The SSAT–An Introduction


SSAT stands for Secondary School Admissions Test, and it’s created by the Enrollment Management Association (EMA). The SSAT is used for admission to private schools and boarding schools. Your SSAT scores are extremely important for admission, but they are not the only factor. Grades, sports, and a family’s personal connections also factor heavily.

There are three different levels of SSAT exams determined by your grade. This blog will focus on the Upper Level SSAT, which is for current 8th, 9th and 10th graders.

What’s on it?
The SSAT has five sections:
A verbal section with synonyms and analogies
Two different math sections
A reading comprehension section
An optional, unscored essay

All questions except the essay are multiple choice.
Including breaks, the test is roughly three hours long.

Can I take it at home?
Yes. You can find information on how to do that here.

Are calculators allowed?

How is it scored?
Each section of the SSAT receives a scaled score and percentile rank. Students also receive an overall score and percentile rank. Don’t worry about the scaled score. The percentile rank is what schools use for admissions. Percentile rank shows how your child compared to other students in their grade. An 85th percentile rank means a student scored better than 84 percent of the other students in their grade who took the test over the last three years.

The essay is not scored. Schools may look at it, however, so make sure your child tries their best.

How many times can someone take it?
Students can take the SSAT as often as they like. It’s offered once a month from September to April except for March.

Are accurate tests available?
Four SSAT exams are available from the SSAT website, which you can find here. I’m not certain whether these are actual exams, but because they’re created by the test makers, they’re either actual exams or very accurate, and you should get them.

When should my child start studying?
Have your child take a Biometric Edge SSAT mock exam in March of seventh grade. The feedback from the mock exam will help you determine when to start the prep process.

A common mistake families make is waiting until September to start their child’s SSAT prep. Vocabulary and reading, which are both difficult to improve quickly, account for two-thirds of a student’s overall score. Most students must start their prep well before September.

Test advice
Most students are surprised by the difficulty of the SSAT the first time they try it, especially the verbal and reading sections. Here’s a breakdown by section.

The verbal section of the SSAT is a vocabulary test. Analogies require basic verbal skills, but the hard analogies are hard because the words are hard. The vocabulary on this section is difficult: do not underestimate it! Make sure your child starts studying for this section early, and make sure they are consistently learning new words.

Do not assume that your child will do well on the reading section of the SSAT merely because they do well in English class at school. SSAT reading is odd and difficult, and even good students struggle at first.

The best way for students to prepare is to read. Make sure your child is reading at home, and make sure they’re reading both fiction and non-fiction. There is usually one poem per reading section, so students should be familiar with poetry, as well.

SSAT math has basic arithmetic, algebra and geometry. It has a lot of word problems and a few questions concerning spatial relations. Like the math on all standardized tests, SSAT math forces students to apply their knowledge to new types of questions. This can be a shock for students who are used to school exams, which often just ask students to do questions they’ve seen before.

I don’t think SSAT math questions are that difficult, but every once in a while, a student who does well in math at school struggles on SSAT math. This is where mock exams are really helpful, as the questions mirror actual SSAT questions (on our mock exams, at least).

Be aware that the SSAT is volatile test, which means that the difficulty level fluctuates wildly from test to test. For this reason, make sure your child is signed up to take the test more than once, and do not panic if they score low on a section the first time they take it. In addition, start your child’s prep early. Have them take a Biometric Edge mock exam in March of 7th grade. Use the results to see how much prep time you need.

One of the huge benefits of a Biometric Edge exam is that you can see how long students spend on each question and on each reading comprehension passage. This is always valuable, but never more so than when a student first takes a difficult exam. It’s important to know if a student is taking their time on each questions and going back to reread the reading passages when answering questions. Only a Biometric Edge mock exam can tell you this information with certainty. Your child can excel on this exam, but you must know what they need to work on to structure their time efficiently. Sing up for Biometric Edge mock exam here.

To your child’s success!

Scroll to Top