Scoring on the SSAT: What You Need to Know

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

If you’re considering applying to private K-12 schools, you’ll need a competitive SSAT score. The more selective the private school you want to attend, the higher SSAT score you’ll need to get in.

Achieving a high SSAT score means not only mastering SSAT content but also understanding how to use the test’s scoring policies to your advantage.

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

At PrepMaven, our Ivy-League tutors have helped countless students achieve top scores on the SSAT. In this post, we’ll use our expertise to help you break down SSAT scoring, including everything from raw scores to percentiles to sample score reports.

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

Here is what we discuss:

Note: For the purposes of this post, we will largely discuss scoring as it pertains to the Upper-Level SSAT.  There are minor differences for the Lower and Middle tests. 

Scoring on the Upper SSAT: The Basics 

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

1) Your total SSAT score comes from 3 scored sections.

These include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SSAT Percentiles

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

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

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

Here’s an example of percentiles in action:

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

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

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

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

The Verbal Score

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

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

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

The Quantitative Score

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

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

The Reading Score

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

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

The Writing Sample

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

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

How to Translate Raw Scores to Percentile Scores

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

You can then apply this formula:

SSAT Score Calculation: Prep Maven

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

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

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

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

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

First Test

Second Test

Total QuestionsCorrectIncorrectBlankRaw ScoreScaled ScorePercentile

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

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

Our conclusion?

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

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

Reminder: The 1/4 Point Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log in to the student version of your SSAT account to view your scores. When you do so, you will first see a score overview page. From there, you can access individual score reports for each of your testing dates.

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

At the top of your score report, you’ll see your total score summary and percentile, which will look like this:

This will give you the two most important pieces of information, but there’s more to be gained from the score report.

Scrolling down, you’ll find breakdowns for each individual section:

There’s plenty of critical information to be gained here, including your section score and percentiles, as well as the average score attained by other students.

You’ll also get to see how many questions in each category you got correct, incorrect, or left blank.

The SSAT score report is a critical tool for understanding your performance–and for improving it if you retake the test. It’s also the ideal tool to bring to your first SSAT tutoring session: our Ivy-League tutors can help you develop a clear gameplan for improving your SSAT score!

Download our free SSAT scoring guide below to make the most use of your score report!

Frequently Asked Questions

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

What matters more, SSAT section percentiles or total percentiles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some schools have recommended score ranges for competitive applicants.

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

You should also remember that you do have options if you’re not happy with your SSAT score! Most students will benefit significantly by retaking the test after working with an expert SSAT tutor–like one of our expert-trained Ivy-League tutors!

What Should I Prioritize? Next Steps

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

1) Know your target score.

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

Learn more about available SSAT practice materials and resources here.

2) Focus on accuracy in your test prep.

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

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

3) Plan to take the test more than once. 

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

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

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

Download PrepMaven’s Complete Guide to Scoring on the SSAT

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

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

And, of course, don’t forget that a qualified SSAT tutor can make a huge difference in the success of your test prep!


Jess Welsh_Princeton TutoringJess Welsh

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