11 Great College Essay Topics (With Examples!)

11 Great College Essay Topics (with Examples!)

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's 35 College Essays That Worked

The college application process is more selective than ever. That also means your college application essays are more important than ever! 

If you want to lock in an acceptance to a competitive university, you need to make sure that you have a strong essay that wows admissions officers. And that starts with your topic. If you write a beautiful essay on the wrong topic, you’re going to be in trouble. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve got over 20 decades of experience matching elite tutors with students applying to college. 

Because almost all of our tutors hail from Ivy League schools, we were able to have them share what essay topics worked to get them into schools like Princeton, Harvard, and Brown. 

Below, we’ll offer examples of college essays that worked to get our tutors into top schools. As you read, think about how you can use these as jumping-off points for your own potential essay topics. 

Jump to section:
College Essay Topic 1: Learning to Write
College Essay Topic 2: Privilege
College Essay Topic 3: Social Class
College Essay Topic 4: A Meaningful Extracurricular
College Essay Topic 5: Pennies
College Essay Topic 6: Social Integration
College Essay Topic 7: Barry the Bike
College Essay Topic 8: A Work of Art
College Essay Topic 9: A Unique Passion
College Essay Topic 10: Religion
College Essay Topic 11: An Unusual Skill
Next steps


Here’s an excerpt from a student who wrote on this topic and was admitted to Princeton: 

What was the point of slaving over a novel if I had to start from scratch again? My father’s advice would force me to rewrite the entire novel. What sort of writer was I, that my work warranted such substantial alteration?

As I soon learned—a normal one.

Why does this essay topic work? It fulfills two key tests for a good college essay topic: 

  1. It’s personal.
  2. It shows growth.

Because trying to write a novel is quite unusual and clearly very important to this student, we’re getting an authentic look at what they’re passionate about. 

At the same time, the essay shows growth: the student has to come to learn what it means to accept criticism in their writing!

You can read the full essay here!


The following excerpt comes from an essay written by a well-off, privileged student. Take a look at how they explore that background rather than taking it for granted: 

Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations.

Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures.

Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

Is ignorance really bliss?

It’s true that many students who apply to elite universities are privileged, coming from relatively comfortable backgrounds. 

That’s not necessarily a problem, and it’s not something every student needs to address in their personal statement. 

However, it is potentially an excellent topic for an application essay. Why? Because it shows that the student is thinking critically about their background and issues of social justice. 

Colleges want students who are ready to question the assumptions they grew up with, students who are eager to engage different viewpoints and perspectives. 

By maturely and self-awarely interrogating their own privilege, this student shows admissions officers that they’re ready to be an open-minded member of the college community. 

Essays like this have to be handled carefully. There’s always the risk of coming off like you’re being inauthentic–one of the worst things you can do in a college essay. 

That’s why we recommend working with an experienced tutor if you’re writing on a potentially risky essay topic. Contact us today and we can pair you with an elite tutor who can help you steer clear of any pitfalls in your application essay. 

You can read the full essay here!


Below is an excerpt from an especially powerful and insightful essay that takes up the question of social class–and excellent and highly relevant topic for college essays. 

    As I got older, I gradually conformed to my identity as part of the lower class. On playdates, I learned to accept that I couldn’t always get Lunchables or a McDonald’s Happy Meal like the other kids. Instead, opening the cupboard revealed the average WIC potpourri—Crispix cereal, frozen grape-juice, skim milk. However, despite my circumstances, I have always been surrounded by peers of a higher economic class. Since I was homeschooled until grade eight, the friends I had were from the wealthier church I attended. When my friend came over for the first time, I was met with incredulity—“you live here?” Looking back, others asked strange questions like how many bedrooms my house had or remarked on the cramped room I shared with my sister. 

Contemporary political issues–like social class and wealth inequality–make for interesting potential essay topics. 

This student’s essay uses their specific experiences growing up in Ohio as jumping-off points for an investigation into broader questions of privilege, wealth, and perspective. 

This perfect essay comes off without a hitch, but politics can be a controversial topic for essays and applications. 

That doesn’t mean you should stay away from big issues in your writing! But it does mean you’ll likely benefit from the feedback and perspective that an expert college essay tutor can offer. 

To read the rest of this student’s essay, download our collection of 35 successful essays below!


Although we often advise students not to write about sports, sometimes it can work! Just take a look at this essay from a student who was accepted to Princeton: 

The pain of rowing 2000 meters is like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a short enough distance so that there is no pacing (it’s all out, everything you’ve got, from start to finish), but at the same time it’s long enough to require every ounce of strength and will power to reach the finish. By the end, the lungs scream out for oxygen, and the legs, chest, and arms all burn as if boiling water has been injected into every pore. 

Even though this essay risks coming off cliche by focusing on sports, it manages to succeed where many other sports essays fail. How?

Partially because of how detailed and interesting it makes the opening! The writer has made sure to choose a topic about which they can be incredibly vivid. That level of detail ensures that the essay doesn’t come off cliche. 

Plus, they do an excellent job of connecting this introductory “sports” scene with bigger and more important ideas later in the essay. 

You can read the full essay here to see how the author smoothly concludes it!


 Here’s an excerpt from another essay from a student accepted to Princeton: 

Over 13 billion pennies are made each year, and for the most part, they are indistinguishable from one another. Each copper-brown coin has the same feel, the same size, and even the same old Abraham Lincoln on one side. Yet, as a collector of pressed pennies, these seemingly insignificant coins have taught me some of the most important life lessons. 

This works because it gives readers insight into an unusual interest that the writer has. 

When it comes to college application essay topics, the more specific (and weirder), the less likely you are to have a generic essay. The key for this essay’s success is precisely that it’s specific and unusual. 

You can read the entire essay in our collection of 35 College Essays that Worked below. 


The following essay is unusual in that it isn’t strictly personal. Instead, it addresses a relevant social justice issue, providing insightful commentary on it. Take a look at an excerpt from this Princeton student’s essay: 

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Honestly, we think this is a pretty risky essay. Not because of the political nature of the topic, but rather because very little of it is about the student’s life. 

Still, this essay worked for Princeton, and that’s because it introduces enough of the writer’s perspective and values to show admissions officers that he’s the kind of student they want to have. 

You can read the full essay here!


The following essay topic is one of our favorites–in fact, we’d call it a perfect essay! Here’s the essay start:

Barry is my best friend. Strong, dependable, resilient, and most importantly-fast as hell. You won’t believe the wheels on this guy! My top speed of some 15 miles per hour-which leaves me gasping for breath after a few seconds-is nothing compared to the 30 he goes without breaking a sweat. 

I remember nostalgically the day we met. That warm spring day when I entered Go-Go Gone Cycles. The store had recently opened; tools and empty delivery boxes littered the floor. Wheels and frames-both rusty and restored-clogged up the entrance, enough to scare any prospective customer away. 

What we love about this essay topic is the specificity. It’s not just about biking or a bike. It’s about Barry, a bicycle that really becomes a character in this student’s essay. 

Like some of the topics we looked at above, this one is effective because it combines voice with character. We get a great sense of how this writer thinks, talks, and jokes. But we also get a sense of this student’s values. 

As you read the rest of this essay, notice how the writer connects his love for Barry with his desire for freedom and adventure. 


Another great college application essay topic is a work of art that is important to your life. Any book, song, film, painting, etc. that has been an important part of your life can really help admissions officers get to know you!

Take a look at an excerpt from an essay that helped one of our tutors earn admission to Brown University: 

Tucked inside the small blue box that sits on my dresser is a folded-up Market Basket receipt from November 3rd, 2010. If you flipped over the order, you’d find—written in neat and lilting handwriting—the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music.

On November 3rd, 2010, I was six going on seven, watching the Sound of Music with my grandparents for the first time, nestled between them on their old brown leather couch. The themes of the film were far beyond my understanding, but I could not get the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” out of my head. I begged my grandmother to transcribe them for me to keep. The message of the song, which lists images dear to Maria—from “raindrops on roses” to “silver white winters that melt into springs”—is that by drawing upon moments of joy, we can cope with any misfortune.

The student helps us see how The Sound of Music connects to her personal experiences with her family. That’s crucial! If you write about a work of art, always be sure to relate it back to yourself and your life. 

You can read the full essay here, where it’s Essay 13 on our list of 15 College Essays that Worked. 


Here’s an excerpt from another student who was admitted to Princeton with this college essay topic: 

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. 

You might think it’s silly to write a college application about really loving spicy food. But, as with the first essay topic we looked at, this one does everything we need it to. 

First, it shows us something unique and personal about the applicant (clearly, they take spicy food very seriously). 

Equally importantly, it gives admissions officers a clear sense of the writer’s voice, style, and personality. 

And, as with any good essay, it chronicles a process of growth and development. Even in this short opening, we can see that the student is actively exploring their interests, “dabbling” in something they’ll go on to pursue more seriously. 

You can read the full essay here!


Whether you plan to pursue religion in college or not, your religious experiences can make for an original essay that impresses admissions committees. Take a look at an excerpt below: 

Teiku. I consulted the dictionary. The Aramaic word meant, “let it stand.” What a disappointment. I had followed an entire page of logic and proofs eagerly awaiting the zenith of the Talmudic debate, the statement in which one scholar’s opinion would prevail without doubt. Instead, I was left with this cryptic word, teiku, let it stand. Could this word be an answer? Over my years of studying the Babylonian Talmud, I’ve grown accustomed to such moments of confusion. The text is notoriously esoteric: rife with tangents, terse logic, and abstruse Aramaic. Developing the skills to study Talmud independently had taken patient practice. But as the Talmud became clearer, my relationship with it became more confusing, as I realized that my studies were paradoxical, both traditional and untraditional at the same time. 

This essay worked for admissions readers because it doesn’t just focus on religion in the abstract sense. 

Instead, this essay dives deep into an unusual experience this student had, one that highlights not only their intelligence but also their advanced writing style. 

By now, you’re likely picking up on a theme. The best college essay topics are the ones that let you get specific and detailed, avoiding the risk of producing a generic essay. 

You can download this full essay (and 34 more!) below. Use them for inspiration as you think of potential essay topics!


If you’ve got a passion or skill that has shaped how you view the world, there’s another good candidate for the subject of your essay! 

Take a look at this student’s essay, written about how he developed his love for improv:

I first entered the world of improv listening to “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman in the car with my brother. He told me offhandedly that the majority of the song had been made up on the spot. I was shocked. I could hardly give a speech at the head of the classroom with five pages of prepared notes and two hours of rehearsal. How could someone just “make up” something so enjoyable? My enlightenment came in the form of music. In playing the trombone, I fell in love with the difficult yet rewarding task of jazz improvisation; the combination of intense musical focus with unbridled creative expression brought about not only a new appreciation for my childhood “Whose Line” idols but also a burning desire to reach their level of prowess in terms of music.

As we’ve seen with the other ten essays in this post, what admissions committees are really looking for is that rare combination of voice, detail, and writing ability that a perfect essay can convey. 

Here, we once again get it all: you can just hear this student’s voice as you read the excerpt, which is brimming with specific details about their past experiences. 

At the same time, we learn that this student values things that are difficult and rewarding (like jazz improv).

Read more about how these improv skills shaped the writer’s life here, where this essay is number 12 on our list of 15 College Essays that Worked. 


Now that you’ve gotten to see 11 examples of successful college essay topics, it’s time to start planning your own. 

First, we suggest you check out the full versions of the essays we excerpted in this piece. You can find 15 college essays that worked here, and you can download 35 essays by clicking the link below. 

Then, when you’re ready to start brainstorming, writing, or editing, reach out to us for professional help. 

College essays are more high stakes than ever, and you want to make sure that you have the best possible guidance. 

Our tutors come from the most elite universities in the country, go through extensive training on college essay coaching, and have a proven track record of helping students earn admission into top schools. 

Contact us, and we’ll start the personalized tutor-matching process for you!




SSAT Practice Questions

SSAT Practice Questions

Bonus Material:  PrepMaven’s SSAT Practice Question Bank

Applying to private elementary, middle, or high schools? If so, there’s a good chance you’ll have to take the SSAT (and do well on it!) as part of your application process. 

If you’re dead-set on a high SSAT score, then you likely already know that you’ll need to do some serious test prep to be ready for the test. Unfortunately, there aren’t many high quality SSAT Practice Questions out there. 

The good news is that PrepMaven has spent the last twenty years guiding countless students through the SSAT prep process, and we’ve developed a winning approach to preparing for this test. 

In this post, we’ll use that experience to provide you with a sampling of high-quality SSAT-style practice questions. Plus, we’ll give you access to our complete bank of SSAT practice questions for free–all you have to do is click the link below. 

Jump to section:
Official SSAT Practice
PrepMaven’s SSAT Practice Questions
10 Upper Level SSAT Verbal Practice Questions
20 Upper Level SSAT Math Practice Questions
5 Upper Level SSAT Reading Practice Questions
12 SSAT Writing Prompts
Next steps


Our expert tutors always recommend using official SSAT resources when possible, and the SSAT website is a great place to start your SSAT prep journey. 

However, the truth is that the official resources available will not be enough for most students serious about prepping for a top score. 

Here’s a breakdown of what you can get through the SSAT website with a yearly subscription fee of $80: 

  • A mini SSAT practice test (free)
  • 4 full-length practice tests
  • 15 section tests
  • 50+ Quizzes

These are fantastic resources, but they should be used sparingly. 

Most students should take around 3 months to prep for their first SSAT sitting. If you think about splitting all those resources across 3 months or more, then it’s clear that there really isn’t a ton of material to work with. 

That being said, we do recommend every student serious about the SSAT get access to the official materials. They’re simply going to be closer to the real thing than what you get from most resources online. 


Below, we’ll provide you a sampling of SSAT practice questions for all sections, totally free. And, even more importantly, we’ll give you access to a large bank of these practice questions via free download. 

You might be wondering why we’re making these resources free when so many other companies expect you to pay for them. 

A few reasons. 

First, because we’ve been coaching students through SSAT prep for over two decades, and over that time we’ve become frustrated with the expensive, low-quality material out there. 

When writing our free comprehensive guide to available SSAT prep resources and practice, we noticed how few of the resources out there actually provide realistic and free SSAT practice questions. 

There are great vocabulary builders and math practice out there, but those don’t mimic the actual structure and style of the SSAT. We decided to change that. 

So, are we doing this totally from the goodness of our heart? 

Well… not only. We also hope that once you see the high quality of these free resources, you’ll consider taking the next step and working with one of our expert SSAT tutors. 

There’s no pressure, of course. But in the last 20 years, one thing has become absolutely clear to us: a student’s ability to improve on the SSAT is closely correlated to the quality of test prep instruction they receive. 

So, feel free to use the practice questions below to start getting ready for the SSAT. Then, when you’re ready to maximize your score potential, schedule a free test-prep consultation with us. 


The SSAT Verbal section is split into two question types: Analogies and Synonyms. Below, you’ll find 5 multiple choice sample questions for each type, ranging in difficulty. 

Here are 5 Sample SSAT Synonym questions:

1. LOQUACIOUS

A) silent

B) talkative

C) shy

D) grumpy

E) tired

2. VIGOROUS

A) weak

B) energetic

C) lazy

D) tired

E) dull

3. DESTITUTE

A) wealthy

B) poor

C) fortunate

D) educated

E) happy

4. TRANQUIL

A) chaotic

B) busy

C) peaceful

D) noisy

E) disturbed

5. PRECARIOUS

A) safe

B) secure

C) unstable

D) boring

E) confident

Synonym Questions Answers: 

  1. B
  2. B
  3. A
  4. C
  5. C

Now that you’ve given synonyms a shot, do your best with the following SSAT Analogy practice questions: 

  1. Ant is to colony as

    • A) word is to punctuation
    • B) fish is to pond
    • C) star is to constellation
    • D) cell is to jail
    • E) note is to symphony

  1. Carpenter is to hammer as

    • A) chef is to knife
    • B) writer is to bookstore
    • C) teacher is to classroom
    • D) artist is to painting
    • E) pilot is to airplane

  1. Brilliant is to dim as

    • A) big is to huge
    • B) fast is to slow
    • C) soft is to smooth
    • D) rough is to scratch
    • E) dry is to arid

  1. Architect is to blueprint as

    • A) sailor is to ship
    • B) musician is to song
    • C) gardener is to plants
    • D) doctor is to patient
    • E) baker is to recipe

  1. Cacophony is to noise as

    • A) tranquility is to peace
    • B) joy is to sorrow
    • C) light is to dark
    • D) heat is to cold
    • E) chaos is to order

Analogy Practice Question Answers: 

  1. E
  2. A
  3. B
  4. E
  5. A

Want more help with the famously tricky SSAT Verbal section? Check out these free expert tips, get paired with one of our tutors, or get more questions like these for free below!


The SSAT Math section covers a wide range of topics, which you can read more about here. Broadly, you can expect to see questions on:

  • Algebra
  • Computation
  • Geometry
  • Number sense 
  • Pre-algebra
  • Statistics and probability 

Below, you’ll find a series of sample questions for each area. You can find many more questions like these in our free SSAT Practice Question Bank

Algebra

Below are 5 Sample SSAT Algebra Questions. See how you do, then feel free to download our complete collection of sample SSAT questions below!

1) Maria earns a base hourly rate of $10 per hour at her job. However, if she works more than 8 hours in a day, she earns $12 per hour for each hour she works after the first 8 hours. How much money does Maria earn if she works 12 hours in one day?

  • A) $120
  • B) $124
  • C) $128
  • D) $132
  • E) $136

2) Which of the following is a possible value of x for which x(x - 5) = 0?

  • A) 1
  • B) 2
  • C) 5
  • D) 7

3) Two numbers whose sum is 60 have a difference of 10. What is the smaller of these two numbers?

  • A) 20
  • B) 25
  • C) 30
  • D) 35
  • E) 40

4) The product of 2m and 3 less than m equals 8. Which of the following could be a value for m?

  • A) 1
  • B) 2
  • C) 3
  • D) 4
  • E) 5

5) There are 25 girls and 15 boys in a class. In the class, 3/5 of the girls brought lunch from home and 2/3 of the boys brought lunch from home. How many more girls than boys brought lunch from home?

  • A) 5
  • B) 8
  • C) 10
  • D) 12
  • E) 14

Algebra Answers: 

  1. C
  2. C
  3. B
  4. D
  5. A

Geometry

1) If the perimeter of a rectangle is 50 meters and the width is 12 meters, what is the length?

  • A) 6 meters
  • B) 8 meters
  • C) 13 meters
  • D) 14 meters
  • E) 15 meters

2) A rectangle has a length of 20 centimeters and a width of 9 centimeters. What is the area of the rectangle?

  • A) 180 square cm
  • B) 190 square cm
  • C) 200 square cm
  • D) 210 square cm
  • E) 220 square cm

3) The diameter of a circle is 18 inches. What is the circumference, in inches, of the circle?

  • A) 18π
  • B) 36π
  • C) 27π
  • D) 45π
  • E) 54π

4) The perimeter of a pentagon is 35 units. If the length of each side of the figure is increased by 3 units, what is the perimeter of the new figure?

  • A) 40 units
  • B) 45 units
  • C) 50 units
  • D) 55 units
  • E) 60 units

5) If the volume of a rectangular prism is 240 cubic cm, and the dimensions are 8 cm by 5 cm, what is the height of the prism?

  • A) 5 cm
  • B) 6 cm
  • C) 7 cm
  • D) 8 cm
  • E) 9 cm

Geometry Answers: 

  1. D
  2. A
  3. A
  4. B
  5. B

Get more questions like these for free below!

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Number sense and Operations 

1) If 7+5𝑥=37 what is the value of x?

  • A) 4
  • B) 5
  • C) 6
  • D) 7
  • E) 8

2) The sum of three consecutive even numbers is 54. What is the middle number?

  • A) 16
  • B) 18
  • C) 20
  • D) 22
  • E) 24

3) What is the greatest common factor (GCF) of 54 and 72?

  • A) 6
  • B) 9
  • C) 12
  • D) 18
  • E) 24

4) The product of two numbers is 48 and their sum is 14. What are the numbers?

  • A) 4 and 12
  • B) 6 and 8
  • C) 2 and 24
  • D) 3 and 16
  • E) 7 and 8

5) If the least common multiple (LCM) of 8 and 12 is x, what is x?

  • A) 16
  • B) 24
  • C) 32
  • D) 36
  • E) 48

Number Sense and Operations Answers

  1. A
  2. A
  3. B
  4. D
  5. B

Data Analysis

1) If the mean of 5 consecutive whole numbers is 25, what is the smallest of these six numbers?

  • A) 22
  • B) 23
  • C) 24
  • D) 25
  • E) 26

2) The average score of five tests is 78. The scores of the first three tests are 74, 82, and 76. What is the average score of the last two tests?

  • A) 78
  • B) 79
  • C) 82
  • D) 84
  • E) 86

3) The distances (in miles) that eight friends travel to meet are 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, and 25. What is the median distance traveled?

  • A) 17
  • B) 18
  • C) 19
  • D) 20
  • E) 21

4) If the average (arithmetic mean) of the numbers p and q is 45, which of the following must be true?

  • A) p+q=45
  • B) p=q
  • C) p+q=90
  • D) p−q=45
  • E) p×q=2025

5) Which of the following must be true if two numbers, a and b, have a mean of 30 and b is less than a?

  • A) a=30
  • B) b=30
  • C) a<30
  • D) b>30
  • E) a>30

Data Analysis Answers

  1. B
  2. B
  3. D
  4. C
  5. E

Get more questions like these for free below!


The upper-level SSAT Reading section will present you with a series of passages and ask you to answer multiple choice questions on each one.

Below, we’ve offered a sample SSAT Reading passage and a series of realistic SSAT-style questions. As with the real SSAT, you’ll have five answer options for each question, with four wrong answers and one correct answer. 

(1) In the late 19th century, the bustling city of New York was rapidly evolving into a cultural and industrial hub. Amidst this transformation, a wave of immigrants from diverse backgrounds arrived, each bringing their own unique traditions and perspectives. The convergence of different cultures resulted in a vibrant and dynamic society, where innovation and creativity flourished.

(6) Art and literature particularly thrived in this environment. The Harlem Renaissance, for instance, was a remarkable period during which African American artists and writers made significant contributions to American culture. This movement not only produced extraordinary works of art but also challenged the prevailing racial stereotypes and advocated for civil rights.

(11) Meanwhile, the city’s architecture was undergoing a radical change. Skyscrapers began to dominate the skyline, symbolizing the economic power and modernity of New York. Innovations in construction techniques and materials allowed for buildings to reach unprecedented heights. The iconic Flatiron Building, completed in 1902, became a symbol of New York’s architectural ingenuity and remains a beloved landmark to this day.

Questions for Passage #1

The primary focus of the passage is

  • A) the technological advancements in 19th century New York
  • B) the cultural and industrial evolution of New York City
  • C) the impact of immigration on New York’s economy
  • D) the history of the Flatiron Building
  • E) the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance is described as a period when

  • A) racial stereotypes were reinforced
  • B) African American cultural contributions were highlighted
  • C) New architectural styles were introduced
  • D) New York’s economy significantly declined
  • E) immigration rates were at their lowest

As used in the line 4, the word “convergence” most likely means

  • A) separation
  • B) unity
  • C) decline
  • D) expansion
  • E) mixture

The author’s tone in describing the architectural developments in New York can best be described as

  • A) critical
  • B) indifferent
  • C) admiring
  • D) nostalgic
  • E) skeptical

The purpose of mentioning the Flatiron Building is to

  • A) highlight a famous landmark in New York
  • B) emphasize the role of immigrants in construction
  • C) illustrate the advancements in building techniques
  • D) discuss the economic power of New York
  • E) describe the residential areas of the city

Reading Answers: 

  1. B
  2. B
  3. E
  4. C
  5. C

Want more resources? Check out our 6 expert SSAT Reading Strategies, contact our test prep experts, and get more questions like these for free below!


While it’s not scored, the SSAT Writing section is still something you should prepare for. Your SSAT writing sample will be sent directly to the independent schools you set as score recipients, so they’ll be reading exactly what you wrote. 

That means it’s good to get a bit of practice in with this section before the real test. Check out our 16 tips for a great writing sample here!

Below, we’ve offered some 6 Sample SSAT Writing prompts. On the real SSAT, you’d have two pages and 25 minutes to write your response. 

4 SSAT Creative Prompts (Middle Level SSAT)

  1. As the sun set, the forest came alive with…
  2. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she found
  3. In the quiet of the night, he heard a faint whisper...
  4. The old house on the hill was rumored to be...

4 SSAT Personal Prompts (Middle and Upper Level SSAT)

  1. Describe a time when you helped someone else. What did you learn from the experience?
  2. How do you define happiness? What brings you the most joy in life?
  3. What role does technology play in your life? How has it influenced you?
  4. If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be and why?

4 SSAT General Prompts (Upper Level SSAT)

  1. Is it ever acceptable to lie? Explain your perspective.
  2. Should professional athletes be considered role models? Why or why not?
  3. What can we learn from historical events to improve our future?
  4. What are the benefits of traveling to new places?

For more SSAT Writing Sample prompts, as well as Math, Reading, and Verbal practice, download our free SSAT Practice Question bank below!


If the private school of your dreams considers or requires SSAT scores, then you should do everything possible to earn an impressive one. 

That starts with familiarizing yourself with the test and getting lots of high quality practice with resources like the ones in this post. 

But your success on the SSAT also depends on making sure you’re using all these resources in the most effective way.

That’s why we see students improve so dramatically when working with one of our SSAT test-prep experts. Our SSAT tutors won’t just teach you the content: they’ll make sure that every hour you spend prepping is more efficiently spent, helping you maximize your score. 

You can schedule a free test-prep consultation with our team here. And, of course, you can download our extensive bank of SSAT practice questions free below!




5 Ways to Improve Your SSAT Score

5 Ways To Improve Your SSAT Score 

Bonus Material: Download PrepMaven's SSAT Practice Question Bank

Planning to be one of the 10% of students who enrolls in a private school? If so, you’ll likely need to submit SSAT scores as part of your private school application. 

But very few students know what to expect when they take the SSAT. In fact, the SSAT is nothing like the tests that students are familiar with, which often leads to disappointment when score reports come out. 

Fortunately, we’ve been helping students avoid disappointment on the SSAT for over two decades. Our team of tutors–hailing from the best universities and trained by our co-founder–have guided countless students to success on the SSAT. 

In this post, we’ll cover 5 specific things you can do to boost your SSAT score. We’ll also offer 3 suggested test-prep timelines so you can most effectively plan your test-prep. 

And we’ll offer another freebie as well: high-quality, free SSAT practice resources are notoriously hard to come by. But click the link below and you’ll get our entire bank of SSAT sample questions!

Jump to section:
1: Drill Vocab
2: Master Analogies
3. Identify the Types of Math Questions
4. Combine Timed and Untimed Practice
5: Take Full Practice Tests
3 Suggested SSAT Prep Timelines
Next steps


While many standardized tests have moved away from pure vocab questions, the SSAT has not. 

We cover the SSAT format and question distribution in more detail here, but here’s the sum of it: 30 SSAT questions will directly test your vocabulary. 

We’re not even mentioning how vocab knowledge can help you with other parts of the test, like Reading Comprehension and Analogies. On the SSAT Verbal Section, you’ll have to answer 30 questions that just test your knowledge of synonyms. 

On one hand, this is the easiest kind of question. All you need to do is know the words, and there’s no thinking required. 

On the other hand, it’s the kind of question that’s almost impossible to just “think your way through.” You either know it, or you don’t. 

That’s why it’s strange that so many students only half-heartedly drill vocab, or don’t do it at all. You can’t assume you’ll just know the vocab. If it were that easy, everyone would be acing the 30 Synonym questions on SSAT Verbal. 

We’ve got 4 SSAT Strategies and 3 Drills for SSAT Vocabulary questions here–check them out, and see how comfortable you are with the material. 

Then, set aside as much time as possible to develop your SSAT Vocab knowledge. 

We recommend a mix of intensive reading (with a dictionary!), flashcarding, and quizzing. Check out our post on the Best SSAT Practice Resources for more info on where you can find the tools to help you master SSAT vocab. 

And, of course, download our free sample question packet below, which will help you test and develop your SSAT vocab knowledge. 


Just like 30 SSAT questions test your knowledge of Synonyms, you’ll get another 30 analogy questions. (This is for the middle and upper level tests; the elementary level SSAT looks a bit different.) 

Together, these 60 questions add up to your entire Verbal Score. So, make sure you don’t just take a look at a couple practice questions and call it a day.

SSAT analogy questions can vary widely in difficulty and are some of the hardest questions for students to master. 

Fortunately, they’re not inherently complicated. It’s really about getting comfortable with this question type and getting lots (and lots!) of practice with them. 

A nice place to start is our post on SSAT Analogy questions, which has 5 strategies and 3 drills for you to practice. But this is only a starting point!

To properly master SSAT Analogies, we recommend doing no fewer than 120 practice analogy questions (not in one day, of course). You want these to feel like second nature before you take the real test. 

Of course, you’ll gain little if you just do countless questions and make the same mistakes each time. 

That’s why having a good SSAT tutor can make all the difference. The best SSAT tutors don’t just assign questions and then go over the right answers with you: they teach you how to think about SSAT analogy questions so that you can tackle them on your own. 

Contact us today, and we can pair you with an experienced tutor from an elite university–all for a fraction of what the big test prep companies charge. 


Regardless of your math skills, you can make a lot of practice simply by learning to identify types of questions on the SSAT Math section.

In fact, there aren’t that many! Depending on which SSAT you’re taking (elementary level, middle level, or upper level), you’ll have a finite number of math concepts to get ready for. 

But we don’t just mean mastering math content (though that helps!). What we really suggest is simply learning to recognize the different kinds of questions they’ll ask, and what each one wants. 

With a bit of time and practice, you can learn to recognize exactly what a question wants from you. This doesn’t just save you time: it lets you predict how the SSAT is going to test key math concepts. 

You can check out our more comprehensive post on SSAT Math here. In the meantime, what we recommend is reviewing the sample SSAT math questions in our collection below. 

For each one, can you quickly identify exactly what math concept the question wants you to use? If so, your life will be a lot easier on test day. 

If not, it’s time to start studying. When it comes to learning question types, nothing can save you time like a talented SSAT tutor. You can lean on their experience to quickly learn math question types, rather than having to figure it out from scratch. 


In our experience, most students fail to strike the balance between timed and untimed SSAT practice drills. 

Some students immediately jump into doing timed SSAT sections or full-length practice tests. 

Others do tons of untimed questions but only take a few sections with timing constraints. 

Neither path is the optimal one for improving your SSAT score! 

While the exact balance will depend on your timeline (see more about suggested test prep timelines below!), you need to mix these two test prep approaches. 

Untimed practice is no less important than timed drills! Your goal at the end of the day is to answer the SSAT questions correctly and quickly. 

But before you can do something both effectively and quickly, you need to learn how to do it effectively first. 

Untimed practice lets you develop the mastery over the content that you’ll need in order to pick the correct answers. It also helps you practice the test-taking strategies that you’ll need to use to score well on the SSAT. 

If you try doing everything at maximum speed from the start, you won’t properly apply the strategies you need to. 

That’s where guided test prep really helps: working through questions with a test-prep expert at your side can help you fully understand everything you need to know about each question and question type. 

Of course, the real SSAT is timed. If you answer every single question correctly but only get to half of them, that won’t add up to a great scaled score! 

So, as you’re developing your untimed mastery, incorporate timed sections and drills. These don’t have to be full practice tests. 

Instead, try taking just a timed Verbal section, or a timed Math section. Low on time? Give yourself smaller numbers of practice questions with less time. For example: do half of the reading comprehension section within half the time. 

Our SSAT tutors can help you on both fronts, improving your content mastery and your speed!


Of course, you need to bring all of these elements together to prepare for the real thing. That always means taking real, full-length practice tests in realistic timed conditions. 

If you think of the SSAT as a sport, then all of the previous strategies are like your training sessions and practices. These full practice tests would be something like scrimmages, where you get to put everything together and see how you play. 

More isn’t always better, though. We don’t recommend just cramming in as many timed practice tests as possible. 

Instead, develop a clear plan. First, focus on building up your skills with practice questions, self-study, and drills. 

Then, begin incorporating timed and untimed sample questions from official SSAT resources. 

Then, begin taking full practice tests. Often a good target is to aim for 1 practice SSAT per week in the month leading up to the real test. 

What’s crucial, however, is what you do after your mock SSAT. There’s no better way to actually learn from your practice tests than by sitting down with an SSAT tutor. 

A good SSAT tutor will push your thinking beyond just “oh, here’s the right answer.” They’ll identify tendencies in your test-taking approach that you might have not noticed. They’ll also be able to offer personalized advice designed to help you overcome your specific weaknesses. 

Before jumping into full practice tests, make sure you build up your skills with our free sample SSAT questions, all of which you can grab below!


The Quick Fix (1 month or less)

If your test date is in under a month, you likely won’t have time to do everything. But you can still significantly boost your score. 

Here’s what we recommend: 

  • 1 full diagnostic practice test at the start to identify weaknesses
  • 2 hours a week of Vocab Practice 
  • 2 untimed practice sections a week (focus on your weakest sections)
  • 2 timed practice sections a week (focus on your weakest sections)
  • 1-2 full timed practice tests in the weeks before your test
  • 1-2 weekly tutoring sessions with an SSAT expert 

Even in one month or less, you’d be amazed at what a difference this can make for your score–especially if you’ve got the right SSAT tutor! 

No time to waste: download our free SSAT practice questions below and get prepping! 

The Late Start (Under 3 months)

If you’ve got under 3 months but more than 1 month before your test date, you can get quite a lot done. 

Here’s what we recommend: 

  • 1 full diagnostic practice test at the start 
  • 1 hour a week of Vocab Practice 
  • 1 hour a week of Analogy Practice
  • 2 hours a week of untimed practice drills (all sections!) until you master the content 
  • 2 hours a week of timed practice drills after you’ve mastered the content
  • 1 full timed practice test each week for the last 4 weeks before your test date
  • 1 weekly meeting with an SSAT expert 

On this timeline, you don’t have to rush, but you will have a lot to do. 

The idea is to first build up your skills, then jump into timed practice and full-length practice tests. 

You’ll need to do a lot of work each week, but it’ll pay off once you hit your target score!

The Early Start (3 months or more)

This is what we recommend: the students who see the biggest score improvements from their diagnostic SSATs usually take 3 or more months to prepare for their test. 

If you’re starting three months or more ahead of the test, here’s what you should aim for: 

  • Month 1: Skills

    • One full diagnostic test 
    • 1 hour a week of Vocab Practice 
    • 1 hour a week of Analogy Practice
    • 4 hours a week of untimed practice drills (all sections)
    • 1 weekly meeting with a SSAT expert

  • Month 2: Timing

    • 1 hour a week of Vocab Practice 
    • 1 hour a week of Analogy Practice
    • 4 hours a week of timed practice drills (all sections)
    • 1 weekly meeting with a SSAT expert

  • Month 3: Practice

    • 1 full-length practice SSAT each week
    • 1 weekly meeting with an SSAT expert to review your test
    • Vocab, Analogy, and untimed practice drills as needed based on your weaknesses

The 3+ month plan gives you the greatest amount of time to practice everything you need to, ensuring you don’t have to sacrifice any points on the SSAT. 

Of course, if your test date is looming soon, there’s no need to worry: most students benefit from retaking the SSAT anyway. Read our post here on how to strategically retake your SSAT to maximize your overall score!


Whether you have 3 weeks or 3 months before your test, now is the time to get started with SSAT prep. 

The more time you give yourself, the better you’ll be able to prepare for this important test, increasing your chance of private school admissions. 

But it’s not just about time: it’s also about getting the best resources and the best help. That’s why we have expert-reviewed articles on both the best SSAT Resources and the 13 Best SSAT Tutoring Services. 

In the meantime, download our free collection of sample SSAT Questions below. And don’t put off contacting us to get started with a test prep expert–the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see your scores increase. 




Registering for the SSAT

Registering for the SSAT: 6 Steps

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

If you’re planning to be one of the 10% of students who enrolls in a private school, then you’ll likely have to register for the SSAT–a standardized test commonly required by independent schools.

A high SSAT score can earn you admission into your dream school, but reaching that score goal depends on being well-prepared for all aspects of the test. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve worked with SSAT test-takers for over two decades. Through that time, we’ve developed a proven formula by which our Ivy-League tutors help students like you achieve incredible success on standardized tests like the SSAT.

In this post, we’ll use some of that experience to walk you through everything you need to know about SSAT registration: test formats, deadlines, fees, and more. 

Plus, we’ll include links to our free SSAT guidebook, updated for this year’s test. It includes over 90 pages of information and guidance on everything from scoring policies to testing locations to question types!

Jump to section:
Step 1: Make an Account
Step 2: Determine Your SSAT Level
Step 3: Apply for Accommodations if Needed
Step 4: Choose an SSAT Testing Option
Step 5: Pay the Registration Fee
Next steps


Before registering for any SSAT date, you’ll need to make an account at the SSAT Family Portal here. 

This process likely won’t slow you down much: you’ll be expected to fill in basic biographical, contact, and school information. 

It’s also important to note that parents must be involved in making an SSAT account. You must have a parent’s email and contact information ready to register for an SSAT account on their website. 

Once your student has taken the SSAT, you’ll use this account to review your score reports and designate score recipients. If you’re wondering about how exactly SSAT scoring works, check out our SSAT Scoring Guide here. 

And you can find that information (and much more!) in our extensive SSAT Guide, which covers everything from printing your admission ticket to boosting your score to deciding whether you want to retake the test. 


While we talk about “the” SSAT, there are really three. The SSAT offers three separate tests: 

  • Elementary level SSAT (grades 3-4)
  • Middle level SSAT (grades 5-7)
  • Upper level SSAT (grades 8-11)

Note: the grades correspond to your child’s current grade, not the grade they’re seeking admission to. 

So, if your child is going to be in fifth grade when they take the test, they should register for the middle-level test. 

Make sure you research each of these carefully: there are important differences between these test formats! 

You can learn more about how these three test levels differ by reading our post on SSAT Format. 


According to the CDC, almost 10% of K-12 students are diagnosed with ADHD–and many more students face other learning disorders. 

For students like these, the SSAT offers multiple testing accommodations designed to make the test fair for all students. 

If your student has a documented learning disorder, a 504 plan, or other specialized learning needs, you may want to consider applying for testing accommodations for the SSAT. 

There are many different accommodations offered by the SSAT. Some of these include: 

  • Extended time
  • Braille
  • Calculator use
  • Hearing aids
  • Large print

There are many, many more SSAT accommodation options. Each student’s will ultimately depend on their needs. 

It’s crucial to be proactive when it comes to SSAT accommodation requests. You must be approved for accommodations before registering for the test. Accommodation requests take up to 2 weeks to process. 

Whether testing with accommodations or not, having a clear test-prep plan and practice schedule is crucial. Contact us to get connected with an expert tutor who can help maximize your SSAT score!

You can read more about different testing accommodations and how to request them in our full SSAT guidebook, available free below! 


Unlike many other standardized tests, the SSAT comes in many forms. These include a paper-based SSAT and computer-delivered versions of the same test. 

Below are the SSAT Testing Options, all of which you can read more about in our complete guide to the SSAT [CU LINK]:

Standard Paper Test

The most common option, and likely the one most students will take first. The paper SSAT is offered on six dates each school year, administered at standard testing centers (usually local schools). 

These standard test dates change slightly each year, but you can check out our frequently updated post on SSAT Test Dates here. 

SSAT Flex

The SSAT Flex is exactly the same test as the standard, paper SSAT. The only difference with Flex testing is that it allows students to take the test on a different date and at a different testing location. 

SSAT Flex is more expensive than the standard SSAT, but offers a lot more flexibility. Usually, the testing centers are private schools or independent educational consultants qualified to administer the test. 

SSAT Flex is a great option for those who can’t make the standard testing dates. 

Note: students are capped at 1 SSAT Flex test per year. 

SSAT at Home

The SSAT at home is a computer-administered version of the SSAT that students can take (as you might guess) at home. 

There are a few important notes about SSAT at Home. 

First, there are specific tech requirements you must meet, all of which are listed in detail on the SSAT website. 

Second, the SSAT at home is only offered on specific dates–it can’t be taken just anytime. You still have to go through the SSAT registration process and select a specific date on which you’ll be taking the test. 

Third, there is no SSAT at Home for the Elementary Level SSAT

And, finally, upper level and middle level test-takers are capped at 2 computer-based SSATs per year. 

Computer-based SSAT at a Prometric Test Center

Finally, students taking the Middle or Upper SSAT can also take the same computer-based SSAT at a Prometric Test Center. 

These testing dates tend to be a lot more flexible. But they depend on you having access to Prometric testing centers, which may or may not be in your area. 

This Prometric SSAT is precisely the same as the SSAT at Home, with the same restrictions (meaning that you can only take it twice per year, and not at all if you’re doing the elementary level SSAT). 


Unsurprisingly, nothing will be complete until you pick a test date and pay the registration fee. 

The good news is that for financially disadvantaged families, the SSAT offers a fee waiver program! You can read more about that program on the SSAT website here, or in our complete SSAT guide, which you can download below!

We strongly recommend looking into a fee waiver: SSAT registration fees can be pricey!

Below are the most recent registration fees for all formats of the test: 

Domestic Testing International Testing
Elementary Level (grades 3-4)Standard or school Flex: $109Flex with educational consultant: $169Middle/Upper Levels (grades 5-11)Standard or school Flex: $169Prometric SSAT: $239Flex with educational consultant: $269SSAT at home: $255 Elementary Level (grades 3-4)Standard or Flex: $229Middle/Upper Levels (grades 5-11)Standard, Flex, or Prometric: $329


If you’re already thinking about registering for the SSAT, it’s probably time to start studying for it. In general, our test-prep experts recommend at least 3 months of SSAT prep before taking the test! 

If you’re looking for the best online SSAT tutors, make sure to read our expert-verified list of the 13 Best SSAT Tutoring Services. 

And you can always contact us for a free SSAT-prep consultation! Our team can connect you to an Ivy-League SSAT expert who’ll help you maximize your score. 

In the meantime, don’t forget to download our free SSAT Guide below. We did the hard work of putting together 90+ pages of information on SSAT content, format, practice resources, and more! All you have to do is click download. 




SSAT Test Dates for 2024-2025

SSAT Test Dates for 2024-2025

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

Planning to apply to private schools in the 2024-2025 school year? If so, you’ll likely have to take the SSAT this year! While many students stress about this important part of the admissions process, we’re here to help. 

It’s true that the SSAT can feel high stakes: it’s a difficult test unlike anything you’ve taken before. And, especially for selective private schools, an SSAT score can make or break an application. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve worked with countless SSAT test-takers, and we’ve seen that every student has the potential to tremendously improve their SSAT score. Two main factors affect whether they do: being prepared and having the right guidance. 

In this post, we’ll help you with the former, breaking down the SSAT testing options and SSAT test dates for the coming year. 

We’ll also include our totally free SSAT Guidebook, updated frequently to give you the most up-to-date information on every aspect of the SSAT. 

Jump to section:
How Many Times Is the SSAT Offered Per Year?
SSAT Standard Test Dates 
Next steps


This is a bit of a tricky question, since there are really multiple SSAT formats and testing options to choose from. 

However, when most people think of the SSAT–whether the elementary, middle, or upper tests–they’re thinking of the standard, paper-based test administration. 

Each year, the makers of the SSAT offer 6 standard test dates for students in the US. These paper-based SSATs are administered at standard testing locations (usually, schools). 

SSAT Flex testing is exactly the same as the standard paper-based SSAT, but allows you to take the test on a different date or at a different location. Students, regardless of whether they’re taking the elementary, middle, or upper SSAT, are capped at 1 Flex per year. 

There is also the computer-based SSAT, which is administered at Prometric centers or at home. 

Theoretically, computer-based testing is offered many, many times a year. But students taking the Middle-level or Upper-level SSATs are capped at a maximum of 2 computer-based tests per year, whether taken at home or at Prometric testing centers. 

Students taking the elementary test don’t have the options of computer-based testing: they can only take the paper-based test, and are capped at 2 standard tests per year, plus one sitting of the SSAT Flex. 

Regardless of when (or how often) you take the SSAT, you want to make sure that your scores will be available before your application deadlines. You can find these on the admissions offices websites for schools you’re interested in. 

Of course, just because the SSAT can be taken 9 times a year (or 3 times a year for elementary-level test-takers) doesn’t mean you should take it that many times. Read our post here to learn how many times you should take the SSAT. 

For more information on how the SSAT fits into private school admissions, check out our free guidebook below. It’s got over 90 pages of content on: 

  • Application process
  • Private school application deadlines
  • Testing accommodations 
  • Score reports


Each year, the SSAT test-makers announce the standard test dates for the coming year on August 1

At the time of this writing, they haven’t yet announced the test dates for 2024-2025 (we’ll be sure to update as soon as they do). 

But don’t despair! The SSAT is quite predictable, so you can have a confident sense of when it will be offered by looking at historical trends. 

For 2024-2025, you can expect the following SSAT standard test dates: 

  • Mid-October
  • Mid-November
  • Early December
  • Early January
  • Early February
  • Mid-April

And, of course, you can expect plenty of flexibility with the computer-based test, whether taken at home or at Prometric testing centers. Availability for these varies, and it’s a good idea to consult the SSAT.org website. 

You can learn more about different testing centers, policies, and logistics in our free, 90-page guide to the SSAT, free to download here

Use these estimated test dates to ensure you give yourself at least 3 months to start SSAT prep–ideally by working with an expert tutor to maximize your score potential. 


Now that you know when the SSAT is, there’s no better time to start preparing for it. Typically, we recommend at least 3 months of test prep to maximize your SSAT score. 

To start, you can check out our Complete Guide to the SSAT, as well as our list of the best SSAT practice resources. 

If you are considering getting expert help, we’ve done the hard work for you: check out our list of the 13 Best SSAT Tutoring Services, meticulously researched and reviewed by our team. 

In the meantime, consider downloading our free SSAT Guidebook. It’s updated each year, and includes over 90 pages of information on everything from the registration process to practice resources to score reports. 

And, of course, consider scheduling a free test-prep consultation with our team. Our Ivy-League tutors have helped countless students ace the SSAT–and at far more reasonable prices than you’d get from the test-prep giants. 




What is the SSAT?

What Is the SSAT?

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

If you’ve got any interest in applying to private elementary, middle, or high schools, then you’re in the right place. Simply put, the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is one of the factors evaluated by private school admissions officers. 

Maximizing your chances of admission to elite private schools means maximizing your SSAT score. But, unlike tests in school, this isn’t a test you can prepare for just by being a good student. 

SSAT prep requires knowing the test inside and out so that you can be ready for its tricks and traps. Fortunately, we’re here to demystify the SSAT. 

We’ve spent over two decades guiding students through SSAT prep, and our proven approach has helped these students earn remarkable results. Here, we’ll break down exactly what the SSAT is. 

Plus, we offer our free SSAT Guidebook below, with over 90 pages of information on everything from registration to SSAT practice resources to understanding your score report. 

Jump to section:
Who Needs to Take the SSAT?
SSAT Levels: Elementary, Middle, and Upper
SSAT Test Formats
SSAT Testing Options 
SSAT Scoring
Next steps


Many students applying to private schools will find that they’re required to submit SSAT scores as part of the application process. 

While not all independent schools require SSAT scores, you’ll find that the most selective ones–like Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter, or Lawrenceville–require standardized test scores*.

*Some schools accept either the SSAT or the ISEE. For more information on the difference, see our post here

This is generally true regardless of which grade you’re applying to: even those applying to private elementary school programs might be required to take a version of the SSAT . 

Of course, we don’t recommend taking the SSAT just for the sake of it. 

Before signing up for the SSAT, carefully research the private schools you or your child plan on applying to. If none of those schools care about the SSAT, you’ve saved yourself a lot of work. 

Realistically, however, most students will benefit from submitting a strong SSAT score with their application. 

If you want to read more about the SSAT’s role in private school admissions, check out our free SSAT Guidebook below. 

 


While we talk about “the” SSAT, there are really three similar but distinct tests. Which one a student takes depends on their grade level. 

Because the SSAT is taken by students ranging from 3d grade to 11th grade, it wouldn’t make sense to expect them all to take exactly the same test. 

  • The Elementary Level Test is taken by students in grades 3 and 4. 
  • The Middle Level Test is taken by students in grades 5-7.
  • The Upper Level Test is taken by students in grades 8-11. 

The test level corresponds to the student’s current grade–not the one they’re applying to. 

It’s crucial you know whether your child is taking the elementary level, middle level, or upper level SSAT early on. 

Not only does this affect things like test format and practice resources, but it can also affect what SSAT test dates and options you have


While the Upper SSAT is almost identical to the Middle-Level test, the Elementary SSAT has a very different format. Check out the timing and organization of each test below: 

Elementary Level SSAT 

Section Number of Questions Duration
Math 30 30
Verbal 30 20
Break 15
Reading 28 30
Writing 1 15
Experimental (unscored 15-17 15

The total length of the Elementary SSAT is 2 hours and 5 minutes, counting the 15-minute break. 

You can learn more about the question types and content tested on each of these sections in our blog post here. 

Middle and Upper Level SSAT 

Section Number of Questions Duration
Writing Sample (unscored) 1 25 minutes
Break -- 5 minutes
Quantitative 1 25 30 minutes
Reading 40 40 minutes
Break -- 10 minutes
Verbal 60 30 minutes
Quantitative 2 25 30 minutes
Experimental (unscored) 16 15 minutes

The total length of the Middle Level and Upper Level SSAT is 3 hours and 10 minutes

With the exception of the writing prompt, all SSAT questions are multiple choice. Each question will give you 5 answer options, with one correct answer and four wrong answers. 

For more information on SSAT format, check out our post here. For expert guidance with the actual content of the test, contact us to work with an Ivy-League SSAT tutor!


In addition to the different levels, the SSAT offers students multiple testing options. We’ll outline those below:

Standard Paper Test

The most common option, and likely the one most students will take first. The paper SSAT is offered on six dates each school year, administered at standard testing centers (usually local schools). 

These standard test dates change slightly each year, but you can check out our frequently updated post on SSAT Test Dates here. 

SSAT Flex

The SSAT Flex is exactly the same test as the standard, paper SSAT. The only difference with Flex testing is that it allows students to take the test on a different date and at a different testing location. 

SSAT Flex is more expensive than the standard SSAT, but offers a lot more flexibility. Usually, the testing centers are private schools or independent educational consultants qualified to administer the test. 

SSAT Flex is a great option for those who can’t make the standard testing dates. 

Note: students are capped at 1 SSAT Flex test per year. 

SSAT at Home

The SSAT at home is a computer-administered version of the SSAT that students can take (as you might guess) at home. 

There are a few important notes about SSAT at Home. 

First, there are specific tech requirements you must meet, all of which are listed in detail on the SSAT website. 

Second, the SSAT at home is only offered on specific dates–it can’t be taken just anytime. You still have to go through the SSAT registration process and select a specific date on which you’ll be taking the test. 

Third, there is no SSAT at Home for the Elementary SSAT

And, finally, upper level and middle level test-takers are capped at 2 computer-based SSATs per year. 

Computer-based SSAT at a Prometric Test Center

Finally, students taking the Middle or Upper SSAT can also take the same computer-based SSAT at a Prometric Test Center. 

These testing dates tend to be a lot more flexible. But they depend on you having access to Prometric testing centers, which may or may not be in your area. 

This test is precisely the same as the SSAT at Home, with the same restrictions (meaning that you can only take it twice per year, and not at all if you’re doing the elementary level SSAT). 

You can learn more about the pros and cons of each of these options in our comprehensive SSAT Guidebook.

Regardless of which test you take, proper prep is the key to a good score. Check out our review of the 13 Best SSAT Prep Services–our experts review and update these rankings every year!


Understanding the SSAT scoring system is crucial to maximizing your performance on the test. 

We’ve got a detailed breakdown of SSAT scoring here. In this post, we’ll offer a broader overview. 

Scored Sections

Your SSAT score consists of 3 scored sections: 

  1. Verbal
  2. Quantitative
  3. Reading

There are 2 additional unscored sections: a Writing Sample and Experimental section. 

Wrong Answer Penalty

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 choose one of the wrong answers, you lose ¼ of a point. This is only true on the middle and upper tests: there is no wrong-answer penalty on the elementary SSAT. 

You can learn more about how to use this feature of the SSAT to your advantage in our guidebook below! 

Score Report

On your SSAT score report, you’ll see a few pieces of information: how many questions you missed, raw score, and score percentile. 

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. 

This percentile compares performance to that 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). 

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

Score Recipients

When registering for the SSAT, you can designate which schools you want to designate as score recipients, which means they’ll receive copies of your score report. 

We recommend waiting to do this until after you get the score report back yourself: there’s no need to report your SSAT score to a school if you don’t think it’ll impress them. 

To learn more about which scores to report and whether to retake the SSAT, check out post here. 


That, in a nutshell, is the SSAT. Of course, this is just a basic overview: it doesn’t yet prepare you to ace the test and lock in a spot at your private school of choice. 

The next step to doing that is to schedule a free test-prep consultation with our team. They’ll be able to connect you with one of our SSAT experts–our tutors hail from the most selective universities and undergo training designed by our co-founder. 

In the meantime, you can take advantage of all the free information in our guidebook below. It’s got over 90 pages of information on the SSAT, including everything you need to know about: 

  • SSAT accommodations 
  • Practice resources 
  • Registration process and fee waivers
  • Content and strategy




How Long is the SSAT?

How Long Is the SSAT? 

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

If you’re applying to private elementary, middle, or high schools, you’ll likely have to take the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test). 

A great SSAT score can make a huge difference in a student’s chances of admission–but many students struggle with the format and pacing of this admissions test. 

Fortunately, PrepMaven has worked with SSAT test-takers for over two decades, and we’ve developed a proven, winning approach to navigating this difficult test. In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about SSAT timing. 

If you’re looking for more information on SSAT content, scoring, or strategy, we’ve got you covered: below, you can download our free SSAT Guidebook, which offers over 90 pages of advice on everything SSAT.

And, if your child is taking the SSAT and wants support from Ivy-League SSAT experts, we’re always happy to schedule a free test-prep consultation

Jump to section:
How Long Is the Elementary SSAT?
How Long is the Middle Level SSAT?
How Long Is the Upper Level SSAT?
Making Sure You’re Ready for SSAT Timing
Timing Accommodations on the SSAT
Next steps


If your child is in third or fourth grade, they’ll take the Elementary SSAT. This test has a different format from the tests taken by older students; we’ll cover that format in detail below. 

From start to finish, the Elementary-level test takes 2 hours and 5 minutes. This includes all sections and breaks, but doesn’t include the time your child might spend waiting for the test to begin or for the tests to be collected. 

Here’s a helpful table showing you the timing of each individual SSAT section, as well as the general content it covers: 

Elementary Level SSAT Breakdown

Section Number of Questions Duration
Math 30 30
Verbal 30 20
Break 15
Reading 28 30
Writing 1 15
Experimental (unscored 15-17 15

Of course, just knowing the timing of the SSAT might not actually prepare your child for what it feels like to take the 2-hour elementary-level test. 

That’s why our tutoring experts always recommend that students take full timed practice tests before going into the real thing. You can find our collection of the most helpful SSAT Practice Resources here!

Below, you can also find our free SSAT guidebook, which contains information on SSAT resources and effective SSAT prep. 


The Middle Level SSAT is taken by students in grades 5-8. It’s considerably longer than the elementary level SSAT, clocking in at a total of 3 hours and 10 minutes. 

Take a look at the full section breakdown below: as you can see, it includes more sections than the Elementary SSAT. 

Middle Level SSAT Breakdown

Section Number of Questions Duration
Writing Sample (unscored) 1 25 minutes
Break -- 5 minutes
Quantitative 1 25 30 minutes
Reading 40 40 minutes
Break -- 10 minutes
Verbal 60 30 minutes
Quantitative 2 25 30 minutes
Experimental (unscored) 16 15 minutes

The Upper Level test is taken by students currently in grades 9-11. Although the questions are harder than those on the Middle Level SSAT, the format and timing are exactly the same

Like the Middle Level test, the Upper Level SSAT is 3 hours and 10 minutes long. The breakdown of each section is below, and is identical to the Middle Level SSAT:

Upper Level SSAT Breakdown

Section Number of Questions Duration
Writing Sample (unscored) 1 25 minutes
Break -- 5 minutes
Quantitative 1 25 30 minutes
Reading 40 40 minutes
Break -- 10 minutes
Verbal 60 30 minutes
Quantitative 2 25 30 minutes
Experimental (unscored) 16 15 minutes

It’s one thing to know about SSAT timing and length. It’s another to be ready for it. 

So, how can you make sure you don’t run out of time on the test, or burn out and lose focus? 

The answer is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy: practice, practice, practice. The only sure way to master SSAT timing is to take multiple practice tests before doing the real thing. 

But does that mean that every time you practice, it should be with a full, timed test? Nope!

We recommend a mix of practice strategies so that you can focus on content mastery while also gradually developing your timing skills. 

While our expert SSAT tutors help each student develop a personalized test prep timeline, something like the following would be a good start for most students:

  • First month: diagnostic and content mastery

    • 1 full timed diagnostic practice test
    • Untimed practice and review of official practice materials with a tutor

  • Second month: timing drills and content review

    • Continue untimed practice and review of high-quality SSAT materials
    • Begin incorporating timed SSAT sections

      • Do each of the sections, timed, each week. 

  • Third month: mock tests

    • Each week, aim for a full, timed test, taking in realistic conditions
    • Review mistakes and add untimed practice as needed. 

While our 90+ page SSAT Guidebook (available for free below) can give you all the information you need about SAT scoring, format, and logistics, we always recommend working with a private SSAT tutor. Check out our list of the 13 Best SSAT Prep Services here!


According to the CDC, almost 10% of K-12 students are diagnosed with ADHD–and many more students face other learning disorders. 

To make the testing process equitable for all students, the SSAT (like many other standardized tests) offers the ability to apply for accommodations. Some of these testing accommodations can affect the length of this test. 

Not all SSAT accommodations have to do with timing: on the list of “Common Accommodations” for the SSAT, you’ll find a long list of options, including: 

  • Alternative testing locations
  • Additional resources (calculator, graph paper, etc)
  • Accessibility resources (Braille, large print, so on)

The most common accommodation granted on the SSAT, however, is extra time. This works by extending the time allowed for each section by 50% and adding several additional breaks. 

While extra time can be a huge help to students, there is one thing people often forget. All this extra time means your student will be forced to focus on the test for quite a bit longer. 

For the Middle and Upper Level SSATs, this means that your student will be testing for 4 hours and 25 minutes. That requires a lot of test-taking stamina and endurance! 

The key to getting the most out of this extra time is, of course, to prepare for it. By using high-quality SSAT resources and working with an SSAT expert on a test-prep plan, you can ensure that the extra time actually benefits your student!

Our fully updated SSAT Guidebook [CU LINK] provides information on SSAT accommodations, as well as: 

  • Fee waivers
  • Registration Process
  • Score reports (including how to interpret raw scores, scaled scores, and score ranges)
  • Different test versions (computer-based versions, paper-based testing, SSAT Flex)
  • Question types (analogy questions, synonym questions, and math questions)

We believe that the right resources can help any student succeed on the SSAT. That’s why we spent hours putting together a comprehensive SSAT guidebook for parents and students beginning the private school application process. 

But we also know from experience that one of the biggest differences between students who reach their SSAT score goals and those who don’t is the quality of SSAT tutoring they receive. 

We had our expert team review and rank the 13 Best SSAT Tutoring Services–take a look and make sure that you’re only working with the best! 

Of course, if you’re ready to start working with our Ivy-League SSAT tutors, you can contact our team today–rates start at $79/hour!




How many times should you take the SSAT?

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

If you’re planning to be one of the 10% of students who enrolls in a private school, then you’ll likely have to take a standardized test as part of the private school admissions process. For many students, the SSAT is a real challenge, one that leads them to consider retaking it. 

And with good reason! A high SSAT score can be the difference between acceptance and denial at especially selective schools. At less selective schools, impressive SSAT scores might even earn you merit scholarships. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve worked with SSAT test-takers for over two decades. Through that time, we’ve developed a proven formula by which our Ivy-League tutors help students like you achieve incredible success on standardized tests like the SSAT.

In this post, we’ll use some of that experience to discuss whether you should retake the SSAT, how many times you should take it, and whether schools see how many times you take the SSAT. 

Plus, we’ll include links to our free SSAT guidebook, updated for this year’s test. It includes over 90 pages of information and guidance on everything from scoring policies to testing locations to question types!

Jump to section:
How Many Times Can You Retake the SSAT?
Why Retake the SSAT?
How Many Times Should You Take the SSAT?
Do Schools See All Your SSAT Scores?
Next steps


As we cover in our post on the SSAT Format, there are really three different SSATs: 

  • Elementary Level (students in grades 3-4)
  • Middle Level (students in grades 5-7)
  • Upper Level (students in grades 8-11)

Depending on which grade a student is in when taking the test (not which grade they’re applying to), they’ll take the corresponding SSAT. 

That’s an important consideration, since students taking the Middle Level and Upper Level SSATs can take it as many times as it’s offered throughout the year. They can also register for one SSAT Flex Test and two computer-administered SSATs.

The standard SSAT is offered throughout the year on specific dates at designated testing centers (usually a local school). You can read more about SSAT test dates and score release dates here

The SSAT Flex test is designed for students who can’t make one of the standard dates or times. Like the standard SSAT, it’s a paper test. The only difference is that there are more dates available, and you’d likely take the test in a different location. You can read more about SSAT Flex here!

The computer-based SSAT can be taken at Prometric Testing Centers or at home; it follows the same format as the standard SSAT but, of course, is taken digitally. 

So, in total, students taking the Middle or Upper SSAT can take it 9 times a year

Students taking the Elementary level SSAT, however, are capped at 3 tests per year. That includes 2 standard tests and 1 Flex test. 

Just because you can take the SSAT 8 times a year doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you definitely shouldn’t! Below, we’ll get into why you might want to retake the SSAT, when it’s a good idea to do so, and how many times you should. 


Because an SSAT score can be so important in private school admissions–especially if you apply to top schools like Lawrenceville, Choate, or Horace Mannyou want to do whatever you can to maximize the score you send. 

Because of that, there are plenty of excellent reasons to retake the SSAT. 

First, many students take the SSAT with no or insufficient prep. The fact is: maximizing your SSAT score potential means getting the best tutoring and using the best resources, ideally taking 3 months to prep for the test. 

Some students, however, take the SSAT cold and expect a great score. Some take a couple practice tests and think they’re ready. Others might work with a tutor who isn’t an SSAT expert. 

In any of these cases, these students simply haven’t had the resources to achieve their score potential! You need a rigorous test prep schedule, the best resources, and the right tutor to see the best possible results. 

We’ve written blog posts on those very things! You can find our list of the best SSAT Prep Resources here. And you can find our expert review and ranking of the 13 Top SSAT Tutoring Services–it’s updated yearly, so you know the tutors on that list are the best

If you haven’t dedicated sufficient time and resources to SSAT prep and aren’t happy with your score, you should retake the SSAT. Worried about a test prep timeline or the best testing date? Contact us for a free test prep consultation!

But, even if you’ve done everything right, there are still great reasons to do some more prep and retake the test. 

Many students just have an off day–it happens to even the best test takers! You might not have gotten a lot of sleep, you might have had a loud or distracting testing center, or you might have been sick. 

Any factor like that will affect your SSAT score, and you’ll benefit from a retake. 

However, even if you feel like everything went perfectly right on your first SSAT attempt, you should still retake the test

Why? 

Simply put, because almost every single student sees their standardized test score improve on the second and third attempt. 

We’ve spent decades coaching countless students to success on the SSAT and other standardized tests, and we’ve seen this pattern repeat itself every year. 

When a student takes the SSAT for the first time in the real, official testing environment, there will always be a certain degree of stress and uncertainty. The very fact that it’s your first time taking the test for real will likely affect your score. 

Taking the SSAT for a second or third time allows you to overcome those first-test jitters and get closer to your maximum score potential. 

In short: almost all students should retake the SSAT at least once. 

Below, you can download our free SSAT Guidebook, covering all the logistics you need to know when it comes to SSAT retakes–and much more, including:

  • Fee waivers
  • Testing accommodations
  • Registration Process
  • Score reports (including how to interpret raw scores, scaled scores, and score ranges)
  • Different test versions (including computer-based versions and SSAT Flex)
  • Question types


As we imply above, 2-3 total testing attempts is usually the sweet spot. 

Of course, this also depends on your score goals! 

We go more into depth on SSAT Scoring here, but it’s important to remember what the whole point of the SSAT is. 

You’re applying to specific private schools, and you want an SSAT score that makes you a strong applicant for those schools. 

Setting your SSAT score goal should involve careful research on the SSAT score ranges at each of your intended schools. 

If you hit that score goal on the first try–great! If you hit on the second or third, that’s great too! The important thing is that you set a realistic SSAT Score goal and develop a clear test prep plan to reach it. 

Once you do, it’s perfectly fine to stop retaking the SSAT (though we still think you’d benefit from taking it at least twice). 

So, why not take the SSAT as many times as possible? 

Theoretically, there’s no downside in terms of your application (we’ll cover what schools see on your SSAT Score Reports below). 

But… once you start retaking the SSAT more than 3 times, it’s going to take a lot of time, energy, and money. 

You’ve likely got other priorities in your life, whether that be maintaining a high GPA or getting involved in productive summer activities. 

If you are taking the SSAT every two months or so, you’re going to be dedicating a lot of time and energy to those testing retakes. Not just the weekends you’re actually testing, but all the time you spend studying, reviewing, and worrying! 

Plus, if you don’t notice some score improvement as you retest, there’s likely another problem–one that won’t be solved by endless retakes of the SSAT. 

More likely, it’s a problem of poor SSAT prep resources, the wrong approach, or the wrong tutor. 

Rather than repeating the same mistakes, you should take time to address them. The easiest way? Work with one of our expertly trained, Ivy-League SSAT tutors. They’ll help you make sure your SSAT retake is actually productive! 


This is the big question many SSAT-takers ask! 

If you take the SSAT multiple times, do the schools you’re applying to get to see all your SSAT score reports?

The answer is no! When you get your SSAT score reports back after a test date, you will be asked to designate schools as score recipients. 

However, the school’s admission office will only see the SSAT score from the testing dates you report to them. 

This raises another question about SSAT score reporting: do schools see how many times you’ve taken the SSAT?

Again, the answer is no! Schools will see if you’ve taken the test more than once. 

However, schools will not see your exact testing dates. And they won’t see how many times you’ve taken the SSAT. 

In other words, there’s no penalty for retaking the SSAT as you try to maximize your score. 

Below, you can download our free SSAT guidebook, which includes:

  • 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!


Retaking the SSAT is a great idea for almost every student. 

But… it can just as easily turn into a huge waste of time and energy if you’re not making the most of your SSAT prep. 

If you’re serious about improving your SSAT score and earning admission to selective private schools, you need a tutor who is a test prep expert in addition to being brilliant themselves. 

That’s what we specialize in: our tutors include undergraduates at the world’s most selective universities, PhD students at the top of their fields, and test-prep professionals who’ve tutored for over 10 years. 

Plus all of them receive specialized SSAT training from our co-founder and test-prep maven, Kevin Wong. 

If that’s the kind of support you’d like, contact us for a free consultation today. We’ll get you on your way to the SSAT score you want. 




Your Guide to the SSAT’s Format

Your Guide to the SSAT’s Format

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's SSAT Guidebook

If you’re thinking about applying to private elementary, middle, or high schools, you’ll almost certainly need to take the SSAT, a difficult standardized test unlike most things you’ve done in school. 

While it may seem stressful, the truth is that for the most elite schools, a stellar SSAT score is crucial for the admissions process. Fortunately, we’ve spent the past two decades helping countless students excel on the SSAT and earn admission to top private schools. 

Acing the SSAT starts with understanding it, so in this post we’ll offer you the need-to-know information about the SSAT sections, timing, and overall structure. Our SSAT format breakdown is based on decades of experience, and is designed to help you take your first steps in the SSAT-prep journey. 

Because we’re serious about helping students like you beat the SSAT, we’re also including our free SSAT guidebook as a pdf download, which you can grab by clicking the orange button below. 

Ready to learn more about SSAT format? Here’s what our post will cover: 

Jump to section:
The Three Levels of the SSAT: Elementary, Middle, Upper
Elementary SSAT Format
Elementary SSAT Section Breakdown
Middle and Upper SSAT Format Overview
Middle and Upper SSAT Section Breakdown
Next steps


The first thing to understand about the SSAT is that it changes based on your grade level! The Enrollment Management Association (EMA) administers the SSAT at three levels:

  • Elementary Level for students in grades 3 and 4
  • Middle Level for students in grades 5-7
  • Upper Level for students in grades 8-11 

It’s important to note that the middle and upper SSAT format is the same. The only difference between these two SSAT levels is the difficulty of the material they cover! 


Below is the big-picture format for the elementary level SSAT, which is taken by students currently in third or fourth grade. 

Section Number of Questions Duration
Math 30 30
Verbal 30 20
Break 15
Reading 28 30
Writing 1 15
Experimental (unscored 15-17 15

The total length of the elementary SSAT is 2 hours and 5 minutes, counting the 15-minute break. 

Aside from the Writing question, all questions are multiple choice with 5 answer choices. 


Curious about what’s tested on each section of the elementary level SSAT? We’ll break it down here: 

Math 

The 30 questions on the Math section of the elementary SSAT test the following concepts according to SSAT.org:

  • Basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Place value
  • Ordering of numbers (greater than, less than)
  • Fractions
  • Basic concepts of geometry (shapes and their attributes)
  • Basic concepts of measurement
  • Interpretation of graphs

Verbal

The verbal section is often cited by students as the most difficult one! Why? Because it tests concepts rarely seen on any other tests. 

Specifically, this SSAT section tests two core concepts: 

  • Analogies 
  • Synonyms

Because this post is dedicated to exploring SSAT format, we won’t go in depth into these question types. But we do have comprehensive overviews of these concepts elsewhere on our blog: SSAT Analogies Practice and SSAT Synonyms Practice.

Reading

The reading section will be more familiar to most test-takers. It tests students’ ability to read short passages and answer questions about them. 

These questions test the following skills: 

  • Key ideas and details
  • Literal comprehension
  • Inferences
  • Main ideas
  • Word meaning

Writing

The elementary SSAT writing section contains one open-ended question. 

Students are asked to look at a picture prompt and tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. 

This writing sample is not graded but is shown to any schools your child applies to. Interestingly, the makers of the SSAT do not include the writing sample in the score report available to families.

Experimental

Many students and parents are confused by the experimental section–what exactly are they experimenting with? 

In reality, the SSAT’s experimental section is simply a way for the test-designers to “quality test” future SSAT questions. 

This section can contain a mix of all kinds of questions–math, verbal, and reading. 

The most important thing about the experimental section? It’s not scored!

Looking for even more information on the elementary SSAT? Our free guide below contains over 90 pages of content on: 

  • Registration Process (fee waivers, testing accommodations, testing locations)
  • Score reports ( raw scores, scaled scores, and score ranges)
  • Different test versions (computer-based versions, paper-based testing, SSAT Flex)
  • Question types (analogy questions, synonym questions, and math questions)


While the content varies, the format of these two tests is identical. Below is the breakdown of the question number, section order, and timing for the middle and upper SSAT: 

Section Number of Questions Duration
Writing Sample (unscored) 1 25 minutes
Break -- 5 minutes
Quantitative 1 25 30 minutes
Reading 40 40 minutes
Break -- 10 minutes
Verbal 60 30 minutes
Quantitative 2 25 30 minutes
Experimental (unscored) 16 15 minutes

The total length of the Middle Level and Upper Level SSAT is 3 hours and 10 minutes


Wondering what’s on each section of the SSAT? Below, we’ll offer a basic breakdown. Remember: while the types of questions may be different, everything else about the middle and upper level SSAT is the same.

Writing

Both the Middle level and Upper level tests start with a 25-minute open-ended writing question. 

For the Middle level SSAT, students will be able to choose between writing a creative story or responding to a personal question. 

For the Upper SSAT, students will be asked to write a personal essay or respond to a general essay prompt. 

Remember: the SSAT writing section is not scored. But it is sent to the schools you’re applying to, and these schools will use it to assess your writing abilities. So, it’s still important to make sure you’re prepared! 

Not sure if your writing skills are strong enough to impress admissions officers at private schools? Fortunately, many of our Ivy-League tutors are writing experts passionate about helping students master the art of writing! You can learn about working with one here. 

Quantitative 

The SSAT quantitative section is really just its math section, and it’ll test a wide range of math concepts, potentially in unusual ways. 

On both the middle and upper level tests, you will be tested on arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and more. Of course, the upper level test will test more advanced concepts and will generally be more difficult than the middle level SSAT. 

Want to know all the details? We’ve got a strategy post that covers all the major content areas on SSAT Math in more nitty-gritty detail. 

Reading

The reading section on these tests is likely something many students are familiar with: you’ll be presented with short passages and asked to answer a series of multiple-choice questions on each one. 

Here’s what the SSAT Reading section will look like:

  • 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

It’s important to remember that the SSAT is testing specific skills with these questions. These skills include: 

  • Recognize the main idea
  • Locate details
  • Make inferences
  • Derive the meaning of a word or phrase from its context
  • Determine the author's purpose
  • Determine the author's attitude and tone
  • Understand and evaluate opinions and arguments
  • Make predictions based on information in the passage

In fact, we’ve seen many strong readers do poorly on the SSAT Reading. Why? Because it’s not just about being a good reader–it’s about making sure you understand exactly what the test-makers want from you. 

That’s why we always recommend going into the SSAT reading section fully prepared. That means having access to the best resources (we’ve organized those here), reading up on SSAT Reading strategies (which we have a free post on here), and working with a top-tier SSAT tutor (the best ones are our Ivy-League test-prep experts). 

Verbal

Ah, the SSAT Verbal section: in over 20 years of working with countless students, we’ve heard just about every single one of them complain about SSAT Verbal. 

Why? Because it’s hard, it’s long, and it’s just plain weird. Here’s how it breaks down:

In 30 minutes, you’ll have to answer 60 questions. 30 of those will be Analogy questions, and 30 will be Synonym questions. 

If you go into the SSAT without preparing specifically for these question types, you’re going to find yourself in a difficult position. The fact is, most students have never done anything like the SSAT Verbal section in school! 

If you want to give yourself a head start, you can check out our free post of proven SSAT strategies and practice problems for Analogies and Synonyms

But our real recommendation is to give yourself at least 3 months to study for this portion of the SSAT–success on SSAT Verbal is one of the best ways to separate yourself from other students on competitive private school applications. 

Start by checking out our free SSAT Guidebook below. Then, when you’re ready for expert guidance, schedule a free SSAT consultation to get paired with an expert tutor. 

 


Understanding the SSAT Format is the first step to success in the private school admissions process–but it’s only one step of many. 

Determined to get a top SSAT score? Have your sights set on elite private schools like Lawrenceville, Choate Rosemary Hall, or Phillips Exeter? The next step is to download our free comprehensive SSAT guidebook [CU LINK], which includes: 

  • 90+ pages of 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!

Or, if you’re ready to work with a test-prep expert who can offer you personalized guidance on SSAT test prep, contact us today




How to Transfer Colleges

How to Transfer Colleges

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Transfer Application Statistics 

If you’re unhappy at your current institution, need to transfer for financial reasons, or are moving from community college to a 4-year university, you’ll need to submit a transfer application. 

Though these applications aren’t necessarily difficult, they are important. A strong transfer application might mean the difference between acceptance and denial! So, how do you ensure you have a strong transfer application?

At PrepMaven, we’ve guided students through academics, testing, and applications for over two decades. From our students’ successes, we’ve developed a winning approach to college applications–including transfer applications. 

In this post, we’ll break down how to submit a transfer application, as well as important things to consider before transferring. 

Jump to section:
When Do You Need to Submit a Transfer Application?
How Is the Transfer Application Different?
What Application Do You Use to Transfer?
What Makes a Good Transfer Application?
4 Factors to Consider Before Transferring
Next steps


The answer is simple: anytime you’re applying to a university from another higher education (meaning beyond high school) institution. That includes community college! 

There’s one exception to this rule. Some public universities have agreements with two-year colleges that allow for a guaranteed transfer program. In some cases, you may be able to move from community college directly to the state school without an application. If that’s the case for you, your community college administration will have more info!

Wondering if transferring is the right decision for you? Check out our post on whether you should transfer! 


In many ways, your transfer applications will look similar to your original high school Common Application. In fact, many universities will ask that you submit a transfer application through Common App! 

You’ll still be expected to provide letters of recommendation, transcripts, and essays in addition to basic demographic information. 

One major difference, however, is that transfer application essays will typically focus on your reasons for transferring schools. They’ll also expect you to have a clearer understanding of what you’re searching for in a university. 

For example, many universities will ask you what specific resources you hope to take advantage of after transferring. Or they might ask what’s missing at your current school. In other words, why are you going through the transfer process at all? 

Having the right answers to these questions is crucial! If a school thinks you’re transferring for immature or wrong reasons, admissions officers may reject your application. That’s why we’ve written a whole post on how to write the transfer essays, which you can check out free here! 

The other differences are minor compared to the change in the application essays. For example, you’ll need new letters of recommendation.

If you’re a transfer student with one or two years of college behind you, you should get letters of rec from professors instead of reusing ones from high school. That’s crucial: if you reuse a letter of rec from high school, it’ll seem like you haven’t grown at all in the last year or two. 

Wondering how to ensure you’ve got a good letter of recommendation for your transfer applications? We’ve got you covered there too: 3 Sample Letters of Rec for College.

You’ll be asked to include college transcripts in addition to your high school transcripts. You may or may not be asked to include standardized test scores: that depends on each college. 

Finally, a crucial difference specific to the transfer application process is that the deadlines are different! 

Again, these will depend on each individual university, but the following are typical transfer application deadlines:

  • November 1st for admission to the following spring semester
  • May 1st for admission to the following fall semester

Many schools have their transfer deadlines set on these dates, but the only way to be certain, of course, is to look at your specific university’s requirements. 

We’ve actually done the work to save you time there: check out this post for transfer deadlines for top colleges here! 

And, if you want a comprehensive breakdown of transfer statistics, including number of applications and acceptances at top schools, download our free spreadsheet of transfer application statistics below!


Many colleges now also use the Common App for transfer applications. But be careful: this isn’t exactly the same Common App you used as a first-year applicant. 

When opening Common App, you’ll be prompted to select whether you’re a first-year student or a transfer student. If you select transfer student, you’ll be asked to fill out an application form that looks quite a bit different. 

In fact, it’s really like a hub of different schools’ applications, all located in one place. You’ll have to select each university you’re interested in transferring to, and then you’ll be able to access their specific application questions, including essay questions. 

Other schools don’t use the Common App at all, and will have their own application portals you’ll need to navigate. You can always find this information on each college’s website!


A good transfer application shows that you’ve made the most of the opportunities at your current college. You don’t want to present yourself as someone who’s just moping through your first years of college, or someone who hasn’t really given it a fair shot. 

A good transfer application also shows exactly why you’re applying to a new college. Or, in other words, it shows what’s missing at your current college. 

The goal isn’t to complain or trash talk the school you go to now or the students around you. Instead, it’s to show how, as your academic or career goals have changed, you’ve realized that your current university is no longer the right fit for you. 

If you’re applying to a four-year institution from a two-year community college, this will look slightly different. In your case, you don’t really need to say what’s wrong with your community college, since you’re on the verge of graduating. 

Instead, focus on how attending a four-year college can help you build on what you’ve already learned at community college. What opportunities are you excited about? How have the last two years of your education shaped what you’re searching for in a four-year institution?

Ultimately, all these considerations come down to a simple rule: show the admissions office why you’re applying to your prospective school, and what you’d be able to contribute to this new school. 


  1. Will your college credits transfer?

This is one of the biggest factors people forget to consider. If you’re one or two years into school, you should have already accumulated a fair amount of credits for your college courses. 

But not every school will accept transfer credit from your previous institution! If you don’t want to start all over, make sure that your transfer school will actually give you credit for the college courses you’ve already taken. 

  1. Are academic requirements different?

If your college coursework will transfer to your new school, you should also look at whether they’ll fulfill academic requirements. 

As a transfer applicant, you should think not only about credits themselves, but whether the courses you’ve take at your previous college will satisfy prerequisite and other requirements at your new transfer school. 

This is also true if you’re moving to a four-year university from community college. Double check whether any of your classes at community college will satisfy requirements at the schools you’re applying to. 

  1. Financial aid

Unfortunately, financial aid opportunities for transfer applicants tend to be scant. Still, you should ensure you have a full understanding of the financial picture at your new college. 

That includes scholarships, need based financial aid, and overall costs. Knowing how much you’ll be expected to pay ahead of time can help you make a better decision about whether you want to transfer. 

  1. What are your chances?

It can be hard to predict whether you’ll be accepted, since statistics for transfer applications aren’t as readily available. But you should make sure you have a sense of your chances of acceptance: it can affect how many applications you submit and how you plan your future. 

Fortunately, we’ve got a full, updated spreadsheet of transfer application statistics that we’ve made available for you, totally free. 

Once you are ready to prepare your transfer applications, contact our team to get matched with an essay tutor! Our essay coaches specialize in college application essays, and they can help you tell your story in a way that maximizes your chances of admission! 


Make sure you know what it takes to get into your transfer schools by consulting our statistics on transfer applications, then get started applying! 

You might be surprised at just how selective transfer applications are. To increase your chances of acceptance, we recommend reading our post on transfer essays, then working with a tutor to strengthen and polish your application essays.