Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT)

What is the SSAT?

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is used for admission to private middle and high schools. The test is administered by The Enrollment Management Association in the United States to students in grades 3 through 11.

There are different levels of the SSAT, depending on the student’s grade. The Elementary Level is for applicants in 3rd and 4th grade. The Middle Level is for applicants in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. The Upper Level is for applicants in 8th grade and above.

At all three levels, the SSAT tests the same three sections: quantitative, reading comprehension, and verbal reasoning. Schools on a student’s list will also receive his or her unscored essay.

The Elementary Level SSAT

The Elementary Level SSAT Test lasts for about 2 hours. There are five sections on the test.

Quantitative Section

The quantitative section consists of multiple-choice math questions relating to basic mathematical concepts that should be familiar to the student, along with a few more challenging questions. Some topics that may be included are number sense, properties and operations, algebra functions, geometry, spatial sense, measurement, and probability. The student should have a strong understanding of the following concepts:

  • Basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Place value
  • Ordering of numbers
  • Fractions
  • Basic concepts of measurement
  • Interpretation of graphs

Verbal Section

The verbal section has two parts: vocabulary and analogies. These two sections test understanding of language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings by relating them to words with similar meanings or synonyms. The synonym questions focus on many areas of study, such as science, technology, history, and more.

The analogies section includes comparisons between two things that are usually seen as different but have some similarities. This SSAT section examines problem-solving and decision-making skills, reasoning, and more. Some categories of analogies included are:

  • Opposites or antonyms
  • Synonyms
  • Characteristics
  • Part to whole
  • Uses
  • Users
  • Categories
  • Homonyms

Reading Section

The reading section includes seven short passages with four multiple-choice questions each. Students must locate information in the passages and find meaning, as well as demonstrate literal, inferential, and evaluative comprehension. The student should also showcase an understanding of key ideas in the passage.

Writing Sample

For the writing sample, the student must provide a written response to a picture prompt. The student will look at the picture and tell a story about what happened, including a beginning, middle, and end. It is not graded but a copy is sent to the schools applied to with the student’s score report.

Experimental Section

The experimental section is a section of various unscored questions (verbal, reading, and math) sent to private schools. This section helps the SSAT creators to evaluate results and determine if the questions should appear on future tests.

The Middle-Level SSAT

The middle-level SSAT is a multiple-choice exam given to students in grades 5-7. The test lasts about 3 hours.

Writing Sample

The writing sample will give students the choice between a creative story starter and a personal essay prompt. While unscored, admission officers at private schools request a writing sample to help them assess the student’s writing skills.

Quantitative Section

The two quantitative sections measure the student’s ability to solve problems regarding topics such as arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and more. Calculators are not required and are not permitted. Many questions in this section will clearly state the operation needed to solve, while others may not.

Reading Comprehension Section

In the reading comprehension section, students are tested on their ability to read and comprehend what they just read. The passages range in length from 250 to 350 words. They may be from topics including literary fiction, humanities, science, social studies, and more.

Questions related to the passage may ask to recognize the main idea, locate details, make inferences, determine the purpose, make predictions, and more. The SSAT uses two types of writing: narrative (includes excerpts from novels, poems, short stories, or essays) and argument (presents a definite point of view about a subject).

Verbal Section

The verbal section covers word similarities and relationships through synonyms and analogies. The synonym part tests the student’s strength in vocabulary. The analogy questions measure the ability to relate ideas to each other.

Experimental Section

The experimental section contains six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative questions. This section includes new questions for future SSAT tests. Scores on this section do not count towards a student’s score. It simply exists for test administrators to collect data about new test questions in a controlled environment.

The Upper-Level SSAT

The upper-level SSAT, lasting about 3 hours, is a multiple-choice test for students in grades 8-11.

Writing Sample

Students will have a choice between two essay prompts (personal and general). While unscored, schools on a student’s list will receive a copy to review.

Quantitative Section

This section measures the student’s ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and other concepts. A calculator is not required or permitted. Like the middle-level SSAT, many questions state what mathematical operation should be performed, and others may not.

Reading Comprehension Section

The reading comprehension section measures the student’s ability to understand what he or she read. Similar to the middle-level SSAT, students will encounter two types of writing, narrative, and argument, in this section. Passages may involve literary fiction, humanities, science, social studies, and more. Questions related to the passage may ask the student to recognize the main idea, make inferences, locate details, determine the purpose or tone, and more.

Verbal Section

Similar to the middle-level SSAT, this section on the upper level also covers word similarities and relationships with synonyms and analogies.

Experimental Section

Just like the other levels of the SSAT, this section is ungraded and exists to help shape future SSAT tests.

Your SSAT Score Explained

For the SSAT, students get a scaled score and a percentile for each subject of the test (quantitative, reading, and verbal).

The Raw Score

The raw score is calculated differently on each of the three levels. The table below indicates how many points are given for each level.

The Scaled Score

The raw score then converts into a scaled score. This conversion adjusts for the variation in difficulty between the different tests. Also known as equating, a lower raw score on a harder test could result in the same scaled score as a higher raw score on an easier test. A scaled score is given for each of the three subjects, as well as a total scaled score (a sum of all three).

The Percentile Score

Lastly, the percentile score is calculated for each section. This compares the student’s score to that of all other same-grade students from the past three years.

Begin Your SSAT Prep Now

The more time your student has to prepare for the SSAT, the better. Private schools take the score of these tests very seriously, so students must perform well on the SSAT. Preparing for the SSAT as early as possible will give more time for the student to gain knowledge and improve test-taking skills.

Test professionals recommend allocating at least three months of preparation time to study for the test, although many students begin at least a year before the test.

TestPrepScore and private tutors are available to assist your student in achieving outstanding SSAT scores to prepare them for a stellar private education.