SSAT & ISEE FAQ

What is the SSAT?

The SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test), administered by the Secondary School Admission Test Board (of which Score At The Top is a member), has two parts: a brief essay, and a multiple-choice aptitude test concentrating on math, reading comprehension, and vocabulary.

The test is administered at three levels:

  • Elementary (for students currently in grades 3-4)
  • Middle (for students currently in grades 5-7)
  • Upper (for students currently in grades 8-11)

The timed test is divided into five sections:

  • Writing sample (25 minutes, Middle and Upper)
  • Verbal section (30 minutes)
  • 2 Math sections (30 minutes each)
  • Reading Comprehension section (40 minutes)

The Verbal, Math, and Reading Comprehension sections may come in any order.

Writing Sample: The test-taker is asked to respond to a creative or essay prompt, using specific examples from personal experience, current events, history or literature. The writing sample is not scored by SSAT and is not included with the report sent to families. However, it will be forwarded to any school to which you have your official score report sent.

  • Verbal (Vocabulary): Consists of 30 multiple-choice synonym questions and 30 multiple-choice analogy questions.
  • Quantitative (Math): Consists of two sections, each with 25 multiple-choice questions. A test-taker is required to do math computation similar to what he or she does in school or to what is useful in everyday life. A calculator is not allowed.
  • Reading Comprehension: Includes 40 multiple-choice questions based on about 7 reading passages. These questions measure a test-taker’s ability to read quickly and comprehend what is read.

The Middle and Upper level tests include an experimental section (as of 2012-2013).



What is the ISEE?

The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Examination), administered by the Educational Records Bureau, has two parts: a short essay, and a multiple-choice aptitude test concentrating on math, reading comprehension, and vocabulary.

The test is administered at three levels:

  • Lower (for students currently in grades 4 and 5)
  • Middle (for students currently in grades 6 and 7)
  • Upper (for students currently in grades 8-11)

The ISEE is a timed tests consisting of five sections that can appear in any order:

  • Verbal Reasoning section (20 or 25 minutes, depending on test level)
  • Quantitative Reasoning section (35 minutes)
  • Reading Comprehension section (40 minutes)
  • Math Achievement section (40 minutes)
  • Essay (30 minutes)

Verbal Reasoning: Consists of 40 multiple-choice vocabulary questions: synonyms and sentence completions.

Quantitative Reasoning: Consists of 35 questions: multiple choice and quantitative comparisons. The section tests concepts and higher-order thinking.

Reading Comprehension: Includes 36 or 40 multiple-choice questions, based on the test level. Passages include humanities, science, and social studies. These questions measure a test-taker’s ability to read quickly and comprehend what is read.

Mathematics Achievement: Contains 35 or 45 multiple-choice questions, depending on the test level. Questions focus on comprehension and computation.

Essay: The ISEE essay is not scored, but is sent directly the schools to which a student applies. Many schools consider writing skills as a factor in admission and want to see how well an applicant can write under test conditions.

SSAT & ISEE: Why take these tests?

Students applying to an independent or boarding school usually need to take either the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) or ISEE (Independent School Entrance Examination). Private schools throughout the world use these tests to help make admission decisions. Since curricula, teaching, and assessment standards vary from school to school, a standardized test is one tool admissions personnel use to determine if an applicant can do the work at their school.

These tests must be taken either at a national testing center – or at a “Flex” test center, like Score At The Top (SSAT only). Check with the schools that you’re considering in order to determine which test they accept.

When should my child take the SSAT or ISEE? How many times can a test be taken?

The SSAT can be taken on any of the eight national test dates each year (Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, and June) – and once a year as an individualized Flex Test, scheduled at your convenience. There is no limit to the number of times it may be taken, but we recommend taking it at most 2 or 3 times during the year in which a student is applying to school. A student who takes the SSAT multiple times should leave the Flex Test for last, when the student is likely to be least stressed. It takes about two weeks for SSAT to report scores to schools, so you’ll want to be sure to schedule the final SSAT in time to meet application deadlines.

The ISEE is given on many different dates at various private schools throughout the world; however, it can be taken only once every six months. We recommend taking the ISEE once or twice during the year in which a student is applying to school. It takes 7-10 business days for ISEE to report scores to schools, so you’ll want to be sure to schedule the final ISEE in time to meet application deadlines.

Score At The Top can custom-design a testing timeline for your child – including both national test dates and a Flex Test – to help maximize success and minimize stress.

Does my child need to prepare for the SSAT or ISEE?

Yes. Admissions standards are growing more competitive, so most students approach the SSAT and ISEE with some form of preparation. Often young students have little experience with this type of multiple-choice test, and we have found that familiarizing them with the test format, question types, and effective test-taking strategies can reduce their anxiety and allow them to score higher! We can easily determine how much additional help is needed in the SSAT and ISEE content areas of reading, writing, vocabulary, and math. The confidence your child will gain through this preparation will likely carry over to future standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT.

In addition, Score At The Top’s private and semi-private SSAT and ISEE tutoring will give your child a stronger foundation for school in reading, writing, vocabulary, and math.

How will Score At The Top work with my child to get a "good" score?

Baseline testing provides us with excellent information about your child's needs; tutor experience brings intuitive understanding of how to help your child obtain the best test results. We carefully select the right tutor, and after measuring your child's baseline test scores, we design a test-preparation program based on a student's goals and our four-pronged approach:

  1. Test familiarity
  2. Test content
  3. Test-taking strategies
  4. Confidence-building

Your child will do an in-depth content review with one of our seasoned test-prep tutors, learn how to avoid making careless errors, capitalize on strengths and reduce weaknesses, master timing and other test-taking strategies, and develop enhanced self-confidence. You'll receive email updates about your child's progress after each tutoring session.

With more than 30 years of experience, we can tell you that test preparation can be tremendously worthwhile. At Score At The Top, we deliver your child to the door of the exam room ready to achieve a personal best, and feeling positive about facing this rite of passage. To us, and to the thousands of parents who have sought us out, this is the essence of scoring at the top!

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