Understanding SSAT Scoring: Scaled Scores vs. Percentiles
Every fall, as families plan for the SSAT, a common question involves how to make sense of the scores. While both scaled scores and percentiles are reported, independent school admissions offices have historically relied more on percentile ranks.
Let’s review SSAT scoring to get a better sense of what counts and what doesn’t.
The SSAT begins with a writing sample, which is not scored by EMA, the company that runs the SSAT. However copies of the essay are sent to schools along with the score report. The importance of the essay in admissions decisions varies from school to school, but it is generally much less important than the percentile rank. That said, the essay does represent a first impression, so our best advice is for students to do their best to write something that shows what they’re capable of without overthinking it.
Every question on the SSAT is worth one raw point. The easiest question is worth just as much as the most difficult question. There are no points for skipped questions. However, each incorrect answer results in a ¼ point penalty. The total number of correct answers, minus the total penalty for incorrect answers, is the raw score.
With this guessing penalty, it’s important to remember that it’s best to leave a question blank if students aren’t able to answer confidently or, at the very least, narrow their options to a 50/50 decision.
Students’ raw scores are then converted to a scaled score. Each SSAT has a slightly different scale to account for any small differences between tests.
As a result, no test date is easier or harder than any other. A 600 on one test indicates the same level of performance as a 600 on another test.
Students receive a scaled score in each of the three sections: Quantitative, Verbal, and Reading. Their scaled scores are added to create a total scaled score.
The Quantitative, Verbal, and Reading scaled scores are all on a 500-800 point range on the Upper Level test (students in 8th grade or higher), meaning the total scaled score will be on a 1500-2400 range. For the Middle Level test (students in 5th through 7th grade), the scaled score is lower, ranging from 440-710 per section and 1320-2130 total range.
It’s important to note that despite the similarity in name, the SSAT is not affiliated with the SAT or the College Board. A SAT section score ranges from 200 to 800, so a 500 on the SAT is an average score, but it would be near the bottom for the SSAT.
Section scaled scores and the total scaled score are given percentile ranks, indicating how well the student scored compared to other test-takers of the same grade.
For example, a 60th percentile score indicates that the student performed the same as or better than 60% of test-takers. Your percentile rank is based on scores from all students in your grade who have taken the test over the past three years.
Note that the SSAT used to split students by grade and gender, but score reports for the last several years only report percentiles by grade.
Please see below for a sample score report:
Percentile Ranks in Perspective
Sometimes, students will find that their SSAT percentile scores are lower than their percentile grades in school. We usually caution families not to be concerned since their SSAT percentile score is compared to the scores of a smaller, academically strong group of students. The percentile only reflects students taking the test and does not represent a state or national ranking.
The good news is, depending on where the student falls on the scoring scale, a small difference in raw scores can result in a large difference in percentile ranking. For example, a student who gets a raw score of 25 (out of 60) on the Verbal section of the Upper-Level SSAT will increase by nearly 20 percentile points by getting only 5 more correct answers.
The SSAT is a very coachable test and spending some weeks or a few months preparing for it can significantly improve a student’s percentile rank.
Still have questions about the SSAT or interested in setting up a 1-1 tutoring program? Schedule a call with one of our Program Directors today. We look forward to working with you.