Your Insider Guide to the SSAT

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SSAT Basics – All about the SSAT

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What is the SSAT?

The SSAT, or Secondary School Admission Test, is an American assessment used to evaluate independent school applicants in grades 3 through 11. Along with other academic and non-academic criteria, SSAT scores help school admissions officials decide which candidates to admit to their institutions. The three extant versions of the SSAT are Elementary, Middle, and Upper, which are intended for students in grades 3-4, 5-7, and 8-11 respectively. Students typically take the SSAT for admission to the next grade level. For example, a student currently in the 8th grade would take the Upper Level SSAT for admission to the 9th grade. The developer and administrator of the SSAT is the Enrollment Management Association, a non-profit association of admissions professionals and educators founded in 1957.

How is the SSAT Organized?

All versions of the SSAT include math, verbal, reading, writing, and experimental sections. All math, verbal, reading, and experimental questions are multiple choice, while on the writing section, students produce a sample of their writing. The main distinctions between the versions of the test are in the difficulty level of the exercises and in the timing/structure of the exam. All SSAT exercises are written to be appropriate for the given grade levels on all test sections. The Elementary Level SSAT takes 2 hours and 5 minutes to complete, while the Middle and Upper Level SSAT lasts for 3 hours and 5 minutes.

How is the SSAT Scored?

Students who take the SSAT will receive scaled sectional and total scores that vary by test version. Total scaled scores, which are calculated by adding the math, verbal, and reading scores, are not affected by the writing and experimental sections. Scaled scoring for the Elementary Level SSAT is reported from 300 to 600 per multiple-choice section, for a total score of 900-1800. Elementary Level SSAT score reports also include the number of correct answers (raw scores). The scaled score range of the Middle Level SSAT is 440-710 per section and a total scaled score of 1320-2130. Upper Level test-takers are evaluated on a scale of 500-800 (for each section) and 1500-2400 (total). All students taking all versions of the SSAT also receive a percentile ranking that allows them to compare their performance to their peers. The raw scoring system for the Middle and Upper Level SSATs awards one point for each correct answer, zero points for no answer, and deducts one-quarter of a point for an incorrect answer (there is a penalty for guessing). On the Elementary Level SSAT, one point is awarded for a correct answer and no points for incorrect or blank answers (no penalty for guessing).

How Does the SSAT Compare to the SAT?

Although there is some overlap between the general skill areas evaluated, the SSAT and the SAT are different tests with different purposes administered by different organizations. The SAT is a college-level admission test that has its own pre-assessment, the PSAT. The College Board, the administrator of the SAT, has no official role in the development or administration of the SSAT. The main competitor of the SSAT is the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE).

Who Accepts the SSAT?

SSAT acceptance is not universal among independent schools in the United States and Canada. Although test-flexible schools are not uncommon, some institutions require the SSAT, while others mandate the ISEE or some other test. If a given student has a choice with respect to admissions testing, he or she would be best served by investigating all testing options and making the most informed decisions possible.

How is the SSAT Used?

According to the Enrollment Management Association, "the SSAT is not an achievement test, which is a test created to determine a level of skill, accomplishment, or knowledge in a specific area." The organization does, however, concede that the exam is important to admissions, along with other factors such as grades, recommendations, extracurricular activities, and interviews. External sources indicate that highly selective independent schools prefer students with SSAT scores in the 80th percentile or above, while the overall private school average is approximately the 60th percentile.