that a high score is possible and commit yourself to studying, then you need to understand the test’s scoring method and structure.

The SSAT is measured in a consistent manner. All scores can be compared easily as they are set to the same scale which can be modified easily to adjust to other forms of difficulty. The test includes 3 multiple-choice sections -mathematics, reading comprehension and verbal questions- and a short unscored essay writing sample.

There are two kinds of scores in the SSAT Test:

  • RAW SCORE: it’s the point for point score — you get a point for every correct answer, 1/4 point deduction for each incorrect answer, and no points for omitted answers.
  • SCALED SCORE: your raw score is converted to a scaled score. This scaled score is based upon the level of performance and data collected from all other test takers. Simply put, you want to do as best as possible by answering as many questions correct as you can.
  • Middle and Upper Levels test takers receive 1 point for each correct answer, lose ¼ point for incorrect answers and 0 for empty answers. Lower Level test takers receive 1 point for each correct answer and 0 for each incorrect/blank answer.
  • Test scores are broken down into the three sections of the test and an overall scaled score is reported with the section scores. The highest and lowest scores for each section are shown in the table below.
  • Scores are reported 2 weeks after the test date. Students then report their scores to the schools they are applying to and have the choice to report or hide any scores they want to. Each school then evaluates the scores according to its own standards.

LevelHighest scoreLowest score
Lower 300600

How Are Scores Compared

SSAT utilizes a method called Norm Referencing in comparing the scores to each other. According to SSAT.org, Norm-Referenced Tests report whether test takers performed better or worse than a hypothetical average student, which is determined by comparing scores against the performance results of a statistically selected group of test takers (the norm group), who have already taken the exam.

SSAT Administrators say it’s important to remember that your score is being compared to a norm group. A norm group includes all the students who have taken the test on a one of the Eight Standard Test Dates during the last three years in the United States and Canada. Each score belongs to a percentile rank which is referenced to the overall performance of that group.

You should not compare scores to other percentiles from others standardized tests because each test was taken by a different group of students. For Lower Level, scores will be available online through your SSAT account or can be mailed to your house for additional fee.

Test Structure and Format

Verbal Reasoning

The SSAT’s verbal reasoning section focuses on testing two skills: your ability to identify synonyms and antonyms and your ability to identify words and their relationship to each other. A number of the questions include “complete the sentence” and “choose the best definition questions.

Quick Tip: When approaching each question, first develop a possible answer choice that follows the context of the sentence, then look for it (or a word like it) in the list.

Check out Upper Level SSAT Sample Questions

SSAT Verbal Reasoning


Quantitative Skills

According to SSAT.org, the topics included in the Math section for the Middle and Upper Levels are:

A. Number Concepts and Operations

  • Arithmetic word problems (including percent, ratio)
  • Basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Estimation
  • Rational numbers
  • Sequences and series
  • Frequencies

B. Algebra (elementary concepts of algebra)

  • Properties of exponents
  • Algebraic word problems
  • Equations of lines
  • Patterns
  • Absolute value

C. Geometry/Measurement

  • Area and circumference of a circle
  • Area and perimeter of a polygon
  • Volume of a cube, cylinder, box
  • Pythagorean theory and properties of right, isosceles, equilateral triangles
  • Properties of parallel and perpendicular lines
  • Coordinate geometry
  • Slope

D. Data analysis/probability

  • Interpretation (tables, graphs)
  • Trends and inferences
  • Probability

Check out 3rd Grade SSAT Sample Questions

SSAT Quantitative Math


Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension portion of the SSAT tests your ability to judge how well you comprehend what you read and your ability to infer vocabulary meaning through reading. The passage’s level of difficulty and length depends on the level of the exam. They include information of high interests for each level and a variety of topics that include history, science, literature and contemporary life.

Types of questions usually are:

  • Main Idea
  • Supporting Ideas
  • Inference
  • Vocabulary
  • Organization/Logic
  • Tone/Style/Figurative Language.

Quick Tip: Read the passage first for an overall view. Ask yourself, while reading the passage, “What is the main idea? What facts and details are given?” As you answer the questions following the passage, use the line numbers to help you find the section or lines you may need to look at again.

Check out Middle Level SSAT Sample Questions

SSAT Reading Comprehension



The essay is a chance for all students to prove their ability in organizing their thoughts as well as explaining them clearly. Students will write an essay about a random topic that’s determined on the test day and is grade-age appropriate. The essay is not scored but photocopied then sent to all the schools the student is applying to. Each prompt is a controversial topic to the students, their community or even the world in general.

On the test day, administers will tell you that writing must be done either in cursive or print using a ballpoint pen. The writing should be directly on the lines printed in the answer document, using blue or black ink.

SSAT has shared the following checklist on their website which should help the students in writing the essay:

  • Did I put the topic in the box at the top of the first page, as instructed?
  • Did I plan my essay before putting it on the lined sheets?
  • Did I allow enough time to write my final copy on the lined sheets?
  • Did I write about the topic that was given?
  • Did I include details to add interest?
  • Did I follow rules for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization?
  • Can others read my handwriting?
  • Did I review my writing upon finishing?

SSAT Writing Sample

You won’t have the above checklist on the test day, but if you use it in writing your sample essay, you’ll be able to remember the items on the test day to make sure you are writing an excellent essay.


Experimental section

All questions in this section are not scored but added for future purposes to ensure they are reliable, secure and acceptable. The section contains 6 verbal questions, 5 quantitative questions and 5 reading questions with a total time of 15 minutes to answer them.

The Flex System

Each student in either Middle or Upper Level can take one Flex SSAT test during the Standard Test Year (August 1 – July 31). Flex SSAT is not available for Lower Level Students.

You can take the Flex test at any member school or approved educational consultant. You can ask the school you are applying to if they offer Flex tests or check the SSAT.org website for a list of all schools that offer the same test.

Types of Flex Test:

  1. Open Flex Test: if a school is hosting a large group of test takers and registration is open to public then it’s an open Flex test.
  2. Closed Flex Test: if one student is taking the test or a small group only, then it’s a closed Flex test and you may need a code to regisrer for the test. You can obtain that code directly from the school or educational consultant.

SSAT Administrators say you should only register for a closed Flex test if you have already made an appointment or have been given instructions to test.

Overall Master Tips

  • Read the entire question and study any related graphics for every question before looking at the answer choices.
  • Remember all four answer choices are logical answers—there are no answer choices such as “all of the above” or “none of the above.”
  • Next determine your answer and look for it in the answer choices provided.
  • Often, the answer choices include common mathematical mistakes or procedural misconceptions, so remember to check your answer.
  • Some questions may be unfamiliar to you because you may not have yet covered that particular math concept at your current school. If you do not know the answer to the question, or if the answer you have determined is not listed as an answer choice, you may choose to make a mark in your test booklet then skip that question. If you have time before the end of this test section, you may be able to come back to it later.

Preparing for The SSAT

  • Register early and mark your calendar for the test day so you know how much time you will need to spend preparing for the test each day.
  • Focus on areas for improvement prior to the test.
  • Plan out your days by deciding what topic to study every day and for how long.
  • Create strategies to overcome obstacles on test day. Learn from past mistakes and avoid them on the test day.
  • Read a lot, it will help your vocabulary and grow your mind.
  • Take breaks regularly, play sports and sleep well. All of these habits can help you stay mentally fresh and willing to put more effort towards the greatest results.

Practice and Use the Resources at Embrace Tutoring and Educational Services

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice deeply! This is not just taking random practice problems and checking your score but digging deeper and categorizing each mistake until the answer is fully justified. Start by taking several authentic SSAT diagnostics measuring your progress and identifying areas of weakness for you to go and review. Embracetutoring.com provides a number of free supplemental materials to get you started.

Work on your approach and your timing. When evaluating your practice tests, be absolutely brutal about understanding your mistakes. Deep practice is being your own toughest critic. More important than finding the mistake, is seriously understanding why you may have missed that question in the first place. You need to always be able to justify your answer earnestly. This process is important because it allows you to identify your high level weaknesses early on to manage your time more effectively. As you are studying, we would recommend keeping a log and categorizing your mistakes and questions you’re unsure of.

Write down 1) the general idea of the question 2) what you believed the question was asking and 3) the strategy you will use in the future to answer the question correctly.




Use the Resources at Embrace Tutoring and Educational Services

  1. Embrace Tutoring and Educational Services has exceptional resources, many of them are custom-designed to help you review the content areas discussed in this article.
  2. Because our diagnostic tests break out the precise types of questions on each test, you’ll be able to quickly identify those areas in which your skills are strong or those areas in which you need improvement.
  3. In addition to practice resources, we offer the best personal and online tutoring services to help you achieve to the best of your ability.