While the SSAT, or Secondary School Admissions Test, and the ISEE, or Independent School Entrance Examination, are standardized examinations used by admissions professionals at private elementary, middle, and high schools. They share a common purpose, but there are some key differences between the two.
The SSAT has 3 levels: Elementary (for students currently in grades 3-4), Middle (for students currently in grades 5-7), and Upper (for students currently in grades 8-11). The ISEE follows a very similar level breakdown, including an additional level: Primary (for students currently in grades 1-3). The other levels are Lower (for students currently in grades 4-5), Middle (for students currently in grades 6-7) and Upper (for students currently in grades 8-11).
The structures of the SSAT and ISEE are also similar.
Here’s a breakdown of the SSAT, by level:
Section Number of Questions (Elementary) Time Allowed Math I 30 questions 30 minutes Verbal 30 questions 20 minutes Break – 15 minutes Reading 28 questions 30 minutes Essay* One writing prompt 15 minutes Total 89 questions 110 minutes Section Number of Questions (Middle) Number of Questions (Upper) Time Allowed Essay* One essay prompt One essay prompt 25 minutes Break – – 5 minutes Math I 25 questions 25 questions 30 minutes Reading 40 questions 40 questions 40 minutes Break – – 10 minutes Verbal 60 questions 60 questions 30 minutes Math II 25 questions 25 questions 30 minutes Experimental 16 questions 16 questions 15 minutes Total 167 questions 167 questions 3 hours, 5 minutes
*Remember that the essay will not be scored, nor will it be included in your score report. It will be sent to the schools to which you are applying.
All questions on the SSAT will have five answer choices, (A) through (E).
Here’s a breakdown of the ISEE, by level:
Section Lower Level Middle Level Upper Level Verbal Reasoning 34 questions (20 minutes) 40 questions (20 minutes) 40 questions (20 minutes) Quantitative Reasoning 38 questions (35 minutes) 37 questions (35 minutes) 37 questions (35 minutes) Reading Comprehension 25 questions (25 minutes) 36 questions (35 minutes) 36 questions (35 minutes) Mathematics Achievement 30 questions (30 minutes) 47 questions (40 minutes) 47 questions (40 minutes) Essay* One writing prompt (30 minutes) One writing prompt (30 minutes) One writing prompt (30 minutes) Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes 2 hours 40 minutes 2 hours 40 minutes Section Primary 2 (for current 1st grade students) Primary 3 (for current 2nd grade students) Primary 4 (for current 3rd grade students) Auditory Comprehension 6 questions (7 minutes) – – Reading Comprehension 18 questions (20 minutes) 24 questions (28 minutes) 24 questions (28 minutes) Mathematics 24 questions (26 minutes) 24 questions (26 minutes) 28 questions (30 minutes) Essay** one writing prompt, with a picture one writing prompt, with a picture one writing prompt Total Time 53 minutes (+ writing time) 1 hour (+ writing time) 1 hour (+ writing time)
**Remember that the essay will not be scored, nor will it be included in your score report. It will be sent to the schools to which you are applying.
All questions on the ISEE will have four answer choices, (A) through (D).
Sections of the SSAT and ISEE
As mentioned previously, much of the test makeup of the SSAT and ISEE is the same. The exceptions are the Analogy section of the SSAT, the Sentence Completion section of the ISEE, and the Quantitative Reasoning section of the ISEE.
The ISEE has a Verbal Reasoning section that is composed of of two different kinds of questions: synonyms and sentence completions. Synonym questions focus on word recognition, since the correct answer choices are those that have the same meaning, or are the closest in meaning, to the word in the question. Sentence completion questions measure your ability to understand words and their function.
The Verbal section of the upper level SSAT asks you to identify synonyms and to interpret analogies. The synonym questions test the strength of your vocabulary. The analogy questions measure your ability to relate ideas to each other logically.
Quantitative Reasoning in the ISEE is designed to show how your reasoning skills have developed. It tests your ability to use your understanding of mathematics to develop your own opinions about how to solve math problems. It does not test the amount of math you have learned, but how well you think mathematically. Quantitative Reasoning questions require little or no calculations; the emphasis is on your ability to reason mathematically.
SSAT Experimental Section
New questions are continuously being tested for future SSAT forms. These questions appear on the SSAT to ensure they are reliable, secure, and acceptable. This section contains six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative questions.
Scoring on the ISEE and SSAT
The biggest scoring difference between the ISEE and SSAT is that while it’s beneficial for you to guess when you don’t know the answer on the ISEE, the SSAT takes 1/4 point off for every incorrect answer. That means that not only does an incorrect answer not add to your overall score, but it also subtracts. This doesn’t have to be scary– it just means your tactic for answering questions you’re not sure about has to be a little different. Check out more information about scoring on the SSAT.
The ISEE doesn’t subtract points for incorrect answers; they simply don’t add to your overall score.