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5 big differences between ISEE versus SSAT

Updated: Sep 13


Most private schools in the United States require applicants to take an entrance examination as part of the admissions process. If you're preparing to go to private school, you're likely wondering what exam you'll need to take.


There are two standardized exams used by admissions committees at private elementary, middle, and high schools: the ISEE and the SSAT. In this ISEE vs SSAT blog, we will explain the difference between the two to help you decide whether to take the ISEE or SSAT.



What Is the ISEE?


The Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) is a standardized test whose purpose is to help admissions committees at private primary, middle, and high schools. Over, 1,200 independent schools around the world accept ISEE scores as part of their admissions processes.


There are four levels of the ISEE:


Primary (entrance to grades 2-4)

Lower (entrance to grades 5-6)

Middle (entrance to grades 7-8)

Upper (entrance to grades 9-12)



What Is the SSAT?


The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is a standardized exam used to assess the abilities of students who want to attend private school. SSAT measures verbal, math, and reading skills.

There are three levels of the SSAT:


Elementary (entrance to grades 4-5)

Middle (entrance to grades 6-8)

Upper (entrance to grades 9-postgraduate)


Most independent schools don't have a strong preference for the ISEE or SSAT.

That said, there are some factors you should consider when deciding between the ISEE and SSAT.

First, ask the school(s) you're applying to whether they have a preference for one of the two. Even though many schools' websites claim that they accept both tests, they might actually prefer one over the other. Many New England boarding schools, for instance, prefer the SSAT, whereas lots of New York City prep schools prefer the ISEE.

Secondly, you'll need to consider how old you are and what grade you're seeking entry into. The ISEE exam begins at the primary level with an exam for students entering the 2nd grade. The SSAT, on the other hand, begins with an exam for entrance into the 4th grade. If you or your child is very young, you'll have no choice but to take the ISEE.

Finally, take into account your test preparedness level. The ISEE and SSAT have different rules regarding how often applicants may retake them.

The ISEE can only be taken up to three times a year. Conversely, you can take the SSAT as many times as you want. That doesn't mean you need to take the SSAT ten times, but it does give you some flexibility, particularly if you're a nervous test taker.

ISEE vs SSAT: 5 Key Differences

ISEE and SSAT are very similar tests with similar content and used to test similar skills. After all, the ISEE and SSAT have a similar purpose: to help your student gain admission to a private school of their choice.

That said, there are five key differences between the ISEE and SSAT.

#1: Score Report

ISEE and SSAT both have four multiple-choice sections but the score reports for each are very different.

For the ISEE, you will get scores for each of the four sections individually. For the SSAT, t you will only get three scores, as your two math section scores are combined into a single number on the score report. So if you excel at math ability, you should take the ISEE.

#2: Writing Sample

The ISEE and SSAT each have an unscored writing sample, or essay. For both exams, the sample is sent to admissions committees to be used as a factor in their admissions decision; however, it's not factored into your overall score on either the ISEE or SSAT.

The difference in the writing samples lies in the topics presented. On the ISEE, students are required to write an expository essay, whereas students taking the SSAT must choose between creative writing prompts at the Middle Level, and creative and expository prompts at the Upper Level.

#3: Verbal Section

The ISEE and SSAT have slightly different approaches to their verbal sections. Although both exams have synonym questions, the ISEE asks sentence completion questions, whereas the SSAT asks analogy questions.

#4: Guessing Strategy

Students taking the SSAT have to contend with a guessing penalty: they get 1 point for each correct answer, get no points for questions left blank, and lose 1/4 point for each wrong answer.

The ISEE, on the other hand, has no such penalty and doesn't take away points for incorrect answers.

#5: Available Test Dates

The SSAT offers test dates every month throughout the year, and you can take the SSAT as many times as you want. By contrast, you can only take the ISEE once during each of its three annual testing sessions.


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