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What is the SSAT?

What is the SSAT?

S.S.A.T. stands for Secondary School Admissions Test. It is a standardized test used by many independent high schools as part of their admittance process. When you submit your application, your SSAT score will be part of it. Here are some major points to know, and a breakdown of the test structure.

How does scoring work?

Your SSAT score will be a percentile, which is different from a percentage. Percentiles tell you how many students you scored higher than. So if you scored 60th percentile, it means you did better on the test than 60% of students (or in other words, you are in the top 40% of students your age). The average on the SSAT is 50th percentile (i.e. doing better than half the students). Prep schools tend to favour percentiles of 75th and over (i.e. top 25%), with competitive schools wanting as high as 90th (top 10%). You will also get a scaled score, which ranges between 1500-2400 for grades 8-11, and 1320-2130 for grades 5-7.

How do I register? How do I study?

To learn about how to register, test dates and location, click here.

To prepare, we recommend a complete exam consultation. This is one-time meeting to help families understand the process and how to prepare. It can be followed with tutoring or independent study. If you'd like to study independently from the start, see our book recommendations.

Is the SSAT mandatory? What should I do if a school is “test-optional”?

Most elite prep schools either require the SSAT in your application, or are test-optional. Check each school’s website to find out their admission requirements. If a school is test-optional, here is something to consider: prior to COVID, nearly all elite prep schools were test mandatory. When COVID hit, testing facilities shut down, forcing schools to go test-optional temporarily. Post-pandemic, some schools have decided to stay test-optional. The reason so many schools are/were test-mandatory is because the SSAT helps admissions staff distinguish between students who would otherwise appear similar on paper. If you don't hand in the SSAT, then we recommend making your application stand out in other ways. For example, there are a lot of elite hockey players on the honour roll who apply to prep schools. The way that admissions helps distinguish one from the other is by using the SSAT, or other unique elements to their portfolio, such as community service, passion projects, special interests outside of athletics, etc.

What is on the test and how long is it?

The test is 3 hours and 10 minutes long. It is composed of essay writing, math, reading comprehension, synonyms and analogies. See a breakdown of each section below, or get in touch with us to take a scored practice test.

Are there different difficulty levels for the test?

Yes. Students in grades 5 - 7 will take the "Middle Level" test, and students in grades 8 - 11 will take the "Upper Level" test. This means that a grade 8 student will be taking the same test as a grade 11 student. However, you will only be compared to students in your current grade.

What score do I need?

Each school has different standards of what they deem acceptable. Your score will also be considered alongside other records such as grades, sports, and interviews. If you're also applying as a student athlete, expectations for your score can vary greatly depending on the value you bring to a team. We recommend athletes consult with an athletic advisor.

If I get good grades in school, can I expect a good grade on the SSAT?

The skills required to do well on the SSAT are not normally practiced in the regular school curriculum. Similar to an IQ test, the SSAT tests logical reasoning, inferencing from evidence-based texts, and complex elimination strategies. The best way to know where someone stands is to take a practice test with us (see our SSAT Practice Exam and Family Consultation).

How much time do I need to study for this?

The SSAT is a demanding endeavour, and your score can always be improved (to give you an idea, in 2022, only 0.03% of grade 11 students got a perfect score). If you'd like to maximize your score's potential, be prepared to set aside at least 2-3 months of prep time — some students start preparing as early as a year in advance, which puts them at a much higher advantage.

We are late to the game. Should we still try to prepare for the test?

It is never too late to start preparing. Although many months are required to reach your full potential, you can effectively work towards improving your score at any point. We have worked with new students a day before their exam, and given them relevant tools that helped them succeed in the time they had left. To say it again: with one day of studying, you will not reach your full potential, but you will improve your score.

What’s on the Test

The test has a section where you have to write a short essay, two math sections, reading comprehension, synonyms and analogies. Here is a breakdown with more details.

Writing SampleBreakMathReadingBreakVerbalMathExperimental
Timing25 minutes10 minutes30 minutes40 minutes10 minutes30 minutes30 minutes15 minutes
Questions125 questions40 questions60 questions30 questions16 questions
Description• You are given a choice between two prompts
• There is no spell check or dictionary
• This section is not graded, but it will be sent to admissions to read
• No calculator
• The questions are heavily logic-based
• The questions get harder as you go
• There are between 7-9 passages with reading comprehension questions
• The questions require deductive and inductive reasoning, but do not require historical or outside knowledge
• 30 questions are vocabulary questions (i.e. synonyms)
• 30 questions are analogies
• No calculator
• The questions are heavily logic-based
• The questions get harder as you go
• This is a mix of math, reading, synonyms and analogies
• This section is not graded — it is used to test out questions for next year’s exam


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No, you cannot. On the math section students have to do their calculations by hand. If you have a learning disability, you may be eligible for a calculator. Learn about how to register for disability accommodations here, or contact us.
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