The ISEE vs. the SSAT

Many private schools accept both the ISEE and the SSAT, so which one should your child take? As with the SAT vs. the ACT, it depends on a student’s strengths. Before I go farther, however, know that the governing bodies of both exams haven’t released many actual tests (I’ve seen one Upper Level ISEE exam and four Upper Level SSAT exams), so there’s not a lot of information to go on.

First, the similarities: both tests have five sections: two math, one reading, one verbal (not in that order), and one unscored essay.

On the ISEE, math counts for a larger portion of a student’s score. ISEE scores have four parts (one for each section except the essay), so math counts for 50% of a student’s score. SSAT scores have three sections – one for verbal, reading, and math – so math is 33% of a student’s score.
There are also differences in the math questions. ISEE math covers more topics, and more advanced topics, than the SSAT. ISEE math requires greater fluency with algebra, while SSAT math has more questions that deal with spatial relations and more word problems.

The ISEE verbal section has synonyms and sentence completions, and the vocabulary is difficult.
The SSAT verbal section has synonyms and analogies, and the vocabulary is even more difficult.

All else being equal, I favor the ISEE over the SSAT because of the reading sections. Both are challenging, but SSAT reading is odd. Occasionally, there’s a very difficult passage, but students struggle with the SSAT reading section much more than they should. I’ve tutored exceptional readers for both the ISEE and the SSAT, and the exceptional readers always did well on ISEE reading and only sometimes did well on SSAT reading.

That said, there is one big advantage of the SSAT, which is the number of times a student can take it. Students can only take the ISEE once per testing season (Aug-Nov, Dec-Mar, Apr-Jul). For most students, this means they can take it twice, once in November and once in December. The SSAT, on the other hand, students can take as often as they like. The SSAT is offered every month from September through April except for March.

So which test should your child take? Because of the scoring, the ISEE favors students who are better at math than reading and verbal, and the SSAT favors students who are better at reading and verbal than math. That said, some students just like a specific test better. Your best bet is to have your child take a mock exam of each test and see which one is better for them.

Biometric Edge provides mock exams for both the ISEE and SSAT, and our comprehensive scoring is in the mode used by schools for admission (percentage for SSAT, stanine score for ISEE). A quick Google search will let you know the scores you need for most boarding and private high schools, and you’ll be able to tell if your child is ready for their exam.

To your success!

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