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SSAT Questions and Answers by Advantage Testing

SSAT Frequently Asked Questions

Advantage Testing SSAT FAQ

About the SSAT/Test Administration

What is the SSAT?

The SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) is a standardized test taken for admission to independent and private elementary, middle, and high schools. 

The SSAT is split into different levels, based on grade level at entry:

  • Elementary Level SSAT: for students applying to grades 4 and 5
  • Middle Level SSAT: for students applying to grades 6–8
  • Upper Level SSAT: for students applying to grades 9–12

What is the SSAT at Home?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EMA (Enrollment Management Association, the organization that develops and administers the SSAT) has introduced the SSAT at Home, a permanent at-home remotely proctored testing solution for the Middle and Upper Level SSAT. The SSAT at Home has the same format and timing as the original paper tests. Students can take the SSAT at Home up to five times per testing year (August 1–July 31).

What subjects does the SSAT test?

Students who take the SSAT will receive scaled scores in each of the following subjects:

  • Quantitative: The quantitative sections test the math content that you are expected to have covered in your school curriculum: arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and other grade-appropriate concepts.
  • Reading: The reading comprehension section contains around eight passages with approximately five multiple-choice questions per passage, for a total of 40 questions. Most questions test your understanding of the passage’s main ideas and how well you absorb key information. Other question types ask you to make inferences, test your understanding of vocabulary, and see if you understand the purpose or tone of the passage.
  • Verbal: The verbal section contains two question types: synonyms and analogies. Both of these question types directly test your vocabulary.

You will also have to complete an essay responding to a given prompt.

How many questions are on the SSAT?

The Middle and Upper Level SSATs have the following sections/number of questions in the order given:

  • Essay
  • Section 1 (Quantitative): 25 Questions
  • Section 2 (Reading Comprehension): 40 Questions
  • Section 3 (Verbal): 60 Questions
  • Section 4 (Quantitative): 25 Questions
  • Experimental Section (unscored): 16 Questions

The Elementary Level SSAT has the following sections/number of questions in the order given:

  • Section 1 (Quantitative): 30 Questions
  • Section 2 (Verbal): 30 Questions
  • Section 3 (Reading Comprehension): 28 Questions
  • Essay
  • Experimental Section (unscored): 15–17 Questions

Is there an essay on the SSAT?

Yes, the SSAT includes an unscored essay. The essay will be the first section of your test (Upper and Middle Levels), and you will have 30 minutes to complete it (with standard timing). On the Elementary Level SSAT, the Essay is the last section, and it is allotted 15 minutes (with standard timing). Your essay is sent to the schools to which you apply as evidence of your ability to write in a timed setting.

What type of math is on the SSAT?

The SSAT tests the math that you are expected to have covered in your school curriculum at your grade level, including arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and other concepts on the Upper and Middle Level SSATs. Each level of the SSAT is designed to test concepts that should be familiar (e.g., the Upper Level SSAT tests more advanced math concepts than does the Middle Level SSAT).

Are you allowed to use a calculator on the SSAT?

No, calculators are not allowed on the SSAT, but that’s okay! Math questions on the SSAT are written in such a way as to not require lengthy or complex arithmetic calculations best performed on a calculator. The calculations that you will be expected to complete are short enough to finish within the time limits of the test without a calculator.

How many times can I take the SSAT?

Middle and Upper Level students in the U.S. can take the SSAT up to eight times per testing year (defined as August 1 through July 31)—up to five SSAT at Home administrations, two SSAT administrations at Prometric test centers, and one SSAT Flex test.

Note that even though we recommend that students take the SSAT multiple times, very few students are ready to take the test in the spring and summer before submitting applications. Thus, most students take as many tests as possible during the fall and winter in advance of their application deadlines. Refer to our recommended timeline for more information to help you plan your preparation and testing schedule.

How much does it cost to take the SSAT?

Here are the costs to take the SSAT in the 2020–2021 testing year:

  • Middle and Upper Level U.S. administration: $149
  • Middle and Upper Level international administration: $287
  • Elementary Level U.S. administration: $90
  • Elementary Level international administration: $203

How do I register for the SSAT test?

You can register for the SSAT online using your SSAT account. You can take the SSAT up to eight times per 12-month period from August through July (up to five SSAT at Home administrations, two SSAT administrations at Prometric test centers, and one SSAT Flex test). We recommend that students begin preparation in the spring and summer before their test and take as many official tests as possible during the fall and winter that they submit applications (see our high school admissions timeline for more information).

What is an SSAT Flex test?

An SSAT Flex test is an official paper-and-pencil SSAT administration offered by member schools or approved educational consultants. You can take one Flex Test each 12-month period from August 1 through July 31. Due to COVID-19, Flex Tests are currently the only opportunity to take a paper-based SSAT in the U.S.

What is the difference between the SSAT and SAT? Which test is harder?

The SSAT and SAT are both standardized admissions tests, but they are administered at different points throughout a student's middle and high school years. The SSAT is used in admissions to independent elementary, middle, and high schools. The SAT is used in college and university admissions as well as for applications to certain summer programs.

Accordingly, the SAT is more difficult than the SSAT because it tests more advanced material. The SAT assumes that students have completed most of a high school curriculum, while the SSAT does not.

However, the SSAT is designed to be a challenging test targeted to your grade level, and it is difficult to achieve a top-percentile score. If you want to improve your performance on the SSAT, we have found that one-on-one tutoring helps students achieve their best scores. A dedicated tutor will develop an individualized program tailored to your strengths and weaknesses, helping you gain confidence, develop methods for approaching each question you will encounter on the exam, and achieve your best score.

Preparation and Strategy for the SSAT

Who should take the SSAT?

Not everyone needs to take the SSAT. If you are applying to an independent or private school, you should check the admissions requirements to see if you are required to take the SSAT, the ISEE, or another specialized admissions test.

If you do need to take the SSAT for admission, make sure to register for the correct level:

  • Elementary Level SSAT: for students applying to grades 4 and 5
  • Middle Level SSAT: for students applying to grades 6–8
  • Upper Level SSAT: for students applying to grades 9–12

How can I score my best on the SSAT?

We have found that one-on-one tutoring is the best way to prepare for the SSAT. An experienced tutor will be able to determine your individual strengths and weaknesses and tailor a preparation plan that will help you achieve your best score on test day.

When preparing for the test, make sure to study the underlying concepts on all of the sections of the test (not just the sections that you like best) and then practice taking timed, full-length practice tests. Taking practice tests is a key element to any preparation plan because you will practice completing questions at pace, become familiar with the logistics of the official test, and gain the stamina needed to complete a full test.

When should I start preparing for the SSAT?

You should start preparing for the SSAT in the spring or summer before you plan to take the official test so that you are prepared to take the test in the fall and winter of your application year. We recommend that students prepare for the SSAT for at least four months. Check out our admissions timeline for more information.

How do I study for the verbal section of the SSAT?

The key to studying for the verbal section of the SSAT is careful, long-term practice. One-on-one tutoring offers the most efficient way to study for the SSAT verbal section because an excellent tutor can tailor a preparation program to your specific strengths and weaknesses. However, any practice, whether with a tutor, in a classroom, by yourself, or online, can help you prepare for the SSAT verbal section.

The verbal section of the SSAT contains two question types: synonyms and analogies. Both of these questions directly test your vocabulary. The best way to increase your vocabulary score for this exam is to improve your vocabulary. Prepare a vocabulary list by reading a lot of different kinds of books at or slightly above your grade level, looking up every word you don’t know and adding the words to your list. Then make flashcards from the words on the list, and study the flashcards every day. Take practice test sections. With each practice section, use a dictionary to look up any words that are unfamiliar to you, and add those words to your lists. Be sure to make vocabulary flashcards for any words you don’t know. Keep studying, and your vocabulary will increase—along with your verbal score.

How can I improve my SSAT reading comprehension?

The key to preparing for the reading comprehension section of the SSAT is careful, long-term practice. One-on-one tutoring yields the best results because an experienced tutor can tailor a preparation program to your specific strengths and weaknesses. However, any practice, whether with a tutor, in a classroom, online, or by yourself, can help you prepare for the SSAT.

The reading comprehension section contains approximately eight passages with around five multiple-choice questions per passage, for a total of 40 questions. The most common questions test whether you understood the main idea of and key information presented in the passage. Other question types ask you to make correct inferences, test your understanding of vocabulary, and see if you understood the purpose or tone of the passage. The best way to study is to take practice sections with the timings of the official test. Once you have completed a practice section, review the questions that you missed and the questions on which you had to guess. The more you practice, the more confident you will become and the better you will perform.

Should I guess or skip questions on the SSAT?

If you can eliminate even one possible answer choice, you should guess on the remaining choices. Over the course of the entire test, the benefit of guessing the correct answer will outweigh the risk of incurring the 0.25-point penalty for a wrong answer. If you feel you truly cannot make an educated guess by eliminating some incorrect answer choices, you should skip the question because guessing will not help you achieve a higher score.

How SSAT Scoring Works and Why SSAT Scores Matter

Do SSAT scores matter?

If you are applying to certain independent schools, SSAT scores do matter. Note that the SSAT is not required for admission to all private and independent schools, and some schools may require different standardized tests for admission, such as the ISEE. Be sure to check with each school to which you plan to apply to determine if you need to take the SSAT or another test.

Also keep in mind that schools evaluate applications holistically. Standardized test scores are just one component of your application. You may also submit school transcripts, teacher recommendations, student essays, personal interviews, parent statements, and other criteria. Every school considers each of these components differently in its application process.

If you feel you need to improve your SSAT score, do not worry! The content tested on the SSAT may initially seem challenging, but it is also learnable. With careful study of the concepts tested and regular practice applying them, all students can improve their scores. We have found that studying for the SSAT through one-on-one tutoring yields the best results because an excellent tutor can provide you with an individualized program tailored to your strengths and weaknesses.

What is the highest score on the SSAT?

When you take the SSAT, you will receive three different scaled section scores: quantitative, verbal, and reading. Each level of the SSAT is scaled differently:

  • Upper Level: each section is scored on a scale of 500 to 800, with a total scaled score ranging from 1500 to 2400.
  • Middle Level: each section is scored on a scale of 440 to 710, with a total scaled score ranging from 1320 to 2130. 
  • Elementary Level: each section is scored on a scale of 300 to 600, with a total scaled score ranging from 900 to 1800.

What is a good score on the SSAT?

What determines a good score on the SSAT depends on your goals. Different schools place different emphases on test scores, school transcripts, teacher recommendations, student essays, personal interviews, parent statements, and other criteria. Thus, each school will evaluate candidates differently.

Even more than other standardized tests, what determines a good SSAT score depends on your performance relative to other students at your grade level. Each level of the SSAT is given to students entering different grade levels. When you take the SSAT, you will get percentiles for your grade level and gender (some single-gender schools find gender-specific scoring most relevant for admissions decisions). The EMA does not release overall SSAT percentile charts for all test takers.

What do scaled scores mean on the SSAT?

Scaled scores are determined by your raw score (i.e., the number of questions you got correct and incorrect). They allow you to compare your scores across the different sections on the tests. Raw scores are scaled so that a certain scaled score one year remains at approximately the same percentile as that same scaled score from other years.

When you take the SSAT, you will receive three different scaled sections scores: quantitative, verbal, and reading. Each level of the SSAT is scaled differently:

  • Upper Level: each section is scored on a scale of 500 to 800, with a total scaled score ranging from 1500 to 2400.
  • Middle Level: each section is scored on a scale of 440 to 710, with a total scaled score ranging from 1320 to 2130.
  • Elementary Level: each section is scored on a scale of 300 to 600, with a total scaled score ranging from 900 to 1800.

Do SSAT scores predict SAT scores?

SSAT scores do not explicitly predict SAT scores. However, many of the skills needed to achieve a high score on the SSAT will also serve as a foundation to achieve a higher score on the SAT, so the work you put in to preparing for the SSAT will help you on the SAT. Both tests contain multiple-choice math and reading questions. Studying for the SSAT for independent schools may give you a head start on SAT preparation later in high school.

How long does it take to get the SSAT scores back?

Scores from computer-based tests (SSAT at Home or SSAT administrations at Prometric test centers) are released to families about four business days after the test. Paper-based SSAT Flex test scores are released about two weeks following the test. You can access your scores online on the official SSAT website.

How do I send my SSAT scores to schools?

SSAT scores can be sent through a parent’s online account (students can view but not send scores). Scores from each individual test administration must be sent separately to each school. This offers flexibility in score reporting (i.e., you can send only the scores you wish to share with schools). Score reports do not indicate how many times a student took the SSAT.

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