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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.

What is the different between the SSAT, SAT and PSAT?

The SSAT is an admissions test for high school students. It stands for Secondary School Admissions Test. It is part of your application to prep school. The SAT is an admissions test for university students. It stands for Standard Admissions Test. It is part of your university application and is normally taken in grade 12, when you are applying to university. The PSAT is a test that prepares students for the SAT, like a "pre-SAT", or a "practice SAT". Prep schools give the PSAT to students in grade 10 and 11 to prepare them for the SAT. It stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Generally, you would not hand in your PSAT to universities — its main purpose is to serve as an introduction to the SAT. There are also opportunities to win scholarships/awards early on if your PSAT scores are in the top scores of your region.  

How does scoring work on the SSAT?

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 for the SSAT? How do I study for it?

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. Schools use the SSAT as a way to distinguish applicants who would otherwise appear similar academically. If you choose not to hand in the SSAT, you should ensure your application shines in other ways. I wrote an article on how to do this here.

What is on the SSAT 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 SSAT?

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 on the SSAT to get into a top school?

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 the SSAT?

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. I wrote an article explaining this in more detail here.

What is the TOEFL/Duolingo?

If you are currently attending a French school, many prep schools will require that you also take an English proficiency test like the TOEFL or Duolingo. This applies to any student whose school operates in another language.  Minimum score requirements are generally 100/120. To understand how the tests are structured, how close you are to the minimum required score, or how to prepare, please contact us. 

Can I use a calculator or dictionary on the SSAT?

No, you cannot use a calculator or dictionary. On the math section students have to do their calculations by hand. For the English sections there is no spellcheck or dictionary. If you have a learning disability, you may be eligible for a calculator or other accommodations. Learn about how to register for disability accommodations here, or contact us.

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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The SSAT is an admissions test for high school students. It stands for Secondary School Admissions Test. It is part of your application to prep school. The SAT is an admissions test for university students. It stands for Standard Admissions Test. It is part of your university application and is normally taken in grade 12, when you are applying to university. The PSAT is a test that prepares students for the SAT, like a "pre-SAT", or a "practice SAT". Prep schools give the PSAT to students in grade 10 and 11 to prepare them for the SAT. It stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Generally, you would not hand in your PSAT to universities — its main purpose is to serve as an introduction to the SAT. There are also opportunities to win scholarships/awards early on if your PSAT scores are in the top scores of your region.  
Yes, we do in person sessions at our office at 620 St. Jean, in Pointe Claire. We also tutor online.
Each tutor has their own availability and schedule. Many tutors can accommodated after-school hours and weekends. Please call or text 438 800 7069 for this week's availability. If you would like to drop in and visit the centre, we offer tours and meetings by appointment only (call or text 438 800 7069). If you come to the centre without an appointment, we may be occupied with other students. Check out images of the centre here.
If you are currently attending a French school, many prep schools will require that you also take an English proficiency test like the TOEFL or Duolingo. This applies to any student whose school operates in another language.  Minimum score requirements are generally 100/120. To understand how the tests are structured, how close you are to the minimum required score, or how to prepare, please contact us. 
No, you cannot use a calculator or dictionary. On the math section students have to do their calculations by hand. For the English sections there is no spellcheck or dictionary. If you have a learning disability, you may be eligible for a calculator or other accommodations. Learn about how to register for disability accommodations here, or contact us.

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    Last updated: November 26, 2023

    Written by Lauren Fagen

    Lauren is the owner and director of Genesis Tutoring. She builds strategies for advanced math courses and standardized logic tests. Working with only a handful of students at a time, Lauren ensures that each student and family has a clear path towards their academic goals. Outside of the tutoring centre, Lauren has a deep connection with animals, primitive survival, and making art.


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