The SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test)

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is a 2-hour-and-35-minute (1-hour-and-50 minute, for Elementary Level test takers) standardized test that gauges academic ability. Performance on the SSAT is used by independent schools around the country (and the world) as a common measuring stick when assessing candidates for admission. The SSAT is considered in the admissions process for:

  • Over 800 schools

  • Many schools in and around New York City (including Birch Wathen Lenox, Brearley, Browning, Columbia Prep, Dalton, Dwight, Fieldston, Horace Mann, Riverdale, Spence, Trevor Day, Trinity)

  • International private schools in Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, China, and Mexico

The test is open to students in 3rd through 11th grades, for admission to grades 4-12. There are three versions:

  • Elementary (taken by students currently in grades 3 and 4)**

  • Middle (taken by students currently in grades 5-7)

  • Upper (taken by students currently in grades 8-11)

**Note: The 2012-13 school year was the first year that the elementary level SSAT was offered. Only 26 schools in the United States accepted it as a criterion for admission. None of those schools are in New York City. Presumably, this will increase over time (at least that is what the SSAT company hopes).

SSAT Links

> Applying to Independent

> Registering for the SSAT
> SSAT Fees
> What is on the SSAT?
> How do I prep for the SSAT?
> On Test Day
> SSAT Test Accommodations
> SSAT Make-up Exams
> How is the SSAT scored?
> When do I get the results?
> What do SSAT results mean?
> SSAT Practice Exams
> SSAT Contact Info/Resources

'16-17 SSAT Dates

October 15, 2016

November 12, 2016

December 10, 2016

January 7, 2017

February 11, 2017

March 4, 2017

April 22, 2017

June 10, 2017

All above test dates are Saturdays. Sunday testing due to documented religious observance takes place on the day following.

SSAT Date and
Locations Details

Applying to Independent Schools

Although every school that uses the SSAT sets its own deadlines and application requirements, most schools adhere to a similar seasonal timeline, beginning the application process in the fall, receiving completed applications in the winter, and issuing acceptances in the spring. During the fall of the year prior to your intended matriculation, you should identify the schools to which you are interested in applying and contact them directly to verify their deadlines and specific application requirements. There are some exceptions to the standard application timeline. Some schools, especially outside NYC, have adopted rolling admissions processes that can extend past the usual springtime notification period. This can give students a second bite at the apple, as it were. To find out what schools are still accepting applications at ay time, you can use the Schools Currently Considering Applications (SCCA) feature on the SSAT website.

In order to streamline the process of applying to most of (but not all) its member schools*, the SSAT offers its Standard Application Online (SAO). This allows students to apply to multiple schools with a single portfolio of transcripts, test scores, personal statements, and recommendations. Once you use the SAO to compile, organize and submit your application materials to a participating school, all of your other school applications will automatically contain the same pertinent information. You can use the school locator engine at the SSAT website to determine whether your target schools accept the SAO.

All the same, personal contact directly with schools is critical. Make sure to review the full application process with admissions officers at each one you intend to apply to.

Remember, also, the SSAT is only a small portion of your total application. Schools will also require some or all of the following: application forms, school records/transcripts, interviews (with parents and children, usually separately), a school tour, recommendations/references/evaluations, and essays/writing samples. These supplementary materials are critical and can be very time consuming, so do not leave them for the last days before the application deadline.

*Unfortunately, most New York City schools (including the ones listed in the overview) have their own application materials and require that students apply directly to the school, without using the SAO.

Registering for the SSAT

The best way to start your registration is to create an account profile at the SSAT website. This will let you access tools to select your test day, change dates, and manage the list of schools that will receive your score reports. From there, you can search for testing locations and times in your area using the test center search feature on the SSAT website. You can also designate your current school's administrator or a registered educational consultant as an Account Proxy. Your proxy can then manage your test schedule online.

Upon registering for the test, you will receive an admission ticket to the test itself. If you register online you can also set up an account through which you can change the date and/or location of your test.

Most schools require that the score be delivered to them directly through the SSAT, so you should compile the school names and codes of the schools that you are interested in prior to registering for the test. If you wish to view the score prior to releasing it, you may do so by leaving the school release portion blank and requesting the score release after you find out your results. You may want to do this if you are considering taking the test more than once. That way you can choose the score that you want released to schools. The school will not see your other scores; however, they will see how many times you have taken the test.

You are permitted to take the SSAT up to eight times in one year. One of those times can be a "flex" test, administered by an approved educational consultant at a time other than the regular national test dates. This is certainly a good option if none of the national test dates or locations work for you. In New York City, Daria Rockholz at (212) 679-2042 is your best choice.

Those requesting special accommodations for a documented learning disability or who observe Saturday Sabbath must first get approval with their documentation before registering. The portal for those seeking accommodations is here.


The SSAT charges all sorts of fees, depending on the grade level, location, timing, and score reporting methods you choose.

Basic Registration Fees:

In the USA, Canada, and US Territories:

  • Elementary Level: Standard Test - $80

  • Middle and Upper Level: Standard Test - $127

In all other regions:

  • Standard International Test (all levels) - $247

Additional Registration Fees:

Late Registration - $45
Rush Registration - $85
Change Test Date and/or Center - $35

Score Reporting Fees:

Online Score Report Delivery - Free
Add/Cancel Score Reports via Online Student Account - Free
Mail Score Report to Home - $25
FedEx Score Report to Home - $35
Score Alert (via test or email) - $15
View Writing Sample via Online Student Account - $20
Hand Scoring - $60
Rescoring (Middle/Upper if scored at wrong grade level) - $25

Fee Waivers:

A limited number of fee waivers can be arranged on the basis of need. You must contact the school to which you are applying, not the SSAT office, for more Information.


Fees are non-refundable. If you cancel your test date, you will forfeit your registration fees. That said, test dates can be changed at an additional fee without forfeiting the original registration payment.

What is on the SSAT?

The content on the SSAT varies according to the level of the test.

The Elementary Level SSAT (for current 3rd and 4th graders) consists of four sections administered over 110 minute (including a 15-minute break halfway through):

  • Quantitative (Math): 1 section -- 30 questions -- 30 minutes

This section assesses students mathematical abilities. Topics include number concepts and operations (arithmetic, rounding, factors, rounding, ratios, etc.), Algebra (identifying patterns working with equations and inequalities), Geometry (properties of shapes, line segments, angles, areas, and perimeters), and data analysis (reading graphs, measures, and probability).

  • Verbal: 1 section -- 30 questions -- 20 minutes

This section tests students' vocabulary development, verbal reasoning, and logic. Questions consist of synonyms and analogies.

  • Reading: 1 section -- 28 questions (seven short passages, four questions each) -- 30 minutes

This section evaluates students' comprehension of short passages. Specifically, it focuses on questions that draw upon the express content of a passage, the meaning of details in context, inferences from the passage, and general analysis.

  • Writings Sample: 1 section -- 1 prompt -- 15 minutes

In this section, students are asked to respond to a picture prompt. The student looks through a sequence of images and is asked to tell a story drawing upon what they see. Unlike writing samples from the two upper tests, families may not request copies of these samples.

The Middle and Upper Level SSAT is a 2-hour-and-35-minute test consisting of four multiple choice sections (2 Quantitative, 1 Verbal, and 1 Reading Comprehension), as well as an essay/writing sample.

  • Writing Sample -- 25 minutes:

Students are given one thesis (topic) statement that they must support or refute using examples from their personal lives, current events, history or literature. While the writing sample is not graded, it is included in the score report to schools so it does count. (It is not in the report sent to families.)

  • Quantitative (Math) -- 2 sections -- 25 questions each -- 30 minutes each

The quantitative sections pose questions that call upon the math skills used in everyday life and in school. Given that there are only two test levels for the test even though it is administered to students within two grade ranges, the questions are not heavily based on grade by grade curriculum for math.

  • Verbal -- 1 section -- 60 questions -- 30 minutes

The verbal section consists of 30 synonym and 30 analogy questions, both of which can be best prepared for with vocabulary drills and flashcards.

  • Reading Comprehension -- 1 section -- 7 passages -- 40 questions -- 40 minutes

This section contains 7 passages followed by 5-6 questions that measure your ability to understand written English. A total of 40 questions in 40 minutes means that you must move quickly. Practice and familiarity with the types of questions asked will aid you greatly.

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At this point, historical differences in the preference by schools for one test or the other have generally been resolved. Today, most independent schools accept both during their admissions process. Some exceptions remain, particularly with regard to middle school admissions (in favor of the ISEE), and some schools, while technically accepting both tests, maintain a preference for one over the other. As ever, we urge you to stay in contact with your target schools to make sure that you are clear on their specific admissions requirements. That said, the fact that both tests are now fairly common currency in independent school admissions means families are increasingly trying to optimize their chances by identifying the exam that best fits their children's strengths.

As with most things in school admissions, the best practice is a highly personal matter. The simple fact is that some students perform very differently on the two tests, and we recommend some familiarity with the differences if your prospective schools accept either. The first difference to bear in mind is the question of frequency. The ISEE limits students to one sitting of the exam in a six month period. Given grade-level specificity of the test and the timeline of the application process, this effectively means students take the ISEE only once. Students can take the SSAT up to eight times in an admissions cycle. The implications of this bear themselves out in a number of ways. The most important consequence is that the ISEE tends to be a bit more straightforward while the SSAT looks more like a test-taker's test. Unlike the ISEE, the SSAT includes a guessing penalty (a 1/4 point deduction for wrong answers) and classic analogies. In both cases, these are phenomena that exist only in the realm of admissions testing. As such, the SSAT generally requires greater familiarity (and tactical sophistication). Students often see improvement over repeat testings, and there is likely slightly more benefit to be derived from SSAT tutoring. The SSAT favors students who have less test anxiety and show an aptitude for test-taking. The ISEE, on the other hand, given its limited testing window tries to be more comprehensive so that the one testing opportunity reveals more: it is a longer test and includes a slightly broader array of question types.

Beyond that, the other major difference involves scoring. The SSAT breaks the score report into three subject subscores: Verbal, Math, and Reading, each with equal weight. As a result, the total headline SSAT score (the sum of the three) weighs verbal skills higher than math. In practice, this effect is softened by the fact that the subscores and their respective percentiles are also clearly marked, so math excellence will still be apparent. All the same, the ISEE is more even-handed.

When asked, we say that an ideal SSAT candidate would be a slightly more verbally-inclined student with a knack for test-taking. The ISEE would favor more math-inclined and well-rounded students and those who might occasionally have test-related nerves. All in all, the differences are minor and largely a matter of taste. For students unsure of which to take, our tutors generally start with a few practice problems from both tests to feel it out. If a clear winner is not readily apparent, full length practice tests approximating "real" conditions may reveal more.

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How do I prepare for the SSAT?

You should begin your preparation for the exam by taking a practice version of the SSAT. If you are not happy with your initial results, you should develop a study plan to reach your target score. You can do this by taking other SSAT practice tests or working from an SSAT prep book, both of which are available from multiple publishers. If that doesn't produce the results you're looking for, or if you know that you're just not going to be able to do it that way, Partners with Parents works with the best SSAT tutors, who will design a program to help you meet your goals by the time the test date rolls around.

On Test Day

Most Middle and Upper Level tests begin at 9am, and conclude between noon and 12:30. There are two breaks during the test. Elementary Level tests generally begin at the same time but end early and only include a single break.

Check-in for the test typically opens at 8:15. Get there early. Be sure you have at least two sharpened number 2 pencils, an eraser, and your SSAT admissions ticket. No books, cell phones, calculators, or electronic devices are allowed in the test room. You are allowed to bring snacks and beverages to be consumed during break times only. Make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before the test and eat a good breakfast before you leave for the test location.

SSAT Testing with Accommodations

A student with a documented learning difference, who is routinely granted special testing conditions in their current school setting, may apply for special testing arrangements for the SSAT. Students or parents should register for the test as normal and then contact the SSAT to request special consideration.

Accommodations must be approved by SSAT, and can include the following:

  • Extra time (30 extra minutes at end of test)
  • Large-print test materials
  • Permission to mark answers directly in test booklet or use of a laptop/spell-check for writing sample.

Eligibility information, forms, and deadlines can all be found here.

SSAT Make-Up Exams

The SSAT does not allow make-ups on any exams. If you are not able to take a scheduled test for any reason, you will not receive a refund. You may reschedule tests ahead of time, but it will require an additional fee.

How is the SSAT scored?

The most important thing to know about scoring on the Middle and Upper Level SSATs is that you are penalized for incorrect answers. Every correct answer on the SSAT is awarded 1 point, and every incorrect answer results in a deduction of 1/4 of a point. Questions that are left blank are calculated as zeros, you neither gain nor lose a point. This is a so-called "guessing penalty". It seeks to penalize those who blindly fill in bubbles at the end of a section, under time pressure or -- sometimes -- apathy.

With that said, don't let the guessing penalty scare you! With a little strategy, you can make sure it helps you more than hurt you. If you can narrow down the multiple choice options to three or fewer correct possibilities, it is better to put down an answer, than to leave it blank.

Note: The Elementary Level has no guessing penalty.

Your Middle and Upper Level SSAT score consists of three or four numbers:

  • Scaled Score: For Middle Level students, this will be a number on a scale of 440-710 for each of the score sections (verbal, quantitative, reading), for a total between 1320 and 2130. For Upper Level students, the score will be on a 500-800 point scale for each section, for a range between 1500 and 2400.

  • SSAT Percentile Rank: This score places students in rank among all of a given year's SSAT test-takers. It will fall between 1-99%. Percentiles are the percent of a population the student scored better than. N.B.: often this number can be lower than families are used to seeing for their child. Remember, this is a score ranking students against other SSAT takers. This is a self-selecting group of often highly motivated and competitive students. This percentile can be a very weak indicator of your student's abilities.

  • National Percentile Rank (grades 5-9): This score places students in rank compared hypothetically with all of students in the country at their grade level.

  • Predicted 12th-grade SAT Score (grades 7-10)

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When do I get the SSAT results?

Your score will be released two weeks after your test date. Scores are only reported to students online. For an additional fee, you can add extra score reporting options, including reports sent via email, text message, mail, or FedEx.

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What do the SSAT results mean?

As with most standardized tests, a student's SSAT results have a limited descriptive value. While they do give a window into some important skills that students will draw upon when in the competitive environment of independent schools, they also, to some degree, simply document a student's ability to take tests. Test-taking is a skill unto itself. A strong background in the material on the test (vocabulary, mathematical concepts and formulae, etc.) will of course help anyone, but standardized tests have a knowledge base of their own that is equally important: knowing the format, the specific preferences of the test-makers, and simply how to decode the questions are useful tools. As such, we urge you to prepare: take practice tests, do test-taking drills, and familiarize yourself with the timing and formatting of your test.

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SSAT Practice Exams

The best practice test materials available for the SSAT are those published directly by the test makers. You can order a copy of the official SSAT prep book here. Several other publishers offer practice tests, but often third-party question writers have only a passing familiarity with the exam itself. Official questions tend to reflect more accurately both the level of difficulty and the typical tricks and traps students will face on the test.

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SSAT Contact Info/Resources

You can contact the SSAT directly for further information:

  • By phone at 609-683-4440 (between 9:00am and 4:30pm ET, Monday-Friday)
  • By email at

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