What is the SSAT?

The Secondary School Admission Test

student studying SSAT

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is a standardized test that many students applying to private or independent middle and high schools take as part of the application/admissions process. The SSAT is offered at three levels; elementary level, middle level, and upper level. All levels include three main sections: verbal, quantative, and reading comprehension. The SSAT also includes an unscored experimental section, used to make sure that future versions of the exam have reliable, acceptable questions, and an unscored writing sample that is sent to the schools you’re applying to.

Levels of the SSAT

  • Upper Level – designed for applicants in the 8th grade and above.
  • Middle Level – designed for applicants in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade.
  • Elementary Level – designed for applicants in the 3rd, and 4th grade.

How is the SSAT Scored?

Each of the three elementary level test sections is scored on a scale of 300 to 600, with a total scaled score range of 900 to 1800. Each of the three main middle level sections is scored on a scale of 440 to 710, with a total scaled score range of 1320 to 2130. Each of the three main upper level test sections is scored on a scale of 500 to 800, with a total scaled score range of 1500 to 2400. Students also receive SSAT percentile rankings, which show how a student performed as compared to the other students in the same grade and of the same gender who have taken the test during the past three years.

SSAT tutoring

What’s on the SSAT?

No matter which level of the test you’ll be taking, the SSAT will always test the same three sections – Quantitative (the Upper and Middle levels have two sections of this, as opposed to one for the Elementary level), Reading Comprehension and Verbal Reasoning.



  • Elementary Level – The quantitative section consists of questions on number sense, properties and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and spatial sense, measurement, and probability. The verbal section has two parts. The first is a vocabulary section and the second is an analogies section. These sections test understanding of language, word relationships, and nuances in word meaning by relating them to words with similar but not identical meanings. The reading section consists of seven short passages, each with four multiple-choice questions. Students are asked to locate information and find meaning by skimming and close reading. The writing sample gives the student a chance to express him/herself through written response to a picture prompt. The experimental section is one section of mixed content questions (verbal, reading, and math).


  • Middle Level – In the writing sample section, students are asked to write a story based on one of two provided creative prompts. The two quantitative sections of the middle level measure students’ knowledge of algebra, geometry, and other quantitative concepts. The reading comprehension section consists of passages and questions. This section measures students’ ability to understand what they have read. The verbal section asks students to identify synonyms and to interpret analogies. The synonym questions test the strength of students’ vocabulary and the analogy questions measure students’ ability to relate ideas to each other logically.


  • Upper Level - The writing sample asks students to write an essay or a story. The two quantitative sections measure students’ knowledge of algebra, geometry and other quantitative concepts. The reading comprehension consists of passages and questions. This section measures students’ ability to understand what they have read in the passage and asks questions about its content or about the author’s style, intent or point of view. The verbal section asks students to identify synonyms and interpret analogies.
SSAT preparation

Preparing for the SSAT


  • Take a practice test. Practice tests will help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses, and what growth you will need to see, in order to reach your goal.
  • Study regularly.
  • Focus on your weaknesses. Focus in on topics that were hardest for you.
  • Get to know the format of the test, so you’re ready for the real thing.
  • Don’t stress too much about the test, excessive stress won’t help anything.
  • Read a lot. The best way to build your vocabulary and get a better sense for the meanings of unfamiliar words is in the context of other words.
  • Consider hiring a tutor.