Your Insider Guide to the SSAT

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Subtests of the SSAT

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SSAT Overview

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is an admissions examination used by some private schools in the United States and Canada. Administered and developed by the Enrollment Management Association, the test is either 2 hours and 5 minutes at the Elementary Level (for admission to grades 4-5) or 3 hours and 5 minutes at the Middle and Upper Levels (for admission to grades 6-8 and 9-12, respectively). All questions on the SSAT are multiple choice except for the writing prompt. Because the SSAT is not the only independent school admission test in existence, students and parents should verify that their chosen institutions either require or accept the SSAT.

SSAT Math/Quantitative Section

The quantitative section of the Elementary Level SSAT includes 30 questions at the 3rd or 4th grade level, whichever is appropriate for an individual student. Test-takers are given 30 minutes to answer the questions. Math topics include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, measurement, basic geometry, and reading graphs. The Middle Level SSAT features two 30-minute quantitative sections of 25 questions each. The topics covered are number concepts and operations, elementary algebra, geometry and measurement, and data analysis and probability. The structure and content areas of the Upper Level SSAT quantitative section are the same, but with more difficult problems. Calculator use is not allowed on any of the SSAT's quantitative sections.

SSAT Verbal Section

At the Elementary Level, the verbal section lasts for 20 minutes and includes 30 questions. The two question types are synonyms and analogies, which respectively require test-takers to choose answers that most closely reflect similar word meaning or word relationships such as part to whole and homonyms. At the Middle Level and Upper Level, the SSAT's verbal section is 60 questions in 30 minutes, divided into 30 synonyms and 30 analogies. This section is intended to measure verbal reasoning, vocabulary, and logic. The main distinction between the Middle and Upper Level tests is one of difficulty.

SSAT Reading Section

Elementary Level test-takers will see 28 questions on the reading section, which they must answer in 30 minutes. Six or seven reading passages of different types are presented, and the questions ask students to find certain information or meaning contained therein. At the Middle and Upper Levels, this section is referred to as reading comprehension, and it includes 40 questions over 40 minutes. Reading passages of 250-350 words in length are drawn from literature, the humanities, science, and social studies. Questions are based on recognizing main ideas, locating details, making inferences, evaluating author purpose, tone, and attitude, and assessing arguments or opinions. Exercises on the Upper Level test are more challenging than those on the Middle Level test.

SSAT Writing Section

All SSAT writing assessments require the test-taker to complete a single exercise associated with a prompt. At the Elementary Level, the student must describe a given picture in written form. Middle and Upper Level test-takers have a choice between two prompts. On the Middle Level SSAT, both prompts are intended to facilitate fictional, narrative essays (these are called "creative" prompts). Upper Level students have a choice between a creative prompt and a traditional (argumentative) essay. SSAT essays are not scored and do not factor into either the scores for the multiple-choice sections or the total SSAT score.

SSAT Experimental Section

Each level of the SSAT features an experimental section that helps test writers evaluate exercises for future versions of the exam. The experimental section includes multiple-choice questions that cover math, verbal, and reading skills, and answers do not affect student exam scores. The Middle and Upper Level SSAT experimental sections include 16 questions (six verbal, five quantitative, and five reading). At the Elementary Level, the experimental section is between 15 and 17 questions, also drawn from verbal, reading, and math. All experimental sections are allotted 15 minutes of testing time.