Private High School Admissions Tests: the SSAT

Comparing the SSAT and the ISEE

This post is the first in a two-part series in which we compare the SSAT and the ISEE. This post covers the SSAT - its purpose and its sectional division. 

Understanding The SSAT

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is a standardized test administered, often in the 8th grade, to students who plan on attending a private high school. In addition to personal statements, transcripts, and recommendations, the SSAT forms an important part of an applicant's overall profile during the admissions process. Generally, a student’s SSAT score is given the same amount of weight as her grades and personal statements.

There are several versions of the SSAT, each designed for a particular grade level. The lower, middle, and upper level SSATs correspond to students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, respectively. Each test comprises four sections: mathematics, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and writing. 

Breaking Down the SSAT

The SSAT is broken down into four sections:

Verbal : 60 questions, 30 minutes

The verbal section contains 60 questions divided into two sections: analogies and vocabulary. Each 30-question section is multiple-choice, testing knowledge of words and word relationships. In the synonym section, students are asked to choose among a list of high-level vocabulary words to find one with a similar meaning. In the analogy section, students select the word that correctly completes an analogy sequence (i.e, A is to B as C is to ___?)

Reading Comprehension: 40 questions, 40 minute

The reading comprehension section of the SSAT involves longer passages on which 40 comprehensive questions are based. There are seven passages in each reading test, with subjects ranging from literature to science, history to personal essay. Questions ask students to interpret an author’s intention, identify main ideas, and locate small details within the passage.

Mathematics: 60 questions, 60 minute

The math portion of the test is split into two 30-minute sections, containing 25 questions each. You may not use a calculator (so practicing means getting quick without one!) The four official math areas tested are: Building Blocks, Algebra, Geometry and Word Problems. This includes number concepts, linear equations, coordinate geometry, algebraic word problems, data interpretation and more. SSAT math topics are broad, and preparing for the SSAT means getting comfortable with the pace of the test, in addition to the subject matter.

Writing: One essay question

Though your writing sample receives no numerical score, a copy of it is sent to the school to which you apply. It is an excellent opportunity to showcase your communication skills and thinking process. Depending on their grade, students may write either a creative essay (i.e. Write a story about when...), or a persuasive/expository essay (i.e. What do you think about the issue of...). You are given 25 minutes for Upper Level (or 15 minutes for Middle Level), during which you must quickly create an outline and then craft your essay. Important strategies include the use of specific detail (as opposed to generalizations) and counterexamples (when writing a persuasive essay).

Choosing the Right Test for You

When choosing the right test for you, it's always important to understand how to play to your strengths as a test-taker and a student. In our next post, we'll cover the ISEE, another common standardized test used for private high school admissions.