Which test your child for high school admissions to independent and boarding school should depend on the mandatory requirements of the school and the strengths of your child. If given the choice, choose the test that best reflects your child’s strength areas. Not sure? Try a mock test at home, or try a service that allows your child to sit for the test in a simulated setting to give him a true feel for the test itself.

The SSAT is administered by SAT, while the ISEE is administered by ERB.

Test Innovators offers a great comparison of the two tests:


Here are some great tips for taking the SSAT from Vero Lecocq  at 

How to Study for the SSAT: 5 Steps

#1: Take an Official Practice Test 

You should start prepping at least three months before you plan to take the SSAT. The first step is to take a practice test and then analyze your performance: what are your strengths and weaknesses, and what growth will you need to see in order to reach your goal? Quantify where you are and where you want to be. Note your performance in each of the three scored content areas.

#2: Study Regularly

#3: Focus on Your Weaknesses

#4: Take Another Practice Test—In Fact, Take a Few

Take a practice test every three weeks or so—more often if you are uncomfortable with the test and want a greater improvement, less often if you feel at ease testing and are near your goal score.

#5: Slow Down About a Week Before the Test

Give yourself plenty of time to relax; cut down on your study time, and get plenty of rest. Stop studying altogether a day or two before the test. You need to start storing up sleep for the big day!

3 More SSAT Prep Tips

Take the SSAT More Than Once

If taking an actual SSAT as a sort of practice run is possible for you and your family, it’s the best way to get a feel for the experience of the test. Figure out early on when you want to take this practice trial and when you want to take the real thing.

Know the Format Inside and Out

For example, Middle and Upper Level students will be up against a guessing penalty and will lose points for wrong answers, so they should only guess if they can eliminate choices.

Don’t Stress Too Much About the Test

SSAT, The Format

Reading Comprehension Section

  • Number of questions: 40
  • What it measures: Your ability to read and comprehend what you read
  • Scored section: Yes
  • Time allotted: 40 minutes
  • Topics covered: Reading passages generally range in length from 250 to 350 words and may be taken from:

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

Questions related to the passage may ask you to:

• 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/arguments • Make predictions based on information in the passage

In general, the SSAT uses two types of writing: narrative, which includes excerpts from novels, poems, short stories, or essays; and argument, which presents a definite point of view about a subject.

Verbal Section

  • Number of questions: 60; 30 synonyms and 30 analogies
  • What it measures: Vocabulary, verbal reasoning, and ability to relate ideas logically
  • Scored section: Yes
  • Time allotted: 30 minutes
  • Topics covered: This section covers word similarities and relationships through synonyms and analogies.

The verbal section of the Upper Level SSAT asks you identify synonyms and to interpret analogies. The synonym questions test the strength of your vocabulary. The analogy questions measure your ability to relate ideas to each other logically.

Synonyms are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. For example, fortunate is a synonym for lucky, tidy is a synonym for neat, and difficult is a synonym for hard. You must choose the answer word that has a meaning similar to the given word.

Analogies are comparisons between two things that are usually seen as different but have some similarities. These types of comparisons play an important role in improving problem-solving and decision-making skills, in perception and memory, in communication and reasoning skills, and in reading and building vocabulary. Analogies help you process information actively, make important decisions, and improve understanding and long-term memory. Considering these relationships stimulates critical and creative thinking.


Verbal Section/60 –


Picture of the definition/synonyms
*(don’t waste time with lengthy definition or sentence)



Strategy- Create a bridge – a sentence that connects the words together

ex. TRUNK: Automobile


Possible: Trunk is a part of an automobile? (Bad, not specific)
Better: A trunk is a place that stores things in an automobile

a. grass: lawn
b. button: calculator
c. paper: pen
d. closet: house
e. toe: body


WRITING ESSAY- Creative v. Essay

Writing Sample

  • You have a choice between two prompts – one creative and one traditional essay.
  • The writing sample gives admission officers a feel for how well you write and organize your ideas.
  • The writing sample is not scored, but it is included with the score reports that you send to schools.
  • Time allotted: 25 minutes

At the beginning of the test, you will be asked to write an essay or a story in 25 minutes. You are given a choice between two prompts: one creative writing prompt and one essay-type prompt. This writing sample is sent to the admission officers at the schools to which you send score reports, to help them assess your writing skills. This section is not scored, and it is not included in the student score report unless you purchase it separately.

1- Prewrite your response- practice writing a creative essay adaptable to a variety of prompts
2- Use a clear structure-

  • Exposition (background)
  • Rising Action
  • Climax (critical peak
  • Falling Action (conflict settling)
  • Resolution (Conflict resolved)

3- Decide Point of View and Tense to Use – I  or he/she/they and be consistent

4- Effective vocabulary and clear lively writing, using imagery, figurative language and good vocabulary

SHOW don’t tell with your writing
Reveal a character’s tone

5- Effective Grammar, Punctuation and Sentence structure

Watch for sentence fragments, and run on sentences


Quantitative (Math) Section

  • Number of questions: 50, given in two 30-minute sections
  • What it measures: Your ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and other concepts
  • Scored section: Yes
  • Time allotted: 30 minutes for each section of 25 questions
  • Topics covered:

Number Concepts and Operations
• Arithmetic word problems (including percent, ratio)
• Basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division 
Rational numbers 
Sequences and series

Algebra (elementary concepts of algebra)
Properties of exponents
Algebraic word problems
Equations of lines 
Absolute value

Area and circumference of a circle 
Area and perimeter of a polygon
Volume of a cube, cylinder, box 
Pythagorean theory and properties of right, isosceles, equilateral triangles
Properties of parallel and perpendicular lines
Coordinate geometry 

Data analysis/probability
Interpretation (tables, graphs)
Trends and inferences

The two quantitative (mathematics) sections of the Upper Level SSAT measure your knowledge of algebra, geometry, and other quantitative concepts. You do not require and may not use a calculator for this section.


Experimental Section

  • Number of questions: 16
  • What it measures: New questions are continuously being tested for future SSAT forms. These questions appear on the SSAT to ensure they are reliable, secure, and acceptable.
  • Scored section: No
  • Time allotted: 15 minutes
  • Topics covered: This section contains six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative questions.

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