Secondary School Admission Test

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The Secondary School Admission Test, or SSAT, is an admission test administered by the Secondary School Admission Test Board (SSATB) to students in grades 3-11 to provide a standardized measure that will help professionals in independent or private elementary, middle, and high schools to make decisions regarding student admission.

There are three levels of the test: the Elementary Level for students in grades 3 and 4 who are applying to grades 4 and 5, the Middle Level for students in grades 5-7 applying for grades 6-8, and the Upper Level, designed for students in grades 8-11 who are applying for grades 9-12 (or PG). The SSAT consists of a brief unscored writing sample and multiple choice sections that include Quantitative (Mathematics), Reading Comprehension, and Verbal questions. The test, written in English, is administered around the world at hundreds of test centers, many of which are independent schools. Students may take the exam on any or all of the 8 Standard test dates; the SSAT "Flex" test, given on a flexible date, can be taken only once per testing year (August 1 - July 31).

Although each year several different SSAT forms are utilized, the SSAT is administered and scored in a consistent (or standard) manner. The reported scores or scaled scores are comparable and can be used interchangeably, regardless of which test form students take. This score interchangeability is achieved through a statistical procedure referred to as score equating. Score equating is used to adjust for minor form difficulty differences, so that the resulting scores can be compared directly.

The SSAT measures three constructs: verbal, quantitative, and reading skills that students develop over time, both in and out of school. It emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for academic success. The overall difficulty level of the SSAT is built to be at 50%. The distribution of question difficulties is set so that the test will effectively differentiate among test takers who vary in their level of abilities. In developing the SSAT, the SSATB convenes review committees composed of content and standardized test experts and select independent school teachers.

Test sections[edit]


Middle and Upper Level: In the Middle and Upper Level SSATs, there are two 30-minute math sections with 25 questions each. These sections are called the Quantitative sections. The quantitative questions measure the test taker’s knowledge of basic quantitative concepts, algebra, and geometry. The words used in SSAT problems refer to basic mathematical operations. Many of the questions that appear in the quantitative sections of the Middle Level SSAT are structured in mathematical terms that directly state the operation needed to determine the best answer choice. Other questions are structured as word problems. A word problem often does not specifically state the mathematical operation or operations to perform in order to determine the answer.

Elementary Level: The quantitative section of the EL SSAT consists of thirty quantitative items. These items are a mixture of concepts that are considered to be the basis of the third and fourth grade mathematics curricula and a few that will challenge the third or fourth grade student. These include questions on number sense, properties, and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and spatial sense, measurement and probability.

Reading Comprehension[edit]

In the Middle and Upper Level SSATs, the 40-minute Reading Comprehension section has 40 questions based on reading passages. These questions measure the test taker’s ability to understand what is read. 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. By presenting passages and questions about the passages, the Reading Comprehension section measures a test taker's ability to understand what he or she read. Following each passage are questions about its content or about the author’s style, intent, or point of view. 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. The passages are chosen from a variety of categories, including, but not limited to: Humanities: art, biography, poetry, etc.; Social Studies: history, economics, sociology, etc.; Science: medicine, astronomy, zoology, etc.

Elementary Level SSAT: The reading section of the EL SSAT consists of seven short, grade-level appropriate passages, each with four multiple-choice questions. These passages may include prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction from diverse cultures. Students are asked to locate information and find meaning by skimming and close reading. They are also asked to demonstrate literal, inferential, and evaluative comprehension of a variety of printed materials. Questions ask the reader to show understanding of key ideas and details to determine the main idea of the text. Additionally, they ask the reader to determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from non-literal language.


On the Middle and Upper Level SSATs, the verbal section is 30 minutes long and consists of 30 synonym and 30 analogy questions. It 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. Synonym questions on the SSAT ask you to choose a word that has a meaning similar to a given word.

Analogies are a comparison between two things that are usually seen as different from each other but have some similarities. They help us understand things by making connections and seeing relationships between them based on knowledge we already possess. 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 students to process information actively, make important decisions, and improve understanding and long-term memory. Considering the relationships stimulates critical and creative thinking.

Elementary Level SSAT: The verbal section of the EL SSAT 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 meanings by relating them to words with similar but not identical meanings (synonyms).

Writing Sample[edit]

In the writing sample section of the Middle and Upper Level SSATs, test takers are given a choice of two writing prompts: Middle Level test takers receive a choice of two creative prompts and Upper Level test takers receive one essay and one creative prompt from which to choose. The writing sample section is 25 minutes long and is not scored. However, the writing sample is sent to admission officers at the school to which the test taker is applying, along with the scores of the other sections of the test.

Elementary Level SSAT: The writing sample gives the student a chance to express themselves through written response to a picture prompt. The student is asked to look at the picture and tell a story about what happened and to be sure their story includes a beginning, a middle, and an end. This writing sample is not graded, but a copy is provided to the school to which the student is applying.


For the Upper and Middle Level SSATs, SSATB uses Formula Scoring, with students receiving 1 point for each question answered correctly, losing one-quarter point for each question answered incorrectly, and zero points awarded or deducted for questions left unanswered. The Elementary Level SSAT does not use formula scoring, instead giving 1 point for each correct answer and 0 points for each incorrect/incomplete answer. The SSAT is designed so that students should be able to reach all questions on the test.

Scaled Scores: SSAT scores are broken down by section (Verbal, Quantitative/Math, Reading). A total score (a sum of the three sections) is also reported. For the Middle Level SSAT sections, the lowest number on the scale (440) is the lowest possible score a student can earn and the highest number (710) the highest score. For the Upper Level SSAT sections, the lowest number on the scale (500) is the lowest possible score a student can earn and the highest number (800) is the highest score. For the Elementary Level SSAT sections, the lowest number on the scale (300) is the lowest possible score a student can earn and the highest number (600) is the highest score.

SSAT Percentile: The SSAT Percentile (1 to 99) compares the student's performance on the SSAT with that of other students of the same grade and gender who have taken the SSAT in the U.S. and Canada on a Standard test date in the previous three years. (For the Elementary Level SSAT, this norm group includes test takers from the past 2 years.)

Students can send the score results to the independent schools they wish to apply to at any time (before they sit for the test, after they sit for the test, or after they have viewed their scores) and there is no charge for sending scores to schools through the online SSAT account. Students have score choice and may report only the scores they wish for a school to see. There is no designation on the score report if a student has tested multiple times or with special accommodations. Scores are released approximately 2 weeks after receipt of test materials at SSATB headquarters.

Each school then evaluates the scores according to its own standards and requirements.

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