Scoring on the SSAT

Scoring on the SSAT: Your 2021 Guide

Scoring on the SSAT: What You Need to Know

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's Complete Guide to Scoring on the SSAT

Mastering SSAT content is only half the battle. SSAT scoring can seem even more confusing than the test itself!

Raw scores? Scaled scores? Percentile by grade? Percentile by grade and gender?

What does it all mean? 

You’re not alone if you’re struggling to make sense of the SSAT score report. The key to understanding SSAT scoring lies in differentiating between the essential and nonessential information contained in the report.

It also lies in understanding what aspects of the SSAT score report secondary schools actually consider. 

We cover all of this and more in this comprehensive post. Plus, we give you access to our Complete Guide to Scoring on the SSAT. You can grab this now by clicking the button below.

Here is what we discuss:

Note: For the purposes of this post, we will largely discuss scoring as it pertains to the Upper-Level SSAT.


Scoring on the SSAT: The Basics 

Let's begin by diving into the fundamentals of scoring on the SSAT. 

1) Your total SSAT score is comprised of 3 scored sections.

These include:

So, on an Upper-Level SSAT score report, students will technically receive four sets of scaled scores:

  1. SSAT Verbal test score (between 500 and 800)
  2. SSAT Quantitative test score (between 500 and 800)
  3. SSAT Reading test score (between 500 and 800)
  4. A total SSAT score (the combination of Verbal, Quantitative, and Reading scaled scores, 1500-2400)

There are 2 additional unscored sections: a Writing Sample and Experimental section. The Writing Sample is the first section of the SSAT, while the Experimental section is the last.

The Experimental section of the Upper-Level SSAT consists of sixteen questions (Verbal, Reading, and Quantitative). According to the SSAT.org, this section tests "new questions" for "future SSAT forms."

2) There is a wrong answer penalty on the SSAT.

On the SSAT, test-takers receive 1 point for every correct answer. If you leave a question entirely blank, you neither lose nor gain points. 

However, if you answer a question incorrectly, you lose a 1/4 point! This might not sound like much, but it can add up. 

For this reason, we often encourage SSAT students to embrace a specific guessing strategy, which we discuss later on in this post.

3) Students also earn a percentile ranking for each SSAT section.

Scaled scores aren't the only scores that appear on a typical SSAT score report.

Students will also earn a percentile ranking for their performance on SSAT Verbal, SSAT Math, and SSAT Reading. They'll also get a percentile ranking for their total SSAT score. 

This percentile indicates the percentage of first-time test-takers of the same grade/gender who have taken an SSAT on a standard test date in the U.S. /Canada in the past three years (not including this year). This group of test-takers is called the "norm group," and this norm sample is unique for every SSAT the test-makers score.

To emphasize: your SSAT “percentile” is NOT the percent of questions correct. Nor does it refer to a comparison of your scores and those of other students who took the SSAT on the same day.

It is a comparison of your performance with that of other students within a designated norm group.

The SSAT.org attempts to demystify this in one of its online learning webinars:

SSAT Percentiles

How does EMA calculate percentiles? It utilizes both raw scores and scaled scores.

Your raw score is the number of questions you get right on a section minus 1/4 point for each incorrect answer. This raw score is converted to a scaled score between 500 and 800. Then this scaled score becomes a percentile ranging from 1 to 99. 

We want to point out that a 50 percentile on an SSAT section isn’t a big red F for failure: it’s right in the middle of the pack! In technical terms, it is the median score within the designated norm group.

Here's an example of percentiles in action:

If you scored in the 50th percentile overall, you performed better than 50% of the test-takers in the "norm group." The same goes for the individual sections: if you ranked in the 70th percentile on the Verbal section, you performed better than 70% of students in the norm group on the Verbal section. 

Most schools have an average SSAT percentile that they consider in the admissions process. Many look at your percentile score when reviewing your application.

Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of how this works. You can also find this information (and much more) in our Complete Guide to Scoring on the SSAT.


SSAT Scores by Section

Although each SSAT section has a different number of questions, these questions are all worth the same number of points on each individual section.

The Verbal Score

Your SSAT Verbal score is the result of your performance on one single SSAT Verbal section.

This section has 60 questions, the most of any section. 30 of these are Synonym questions, and 30 are Analogy questions.

The lowest score you can earn on SSAT Verbal is 500, while the highest is 800.

The Quantitative Score

Your SSAT Quantitative score is the result of your performance on two separate Quantitative sections of 25 questions each. These sections are scored together for a total Quantitative Score comprising 50 questions. 

The lowest score you can earn on SSAT Quantitative is 500, while the highest is 800.

The Reading Score

The SSAT Reading score is the result of a student's performance on one single Reading section. This section has 40 questions. 

The lowest score you can earn on SSAT Reading is 500, while the highest is 800.

The Writing Sample

There is no score for the SSAT Writing Sample. However, the essay response is still submitted to admission departments.

Students have 25 minutes to respond to either a creative or non-creative prompt.

How to Translate Raw Scores to Percentile Scores

For each section raw score (the number of questions correct, adjusted for the 1/4 point wrong answer penalty), you’ll need 2 things: the number of questions you got correct and the number of questions you got incorrect. 

You can then apply this formula:

SSAT Score Calculation: Prep Maven

Now you have your raw scores for each section! For each test, the SSAT takes a student's raw scores and translates these into scaled scores (between 500 and 800) and percentile rankings (from 1 to 99).

Remember that scaled scores and percentiles are calculated based on data from a unique norm group.

Because every test's norm group is different, it is difficult to precisely pinpoint what raw/scaled score you need to get a certain percentile ranking! The SSAT has admitted this in the past:

"The same scaled score on the SSAT may have a different percentile rank from year to year or even from test to test, and the SSAT percentile ranks should not be compared to those of other standardized tests because each test is taken by a different group of students."

Here's an example. Let's say that Darla is a rising 9th grader who has taken the SSAT twice to date. Here are her raw and scaled scores and percentile rankings for the SSAT Math section.

First Test

# Questions # Correct Answers # Incorrect Answers # Blank Answers Raw Score Scaled Score  Percentile
50 40 5 5 38.75 776 92

Second Test

# Questions # Correct Answers # Incorrect Answers # Blank Answers Raw Score Scaled Score  Percentile
50 38 10 2 35.5 761 88

On the second test, Darla got twice as many questions incorrect as she got wrong on the first test. Yet this only translated to losing four percentile points. From another perspective, however, getting only two more questions right meant Darla broke the 90th percentile range on her first test.

Is this making your head spin? You're not alone!

Our conclusion?

Because percentile rankings are essentially out of a student's control, the best bet is to focus on maximizing the raw score of each section. Doing so is the safest means of increasing a student's likelihood of earning a higher percentile on each section.

We also strongly encourage SSAT students to take the official SSAT several times, given that test difficulty is likely to fluctuate from exam to exam.

Reminder: The 1/4 Point Factor

Before we move on, let’s come back to that 1/4 point rule.

If you treat the SSAT as a test where you can guess away to your heart’s content, you might end up with a lower score than you deserve.

Let’s compare two students: Guessing Gabby and Skipper Sam. 

They both took a Reading section and answered 25 out of 40 questions correctly. Gabby guessed on any questions she was unsure of, whereas Sam skipped them. Sadly for Gabby, it was not her lucky day, and all the questions she guessed were incorrect.

When we look at their scores, here’s what results.

Gabby: 25 questions correct, 15 incorrect -> 25 - 15/4 -> 21.75 raw score -> ~43 percentile

Sam: 25 questions correct, 0 incorrect -> 25 - 0 -> 25 raw score -> ~57 percentile

While both students got the same number of questions right, Sam came away with a 14% higher percentile score, all because she skipped questions she didn’t know! 

“To guess versus not to guess” can be challenging for young students who are used to taking tests in a straightforward manner. Nonetheless, it’s a vital part of understanding how SSAT scoring works.


Your SSAT Score Report

Student scores become available on the SSAT website between three days and two weeks of the test date, depending on the type of SSAT you've taken.

Log in to the student version of your SSAT account to view your scores. When you do so, you will first see a score overview page that looks like this:

SSAT Score Report Source: SSAT.org

You may be wondering what the “T Scaled/V Scaled/Q Scaled/R Scaled” columns mean.

These refer to a student’s scaled total SSAT score (T), Verbal score (V), Quantitative score (Q), and Reading score (R). Don’t worry about these too much, as scaled scores are mainly intermediaries to get to that percentile score, which schools are most focused on. 

There is a little more information we can get out of the SSAT score report.

Simply expand the menu and click “View Score Report.” This gives students their scaled scores, percentiles ("SSAT Reference Information"), and a listing of right, wrong, and unanswered questions in each section. 

SSAT Score Report

SSAT Score Report

Source: Reading Your Middle or Upper-Level SSAT Score Report

This report includes a brief breakdown of question types for each section (i.e., “Main Idea” vs “Higher Order” for Reading). 

Lastly, students receive "ranges" for their scaled scores. These are designed to give students information about possible score differences if they sit for the SSAT again in a short period of time.


Frequently Asked Questions

We already discussed that students should focus more on percentiles, as opposed to scaled scores. Here are some further questions that might come up:

What matters more, SSAT section percentiles or total percentiles?

Schools tend to consider the percentiles of each section. However, we encourage families to check with schools of interest to verify, as preferences differ between institutions.

How do I know if my SSAT score is good enough for the school(s) I want to apply to?

Our families ask us this question all the time, and for good reason! 

The first place to look is a school’s admissions page. Here, students may find average SSAT scores of competitive applicants.

However, schools aren’t always the most public with this information. Always call the admissions office if you can’t find it or need clarification. We discuss this further in our post about "good" SSAT scores.

In the meantime, if you want to survey the lay of the land, there are a couple of sites that offer a decent breakdown of average SSAT scores by school, such as Test Innovators:

Stuart County Day School Admissions

Keep in mind that the SSAT is designed for the average student to score in the 50% percentile (the median). There are some great schools with an average SSAT score in this 50-60% range.

The most competitive schools, however, will have average SSAT scores in the 90th+ percentile. 

Should I even bother applying to certain schools if my score is below average? 

Before making this decision, check with your school(s) of interest. This is vital!

Some schools have recommended score ranges for competitive applicants.

Yet others will tell prospective applicants that SSAT scores are only a small part of the holistic package; things like good character and extracurricular involvement may be more significant aspects of an application.


What Should I Prioritize? Next Steps

After all of this, how should you navigate your SSAT test prep journey?

1) Know your target score.

Do your best research on your schools of interest to get a ballpark score for targeting. It's also wise to take a diagnostic SSAT to understand your benchmarks for raw scores.

Learn more about available SSAT practice materials and resources here.

2) Focus on accuracy in your test prep.

Remember the 1/4 point effect and don’t lose more points than you have to. 

A good general rule for competitive applicants is to aim for no more than 5 incorrect questions per section (for Math, across BOTH sections). This strategy has the greatest potential for a higher percentile ranking. 

3) Plan to take the test more than once. 

Your percentile is part of an ever-fluctuating data set based on an accumulation of select scores over the past three years. 

In addition, some tests are easier than others, and no matter how thoroughly you prepare, you might have an off day on the actual test.

So give yourself the best chance you can by starting your SSAT test prep early and planning to take the test at least twice!

Download PrepMaven's Complete Guide to Scoring on the SSAT

What else should you know about scoring on the SSAT? In our Complete Guide to Scoring on the SSAT, you'll get access to:

  • A recap of everything discussed in this post
  • Our thoughts on what a "good" SSAT score looks like
  • Details about SSAT score release dates
  • Information on score reporting services and sending scores to schools


Jess Welsh_Princeton TutoringJess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!


What is a good SSAT Score_

What is a Good SSAT Score for 2021?

What is a Good SSAT Score in 2021?

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

Are you a future SSAT test taker? You're likely wondering what a "good" SSAT score is.

In the U.S., there are 34,576 private schools. Many of these institutions require applicants to take the SSAT, an admissions exam for prospective elementary, middle, and high school students.

Some of these schools specify the SSAT scores of competitive applicants on their websites. Others, however, may be more vague about SSAT requirements.

What is a “good” SSAT score? Most importantly, what score can help students get admitted to their dream schools?

We answer these questions--and several others--in this post! Plus, we give readers access to our comprehensive SSAT Guidebook, which you can download for free below.

Here's what we discuss:


SSAT Scores: The Basics 

In our article on SSAT scoring, we discuss the ¼ point penalty, percentile rankings, and private schools’ consideration of an average SSAT score in admission.

Here’s a brief review of the high points:

1) There is a wrong answer penalty on the SSAT.

The SSAT deducts ¼ point for every wrong answer from your raw score (the number of questions you got right and wrong). Students receive 1 point for every question they answer correctly on an individual section.

2) Raw scores become scaled scores and percentile rankings.

For each section, students receive a scaled score between 500 and 800. They also receive a percentile ranking ranging from 1 to 99 for each section.

Your SSAT percentile is not the percent of questions answered correctly on each individual section. The SSAT percentile scoring reflects how you performed compared to other test-takers. 

3) Schools prioritize the percentile ranking for sections during admissions.

Rather than looking at the scaled or raw scores for each section, schools emphasize students' SSAT percentiles for the test's sections.

As a reminder, there are three scored sections on the SSAT: Verbal, Reading, and Quantitative. There are two unscored sections: the SSAT writing sample and an experimental section.

**Note: For the purposes of this post, we’ll look at Upper-Level SSAT scores.


A “Good” SSAT Score

If you score in the 50th percentile on any SSAT section, you will achieve the "median" SSAT score for that test. And if you score higher than the 50th percentile, you perform better than the median.

A good starting place for SSAT test-takers is to surpass the median SSAT score for each individual section.

But what counts as a “good” SSAT score? 

Our answer: it depends! 

Each student’s talents, interests, and goals are entirely unique. What’s more, a “good” SSAT score is likely to fluctuate depending on the institution a student is applying to.

What is a good SSAT score_ (1)

We can still make some general conclusions, however, to guide students in their SSAT test prep journey.

1) Most private schools want to see SSAT scores above the 50th percentile. 

One of the SSAT’s purposes is to indicate students’ preparedness for a competitive private school environment. 

According to the SSAT.org, the test is

an indispensable tool that gives admission professionals an equitable means to assess and compare applicants, regardless of their background or experience.”

It is also, according to SSAT.org, an "exceptionally valid indicator of first-year student success."

The SSAT score is often the content/aptitude “benchmark” that qualifies a student for admission at many schools. For this reason, students who score above the 50th percentile are above the median. 

Still, as we discuss in another article, SSAT scores are only one piece of the admissions equation.

So if you only crack the 49th percentile, don’t automatically count yourself out!

2) Some schools want SSAT scores in the 80-90th+ percentiles.

This is the case for more competitive and/or elite institutions, such as Phillips Exeter Academy, Philips Academy Andover, and Groton School.

Here's what the Lawrenceville School says about SSAT scores on its website:

"The average SSAT score for accepted students has historically been around the 85th percentile. We do not have a SSAT score cut-off, and we recognize that each applicant comes from a different background when it comes to test preparation. We aim to evaluate an entire applicant's profile, with the SSAT being one part of the process."

An SSAT score that is not in the 80-90th+ percentile doesn’t necessarily preclude a student from admission to these schools. 

However, it does mean that most of the students admitted to these schools will have SSAT scores in this percentile.

3) Some schools may emphasize test scores more than others.

It's challenging to assess the extent to which a school considers a student's SSAT scores in making the admissions decision. It is safe to say, however, that some schools may weigh other parts of the application more heavily than test scores.

These other parts include interviews, transcripts, character & personality, institutional priorities, extracurricular achievements, and overall fit.

Here's what Peddie School's director of admission has to say about selecting applicants, for example:

"We choose our students because we believe that we can help them discover things about themselves that they don't already know, and because they have something to offer Peddie that we don't already have."

Want more helpful information about preparing for the SSAT? We discuss SSAT scoring, private school admissions, and test prep in our comprehensive SSAT Guidebook. It's free and you can download it right now.


Your Dream School's Average SSAT Scores

An easy answer to the question "what is a good SSAT score?" is simply the average score of admitted applicants. Yet schools can be very secretive about the SSAT scores of successful applicants, making this information difficult to access!

It is possible to, at the very least, approximate a "good" SSAT score for your schools of choice, however.

Here are some ideas for SSAT score sleuthing:

1) Form a general impression of average SSAT scores from online research. 

Certain websites have aggregated data for average SSAT scores of boarding schools across the country. These include Boarding School Review and TestInnovators. While this data is unofficial, it can be helpful for general assessments.

Some schools may also simply specify average SSAT scores of competitive applicants on their websites.

Keep in mind that more competitive institutions, however, may not do so. (Most of these only mention the SSAT in the context of admission materials on their websites.)

2) Call the school and ask for the average SSAT score of successful applicants.

This may sound intimidating, but reaching out to the school directly is always a possibility. The worst thing that can happen is that an admissions department representative declines to answer your questions about SSAT scores!

We recommend first stating your intention to be a competitive applicant when contacting schools. Here's an example:

"I'd love to be a competitive applicant to the Lawrenceville School. Would you be able to give me insight into how I can best do so, especially in terms of my SSAT scores and my application?"

Most school representatives will, at the very least, guide applicants towards a general, competitive SSAT score.

Even if you’ve found some pretty convincing-sounding information on an average SSAT score from an admissions website, still call and check. Websites can be outdated.


Setting Your Target SSAT Score 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to you and your own reasonable goals for your SSAT score. If you're at the beginning of your SSAT test prep journey, this means first establishing a target SSAT score. 

The best way to do this is by taking a practice SSAT. A diagnostic exam can give you a set of "benchmark" scores (raw & scaled scores and percentiles) and a sense of how far you need to go to reach your dream score. It's wise to take your first practice SSAT as soon as possible--we suggest allocating at least three months to consistent SSAT prep for substantial score increases.

When setting your target score, should you establish a target raw score, scaled score, or percentile?

This is a question our families ask us all the time. We recommend that students set a goal of maximizing their raw scores for each individual section of the SSAT.

Why do we recommend this if schools prioritize percentiles with SSAT scores?

First, keep in mind that the test-makers calculate each SSAT score based off of a unique norm sample. This sample includes data from the last three years of SSAT administration (not including this year's). Because this norm sample is always unique, the distribution of scores will always be different.

This means that it is actually not possible to precisely pinpoint how many questions you need to get right on a section to get a certain percentile ranking! The SSAT actually admits this:

"The same scaled score on the SSAT may have a different percentile rank from year to year or even from test to test, and the SSAT percentile ranks should not be compared to those of other standardized tests because each test is taken by a different group of students."

Here's an example. Let's say that Darla is a rising 9th grader who has taken the SSAT twice to date. Here are her raw and scaled scores and percentile rankings for the SSAT Math section.

First Test

# Questions # Correct Answers # Incorrect Answers # Blank Answers Raw Score Scaled Score  Percentile
50 40 5 5 38.75 776 92

Second Test

# Questions # Correct Answers # Incorrect Answers # Blank Answers Raw Score Scaled Score  Percentile
50 38 10 2 35.5 761 88

On the second test, Darla got twice as many questions incorrect as she got wrong on the first test. Even so, she only lost four percentile points. Yet this also means that there are four percentile points at stake, potentially, simply for getting two more questions right on this one section (and for not skipping hard questions!)

Our conclusion?

Because percentile rankings are essentially out of a student's control, the best bet is to focus on maximizing the raw score of each section. Doing so is the safest means of increasing a student's likelihood of earning a higher percentile on each section.

We also strongly encourage SSAT students to take the official SSAT several times, given that test difficulty is likely to fluctuate from exam to exam.


A Word About SSAT Superscoring

You may have heard of the term “superscoring,” referring to taking the best section scores from separate test dates to combine in an overall score. 

The SSAT itself does not superscore (you will have to send multiple tests to school), but school admissions departments might do so.

This is another factor to consider when determining if you have a “good” SSAT score. Call your school of interest to verify if they superscore!

So, what is a good SSAT score? A "good" SSAT score is the score that aligns with your school aspirations and your current abilities.

We recommend investigating the average SSAT scores of successful applicants at your schools of choice and then implementing a regular SSAT study schedule to reach this "good" score.

While arming yourself with information can be a powerful tool, try not to get too caught up in comparing your SSAT score to others’. Focus instead on improving your accuracy in order to achieve your personal goal score.


Download PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

Navigating the SSAT can be challenging, especially for first-time test-takers. That's why we created our free SSAT Guidebook, an excellent resource for families starting the secondary school admission process.

SSAT Resources_Guidebook

Here's what you'll get:

  • 90+ pages of valuable SSAT guidance
  • Details about SSAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven's SSAT strategies for all 5 sections of the test
  • Information about SSAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. private high schools
  • and much more!


Jess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!

 


How Important are SSAT Scores to Private Schools_

How Important Are SSAT Scores to Private Schools?

How Important Are SSAT Scores to Private Schools?

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

Most private school applicants are required to submit SSAT scores as part of their application.

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is designed to help admissions officers "assess the abilities of students seeking to enroll in an independent school."

U.S. private schools vary widely in their educational philosophies and institutional priorities. For this reason, every school is likely to value standardized test scores differently in the admissions process.

In fact, some do not even require standardized test scores from applicants!

Historically, however, many of the most popular private schools require the SSAT as part of a student’s application. What's more, these schools are a bit reticent when it comes to publicly sharing the weight they place on these scores.

If you are seeking admission to one of these schools, you're likely curious about how important those SSAT scores actually are. That's what we discuss in this post! We also give readers access to our free SSAT guidebook, which you can grab below.

In this post, we cover the following:


SSAT Scores and Private Schools: The Basics 

In a separate post, we discuss several answers to a question many SSAT students ask at the start of their prep: “What is a good SSAT score?” 

We emphasize that a “good” SSAT score often depends on so much--the student's educational aspirations, test prep history, content preparedness, and more.

SSAT Scores and Private Schools_Quote

Similarly, SSAT scores’ importance to private schools almost always depends on the school in question!

But first, let’s talk about why SSAT scores are important in general. Why do schools even need SSAT scores when there are plenty of other records available regarding students’ academic performance? 

The Common Ground in Private School Admissions

The most valuable role of the SSAT is that it provides a standardized indication of a student’s academic level. This provides some level of consistency, as the SSAT itself confirms:

A standardized test is a test that is developed, administered and scored in a consistent (or standard) manner.

Transcripts and teacher recommendations are unique to the school that provides them, and many pre-secondary schools have different grading systems. Some don’t give grades at all! So, the SSAT attempts to establish a common ground for comparing applicants’ academic aptitudes. 

Thus, SSAT scores can be an added factor with which to compare two applicants who might be similar in many other respects.

Are You Prepared for Private School?

The SSAT also provides insight into a student’s preparedness for the rigors of secondary school academics. The SSAT tests content and learning strategy, both of which are of interest to admissions counselors for their student body. According to the SSAT itself,

The test measures the basic verbal, math, and reading skills students need for successful performance in independent schools.

As much as you have your heart set on your dream school, you won’t have an all too dreamy time if you are struggling academically every step of the way!

The SSAT tells admissions departments whether an applicant has a strong chance of succeeding in their particular educational environment.

We discuss secondary school admission, SSAT test prep, and more in our comprehensive SSAT Guidebook. It's available for free below!


Is the SSAT the Most Important Part of My Application?

Most private school applications require students to submit some combination of the following: 

  • Application essay
  • School interview
  • Academic transcript
  • Teacher recommendation letter(s)
  • SSAT scores

So how significant is the SSAT versus all of these other components? 

It can be hard to assess this, especially as many private schools are reluctant to publicly release this information. Yet it's still worth examining school websites and even contacting admissions departments themselves to learn more about SSAT scores.

Here's what a few prominent private schools have to say with respect to the SSAT and admissions, for example:

Lawrenceville (Lawrenceville, NJ): What is your SSAT score average

The average SSAT score for accepted students has historically been around the 85th percentile. We do not have an SSAT score cut-off, and we recognize that each applicant comes from a different background when it comes to test preparation. We aim to evaluate an entire applicant’s profile, with the SSAT being one part of the process.” 

Noble and Greenough School (Dedham, MA): What are the standardized testing requirements for a Nobles application? 

Every application to Nobles is reviewed in its entirety by our application review committees no matter what the submitted test scores happen to be. It is true that we receive a number of applications every year from students with test scores in the top percentile ranges. Even though that is the case, please know that in every accepted class to Nobles there are students with a range of submitted standardized test scores.”

Lakeside School (Seattle, WA): What kind of SSAT score does my child need to have? 

“Lakeside has no minimum SSAT score for admission and we enroll students who score across a wide spectrum. A perfect score on the SSAT does not guarantee admission. The SSAT is one part of the application process and is not more important than any other piece. As educators, we know what a standardized test can and cannot tell us about an applicant, therefore we consider all aspects of the application through our review process.”

SSAT Scores and Private Schools_Quote2

There are some common takeaways here:

  • Some schools give precise average SSAT scores of successful applicants
  • Others leave it more open, but assert that their applicant pool is highly competitive
  • Still others recognize that standardized tests only say so much about an applicant

Almost all schools mention that the SSAT is just one part of the admissions equation.


SSAT Scores: It’s Still All About The Average 

Sometimes the language on a school’s website differs from what a representative might say in a phone call!

Many schools do not include the average SSAT scores of successful applicants online. Nonetheless, many do have records of this information and will tell you if you call the admissions office.   

What’s more, schools often have very different and nuanced criteria for their admissions. 

The takeaway? Make sure to call the school’s admissions department and verify!


Download PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

We know how tough it can be to navigate secondary school admissions, especially when it comes to the SSAT. That's why we created the SSAT Guidebook, an excellent resource for families and students starting their test prep.

SSAT Resources_Guidebook

Here's what you'll get with our guidebook:

  • 90+ pages of valuable SSAT guidance
  • Details about SSAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven's SSAT strategies for all 5 sections of the test
  • Information about SSAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. private high schools
  • and much more!


Jess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!


The SSAT Writing Sample_FeaturedImage (1)

The SSAT Writing Sample: What You Need to Know

The SSAT Writing Sample 

Bonus Material: 30 Free SSAT Writing Sample Prompts

The first section of the SSAT is the writing sample. While this 25-minute section is unscored, admissions officers do review student responses!

In this post, we discuss how to approach the SSAT writing sample and offer 16 easy tips for producing a high-quality response.

You’ll also get access to 30 free SSAT writing sample prompts, which you can grab below right now.

Here’s what we cover:


The SSAT Writing Sample in a Nutshell

There are a few essential things to keep in mind with the SSAT writing sample:

  • The writing sample is unscored but is sent to admissions departments with your SSAT scores
  • The writing sample is a 25-minute free response
  • Students have two pages to write their answer

SSAT writing sample prompts vary depending on whether you’re taking the Upper-Level SSAT or Middle-Level SSAT:

  • Upper Level: you have the choice to write a persuasive essay or a creative story. 
  • Middle Level: both prompt choices are creative essays.

The SSAT Writing Sample (1)

The test will begin the SSAT Writing Sample section by offering you a choice:

Please choose the idea you find most interesting and write a story using the idea as your first sentence. Please fill in the circle next to the one you choose.

Students do not need any outside content knowledge to respond to an SSAT writing prompt. In fact, the prompts are intentionally broad to enable a wide variety of responses.

The SSAT actually states that the writing sample gives admissions departments a chance to learn more about applicants:

Schools would like to get to know you better through a story you tell using one of the ideas below. 

Keep this in mind as you generate your response!


16 Tips for Writing an Impressive SSAT Writing Sample Response

Which Prompt Should I Choose?

Students taking the Upper-Level SSAT will have to choose between a persuasive and a creative writing prompt. Middle-Level SSAT test-takers must choose between 2 different creative essay prompts.

Some students agonize over which prompt to choose on the Upper-Level or Middle-Level SSAT. Will one look "better" to admissions officers over another, for example?

It's important to note that admissions officers will not give preference to students who choose one prompt over another

Officers only review your writing sample response for its individual merits and writing proficiency. They might also review samples through the lens of what we like to call "institutional priorities"--standards that are specific to that private school itself.

Tips For Prompt Selection

We do encourage students to select the prompt that adheres to one or more of the following qualities. 

We suggest students choose the Writing Sample prompt that

  • is most relevant given a student's life experiences and perspectives
  • inspires the most ideas during the brainstorming process
  • excites, intrigues, or compels them
  • and/or showcases a student's specific abilities.

For example, let's say that MacKenzie excels in debate; she loves crafting an argument and supporting her points with specific, concrete evidence. As a debater, MacKenzie might be uniquely suited to respond to the persuasive Writing Sample prompt on the Upper-Level SSAT, especially if she is talented in developing a complex, high-level argument.

On the other hand, Akshay may find that as he's considering the two prompts on the Middle-Level SSAT, the second creative prompt reminds him about his relationship with his grandmother and the time they've spent playing pickleball together. In the brainstorming process, he feels that he has more to say about this personal experience, and feels excited by the prospect.

Some students like to plan the prompt they'll choose on Test Day: i.e., they know they'll always stick with the creative prompt over the persuasive one.

However, many of our SSAT students find that the prompts can be very distinct, and one will often "stick out" over the other one.

That's why we recommend practicing with sample SSAT writing prompts, so that you can be prepared to craft a stellar response for whichever prompt you select. You can do this right now by downloading 30 free sample prompts below.

5 General Tips for the SSAT Writing Sample

Whether you choose a creative or persuasive essay prompt, it’s important to follow these general tips.

Doing so won’t result in a high SSAT score (because this section is unscored!). But it will guarantee a response likely to impress admissions departments.

  1. Write legibly: If admissions departments can’t read your response, they’ll never know how amazing your essay is!
  2. Budget your time: This includes a few minutes for planning/outlining at the beginning, and another few minutes for a proof-read for grammar, spelling, and punctuation at the end.
  3. Fill your booklet: We’re not advocating quantity over quality. But, in general, aim for more rather than less. If you only write one paragraph, it won’t give admissions committees much to assess.
  4. Keep tense and point of view consistent: Don’t switch from past to present verb tense or “I” to “he/she/it” halfway through your essay.
  5. Stick to a clear structure: This refers quite simply to a framework of beginning, middle, and end. This can mean slightly different things for persuasive and creative essays.

3 Tips for Responding to Persuasive SSAT Writing Sample Prompts (Upper-Level)

For the Upper-Level SSAT persuasive writing sample, students should focus on logically and convincingly building an argument. A logical, persuasive argument generally includes a cohesive structure, clear line of reasoning, and solid evidence. 

There are a couple of tools we can use to accomplish this goal.

1. Include an introduction, thesis, and conclusion. 

Essay reviewers will like to see several distinct argument building blocks in your essay, especially an introduction, a thesis statement, and a conclusion. Most SSAT test-takers will have worked on these components of the 5-paragraph essay in class.

Given the Writing Sample's time limit (25 minutes), the introduction and conclusion of your response can be fairly brief; feel free to write just a sentence or two for both.

The thesis statement typically comes at the end of the introduction, and concisely states the core argument that you are about to prove. 

Here’s an example thesis statement:

While there are many qualities that make a good leader, the three most important ones are integrity, commitment to a cause, and ability to inspire others.

2. Choose and maintain a clear thesis statement. 

It’s easier to pick one side of an argument and commit to it than to try to argue both sides of the fence. In fact, your thesis statement should be as clear as possible in its perspective.

That doesn’t mean your essay can’t include an evaluation of a counterargument, in which you bring up an opposing argument and show why your own is stronger. In fact, the counterargument can be a powerful device in persuasive essays! 

Here’s an example of a counterargument:

It is true that success can help show you what you are doing right, but you will always be limited by what you believe you can achieve; whereas if you are not afraid to fail, you may realize you are capable of more than you had imagined.

Be sure to maintain your thesis statement throughout your essay, referencing it in every topic sentence of individual paragraphs.

Note: It is all right to use the first-person point of view in these responses, even though most English teachers discourage this in the classroom.

3. Use specific examples to support your argument. 

Strong, specific examples demonstrate that you can point to relevant evidence correlating your argument. History, current events, and experiences from your own life are some great sources from which to draw.

Here’s an example of a statement supported by specific evidence:

Abraham Lincoln was only president for four years, but his commitment to his cause of American union makes him consistently one of the most popular presidents in history. Similarly, in my personal life, my favorite teachers and coaches have always been the ones who were passionate about their subjects or the act of teaching itself.

3 Tips for Responding to Creative SSAT Writing Sample Prompts

Students taking the Middle-Level SSAT will have to choose between 2 creative essay prompts. Upper-Level SSAT test-takers must choose between a creative prompt and a persuasive one.

If you select the creative SSAT writing sample prompt on either test, your primary goal is to show that you can tell an engaging, well-structured story

It may be a true story from your own life or one completely based on imagination. All that matters is that you tell it in a compelling fashion and demonstrate proficiency in basic creative writing techniques, such as dialogue, setting, plot development, description, and narrative arc.

Below are some tips to help with this.

1. In the opening of your essay, establish the setting. 

Setting or place is a foundational element of basic creative writing. Establishing your response's setting at the start will demonstrate your attention to this.

A great tool here is vivid descriptive detail that utilizes the senses. Think about what the characters are seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, or smelling as they move around their specific environment.

The same goes for imagery. Fill your prose with rich images to set the scene for the reader and guide them through the narrative. Here’s an example of compelling imagery in action that establishes setting:

Pebbles crunched all around her as she pushed herself faster downhill, and her eyes watered from the red dust that was turning her throat dry.

2. Establish the main character(s) and conflict. 

What does the main character want, and what is stopping them from reaching this goal? Identify this before writing your essay, and be sure to establish it early on in your response.

The classic examples of conflict are character against nature, character against character, and character against self. Here is an example of narrative conflict:

She had to get to the bottom of the trail before the gulch flooded and took her horse downstream with it.

3. Follow the general principles of story structure.

You probably already know these general principles from all the books, movies, and TV shows you have watched in your life: most stories have a beginning, middle, and end. As the character deals with the conflict, the action rises to a climax. As the character overcomes the conflict, action falls toward a conclusion.

We strongly recommend outlining and brainstorming the story structure of your creative response before plunging in, as in the following example:

In the beginning, the main character is racing down the rocky trail to save her horse from an approaching flood. Conflict arises when a boulder is blocking the trail, which she overcomes by taking a shortcut. In the end, she reaches the bottom of the trail and saves her horse just in time. 

4 Additional Tips

Now that you have more of a sense of what the SSAT writing sample entails, here’s what you can do to prepare: 

  1. Take a practice timed SSAT writing sample. Make sure to budget a couple of minutes at the beginning for planning and a couple of minutes at the end for proofreading!
  2. Show your practice essay to trusted readers. Ask them to note any errors and provide feedback. Do they feel convinced by your argument or engaged by your story?
  3. Reflect on the comments on your writing sample. What worked in your initial attempt, and what didn’t? Should you organize your time differently?
  4. Repeat! Notice how the comments evolve as you keep practicing. Are there words you are consistently misspelling? Elements you keep forgetting to include?

Over time, you will feel yourself becoming more comfortable with the SSAT writing sample. Practice can also help you understand how the writing response can be a space for showcasing your unique ideas and personality!


Download 30 SSAT Writing Sample Prompts for Practice

You can put these 16 tips to practice right now by downloading PrepMaven’s 30 free SSAT writing sample prompts!

With this worksheet, you’ll get:

  • 15 Creative SSAT Writing Sample prompts
  • 15 Persuasive SSAT Writing Sample prompts
  • A valuable long-term resource for your continued SSAT prep


Jess Welsh_Princeton TutoringJess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!


SSAT Verbal (1)

The SSAT Verbal Section: Introduction

Your Introduction to the SSAT Verbal Section

The SSAT contains one Verbal section.

In this section, students must complete Synonyms and Analogies questions.

The most daunting aspect of the SSAT Verbal section is the sheer number of words that can appear on it. After all, there are 171,476 words in current use in the English language!

But with some smart strategies and an effective vocabulary-building plan, you can put yourself in a much more advantageous position for test day. 

In this post, we discuss:


SSAT Verbal: The Basics

The SSAT Verbal section is often the lowest-scoring section for students beginning their SSAT prep. 

Schools simply don’t spend a lot of time teaching vocabulary to students--especially vocabulary at the level of the test's questions. The good news is that the Verbal section is also one of the easiest sections to improve!

Before we get into some study tips, let’s recall the breakdown of the Verbal section that we introduced in our “What’s on the SSAT?” article:

  • 30 minutes /  60 multiple choice questions
  • 2 sections: Synonyms and Analogies

The Upper-Level SSAT will, of course, test higher-level vocabulary than the Middle-Level SSAT tests.

While both Verbal sections test students’ vocabulary range, the Analogy section has an extra element of identifying relationships between words.

Let’s look more closely at each section.


SSAT Verbal: Synonyms

In the Synonyms section, students are given a word in CAPITAL LETTERS and asked to find a word or phrase with the closest meaning.

Here’s a sample Synonyms question:

IRATE:
A) angry
B) nervous
C) elated
D) shy
E) thoughtful

Correct Answer: A

There is no finite list of words from which the SSAT draws. So, the most surefire plan for preparing for the Synonyms section is simply to have a big vocabulary! 

Most SSAT students, however, do not have the luxury of time, especially the time it takes to build a substantial vocabulary. 

For this reason, we recommend using the following strategies to quickly and effectively develop an understanding of advanced terms:

Learn word roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

The English language is made up of lots of little building blocks, many derived from Latin and Greek words. If you learn just one of these building blocks, you might be able to identify it in 10+ words! 

You can find many lists (some SSAT-focused) of these word roots, prefixes, and suffixes online or in books that focus on vocabulary building.

Searching Quizlet for online SSAT vocabulary lists or investing in a Merriam-Webster Vocabulary Builder book are good places to start. 

o   Roots are a portion of a word from which other words grow. 

For example, “bene” comes from the Latin word meaning “well.” Bene can be found in English words including benefactor, benefit, benediction, beneficiary, benevolent…You can see how it works!

o   Prefixes are groups of letters placed at the beginning of a word. 

For example, “anti-“ is a Greek prefix meaning “against” or “opposite.” Anti can be found as a prefix in English words such as antihero, antibiotic, antiseptic, etc.

o   Suffixes are groups of letters placed at the end of a word. 

For example, “-logy” is the Greek word meaning “science or study of,” which we see in biology, astrology, cosmology, etc.

Use SSAT vocabulary hit lists to study.

As stated above, you can find many vocab lists in practice books or through online vocab sets. These are good places to start because they offer grade-appropriate words to learn. 

However, there is no guarantee that any of them will be on the SSAT.

Make flashcards.

Flashcards can be an excellent tool for solidifying new word knowledge. 

Quizlet is a favorite online flashcard site for many students. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned notecards!

Guess appropriately.

The general wisdom on guessing states that if you can narrow down your choices down to two answers, you have a 50% chance of getting the question correct.

Of course, always keep in mind the 1/4 point penalty per wrong answer rule of SSAT scoring. 


SSAT Verbal: Analogies

In the Analogy section, students are given two words that demonstrate a certain relationship.

They are then asked to select the choice that best completes the meaning of the sentence.

Here’s a sample Analogies question:

Gargantuan is to big as:
A) hot is to steamy
B) thirsty is to dry
C) pleasant is to melody
D) clumsy is to coordinated
E) ecstatic is to happy

Correct Answer: E

Explanation: Just as gargantuan means very big, ecstatic means very happy. Their relationship is one of degree. 

Because it involves identifying relationships, the Analogy section is more skill-based than the Synonym section. But that also means that students can make use of plenty of strategies for succeeding in this section!

Here are our favorites:

Start noticing Analogy “categories.”

In the previous question, we saw how the relationship between two words is one of “degree.” This means that the first word is a more extreme version of the second word (or vice versa).

This is an example of just one “category” of relationships you will start to see in the Analogy section. Just as there isn’t a finite list of words on the Synonyms section, there is no complete list of categories for the Analogy section. 

However, the list below gives some common relationship categories:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Size
  • Material
  • Part and Whole
  • Example and General Category
  • Cause and Effect
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Degrees
  • Actor and Action
  • Product and Producer
  • Tool and User
  • Tool and Use

Create a specific relationship sentence for the question words.

Use this sentence to plug in the answer choices

Using the example from the sample question, a relationship sentence like, “If you’re gargantuan, you’re big” is too broad – if you plug in the answer choices, they might all sound right. 

“Gargantuan is a stronger version of big” is more specific and will lead you to the correct answer!

Eliminate answer choices that have no relationship.

The right answer to an Analogy question will demonstrate the specific relationship of the question words. If you can't establish a relationship between two words, that answer choice is automatically wrong!

Here's an example question that proves this point:

Insult is to offense as:
A) laugh is to joy
B) fabricate is to falsehood
C) injure is to prepare
D) innocent is to child
E) forge is to creation

In choice C, “injure” and “prepare” have no relationship, so you can eliminate C immediately. 


SSAT Verbal Tips & Tricks

Here are a few other tips and tricks for finding success on SSAT Verbal (Upper or Middle Level).

1. Use context and connotation.

If you don't know a word, use context (where you may have heard the word before) or connotation (positive or negative charge).

If you see the word “jubilation,” you might remember that you have seen it in the context of the name of a celebratory Fortnite dance. You may also reason that it has something to do with feeling happy and triumphant.

Or if you see the word “miserly,” it might remind you of something miserable, leading you to pick an answer choice with a negative meaning (miserly means a person who is ungenerous with his/her money).

2. Watch out for homonyms.

Homonyms are words with the same spelling but different meanings. If you see “foil,” it could mean a “thin sheet of metal” or “to prevent,” for example.

Always ask yourself: which meaning makes the most sense based on the answer choices?

3. Sometimes, you have to pick the best of the "bad" options. 

The correct answer choice might not reflect the direct way you would define the word, which can confuse some students. 

In these situations, imagine your task is to pick the best of the "bad" options.

Here is a sample question:

THWART
A) approve
B) facilitate
C) confuse
D) conceal
E) forgive

Correct Answer: C

You may feel pretty confident that “thwart” means preventing something from happening, but that choice doesn’t seem to be listed here.

However, if you go with the word that most closely expresses this idea - “confuse” - you would choose the correct answer.

4. Think of all possible relationships.

You may find that some questions have multiple reasonable answers. If this is the case, try to think of additional possible relationships between the question words.

Here is a sample question that demonstrates this:

Carousel is to horse as:
A) hospital is to waiting room
B) anthology is to story
C) sun is to planet
D) bike is to wheel
E) fleet is to ship

Correct Answer: C

At first glance, you might feel stuck with this question. A "horse" is a "part" of a "carousel." With this relationship in mind, don't multiple answer choices here fit the “whole and part” category?

However, if you think of additional ways to specify the relationship, you could reach the correct answer by reasoning that the horses revolve around a carousel just as a planet orbits the sun.


How Should I Start?

What’s the best way to begin your SSAT Verbal prep? Here are our recommendations.

Begin your vocab test prep early

As we’ve said many times before, it takes time to build these skills. The more words you know, the better chance you will have at answering a question correctly.

 The more time you spend studying vocab, the more words you will know!

Don’t try and memorize 500 words at once

You won’t remember them! It is better to focus on 5-10 words at a time, and keep coming back to vocab sets for review. More importantly, be sure you are also using those words that you’re learning.

Integrate new words into school assignments and personal practice to make them a concrete part of your vocabulary. 

Read widely

Understanding the deeper context of the words can allow them to lodge more firmly in your memory. 

Reading can also introduce you to a wide variety of new words to supplement your vocabulary building. Aim to digest advanced reading materials, such as higher-level nonfiction texts, editorials and articles, and journal pieces.

More than any other section, the SSAT Verbal section depends on you slowly but surely improving your vocabulary in a consistent fashion.

In this way, studying for the SSAT Verbal section is like putting money in a piggy bank: it might feel like you’re getting nowhere with the little contributions you make each day, but as long as you keep putting in time, you’ll see a big reward in your score going up after a few months.

One of the best ways to jumpstart your SSAT test prep is to work with a professional tutor. Schedule your free consultation now!


Jess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!


What's on the SSAT_ (1)

What’s on the SSAT?

What’s on the SSAT? Your Guide to the Test

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is now a standard component of private school admissions.

The vast majority of applicants take the test only once. But that doesn't mean the SSAT is not worth studying for! Adequate preparation can result in a competitive SSAT score.

Competitive SSAT scores can give secondary school applications that highly coveted "edge." 

If you're beginning your SSAT test prep journey, your first question may very well be, "What's on the SSAT?" We're here to give you the foundation you need for your study!

We also give our readers access to our free SSAT Guidebook, which provides extensive guidance for families navigating this test for the first time. Grab this now below.

In this post, we cover:


The SSAT: The Basics

Just like most standardized tests, the SSAT follows a predictable format broken into sections testing different skills and abilities.

However, there are slight variations in the content depending on what grade you are in. 

So the first thing to understand is what level SSAT test you are taking!

The SSAT offers three different levels: 

  • Elementary Level for students in grades 3 and 4
  • Middle Level for students in grades 5-8 
  • Upper Level for students in grades 8-11 

Students take the test that corresponds to the grade they are currently in, not the grade they are entering. 

It doesn’t matter that you might be taking the same test as students in higher grade levels. Your scores are always ranked against those of other students in the same grade. 

The three different SSAT levels are designed to test material appropriate for each student’s respective grade level.  

No matter which level SSAT test you take, the sections are always the same: a Writing Sample section and Quantitative, Reading, and Verbal multiple-choice sections

(Note: the Elementary Level SSAT will not be covered in this article.)


The SSAT Test Format

Here is the official section and timing breakdown of the Upper Level Test from SSAT.org (Middle Level is the same): SSAT Test Format

Source: SSAT.org

Now let’s walk through the test, taking a closer look at each section. When relevant, we’ll note the differences between the Upper and Middle Level tests.  

SSAT Writing Sample

Time: 25 minutes

Format: Free response, pick one of two prompts

This section is unscored but sent to admission departments for review. It helps give admission officers a sense of your writing abilities. 

  • Upper Level: You have the choice to write a persuasive essay or creative story
  • Middle Level: Both prompt choices are creative essays

Here are two sample persuasive prompts typical of an Upper Level SSAT writing section:

What does it mean to be a "well-rounded" student?

What is, in your opinion, the most pressing social issue today? How would you resolve it?

Here are two sample creative prompts:

She could not believe her eyes.

They knew it was time to turn back.

SSAT Quantitative 1

Time: 30 minutes

Format: 25 multiple choice questions

The SSAT features questions that span a range of math topics. Questions are designed to be solved without a calculator and you are not allowed to bring one!

Here is a sample SSAT quantitative question:

SSAT Quantitative_Sample Question
Source: SSAT.org Upper-Level Sample Questions

In its official online practice portal, the SSAT provides a list of topic categories for practice. These are a good indication of the topics that will show up on the actual test.

Upper Level: 

  • Algebra
  • Computation
  • Geometry
  • Number Sense
  • Pre-Algebra
  • Statistics and Probability

Middle Level: 

  • Algebra (far less extensive scope of topics than Upper Level)
  • Data Analysis
  • Geometry
  • Measurement
  • Number Concepts
  • Number Conversion
  • Pre-Algebra
  • Statistics & Probability 

The SSAT practice portal has sub-lists of topics within each section, and there are a few additional topics that come up frequently across various practice resources. 

SSAT Reading

Time: 40 minutes 

Format: 40 multiple choice questions, broken into approximately 7 passages

SSAT reading passages are each about 250-350 words in length, with 4-5 questions per passage. About half of the passages are narrative and half are argument-based. 

Here is the SSAT’s list of passage genres you might see represented: 

  • Literary fiction 
  • Humanities (biography, art, poetry) 
  • Science (anthropology, astronomy, medicine) 
  • Social studies (history, sociology, economics)

Source: SSAT.org

Let’s go straight to the source again for the SSAT’s list of question types you may see. 

We’ll also pull some sample questions from an Ivy Global practice test to really bring these question type descriptions to life.

Question Type Example
Main Ideas

Which statement best expresses the main idea of the passage?

Detail The Wood River Valley is unique because...
Inference

The reader can infer that the Wood River Valley...

Words in Context

In paragraph 2, "geography" most exactly refers to...

Author's Purpose

The author compares the Wood River Valley to the Grand Canyon because both...

Author's Tone and Attitude

The author's tone can best be described as...

Evaluation of Arguments & Opinions

The author suggests that the Grand Canyon...

Make Evidence-Based Predictions

Which of the following would be the best title for this passage? 

Basically, SSAT Reading questions test your reading comprehension on both a general and specific level.

The one little piece of outside knowledge you may need (which the SSAT.org did not include on its list) is a basic understanding of literary devices. Students should be familiar with the most common ones, such as simile, metaphor, and personification. 

SSAT Verbal

Time: 30 minutes

Format: 60 multiple choice questions, divided into Synonyms and Analogies sections of 30 questions each

Synonyms

In this section, you are simply provided with a word and must choose the answer that has the closest meaning. 

Here is an example synonyms question:

SSAT Upper Level Verbal Section_Synonyms
Source: SSAT.org Upper-Level Sample Questions

Analogies 

An analogy is a comparison of two things. On the SSAT, these two things will have a very specific relationship.  

Students must determine what this relationship is, and select the answer choice that most closely features that same relationship. Here is a sample Analogies question from an SSAT Verbal section:

SSAT Verbal Section: Analogies
Source: SSAT.org Upper-Level Sample Questions

Quantitative 2

Time: 30 minutes

Format: 25 multiple choice questions

This section is the same as Quantitative 1, just a second round of it! 

Experimental Section

Time: 15 minutes

Format: 16 multiple choice questions

This section is not scored and features questions from the different multiple-choice sections. It is intended to test the reliability of future SSAT questions. 

What does this all add up to? 

All in all, including breaks between sections, you’ll be in the testing room for about 185 minutes (3 hours, 5 minutes) when you take the Middle or Upper Level SSAT. 

That's a lot of time! Because the SSAT is somewhat of a marathon, it's important to boost your stamina by taking consistent practice tests.


Download PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

As you can see, each section of the SSAT tests very different skills. It might seem like a lot to process all at once, but if you break each section apart as you study, you’ll start to feel more comfortable over time. 

We also encourage readers to download our FREE SSAT Guidebook.

Here’s what you’ll get with this guidebook:

  • Over 85 pages of comprehensive, user-friendly details about the SSAT
  • Information about the SSAT and private school informations
  • Guidance for preparing for and taking the SSAT
  • Introductory strategies and content for all 5 sections of the SSAT
  • A list of test prep resources available to SSAT test-takers
  • And so much more!


Jess Welsh_Princeton TutoringJess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!


SSAT Math

SSAT Math: The Content You Need to Know

SSAT Math: The Content You Need to Know

High school math curriculums can be fairly variable.

Depending on the school, math programs can differ widely in their content and sequence. Some schools may offer more (or fewer) accelerated math classes than others.

This doesn't necessarily put SSAT test-takers at a disadvantage.

But it is important to prepare appropriately for SSAT Math. Knowing what to expect in this section, especially in terms of content, can mean the difference between a low and a high SSAT score!

In this post, we break down the most common math topics you can expect to see on the SSAT.

Here’s what we discuss:


SSAT Math: The Basics

Before we plunge into SSAT Math content, let's start with some basics.

  • There are two Math sections: a Quantitative 1 section at the beginning of the test after the writing sample, and a Quantitative 2 section at the end of the test after the Verbal section.
  • Scores from these two sections are added together to give you your overall SSAT Math score.
  • Both sections are comprised of 25 multiple-choice questions. Students have 30 minutes to answer these questions.
  • You are NOT allowed to bring a calculator, and the test is designed to solve problems without one!

The SSAT.org online portal provides a list of math topics that appear in both quantitative sections:

Upper-Level SSAT Math Middle-Level SSAT Math
Algebra Pre-Algebra & Algebra
Computation Data Analysis
Geometry Geometry
Number Sense Measurement
Pre-Algebra Number Concepts & Conversion
Statistics and Probability Statistics and Probability

You can see that Upper and Middle-Level Math content is fairly similar!

The difference is that the Upper-Level SSAT deals with more advanced questions within the given topics.  

(Note: Students must create a paid account with SSAT.org to access the portal.)


Upper-Level SSAT Math Topic Sub-Lists

Now let’s actually delve into the more detailed sub-lists the SSAT.org online portal provides. This can serve as a topic checklist for reviewing and identifying where you might need some additional practice and preparation.  

Algebra

Algebra Topic Concepts
General Problem Solving Problems using rate = (distance)(time) formula

Interpreting variables

Inequalities

Ratios & Proportions

Quadratic Equations & Functions Finding the roots/solutions of quadratic equations

Functions

Equations Based on Illustrations  Solving for an unknown length of a line segment
Equations Based on Word Problems Questions provide a formula with variables and ask the student to solve for a value
Exponential Expressions Exponent product rule, negative exponents
Polynomial Expressions FOIL

Factoring

Radical Expressions Rationalizing the denominator, nested radical expressions
Rational Expressions Multiplying rational expressions
Linear Equations

Use of the y = mx + b equation

Finding slope using coordinate points

Perpendicular/parallel slopes

Slope

Here's a sample Upper-Level SSAT Math algebra question:

SSAT Math_ All You Need to Know (1)

Correct Answer: B

Computation

A typical SSAT computation problem will likely test any (or all) of the following:

  • Estimation
  • Fractions, Decimals, and Percents

Here is a sample computation problem:

SSAT Math_ All You Need to Know (2) (1)

Correct Answer: E

Geometry

Geometry Topic Concepts
Coordinate Geometry

Finding the midpoint of a line

Dilating a shape

Perimeter, Area, & Volume

Area and circumference of a circle

Area of triangles, rectangles, squares

The volume of a cylinder

Problems Using Shapes & Angles

 Sum of interior angles in an n-sided polygon

Parallel line transversals

Pythagorean Theorem

Transformations

 

Rotating points, lines, angles, and vertices of shapes about the origin

Here is a sample SSAT Geometry problem:

SSAT Math_ All You Need to Know (3) (1)

Correct Answer: E

Number Sense

A typical SSAT number sense problem will likely test any (or all) of the following:

    • Basic Number Theory
    • Prime and composite numbers
    • Rational numbers
    • Greatest Common Factor, Least Common Multiple
    • Computation/Order of Operations

Here is a sample SSAT number sense problem:

SSAT Math_ All You Need to Know (4) (1)

Correct Answer: E

Pre-Algebra

A typical SSAT pre-algebra problem may involve any of the following concepts and content areas:

Place Value Concepts

Time/Money Concepts Computation with Whole Numbers
Computational Clue Problems Sequences, Patterns & Logic Unit Analysis
Systems of equations Reading Charts/Line Plots Rules of Divisibility
Interpret & Solve with Division Reading Charts/Histograms Reading Charts/Line Graphs
Multiples in Word Problems Operations with Negatives Reading Charts/Bar Graphs
Operations with Decimals & Fractions Word Problems with Computation

Radius and Circumference

Here is a sample SSAT Pre-Algebra question:

SSAT Math_ PreAlgebra (1)

Correct Answer: C

Statistics and Probability

Statistics and Probability Topic Concepts
Counting Arrangement problems
Mean, Median & Mode

Weighted averages

Calculating the average of a set of numbers

Probability Calculating the probability of independent and dependent events
Set Theory Union and intersection questions/terminology 

Here's a sample SSAT Statistics and Probability problem:

SSAT Math_ Mode (1)

Correct Answer: E


Middle-Level SSAT Math Sub-Topic Lists

Algebra Topic Concepts
Fundamental Algebra
  • Interpreting Variables
  • Multi-Step Word Problems
  • Solving Equations & Inequalities
Data Analysis
  • Interpreting Bar Graphs
  • Interpreting Histograms
  • Interpreting Line Graphs
Geometry
  • 2- and 3- Dimensional Shapes
  • Geometric Transformations
  • Geometry of Circles – including area and circumference
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • The Coordinate Plane 
Measurement
  • Area, Perimeter & Volume
  • Length/Width Problems
  • Time/Money Problems
  • Working with Angles
Number Concepts
  • Basic Computation
  • Decimals
  • Fractions
  • Order of Operations
  • Percent
  • Place Value
  • Properties of Operations
  • Whole Numbers
  • Word Problems
Number Conversion
  • Decimal/Fraction/Percent
Pre-Algebra
  • Estimation
  • Ratios & Proportions
  • Sequences, Patterns, & Logic
  • Spatial Reasoning
  • Unit Analysis
Statistics & Probability
  • Basic Probability
  •  Compound Events
  • Mean, Median, & Mode

Additional SSAT Math Question Types

There are some additional math question types that appear in many SSAT practice materials. These may or may not appear on the official exam.

These additional question types include:

  • Identifying which figure can be drawn without lifting a pencil
  • Figuring out how many small cubes will fit in a big cube
  • Long division problems with a portion of the numbers represented by letters
  • Absolute value
  • “Weird symbol problems” where the SSAT includes a symbol such as * or # instead of x

Here is a sample “weird symbol problem” based on SSAT materials: 

If [email protected] = 3a + b, what is [email protected]?

Solution: sub in 2 for a and 4 for b. 3(2) + 4 = 10.


What's Next?

As you can see, these are BIG checklists. What are the key takeaways with SSAT Math?

1. Start your test prep early. 

Many students have not covered these math topics in school yet, so leave time for learning some new skills.

This is especially the case with some of the more advanced algebra and geometry topics such as factoring, polynomial expressions, quadratic equations, radical expressions, rational expressions, and even the Pythagorean Theorem. 

2. Try a range of practice materials. 

The SSAT does not release its tests, so exploring a variety of sources will provide you with the most coverage. 

The SSAT itself offers online practice by purchasing an Official SSAT Guidebook or Official SSAT Practice Online subscription. Other recommended resources include texts by Tutorverse

3. Focus on what you can do. 

You might not have time to learn absolutely all of these topics. That’s totally fine! 

Just focus on the major skills and spend less time on the esoteric questions that might only show up once per test. You can still get a good score even if you don’t answer a few questions.

4. Work with a tutor.

A tutor can help teach you important study habits and problem-solving approaches that you can use even beyond the SSAT. SSAT tutors can also hold students accountable by establishing a regular, effective study schedule.

Curious about what else is on the SSAT? Check out our general guide to SSAT content now!


Jess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!


SSAT Reading Introduction

SSAT Reading: Your Introductory Guide

SSAT Reading: Your Introductory Guide

Bonus Material: FREE SSAT Reading Practice Questions

Reading for standardized tests is very different than plain old reading most students are used to doing in school.

This is especially true when it comes to the SSAT, a standardized test used in secondary school admissions.

The SSAT reading section asks students to read a variety of short fiction and non-fiction excerpts and answer comprehension questions in a limited time frame.

Students have 40 minutes to work through 40 multiple choice questions and 7 passages. It’s a higher pressure type of reading, but one that can be improved with practice!

In fact, you can apply everything you learn in this post to some free SSAT reading practice questions. Grab these below.

Here is what we cover in this post:


SSAT Reading: The Basics 

According to the SSAT.org, the Upper-Level SSAT Reading section is designed to "measure your ability to understand what you read."

Here's a recap of what we know about the SSAT Reading section so far, as discussed in previous posts:

  • Format: 40 minutes, 40 multiple choice questions
  • Content: 7 passages of about 250-350 words each
  • Genres: Literary fiction, humanities (including poetry), science, philosophy, and/or social studies

Reading is the second section you will tackle on the SSAT, after the first Math section.

There is no format difference between the Reading sections on the Upper and Middle-Level SSAT, other than that the Upper-Level passages will be slightly more advanced. 

The SSAT does not provide the sources of the passages.

Here's a sample reading passage:

SSAT Reading
Source: SSAT Upper-Level Sample Questions

Questions on the SSAT Reading comprehension section can be considered “specific” or “general.” Some students find it helpful to label questions along these lines, sometimes by writing an “S” or “G” next to them.

Specific questions ask about a certain line or two of the passage, such as the meaning of a word or a specific detail.

General questions ask about the passage as a whole, such as the author’s purpose or point of view or the main idea of the passage.  


SSAT Reading Question Types

Let’s look at the SSAT’s list of Reading question types within these Specific and General categories, as specified on SSAT.org.

Question Type 1: Recognize the main idea

These questions test a student's ability to identify the main ideas of individual paragraphs or passages as a whole.

Sample question: Which of the following most accurately states the main idea of the passage?

To answer these questions successfully, think of the passage as a whole. Rule out any answer choices that focus on specific details rather than broad, overarching ideas. 

We strongly recommend that students annotate passages for main ideas when first engaging with the text. This anticipates main idea questions down the road and improves reading comprehension.

Question Type 2: Locate details

Detail questions test students' literal comprehension of specific details in the text. 

Sample question: According to the passage, why did Annie stop writing postcards? 

It's wise to go back and search in the passage to answer these detail questions. 

Look for keywords in the question (in the above example, the keyword is likely “postcards”), and try and find these in the passage. Treat it like a scavenger hunt, and always back up your answers with evidence from the text.

Question Type 3: Make inferences 

An inference is a logical conclusion based on evidence and reasoning.

Sample question: It can be inferred from the passage that…

With inferences, the idea is not directly stated in the text, but there is some clue in the text that leads to a logical conclusion of some kind. 

Make sure you do not make too much of a logical leap in your interpretation! SSAT inferences rarely take too many steps away from the passage.

For example, a text may state that "Bailey enjoys traveling." We can infer from this statement that Bailey finds pleasure in this activity, but we cannot infer that she enjoys traveling in Europe.

Question Type 4: Derive the meaning of a word or phrase from its context

Words-in-context questions can give students lots of quick, easy points on test day. These questions test the meaning of a word in a specific context.

Sample question: In the context of the passage, the word “store” most nearly means…

Keep in mind that these are words in context questions – even if you don’t know the word, you should be able to answer this question by looking for clues about how it is used in the text.

Even if you are 100% sure you know the meaning of the word, you must check the passage to verify that it is not being used in a non-traditional way! 

Question Type 5: Determine the author's purpose

In general, authors often have specific purposes for writing a passage, using a word, or referencing a certain detail. These questions test a student's ability to recognize this intent in a variety of ways.

Sample question 1: What is the author’s purpose for writing this passage?

Answer choices for these questions often include phrases “to describe,” “to identify,” or “to explain," etc.

With Author’s Purpose questions, it is helpful to think about the passage genre and source. If the passage is a scientific research study, it is probably seeking “to explain.” If it’s a newspaper editorial, “to persuade” could be a good choice.

Sometimes these questions are about the author’s purpose in terms of specific rhetorical choices, as in this example.

Sample question 2: The author most likely repeats the phrase “I have longed to move away” in the first stanza in order to…

To answer a question like this, it's vital to look at the context. Identify what the main idea is of the surrounding context--chances are, the right answer will have something to do with this!

Eliminate any answers that distort details, make grand claims, or reference ideas found elsewhere in the passage.

Question Type 6: Determine the author's attitude and tone

These questions are very similar to Author's Purpose questions. In fact, an author's "purpose" and "tone" are often linked in a passage. 

Sample question 1: The author of this passage would most likely agree that...

Sample question 2: The tone of the second paragraph could best be described as…

When answering these questions, look for the author’s specific choice of adjectives and verbs to help determine tone.

For example, if the author uses words like “thrill” and “unexpected,” this might lead you to identify a tone of “suspense" or "urgency."

Keep author's purpose in mind when answering these questions, too. If the author's purpose is to "explain" something, for example, the tone is likely to be "informative," "interested," or "professional."

Question Type 7: Understand and evaluate opinions/arguments

These questions test a student's literal comprehension of an author's opinions.

Sample question: The author uses all of the following claims to prove his point that the pros of vaccines outweigh the cons EXCEPT...?

For this type of question, strike off all the answer choices that you find in the passage until you have one remaining option.  

Question Type 8: Make predictions based on information in the passage

Prediction questions are very similar to inference questions, yet these tend to extend beyond details in the text.

Sample question: This passage most likely comes from…

Answer choices to these questions will include sources such as “an atlas,” “an essay,” or “a speech.”

Other variations of this question type may ask for the appropriate title of a passage or what the author might discuss next.

Ready to see some of these question types in action? You'll find sample passages and questions in our SSAT Reading Practice Questions worksheet, which you can download below.


A Word About Literary Devices

There is one question type that does not appear in the SSAT’s list of Reading topics: Literary Devices.

Literary Devices

This question type appears often in SSAT practice materials on SSAT.org (especially Upper Level). 

Sample question: What literary device is used in the underlined portion?

A literary device is a technique a writer uses to produce a certain effect. The main devices to understand for the SSAT are:

-   Simile: comparing two things using like or as (“I’m hungry as an ox”) 

-   Metaphor: comparing two things without using like or as (“She is a walking encyclopedia”)

-   Personification: attributing characteristics of a person to a non-human thing (“The wind howled at night”)

Other devices, like irony (a contrast between what is said and what is actually happening) or onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like the noise it describes – ex. “Bang! Zoom!”), may also be helpful.


SSAT Reading: General Tips

Familiarizing yourself with the SSAT Reading section's question types is one thing.

Yet on SSAT Reading, students face additional challenges. With 40 questions to be completed in 40 minutes, most students are up against the clock on this section.

Some passages may also be harder than others. Older texts, for example, or poetry passages may be more difficult to comprehend.

Here are some general SSAT Reading tips for managing time and challenging content.

  • Try and visualize a map of the passage as you read through it. Where is the thesis sentence stating the main idea? Underline it so you can refer back as you’re answering questions. What is the structure of the passage as a whole?  We also strongly recommend annotating the passage as you read for main ideas and keywords.
  • Beware of half-right answers. If a question is 1% wrong, it's 100% wrong. Make sure to fully read all the answer choices to verify that the end of the sentence does not contradict the beginning!
  • Avoid extreme answer choices. Choices that include words like “always” or “never” are almost always wrong because they are difficult to prove.
  • Preview the questions before reading the text. This way, you can be more efficient when reading the passage.
  • Consider taking passages out of order. Start with the easiest passages and finish with the hardest!
  • Practice, practice, practice. Taking timed SSAT Reading sections regularly can improve your efficiency overall and help establish benchmarks.

Remember: the Reading section has the fewest number of questions of any section on the SSAT. That means, more than any other section, every question counts!


SSAT Reading Practice Materials

Quality SSAT reading practice materials are, unfortunately, limited. Yet consistent practice can be essential to improving SSAT scores on any section.

Luckily, as SSAT experts ourselves, we're well-versed in the best SSAT practice materials out there.

First and foremost, we recommend creating an account through SSAT.org to access the online practice portal. This does cost money, but the practice portal gives students access to practice tests, quizzes, and more to better prepare for the exam.

In addition to the SSAT.org, here are some other materials that may be helpful with SSAT reading practice:

  • Tutorverse: Upper-Level SSAT: 1500+ Practice Questions (book, $)
  • Tutorverse: Middle-Level SSAT: 1000+ Practice Questions (book, $)
  • Test Prep Works: Success on the Upper-Level SSAT (book, $)
  • Test Prep Works: Success on the Middle-Level SSAT (book, $)

Download SSAT Reading Practice Questions

With time and effort, students can ensure a competitive score on SSAT Reading.

In addition to our strategy tips for the Reading comprehension questions, keep in mind that making reading a general habit will only help you on this part of the test (not to mention the Verbal and Writing sections!).  

It's also vital to practice regularly. Taking consistent, timed SSAT Reading sections and boosting your fluency in question types is the surest way to move quickly to a high score.

That's why we encourage students to download our FREE SSAT Reading Practice Questions.

With this worksheet, you'll get:

  • 5 test-like SSAT Reading passages
  • 20 total questions
  • Answers and explanations


Jess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!