What is the SSAT?: All You Need to Know About the SSAT

What is the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test)? This is an important question if your child plans to attend a private school as he or she may have to take this test.

Students in fifth through seventh grade will take the lower SSAT, and students in eighth through eleventh grade will take the upper SSAT. There are many different versions of the SSAT given in both the lower and upper sections, which ensures that every student will be assessed fairly for that student’s level. Since the SSAT is sometimes the only test that private schools consider, it makes sense for your child to stand out from his or her peers by achieving a high score.


The SSAT is similar in format to the ISEE (Independent School Entry Exam), which is another commonly used test for entry into independent and private schools. The SSAT takes roughly two and a half hours, and it is broken up into five sections. These sections cover math questions, verbal skills, reading comprehension, and prompt-based writing skills.

Every student will get twenty-five minutes to read a prompt and to write an essay either in support of the prompt’s claim or against the claim—thankfully, there is never a “right” answer, so a student can easily argue either side of any prompt to get full credit. The critical reading component includes seven reading passages with forty questions based on the passages, accompanied by the sixty question verbal section. Finally, there are two different math sections to test students’ basic knowledge of important mathematical principles.

what is the SSAT? | SSAT Scoring

A student who takes the SSAT will receive both scaled scores and a percentile rank. Each of the math, verbal, and reading sections counts for a certain number of points, and every year the method for scaling the SSAT scores changes slightly. However, scaled scores on each section of the lower SSAT usually range from 400-700 (giving a student somewhere from 1200-2100 when all three sections are added together), while scaled scores for the upper SSAT range from 500-800, resulting in a total score of around 1500-2400. Additionally, each student will be compared to peers in his or her grade, which yields a percentile rank. Private schools will use both the scaled scores and the percentiles to determine which students will be accepted for the following school year.

preparing Your Child for the SSAT

Since schools will get to see scores from each of a student’s sections, it makes sense for a student to do well in all three. The SSAT rewards students who do well in all subjects, as opposed to students who excel at math or humanities, but struggle in other academic areas. If your child is not quite as strong in one area as he or she is in others, he or she may benefit from a tutor for the SSAT.

Especially for students taking the lower SSAT, it will be important to have strong writing skills. Many fifth through seventh graders have not had extensive practice writing essays on the spot, so you may want your child to get extra writing practice. A SSAT tutor can help your child come up with ways to answer prompts, and then give him or her methods to cleanly structure and write an essay in the short time limit allotted. Additionally, an SSAT tutor can share tips about essay writing, work on any mechanical writing errors your child may have, and suggest ways for your child’s sentences to become stronger. Since your child will only get one shot at writing an essay on exam day, the more practice he or she has responding to prompts, the better the essay on the actual SSAT will go.

An tutor can also help your child if he or she struggles with reading comprehension and verbal skills. A strong vocabulary is a must, and a tutor can recommend different ways for your child to approach unfamiliar passages. There are also important transition words to look for and other clues that can signal key parts of passages, and learning how to identify the main points of each passage will help your child speed up the test-taking process.

Finally, a tutor can provide your child with math practice problems and explanations for how to reach the correct solutions. The SSAT tests students on commonly known math principles for each grade level, and a tutor can help your child if he or she has some confusion about an important property, or may not feel confident completing two sections of math practice questions within the time limit. No matter what your child wants to improve, a tutor can help your child succeed, including by sharing knowledge about the test, and by monitoring and encouraging practice by your child of relevant material from the test.

Standardized tests are high-stakes in NYC, and you probably have more questions about how to best help your child prepare for the SSAT.

Origins Tutoring, a NYC test prep and tutoring company specializing in customized, one-to-one test prep tutoring, can help address these concerns, and guide and support your family through the sometimes stressful standardized test preparation process.

Our test prep tutoring approach is simple: each student will receive the undivided attention and the expertise of a dedicated, experienced tutor who places a premium on delivering the highest quality test preparation tutoring in the most effective and time-efficient manner possible.

Please call 917.287.7927 for a complimentary consultation now.