The SSAT | Secondary School Admission Test

What is the SSAT?

The SSAT or popularly known as the Secondary School Admission Test is an examination taken by students who would like to enroll in private and independent schools all across the United States. In other words, it is an entrance examination that is designed to evaluate the knowledge and skills of the students whether they are qualified to the school’s learning standards or not. The SSAT exam is created and administered by the Secondary School Admission Test Board in Princeton, New Jersey.

In addition, the SSAT is administered at three different levels. Please refer to the table below for the information about these sections:

SSAT Exam Administration
Upper Level Taken by students who are currently in grades 8 to 11.
Middle Level Taken by students who are currently in grades 5 to 7.
Elementary Level Taken by students who are currently in grades 3 to 4.

SSAT Exam Format and Structure
The SSAT Test is a multiple-choice examination that is composed of the following sections: 1.) Verbal, 2.) Reading Comprehension, and 3.) Quantitative (Mathematics). Additionally, there is also a writing section on the exam but it is not graded. Moreover, even though the writing section is not graded, your writing sample or essay will be submitted together with your SSAT score report to the schools you have applied for.

Note: The SSAT also provides an unscored experimental section at the end of the test. This section consists of a variety of content questions pulled out from each of the test sections (Verbal, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative). The experimental section aims to provide the exam authors an opportunity to develop and test new questions that may be used for future SSAT examinations.

To provide you with an overview of what the SSAT test looks like for each level, please refer to the structure and format table below:

SSAT Elementary Level Format
Sections Questions Allotted Time
Quantitative (Mathematics) 30 questions 30 minutes
Verbal 30 questions 20 minutes
Break 15 minutes
Reading Comprehension 28 questions 30 minutes
Writing Sample 1 picture prompt 15 minutes
Experimental 15-17 questions 15 minutes
Total 104-106 questions 2 hours and 5 minutes

Note: Out of the 104-106 items including the writing sample section, only 88 questions are scored.

SSAT Upper and Middle Levels Format
Sections Questions Allotted Time
Writing Sample 1 prompt 25 minutes
Break 5 minutes
Quantitative (Mathematics) 25 questions 30 minutes
Reading Comprehension 40 questions 40 minutes
Break 10 minutes
Verbal 60 questions 30 minutes
Quantitative (Mathematics) 25 questions 30 minutes
Experimental 16 questions 15 minutes
Total 167 questions 3 hours and 5 minutes

Note: Out of the 167 items including the writing sample section, only 150 questions are scored.

SSAT Things to Remember:

Aside from the structure and format of the SSAT test, there are other things about the exam that you need to keep in mind. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • All of the questions on the exam consist of five choices: A, B, C, D, and E.
  • In the SSAT Quantitative section, you are not allowed to use calculators or rulers.
  • In the SSAT Verbal and Reading Comprehension sections, you are not permitted to use dictionaries.
  • Gadgets with internet access like cell phones, electronic watches, tablets, etc. are strictly prohibited.
  • On the test day, bring at least #2 pencils with erasers. Mechanical pencils and pens are not allowed.

SSAT Exam Scoring System

All students who have taken the SSAT exam are scored based on their grade level. In other words, if you are in the 8th grade, you are not expected to earn a higher score than someone who’s in the 11th grade, even though both of you are taking the same test.

Important Reminder: You will be scored based on the grade level you’ll indicate on your answer sheet. Therefore, always make sure to write your current grade level on the sheet and not the grade that you are planning to apply for. Also, keep in mind that you will encounter questions on the test that may be too difficult for you. But then again, you don’t need to get every question right in order to get a passing score for your current grade level.

The official SSAT exam score report will also report the following:

SSAT Score Report Information
A Breakdown of Test Questions
  • A breakdown of the test questions will be presented on the exam score report. This breakdown consists of the number right, wrong, and unanswered questions for each of the test sections.
  • Each correct answer increases your raw score by one point while each item you answered incorrectly decreases your raw score by a quarter of a point. This is all part of the exam’s incorrect answer penalty.
  • Your total raw score will then be converted to a scaled score and will be rank according to its corresponding SSAT score range or percentile.
Scaled Scores Scaled scores are given for the three SSAT sections: Verbal, Quantitative, and Reading Comprehension.

Note: Each level of the exam has a slightly different scaled score range:

  • Upper-Level SSAT Scor Range: 500-800
  • Middle-Level SSAT Score Range: 440-710
  • Elementary Level SSAT Score Range: 300-600

Apart from the scaled scores for each section, there is also a total scaled score for the whole examination.

Percentile Ranks
  • All scaled scores on the SSAT are converted to percentile ranks.
  • The percentile rank serves as a medium of comparison between you and the other students.
  • The percentile ranking is designed to describe the percentage of the test-takers who were able to score equal or less than your total scaled score.
  • There are two sets of percentile ranks on the SSAT. The first one compares your scores with all of the other students. The second one compares your scores with the students in your corresponding grade level.
Scaled Score Range
  • Your score report will also contain a scaled score range for each of the exam sections. The SSAT scaled score range provides a spectrum of scores that estimates your knowledge ad proficiency in each subject area.
  • Your score is commonly located within the center of this range.

SSAT Incorrect Answer Penalty

As previously mentioned, the SSAT has an incorrect answer penalty on the Upper and Middle-level test-takers. The incorrect answer penalty applies every time you get an incorrect answer for each item. You will lose a quarter of a point for every wrong answer you get on the exam. This makes guessing very risky and challenging as well. Effectively eliminating incorrect choices out of the five options is the best way to overcome this policy. Moreover, if you gain more incorrect answers on the test, it could cancel out the points you earned for answering correctly.

SSAT Exam Registration

Before filing your registration for the SSAT, you need to become familiar with the process in order to choose the best method for you. The SSAT has two different types of administration: 1.) Standard, and 2.) Flex.

Flex Tests

Flex Tests are administered by educational consultants or schools. This method can be pretty convenient for students who have hectic schedules. The Flex Tests are subject to an administration fee.

Note: A student can only take one Flex test between the months of August and July.

Standard Tests

Standard Tests are administered on eighth designated Saturdays, which is equivalent to one Saturday per month. The Standard Tests are administered during the following months:

  • October
  • November
  • December
  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • June

Students also have the option to take the exam on a Sunday in the middle of the academic year. However, this can only happen if there is an official approval for accommodation because of religious observance.

For more information about the SSAT registration, you can go to the official website You will gain access to the SSAT test dates, Sunday testing accommodation, and other relevant information. If you need further assistance, please refer to the information provided below:

Phone: 609-683-4440


Fax: 609)683-4507

Mail: SSATB, CN 5339, Princeton, NJ 08543.

SSAT Frequently Asked Questions

What does it take to prepare for SSAT upper level?

Effective preparation is the best way to acquire a great score on the SSAT Upper-level test. If you are planning to take the SSAT seriously, utilizing some SSAT test prep materials can benefit your exam preparation greatly.

What are good ways to lead kids to prepare for the SSAT?

The most effective way to lead kids to prepare for the SSAT is to encourage them to study for the test. You can also help them prepare for the exam by providing them with SSAT practice test materials. Another way is to guide them during their preparation to make sure that they won’t get distracted or lose focus.

How to do better in standardized tests such as the SSAT?

Since you already have an idea about the structure and format of the SSAT, studying more concepts to enhance your knowledge and SSAT vocabulary is a surefire way to attain improvement.

Standardized Tests: How is the SSAT formatted?

As provided on the table earlier, the SSAT is formatted based on the grade levels.

  • Upper Level – Taken by students who are currently in grades 8 to 11.
  • Middle Level – Taken by students who are currently in grades 5 to 7.
  • Elementary Level – Taken by students who are currently in grades 3 to 4.

How to get a good SSAT score?

Nothing beats an effective test preparation. If you want to get a good SSAT score, formulating efficacious SSAT prep strategies is one of the best ways to reach that objective. With proper preparation, getting a good score is far from impossible.

Which is easier, the ISEE or SSAT?

ISEE vs SSAT is probably one of the most common questions people when taking either the ISEE or SSAT exams. When it comes to which test is easier, there is actually no definite answer to it. The ISEE and SSAT have differences when it comes to their corresponding test policies and administration. The difficulty level of the questions merely depends on the student’s knowledge and abilities, not on the tests taken.

Which one has more takers between SSAT and ISEE?

Based on the resources and answers that you can find online, the SSAT has more takers than the ISEE.

What are some free SSAT prep resources?

Some of the best free SSAT prep resources can be accessed online. Here are a few:

  • SSAT Sample Tests
  • SSAT Practice Test PDFs
  • SSAT Prep Books
  • Free SSAT Practice Test Materials
  • SSAT Prep Courses

SSAT Exam Test-Day Tips

There are a lot of reasons why students underperform during a test even though they have undergone quality preparation. One of the most common reasons for this is their inability to come up with the right approach when taking the exam.

To help students maximize the benefits of their test preparation, we’ve outlined a few steps below to guide test-takers during the test-day.

#1 Time is Gold, Keep Moving

Time is not your friend on the SSAT exam. Therefore, it is very critical for you to keep track of the time you’re consuming when answering the test questions. To do this effectively, try to set a time limit for each question. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on one difficult question even for a few minutes. If you don’t know the answer, mark it and proceed with the easier questions. Don’t forget that the main objective is to get more correct answers. 

#2 Don’t Panic and Avoid Being Clumsy

As much as possible, don’t be clumsy when answering the questions. One of the most common errors that test-takers commit during an exam is bubbling the wrong choices despite knowing the right answers. One way to prevent this from happening is to review your answer sheet before submitting it.

#3 Be Flexible

One important point to remember when taking an exam is you are NOT required to answer the questions in order. If you encountered a tough question, skip it. Don’t waste your time thinking about the answer if you obviously don’t know it. As mentioned earlier, you can mark the item and return to it once you have already answered all the easy questions. That way, you will be able to maximize your SSAT scores without compromising your time over one difficult question.

SSAT Sample Test Questions

Practice Test Question #1

Page is to book as ______

(A) drama is to play

(B) note is to letter

(C) pen is to paper

(D) letter is to word

(E) arm is to hand

Practice Test Question #2

Carl had a reputation for being a ————— because he fearlessly skied

down the steepest trails.

(A) leader

(B) dreamer

(C) clown

(D) daredevil

Practice Test Question #3


(A) shortness

(B) sadness

(C) determination

(D) insignificance

(E) guilt

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