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What Is The SSAT?

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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Posted: December 13th, 2022
What Is The SSAT?

The SSAT is the Secondary Schools Admissions Test that is used for entrance into private middle and high schools. It is just one piece of the private school application process. Therefore, be sure that you or your student have strong grades and extracurriculars in addition to strong test scores. With this in mind, read more about what the SSAT is in our guide below! 

Related: How to reduce test taking anxiety

What exactly is the SSAT? 

The SSAT is a test that aims to measure the math, verbal, and reading skills of students looking to attend private middle or high schools. It is designed for students in grades 3 to 11 in order to be considered 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. 

Also see: Top middle school scholarships

What are the different grade levels that can take the SSAT? 

The SSAT has three levels for students to take dependent on their current year in school: 

  • 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. 

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Sections of the test

The SSAT is broken down into three sections no matter which level of the test is taken. This includes quantitative math, verbal, and reading comprehension. In addition, there is an unscored essay question and an unscored experimental question section that is used to help create future SSAT tests. Although the unscored essay question is unscored, teachers can still view these essays. 

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Elementary level SSAT format

The elementary level SSAT students will have to take the exam in a duration of 2 hours and 5 minutes. 

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime permitted
Quantitative math3030 minutes
Verbal3020 minutes
Reading2830 minutes
Writing essay question1 prompt15 minutes
Experimental questions15-1715 minutes

About each elementary level SSAT section 

Quantitative math section

  • Basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Fractions
  • Ordering of numbers
  • Basic concepts of measurement
  • Interpretation of graphs

Verbal section

  • Synonyms
  • Analogies
  • Part to whole
  • Category
  • Homonyms
  • Uses

Reading section

  • Consists of 7 short passages each with 4 multiple-choice questions
  • Passages can be fiction, poetry, or nonfiction

Writing essay question

  • Student is asked to look at a picture and tell a story about what happened
  • The story must contain a beginning, a middle, and an end

Experimental questions section

  • Mixed content questions
  • Can contain verbal, reading and math questions

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Middle/Upper level SSAT format

The middle to upper level students will have to take the SSAT in a duration of 3 hours and 10 minutes.

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime permitted
Writing essay question1 prompt25 minutes
Quantitative math2530 minutes
Reading4040 minutes
Verbal6030 minutes
Quantitative math2530 minutes
Experimental questions1615 minutes

About each middle and upper level SSAT section 

Quantitative math section

  • Number concepts and operations
  • Algebra
  • Geometry/measurement
  • Data analysis/probability

Verbal section

  • Synonyms
  • Analogies
  • Relationship between two words

Reading section

  • Passages of 250-350 words with questions
  • Passages can be fiction, humanities, science, and social studies
  • Questions can ask about main ideas, details, author’s purpose, attitude, and tone

Writing essay question

  • Choose from 1 of 2 creative prompts
  • Based on 1 of 2 story starters 

Don’t miss: How to find scholarships for private K-12 schools

How is the SSAT scored? 

The SSAT score report reveals how well the tester did on each scored verbal, quantitative math, and reading section. In addition, it shows the total score which is the sum of the section scores.

Each level (elementary, middle, or upper) is scored on a different scale. 

LevelMinimum score by sectionMaximum score by sectionTotal minimum score (3 sections added together)Total maximum score (3 sections added together) 

At all levels testers receive: 

  • 1 point for every correct answer
  • 0 points for every skipped answer
  • A deduction of ¼ point for wrong answers

Signing up for the exam

The SSAT offers three ways to take the test including: 

  1. Paper-based testing on standard or flex dates
  2. Computer-based testing at a prometric test center
  3. Computer-based exam at home (US and Canada only) 

You can visit the SSAT website to learn more about signing up for the exam.

Cost of the test

In the United States, the test is priced by the exam level the student is taking as well as the way the student chooses for the exam to be administered.

Elementary level

  • Standard or school flex – $95
  • Flex with an educational consultant – $135

Middle/Upper level

  • Standard or school Flex – $155
  • Prometric SSAT – $215
  • Flex with an educational consultant – $225
  • SSAT at Home – $235

The SSAT is very accommodating if the test taker is eligible to waive the fee. To request a SSAT test fee waiver, visit the school being applied to for a waiver. 

The SSAT fee waiver will waive the fee for digital or paper-based exams. It will not cover late or service fees. 

Additional resources

The process of applying to private school involves a lot of moving pieces, but we can help put it together for you. Check out our guides to country day schools, Montessori schools, charter schools, parochial schools, and microschools. We can also give you an idea of the price of boarding school and tell you all about KIPP and the ISEE. Good luck!

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