Applying to Private School? All You’ll Need to Know About the SSAT

More stressful than the college admissions process is the private school admissions process.  There are usually very few slots available at many of the schools, and the application process has never been more competitive. The SSAT, or Secondary School Admissions Test, is one of the factors that school admissions officers use to select who will fill future classes at their schools. The SSAT is not affiliated with the College Board, the company that develops and publishes the SAT.

The SSAT consists of two parts: a brief essay, and a multiple-choice aptitude test which measures your ability to solve mathematics problems, use language and comprehend what you read.

The test is administered on three levels:

    • Elementary (for students currently in grades 3-4)
    • Middle (previously called Lower) (for students currently in grades 5-7)
    • Upper (for students currently in grades 8-11)

*The ‘Middle’ Level designation is a new addition. Before 2012, it was called the Lower Level test. The ‘Elementary’ Level is a new test created by the SSAT and added this year. The test writers have released very little information about the Elementary level test. Applerouth does not currently offer test prep services for the Elementary test.

Test Format

The test is timed and divided into five sections. You will be given 25 minutes for the writing sample, 40 minutes for the reading section, and 30 minutes each for the remaining multiple-choice sections.

Writing Sample
Consists of one topic statement from which you will be asked to support or argue, using specific examples from personal experience, current events, history or literature. This portion is not scored by SSAT, and a copy of the writing sample is not included with the report sent to students.

Quantitative (Math)
Consists of two sections of 25 questions each. You will be required to do math computation similar to what you do in school.

Consists of 30 synonym and 30 analogy questions.

Reading Comprehension
Consists of 40 questions based on about 7 reading passages. These questions measure your ability to read quickly and comprehend what you read.

Types of Administration

The SSAT “Standard Test”

A Standard test is a group-administered test that is given at many sites around the world.  The Standard Test is given eight times per year.

The SSAT “Flex Test”

An SSAT Flex Test is a group or individual administration on a date other than the standard test dates. The Flex test can be given by and Educational Consultant, a school administering to a group, or a region given by a Consortium.

How the Test is Scored

Every student is given a scaled score as well as a percentile score for each section (verbal, quantitative and reading) and for overall. The most important numbers are the percentiles. Those are calculated by comparing students’ results to other students in the same grade and of the same gender. For example, a 7th grade female takes the Middle Level SSAT. If her overall percentile is 58%, that means 58% of 7th grade females achieved the same score or lower than she did.

Is there a guessing penalty?

Yes. Wrong answers come with a small penalty. If you have no idea how to solve a problem, you are better off not answering it. In fact, for nearly all students (except those who expect to score in the 90th percentile or higher) it makes sense to omit a few problems. Identifying the correct omitting strategy depends on the student’s strength and the tutor’s skill. There are no ‘cookie-cutter’ rules of thumb.


 Scaled Scores 

Verbal Quantitative Reading Total
Scale for grades 5-7 440-710 440-710 440-710 1320-2130
Scale for grades 8-11 500-800 500-800 500-800 1500-2400

50th Percentile

Grade 5 585 590 597
Grade 6 603 610  611
Grade 7 628 635 635
Grade 8 647 660 676
Grade 9 653 667 699
Grade 10 659 670 705

99th Percentile 

Grade 5 710 710 710
Grade 6 710 710 710
Grade 7 710 710 710
Grade 8 800 800 800
Grade 9 800 800 800
Grade 10 800 800 800

How do schools use your scores?

Schools use your scores in different ways: to estimate your ability to do work in a private school; to compare your performance with other applicants for admission or with your present academic record; and to help you improve skills prior to college admissions testing. Each school evaluates your scores according to its own standards and requirements. Applerouth is very familiar with the percentile expectations of nearly all the private schools in greater Atlanta.


Facts about the SSAT

  • How does the test differ from other school tests?

Most of the tests the student will take are achievement tests that measure how much the student has learned and how well he/she can apply that information. The SSAT assesses how well the student will do in high school by measuring his/her ability with questions on reading comprehension, word recognition and comparison, and mathematical reasoning.

  • Should I make an educated guess?

Yes, if you can eliminate two or more of the choices as definitely wrong, then you should guess. If can’t eliminate any of the choices, you should leave the answer blank.

  • What is meant by program percentiles?

The program percentiles do not represent the number of questions answered correctly. Rather they compare the candidate with all of the students who took the test within the past 3 years. A mark around the 50th percentile means that the student was in the middle of the group. A mark in the 25th percentile means that the student is below 75% of the group. A mark in the 75th percentile means the candidate is in the top 25% of the group.

  • How many times may I take the test?

You may take a Standard Test as often as you’d like, up to 8 times per year.  You may only take one Middle and Upper level Flex Test per school year.  You may take the Elementary SSAT twice during a school year.

  • When is the SSAT administered?

November 10, 2012

December 8, 2012

January 5, 2013

February 2, 2013

March 2, 2013

April 20, 2013

June 8, 2013


For more information about the SSAT, visit


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or