What Is the SSAT? Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to know about the SSAT
May 6, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/06/23

What is the SSAT? How long is it? How do I prepare? Keep reading for answers to these questions and more.  

Did you know the SSAT, or Secondary School Admissions Test, has been around since 1957? It's evolved to become the trusted private school admission test, used by thousands of students each year.

In this article, we'll discuss what the SSAT is all about. Whether you're a student preparing to tackle the test or a parent providing support and guidance, we'll explore the exam’s various levels and sections and also offer valuable insights to help you navigate the SSAT with confidence. 

What Is the SSAT?

The SSAT is a standardized test that students take when applying to private middle and high schools. It helps these schools assess a student's skills in areas like verbal, math, and reading. 

The test even includes a non-scored writing sample. So, if you're considering private school, the SSAT is a key part of the admissions process. 

What Does SSAT Stand for?

The SSAT, which stands for the Secondary School Admissions Test, is an important exam used for gaining admission to private middle and high schools. If you aspire to attend a prestigious private school, performing strongly on this test is vital.

Understanding the SSAT. Different Levels of the SSAT

The SSAT test is available at three distinct levels to accommodate students at different grade levels:

  • Elementary Level: Designed for students in grades 3-4, assessing age-appropriate skills for private school readiness.
  • Middle Level: Aimed at students in grades 5-7, evaluating academic skills in line with middle school levels.
  • Upper Level: Intended for students in grades 8-11, assessing advanced academic abilities for high school admissions.

The SSAT has different levels to match where you are in school: Elementary, Middle, and Upper. This way, schools get a good idea of how well you're doing and what you can achieve. 

So, whether you're a young student or in high school, the SSAT helps both you and the schools figure out the right fit for a top-notch education. 

Sections and Format

The SSAT is structured with three core sections: verbal, quantitative, and reading, along with an unscored writing sample component. For Middle and Upper Level tests, there are a total of six sections, while the Elementary Level test consists of five sections.

  • Verbal Section: This section is made up of 30 synonym questions and 30 analogy questions, evaluating vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills.
  • Quantitative Sections: Two sections, comprising 50 multiple-choice questions, assess math computation and reasoning abilities.
  • Reading Section: In this section, there are seven reading passages with 40 associated questions designed to gauge reading comprehension.
  • Writing Sample: Test-takers are required to respond to one essay prompt, assessing their writing skills.
  • Experimental Section: This section serves to test new questions and consists of 16 questions, including six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative sample questions.

The Middle and Upper Level exams take approximately three hours and five minutes to complete, while the Elementary Level exam has a total testing time of two hours and five minutes. 

These various sections and question types aim to comprehensively evaluate a student's language, mathematical, reading, and writing skills, helping schools make informed admissions decisions.

Who Takes the SSAT?

Students of different ages, typically in grades 3 to 11, take the SSAT when applying to private or independent middle or high schools. These students are located in regions such as the United States, Canada, and various international locations. 

How Long Is the SSAT?

The SSAT has a total testing duration of 3 hours and 5 minutes. Here's the breakdown of the sections and the time allotted for each:

  • Verbal: 60 multiple-choice questions (30 synonyms and 30 analogies) — 30 minutes.
  • Quantitative (Math): 25 multiple-choice questions — 30 minutes.
  • Experimental: 16 multiple-choice questions — 15 minutes.

In total, there are 167 questions across these sections within the three-hour and five-minute testing period.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the SSAT?

Here's a breakdown of the SSAT testing fees for different levels and testing options in the U.S., Canada, and internationally:

U.S. and Canada Testing

In the United States and Canada, SSAT testing is available for students of various grade levels, each with its specific fees and testing choices.

Elementary Level

For students in grades 3-4, the SSAT testing fees are as follows:

  • Standard or school Flex: $109
  • Flex with an educational consultant: $169

Middle Level and Upper Level 

For students in grades 5-11, the SSAT testing fees vary based on the testing option:

  • Standard or school Flex: $169
  • Prometric SSAT: $239
  • Flex with an educational consultant: $269
  • SSAT at Home: $255

These fees provide flexibility for students at different grade levels to choose the testing option that suits their needs and circumstances.

International Testing

For International Testing, the SSAT fees are as follows:

Elementary Level (Grades 3-4): $229

  • Paper-based Testing
  • Flex Testing

Middle Level/Upper Level (Grades 5-11): $329

  • Paper-based Testing
  • Flex Testing
  • SSAT at Prometric Test Centers

These fees apply to students in international locations and cover various testing options depending on the grade level.

Additional Fees

Apart from the regular testing fees, there are some extra charges that you should be aware of for SSAT testing in certain situations.

  • Late Registration: $59 
  • Rush Registration: $100 
  • A surcharge fee applies to credit card purchases (some exclusions apply)

How to Prepare for the SSAT?

Getting ready for the SSAT is a smart move if you or your child is aiming for a private school. Let's dive into some practical tips. Keep in mind that while these tips are geared towards parents, they can also be applied to older students working their way towards taking the SSAT. 

1. Create a Study Plan

The SSAT covers a lot of ground, so start by focusing on the areas where your child needs improvement. Take the free 30-minute online SSAT practice test to figure out where they stand. It'll provide instant feedback on what to study.

2. Use Official Materials

Stick to official SSAT study materials. They're designed to match the actual test, offering tips, practice questions, and exercises. Online quizzes and tests are also available.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Your child can get better at standardized test-taking, just like any other skill. Full-length online SSAT practice tests are fantastic for this. They simulate the computer-based test environment and provide explanations for incorrect answers.

4. Understand Scoring

Familiarize yourself with how SSAT scoring works. Right answers earn points, wrong ones deduct a quarter of a point, and there's no penalty for skipping. Knowing this helps your child strategize their guesses.

5. Consider Retaking

Data shows that retaking the SSAT often leads to improved scores. Keep this option in mind if your child doesn't get the score they want the first time. It's especially helpful for lower-scoring students.

6. Don't Ignore the Writing Prompt

Even though the writing section doesn't get a score, it's still crucial. Schools review it alongside the admission essay, so encourage your child to practice essay writing.

7. Stay Relaxed

Lastly, remember that test-day stress can hurt performance. Teach your child relaxation techniques, ensure they rest well the night before, and keep a positive atmosphere at home.

8. Reach Out For Help

Enrolling in one-on-one private school admissions consulting is a smart move for students aiming to ace the SSAT and secure admission to prestigious private schools. Our consultants are experts in their field, offering personalized guidance to help you make the best school choices, polish your application essays and master interview skills. 

So, there you have it – a practical approach to SSAT test prep. It's just one part of the admission process, so don't let it overshadow the other great qualities your child brings to the table. Good luck!

What Is a Good SSAT Score?

A good SSAT score typically falls between 500-580 for Reading and 520-580 for Writing. But it's not just about the scores; it's also important to consider how fast you read or write and how much time you have left. 

For Reading, aim to read around 125-150 words per minute with 2 minutes remaining. In the Writing section, try to write at a pace of 100-120 words per minute with 3 minutes to spare. 

These factors, in addition to your scores, determine what's considered a strong SSAT performance. Keep in mind that what's considered a "good" score can vary depending on the specific private school you're applying to and its admission criteria.


What is the SSAT? Let's answer this question and more to provide you with a clearer understanding of the test. 

1. What Does the SSAT Test for?

The SSAT tests a student's abilities in various areas, including verbal, quantitative math, reading, and writing. It assesses skills and knowledge that are important for success in private or independent schools.

2. What Grade Level Is the SSAT Exam?

The SSAT is typically taken by students in grades 3-11, with different levels of the exam designed for specific grade ranges: Elementary Level (grades 3-4), Middle Level (grades 5-7), and Upper Level (grades 8-11).

3. What Is a Perfect Score On the SSAT?

A perfect score on the SSAT depends on the level of the exam you're taking. For the Middle Level and Upper Level, the highest possible scaled score is 2130. However, the SSAT scoring system can vary, so it's important to understand the specific scoring details for your level.

4. Which Test Is Easier: SSAT or ISEE?

Choosing between the SSAT and ISEE can depend on individual preferences and strengths. Many find the ISEE slightly easier, particularly if they are not strong in math. However, the choice between the two tests should also consider the specific requirements and expectations of the schools you are applying to.

5. How Is the SSAT Scored?

The SSAT is scored based on the number of correct answers. Each correct response earns a point, and a quarter of a point is deducted for incorrect choices. There is no penalty for skipping a question. The scoring system aims to measure a student's ability accurately.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 11x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.