Scoring on the SSAT: Your Complete Guide

Mastering content is only half the battle.

Sometimes SSAT scoring seems even more confusing than the actual test!

Raw scores? Scaled scores? Percentile by grade? Percentile by grade and gender? What does it all mean? 

The truth is, there’s a lot of nonessential information on the SSAT score report, and you’re not alone if you’re struggling to make sense of it.

Given the importance of the SSAT in gaining entry to the secondary school of your choice, it’s essential to arm yourself with as much information as possible with regard to scoring. 

Here is what we discuss in this post:


Scoring on the SSAT: The Basics 

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

Your SSAT score is comprised of 3 scored sections.

These include Verbal, Quantitative, and Reading. There are 2 additional unscored sections: a Writing Sample and Experimental section.

There is a wrong answer penalty on the SSAT.

On the SSAT, test-takers receive 1 point for every correct answer. Any question you skip will cost you that precious point. If you answer a question incorrectly, you lose a 1/4 point!

This might not sound like much, but it can add up. 

Students get a percentile ranking for each SSAT section.

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

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

SSAT Percentiles

So a 50% 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.

Here’s an example of percentiles in action:

If you scored in the 50th percentile overall, you performed better than 50% of the test-takeres 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.


SSAT Scores by Section

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

The Verbal Score

This section has 60 questions, the most of any section.

For the inquiring test taker, every question counts less (as opposed to other sections). 

The Quantitative Score

The SSAT has two separate Quantitative sections of 25 questions each that are scored together for a total Quantitative Score comprising 50 questions

The Reading Score

This section has 40 questions. This means that every question counts more

The Essay

There is no score for this section. 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 actually admits this:

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

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

First Test

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

Second Test

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

On the second test, Darla got twice as many questions incorrect as she got wrong on the first test. 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.


What will my SSAT score report look like? 

Student scores become available on the SSAT website within two weeks of the test date. You will first see a score overview page that looks like this:

SSAT Score Report Source: SSAT.org

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

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

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

Simply expand the menu and click “View Score Report.” This gives students their scaled scores, percentiles (“SSAT Reference Information”), and a listing of right, wrong, and not answered questions in each section. 

SSAT Score Report

SSAT Score Report

Source: Reading Your Middle or Upper Level SSAT Score Report

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

So, at the end of the day, what do schools really care about with SSAT scores? SSAT percentiles!


SSAT Scoring = SSAT Percentiles

We already discussed that students should focus more on percentile than scaled scores. Here are some further questions that might come up:

Should I be more concerned about the overall grade or grade/gender percentiles?

Generally, secondary schools are looking at the overall SSAT score. Check with your school(s) of interest to verify.

What about SSAT section percentiles vs. total percentile?

Schools tend to consider the percentiles of each section. Again, check with your school 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?

The first place to look is the school’s admissions page. Here, students are likely to 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. 

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

Stuart County Day School Admissions

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

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

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

Before making this decision, check with your school(s) of interest. This is vital! Some schools have a hard SSAT score cut-off: for example, prospective Lawrenceville School students need to have a total sum 85% percentile score for a chance at admission. 

Others might be more lenient, however. Some schools 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.

Even schools that indicate a “hard” cut-off might make exceptions for students who are exceptional in other areas.


What Should I Prioritize? Next Steps

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

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.

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. 

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.


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!