ISEE vs. SSAT: Which is Right for You?

If you are planning to enroll in a private school, you need to be familiar with the SSAT and the ISEE, the two main entrance exams utilized for admission into a private school. Continue reading to explore the main differences between ISEE vs. SSAT.

What is the ISEE?

ISEE stands for Independent School Entrance Exam. The Educational Records Bureau (ERB) administers this exam in order to assess the academic skills of high, middle, and elementary school learners. Since the examination covers a wide range of learners – from grade 2 through 12 – it’s classified into four categories:

  • Primary: grades two through four
  • Lower: grades five through six
  • Middle: grades seven to eight
  • Upper: grades nine to twelve

Irrespective of the examination that is administered, Mathematics Achievement, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning core competencies are tested even though the formatting and difficulty will differ. Besides, the Lower, Middle and Upper exams include an essay question. This essay isn’t graded, but it is sent directly to the learning institution a learner applies to as a writing sample.

Since ISEE has learners from various grades, the exam only compares scores of learners against those of test-takers in one grade who have done the exam in the previous three years. For instance, a ninth-grade learner who took the Upper-level examination is only compared contrary to other ninth-graders, instead of all of the ninth-, tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-graders who took the test.

What is the SSAT?

The SSAT stands for Secondary Schools Admissions Test. The Enrollment Management Association administers this exam in order to evaluate three core competencies – Verbal Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning – in learners ranging from grade 3 to 11. Since the SSAT is administered to many ages of learners, it is administered at three levels:

  • Elementary Level: grades three and four
  • Middle Level: grades five to seven
  • Upper Level: grades eight to eleven

All these three levels cover the three core competencies and consist of a writing/essay section that is sent to learning institutions in order to serve as a writing sample, but the formatting and difficulty of the examinations differ by level.

Similar to ISEE, SSAT exam levels contain learners in various grades, but learners are only compared to learners in a similar grade who have taken the examination in the past three years.

What is the Difference Between ISEE and SSAT Tests?

Even though there are many similarities between the SSAT and the ISEE, there are also numerous differences between the two examinations. Here is what you should consider when deciding on the kind of test you need to take.


Both the SSAT and ISEE are creating to evaluate the academic ability of students; hence there are many similarities between the two types of exams – for instance, there are roughly the same length and approximately the same number of quizzes.

The format of the Middle – and Upper-level ISEE is:

Section Questions Allotted Time
Essay 1 30
Mathematics Achievement 47 40
Reading Comprehension 36 35
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35
Verbal Reasoning 40 20
Total 161 2 hours 40 minutes

The format of the Middle and Upper SSAT is:

Section Number of Questions  Time Allotted 
Experimental 16 15
Quantitative Reasoning I 25 30
Verbal 60 30
Reading 40 40
Quantitative Reasoning II 25 30
Writing Sample 1 25
Total 167 2 hours and 50 minutes

Quantitative Reasoning

The key difference between the SSAT vs. ISEE format is that the SSAT has two quantitative reasoning sections while ISEE has just one. Equally, the SSAT doesn’t have a math section, while the ISEE does. The quantitative reasoning section in the ISEE is developed to test the ability of a learner to apply mathematics skills to think critically and solve problems – particular mathematics skills are assessed in the math section. Quizzes in the quantitative reasoning of the SSAT feature a combination of knowledge-based quizzes that test math skills – such as statistics, geometry, and algebra – together with critical thinking quizzes.

Verbal Section

Both the SSAT and ISEE have verbal sections that feature two kinds of questions. Both examinations have synonym questions that focus on vocabulary but differ on the second kind of questions asked. The SSAT asks analogy questions that test the capability to think locally and relate ideas. On the other hand, the ISEE asks for sentence completion quizzes that evaluate the capability of test-takers to understand words and their function.

Essay/Writing Section

What is the SSAT?Both the SSAT and the ISEE feature an unscored writing sample which is sent to the admissions committees of learning institutions a learner applies to. The ISEE necessitates that the student writes an expository essay, while test-takers of the SSAT are provided with an option between creative and expository writing prompts.

Experimental Section

The other difference between SSAT and the ISEE is that the SSAT has an “experimental section” that they utilize to attempt questions for future examinations. The experimental area is unscored; however, it adds questions and time to test day.


The strategy for taking the ISEE is very straightforward: answer every question. The reason is that ISEE doesn’t penalize test-takers for wrong answers. On the other hand, the SSAT awards learners with a point for right answers, penalize them a quarter of a point for incorrect answers, and awards zero points for quizzes left blank, leading to a more complicated game plan.

Score Report

The ISEE tests four core competencies: Mathematics Achievement, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. On the other hand, SSAT tests three competencies, i.e., Verbal Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning. Consequently, the ISEE score has a dedicated math score, whereas the SSAT score rolls mathematics into quantitative reasoning.


The other difference when comparing ISEE vs. SSAT scoring is based on the presentation of the scores. The SSAT employs traditional percentiles, indicating how a learner compares against other students of the same age who are taking the exams and have also taken the examination in the past three years. Additionally, the ISEE transfers percentiles into stanines.

Here are the ISEE percentiles converted into stanines:

Percentile Score Stanine
1%-3% 1
4%-10% 2
11%-22% 3
23%-39% 4
40%-59% 5
60%-76% 6
77%-88% 7
89%-95% 8
96%-99% 9

Dates and Availability

The ISEE has three testing periods a year—Spring/Summer, Winter, and Fall—and learners can only take the examination one time per period. The SSAT is administered each month between October and April (and has a June date also), and unlike the ISEE, learner can sit for the test as many times as they like.

Do Schools Prefer SSAT or ISEE

What is the ISEE?Many independent schools do not have a solid preference for SSAT or ISEE. These two examinations are justly interchangeable; that is, they show preparedness for private school. Other schools usually prefer or explicitly necessitate learners to submit only one of the examinations.

In case a specific test is needed by a school, then the choice regarding the exam is already determined for you. In case a school favors one test over the other, it is important to stick with the test that is preferred by the school.

Even though it is usually good to follow the exam preferences of the school, there are situations whereby it is can be best to submit an, unlike examination. If a school favors the SSAT over the ISEE, but your teen performs better in the ISEE compared to the SSAT, then undertaking and submitting the ISEE will be wise since it will lead to a sturdier application. In the event, your teen is applying to eight learning institutions that favor the ISEE exam but only one that favors the SSAT, you can choose ISEE except when the SSAT is his or her top option.

If the private schools you are applying to admit both ISEE and SSAT, explore the above critical differences.

SSAT vs. ISEE: Which is Best?

Since the ISEE exam results in a dedicated math score, it is a good option for learners who excel at mathematics and intend to point it on their applications. The non-penalty for ISEE for guessing also makes it a good option for learners who have strong standardized test-taking skills and who are comfortable making informed guesses on quizzes they aren’t sure about.

Because learners can take the Secondary Schools Admissions Test (SSAT) as many times as possible, it is preferred by nervous test-takers. The choice of submitting a creative writing sample, as well as the absence of a definitive math score, makes the SSAT test common among creative-minded learners.

Wondering about your chances of acceptance into your dream university or college? High School of America can assist in answering that question. Employing a wide range of data points, as well as extracurricular activities, test scores, and GPS, High School of America can predict your chances of admission at various colleges.

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