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SSAT vs. ISEE: What You Need to Know

By Cece Gilmore

Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Reviewed by Cari Shultz

Cari Schultz is an Educational Review Board Advisor at Scholarships360, where she reviews content featured on the site. For over 20 years, Cari has worked in college admissions (Baldwin Wallace University, The Ohio State University, University of Kentucky) and as a college counselor (Columbus School for Girls).

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: April 1st, 2024
SSAT vs. ISEE: What You Need to Know

Both the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) and the ISSE (Independent School Entrance Examination) are entrance exams used by private middle and high schools. If you or your student are planning to attend a private school, you should become familiar with both the SSAT and ISEE. Keep reading about the comparison between the SSAT vs ISEE. 

See also: Top scholarships for middle school students

What exactly is the SSAT? 

The SSAT is a test that aims to measure students on the following:

  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Verbal
  • Reading 
  • Writing/essay

It is designed for students in grades 3 to 11 for consideration for entry to private middle or high schools. The SSAT has three levels of tests that can be taken, depending on the grade level of school the test taker is currently in. 

Test levels for the SSAT

  • Elementary level – for students currently in grades 3 through 4 
  • Middle level – for students currently in grades 5 through 7 
  • Upper level – for students currently in grades 8 through 11 

The SSAT has similar question types for all three levels, with the upper levels containing higher-level concepts and vocabulary. 

Read more: How to prepare for the SSAT

What exactly is the ISEE?

The ISEE aims to test students on the following: 

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Reading comprehension
  • Math achievement
  • Writing/essay

It is designed for students in grades 2 to 11 in order to be considered for entrance into a private middle or high school. The ISEE has four levels of tests that can be taken depending on the grade level in school the test taker is currently in. 

Test levels for the ISEE

  • Primary level – for students who are currently in grades 2 through 4
  • Lower level – for students who are currently in grades 5 and 6
  • Middle level – for students who are currently in grades 7 and 8
  • Upper level – for students who are currently in grades 9 through 12

Read more: What is the ISEE?

Differences between the SSAT vs ISEE

There are a number of similarities between the SSAT and ISEE, as they are both tests designed for admittance to private schools. However, there are also some differences between the two exams. 

Quantitative reasoning section

The SSAT has two sections of quantitative reasoning while the ISEE has only one. The questions in the quantitative reasoning section of the SSAT offers a mix of knowledge-based questions that test certain mathematical skill such as:

  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Statistics
  • Critical-thinking questions

In contrast, the quantitative reasoning section of the ISEE is designed to test a student’s ability to apply math skills to a problem and think critically. 

Verbal section

The SSAT and ISEE both have verbal sections featuring synonym questions that aim to test the students on their vocabulary skills. The SSAT however, also asks analogy questions that test the ability of students to think logically. The ISEE, in contrast, asks students to answer sentence-completion questions in order to assess a student’s ability to understand words. 

Writing/essay section

Both the SSAT and ISEE feature an unscored writing essay that is sent to the schools the student applies to. The SSAT asks students to choose between an expository and creative writing prompt. In contrast, the ISEE requires students to write an expository essay.

Although this section is not graded on either test, it is still important for  students to try their best.. This is because the essays are sent to the school that a student is applying to and can affect their admissions into the school. 

Experimental section

Another difference between the SSAT and ISEE is that the SSAT contains an experimental section while the ISEE does not. The SSAT’s experimental section is used to test out questions for future SSAT exams. The experimental section is unscored, but it adds questions and time to the test. 

Related: Public vs private K12: What to consider

Grading (and guessing)

SSAT

For the middle and upper level SSAT, there is a unique scoring system. Each correct answer receives 1 point, each skipped question receives 0 points, and each wrong answer receives a ¼ point deduction. Therefore, skipping a question on the SSAT does not provide a deduction of points for the SSAT, but answering the question incorrectly does. 

Knowing this, it makes sense in situations where you are completely unsure about an answer to skip the question altogether to avoid a penalty on the SSAT. 

ISEE

In contrast, the ISEE is more straightforward because they do not penalize for wrong answers. Therefore, on the ISEE, the test-taker should answer every question. 

Score Reports

The SSAT tests for just three competencies which include the following: 

  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Reading comprehension
  • Verbal reasoning

The ISEE tests for four competencies which include the following: 

  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics achievement 

Dates for taking the tests

SSAT

The SSAT is administered monthly between October and April and can be taken as many times as the test taker would like. 

ISEE

The ISEE has three testing periods a year (Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer) and test takers can only take the exam once per time period. 

Which test should I take? SSAT vs ISEE

Both tests are very similar to one another, however, as shown, their slight differences may make one test more advantageous than the other for particular test-takers. The SSAT may be the optimal test for nervous test-takers as it can be taken as many times as the test-taker would like. In addition, the absence of a math score and the option to submit a creative essay response may make the SSAT a good test for more creative- minded students. 

Meanwhile, the ISEE may be a good fit for students who excel at math because they produce a dedicated math score. In addition, the ISEE’s non-penalty for guessing makes it a good fit for students who are comfortable with taking educated guesses on questions they are unsure about. 

Overall, if the school does not have a testing preference, it is completely up to the test-taker as to which test might be best for their skill sets. Remember, the SSAT and ISEE are only a small part of the admissions process, so do not stress out too much about taking these tests! 

Be sure to reach out to the private school(s) of interest to see if they have any preference for the SSAT or ISEE prior to taking either test. 

Also see: What is a good SSAT score?

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