SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test)

The SSAT is a standardized test administered to students in grades 5-11 to help determine placement into certain private and independent schools. The SSAT is owned, published, and developed by the Secondary School Admission Test Board.

The SSAT is administered nationally eight times during the academic year; however, students should not take the test more than once in a given year. Regional private schools and organizations also have the option of administering the test independently, and these “Flex” test dates by region can be found on the SSAT website. This website is also used for registration via an online form.

A student will register for one of two SSAT tests, depending on grade level. The Lower Level test is administered for students currently in grades 5-7, and the Upper Level test is for students currently in grades 8-11. The tests have the same format, but the Upper Level exam covers more advanced material.

SAT Scoring

Scores for each section on the SSAT (Math, Verbal, and Reading) are scaled based on the performance of students for each separate exam. The Lower Level exam is scaled from 440-710 points per section, or 1320-2130 total. The Upper Level exam is scaled from 500-800 points per section, or 1500-2400 total. Students in lower grades for their test are expected to receive lower scaled scores.

The SSAT score report also provides SSAT percentile rankings for each category, comparing each student’s performance to that of others in the same grade who have taken the test in the past three years. These percentile rankings provide a more accurate way of evaluating student performance at each grade level. However, the SSAT percentiles are a comparison against only other students who have taken the SSAT, and these tend to be a very high achievers. Students should not be discouraged if their percentile rankings appear low. The SSAT also publishes an Estimated National Percentile ranking for test takers in grades 5-9, an estimated comparison of student performance against the entire national student population.

What is Covered?

The SSAT’s five sections are broken into three main subjects (Math, Verbal, and Reading) plus one writing sample. Each of these sections test the student’s ability to think logically, organize ideas, and solve problems systematically. The Math, Verbal, and Reading scores are scaled and combined to give the student’s total SSAT score. The writing sample is not scored, but is sent to the admissions officers of the private schools to which the student is applying.


The test contains two 30-minute Math sections with 25 multiple-choice questions each. These sections test knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, word problems, and basic algebra. Students will need to apply their knowledge of these subjects efficiently in order to solve multi-step problems within a strict time limit. No calculator is allowed, so students should be proficient in mental math and long division and multiplication.


The Verbal section is 30 minutes long with 60 questions. The first half is comprised of synonym questions, which test students’ knowledge of word meanings. The second half is comprised of analogies, which test students’ ability to recognize relationships between words. These questions require a thorough knowledge of advanced English vocabulary.


The Reading section is 40 minutes long and comprises 7-8 short passages with questions. The passages may be drawn from history, science, editorial essays, short stories, or poems. The questions test students’ ability to understand advanced reading material, to summarize main ideas, and to make inferences based on what they have read within a strict time limit.

Writing Sample

The SSAT writing sample takes the form of a 25-minute, one-page essay in which students must support or disprove a topic statement by using examples from personal experience, history, literature, and current events. These topics take the form of common sayings and proverbs, such as “No pain, no gain.” Although this section is not scored, it will be evaluated by the admissions officers of the school to which the student is applying. Students should aim to write a well-structured essay free from spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes.

Format of the SSAT

Writing Sample: One 25-minute essay
Verbal: One 30-minute section (multiple choice)
Reading: One 40-minute section (multiple choice)
Math: Two 30-minute sections (multiple choice)

SSAT Study Tips

  • Commit to long-term, diligent study to build vocabulary and review key concepts
  • Read and analyze highlevel material: books, short stories, poems, newspapers
  • Write practice essays and have a parent or teacher edit for structure, logic, and mechanics
  • Drill math concepts, and practice applying them quickly and accurately in multi-step problems
  • Speed is key: practice with a time limit