The Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT) is a private school entrance test comprising an ungraded writing sample and three different types of multiple-choice sections: Verbal (synonyms and analogies), Reading, and Quantitative (math). Students receive a percentile score for each section type as well as an overall percentile score, comparing their results to those of other SSAT takers from the same grade level over the previous three years.

There are three different versions of the test, depending on the student’s grade level. Students entering 9th grade and above take Upper Level; Students entering 6th, 7th, or 8th grade sit for Middle Level; Students applying for the 4th or 5th grade take Elementary Level. Students at the lower end of their test version’s grade level will encounter test problems they have not yet learned in school.

The Upper Level exam lasts about 155 minutes with five separate sections: Writing Sample (ungraded); Quantitative (25 questions); Reading (40 questions); Verbal (60 questions); and Quantitative (25 questions).


How is the SSAT different from the SHSAT and the ISEE?

Good news: SSAT math is generally easier than SHSAT or ISEE math. The math section on the SSAT is also weighted less heavily than it is on the SHSAT or ISEE, so students who prefer Reading and Verbal over Math tend to favor the SSAT over the ISEE. However, unlike the SHSAT and ISEE, the SSAT has a guessing penalty, so timing and strategizing – knowing which questions to answer and skip – is everything. There is also a tricky verbal analogies section on the SSAT that tests the ability to draw logical relationships between words and ideas.

What is a percentile? 

The percentile score compares a student’s results to those of other students who have taken the SSAT in the past three years. If, for example, an 8th grade student received a 90 percentile score in Reading, this means that s/he scored higher than 90% of all other 8th graders who took the upper level SSAT reading section in the past 3 years, and that s/he is in the top 10% of this norm group.

What is a good percentile score?

This really depends on the school. Unlike the SHSAT, there isn’t an estimated cutoff score for the SSAT. That said, aim for 80-99 (overall) percentile for highly competitive schools and 50-80 (overall) percentile for moderately competitive schools. Admissions committees will also look at grades, recommendations, and interviews.

Should I answer all the questions? Is there a guessing penalty?

Be strategic about which questions to answer and skip, as there is a .25 point penalty for every incorrect response. Do the easiest questions first because all the questions are worth the same number of points.

How do SSAT percentile scores compare to CTP4 percentile scores? 

The norm group for the SSAT is highly competitive (much more so than that for the CTP4, which consists of public school students nationwide). Therefore, the CTP4 percentile scores may sometimes range 5 to 50 percentile higher than the SSAT percentile scores for the same student.

When considering the student’s scores, keep in mind that the Upper Level SSAT tests high school level material (which is particularly challenging in the math and vocabulary sections), whereas the CTP4 tests material at the student’s existing grade level. The SSAT is an entrance exam with tricky questions designed to mislead the student; the CTP4 is much more straightforward in how the questions and answers are designed.

How to outgame the SSAT →