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The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT)

Updated 19 February 2021

Written by Nikki Dale

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SSAT Practice Test

What Is the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT)?

The SSAT is an admissions test for students in Grades 3 to 11, which is taken as part of an application to an independent or private school.

It is a standardized way of measuring and comparing students and is used across the world, regardless of educational background.

The SSAT is administered by the Enrollment Management Association and can be taken in schools on certain test dates (standard paper-based), in a Prometric Test Centre (computer-based) or at home (computer-based).

Some schools and educators offer a ‘Flex Paper-Based’ test, which can be taken once in a testing year (1 August – 31 July).

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT)The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT)

What Is Being Assessed?

The SSAT has three levels, depending on the grade of the student:

  • Elementary Level: Students in Grades 3 to 4 for entry to Grades 4 to 5
  • Middle Level: Students in Grades 5 to 7 for entry to Grades 6 to 8
  • Upper Level: Students in Grades 8 to 11 for entry to Grades 9 to 12

There are several timed sections on the test, and these are created to assess different areas of knowledge and education.

These sections include:

  • Quantitative (math)
  • Verbal (language)
  • Reading (comprehension)
  • Writing (creative/essay sample)

As part of an application for independent or private schools, these tests assess basic skills that are deemed necessary for a student to be successful in the school.

The tests have the same basic layout at each level, but the difficulty and length of each section are different depending on the SSAT level being taken.

At all levels, each question is multiple-choice. There are five possible answers to each question. The only part of the test that is not multiple-choice is the writing prompt.

Middle and Upper Level

Although the difficulty of the questions will vary, the basic layout and number of questions are the same in both the middle level and upper-level tests.

There are 167 questions, including a writing sample, and the test is timed at 3 hours 5 minutes (including breaks).

SSAT Essay

The essay prompt for the middle level offers the student an opportunity to demonstrate creative writing ability, often using a sentence starter or an idea to base their writing on.

At the upper level, there is a choice between a creative prompt and an essay prompt.

The essay prompt is based on a question about a given piece of writing and should be backed up with examples from the text.

Example Question

1. Write a creative writing essay, with this sentence as the starting point.

“I couldn’t believe that I had finally made it! When I woke up this morning, I never thought…”

After this part of the test, the student will be able to take a five-minute break.

SSAT Quantitative

The math-based word problems for both middle and upper-level students can include formulae, fractions, decimals, shapes and many other basic mathematical functions.

There are 25 questions in this section and it is timed at 30 minutes.

Example Question

1. Andrew has two jobs. He spent 2.5 hours at the first job, then 5.5 hours at the second. What fraction of a full day did he spend working?

a) 1/4
b) 1/3
c) 3/8
d) 9/12
e) 7/24

The correct answer is: b)

Andrew spent a total of 8 hours working (2.5 + 5.5 = 8).

A full day is 24 hours, so he spent 8/24 hours working.

You will need to simplify this fraction to find the answer.

Divide both the numerator and denominator by the same number to simplify the fraction:

8 ÷ 8 = 1
24 ÷ 8 = 3

or, 1/3

All SSAT Quantitative questions provide space for notes and working out, either in the booklet (paper-based test) or a dry-wipe board (computer-based test).

SSAT Practice Test

What to Expect When Taking the SSAT?

The SSAT test is available in a few different formats.

All tests, whether paper-based or computer-based, have the same number of questions, format and timing – the only difference is the level at which the test is taken (elementary, middle or upper).

Paper-Based Test

For the paper-based test, the student will be given a pencil and a test booklet.

All the multiple-choice answers should be marked by filling in the appropriate circle, and the writing sample needs to be completed in pencil.

As these are usually taken in a school environment, prohibited items may not be taken into the test room. This includes any electronics, bags, pens and pencils, or watches.

Each section of the test is timed, and students may not move on from the current section until the time is up, regardless of when they have completed it.

The timings are inflexible, so any missed time in any section cannot be made up if the student takes a bathroom break, for example.

The school will receive the test results approximately two weeks after the test date, and parents can log in to their SSAT account to view results.

Computer-Based at a Prometric Test Center

If the student is taking a test at a Prometric Test Center, the format of the test, number of questions and all the timings are the same as the paper-based test.

The Prometric Test Centers are used for many different types of computer-based testing, so the student may share the test room with adults and students taking a variety of different examinations.

As the student arrives, they will need to confirm their identity, often via a parent or guardian. Students must be aware of prohibited items that may not be brought into the test room; these may be left in the waiting area with a parent or guardian or placed in a locker.

Prohibited items include all electronics including calculators and mobile phones, bags, coats and hats, any stationery including paper and pens. This list is not exhaustive.

It is recommended that the student bring a snack and a drink for consumption in the allocated breaks; these should be in a zip-lock bag.

The computer-based SSAT begins with a tutorial explaining the format and how to answer each question. There may be times when it is appropriate to use the headphones provided to listen to the questions, and the instructions will inform the student when that might be.

Each section will have a five-minute warning before the timed end; students may not move on from the section until the allocated time has passed, even if they have finished the section early.

Results for computer-based tests are generally available online in the SSAT account within four business days.

It is important to note that there is no distinction made between paper-based and computer-based tests; when the scores are shared, the way the test was taken is not noted.

Computer-Based at Home

The at-home computer-based test is the same as the Prometric Test Center – with similar rules regarding prohibited items.

The test has the same content, length and quality via a secure browser-based option.

The security and efficiency of the computer-based at-home test are important, so the browser uses facial recognition technology, data forensics and video recording to ensure that there are no concerns about cheating.

How Is the Test Scored?

The SSAT is scored in two main ways:

First, a mark is awarded for every correct answer, and a quarter mark is deducted for every wrong answer. An unanswered question receives no marks.

This raw score is then graded against a ‘norm’ score – an average taken from the marks awarded to students of the same grade and gender taking the test for the first time in the last three years.

  • For the elementary level, a total scaled score is between 900 – 1,800
  • For the middle level, the total scaled score is between 1,320 – 2,130
  • For the upper level, the total scaled score is between 1,500 – 2,400

The most important part of the results given is the percentile scoring, which is the grading against the ‘norm’ as mentioned above. This is a percentage between 1 and 99.

Although the written part of the test is not scored, it will be sent to the prospective school with the test results.

Top Tips for Getting a Good Result in the SSAT

1. Read – A Lot

The reading comprehension tests at all levels expect you to understand and interpret text. The best way to revise these skills is to read.

When you have read an article or part of a book, think about some questions to answer.

For example,

  • Who is telling the story?
  • Why did the author use that particular word?
  • What nouns, verbs and adjectives are in the text?

2. Synonyms and Analogies

For this part of the test, think about the language you use in speaking and writing. Try and find synonyms for different words as you go about your day.

If you are consciously thinking about more interesting words, you can use them in your written work, too.

3. Brush Up on Math Basics

The quantitative section requires you to have some knowledge about the basic functions in mathematics, like integers, operations, fractions and decimals.

Practicing these, and getting used to completing math word problems, will be a great way to sharpen your skills for the math questions.

4. Be Creative

If you are using a creative writing prompt in the test, it is a great idea to practice writing in creative and interesting ways.

Your creative writing will showcase your abilities to your chosen school, so you want to impress them.

Write stories, dialogue and descriptions, use interesting language and concepts, and let your creativity shine.

5. Practice

Taking SSAT test papers – either official prep packs from the Enrollment Management Association or other training courses – is the best way to understand not only the format and structure of the test but to get used to the timings for each section.

This is also a good way to understand where you might need more practice – if you get questions wrong in a particular section, you can focus your study there.

SSAT Practice Test

SSAT Quantitative

In this test, you will face 25 more word problems relating to mathematical functions, with a 30-minute time limit.

Example Question

1. Which fraction is closest to 6/13?

a) 1/4
b) 3/8
c) 1/2
d) 2/3
e) 3/4

The correct answer is: c)

There are a few ways to solve this problem but you first need to convert the fractions into a state where they can be compared. Here we have converted each to decimals using long division:

6/13 = 6 ÷ 13 = 0.4615

a) 1/4 = 1 ÷ 4 = 0.25
b) 3/8 = 3 ÷ 8 = 0.375
c) 1/2 = 1 ÷ 2 = 0.5
d) 2/3 = 2 ÷ 3 = 0.667
e) 3/4 = 3 ÷ 4 = 0.75

You can see that the answer closest to 6/13 is c)

Experimental Section

This is not a marked section of the test, but a set of 16 questions that are presented to test the SSAT paper’s reliability.

Students are encouraged to answer these to the best of their abilities so that the test providers can assess how useful they will be in future test situations.

There is a 15-minute timer on these questions.

Elementary Level

The elementary level test contains 89 questions and takes 110 minutes (including built-in breaks).

SSAT Quantitative

This section contains 30 questions and is timed for 30 minutes.

In this part of the test, the student is given word problems around common math functions, including integers, fractions, decimals and basic operations.

Example Question

1. What is 1,269 – 368?

a) 900
b) 868
c) 1,008
d) 901
e) 1,001

The correct answer is: d)

SSAT Verbal

This section is split into two subsections.

In the first, the student must identify synonyms, and in the second, analogies.

This part of the test contains 30 questions and is timed for 20 minutes. This is the same as for the upper and middle levels, but with a smaller vocabulary requirement.

A short break is scheduled into the test for using the restroom, having a snack or a drink.

SSAT Reading Comprehension

In this section, the student will read several passages and answer relevant questions about them.

At the elementary level, there are seven passages and 28 questions. The questions will be simpler than in the higher levels, and the passages less complex.

SSAT Writing Prompt

The SSAT offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their writing capabilities with a writing sample based on a prompt.

At the elementary level, this prompt is a picture and students are invited to write something based on this.

SSAT admissions testSSAT admissions test

What to Expect When Taking the SSAT?

The SSAT test is available in a few different formats.

All tests, whether paper-based or computer-based, have the same number of questions, format and timing – the only difference is the level at which the test is taken (elementary, middle or upper).

Paper-Based Test

For the paper-based test, the student will be given a pencil and a test booklet.

All the multiple-choice answers should be marked by filling in the appropriate circle, and the writing sample needs to be completed in pencil.

As these are usually taken in a school environment, prohibited items may not be taken into the test room. This includes any electronics, bags, pens and pencils, or watches.

Each section of the test is timed, and students may not move on from the current section until the time is up, regardless of when they have completed it.

The timings are inflexible, so any missed time in any section cannot be made up if the student takes a bathroom break, for example.

The school will receive the test results approximately two weeks after the test date, and parents can log in to their SSAT account to view results.

Computer-Based at a Prometric Test Center

If the student is taking a test at a Prometric Test Center, the format of the test, number of questions and all the timings are the same as the paper-based test.

The Prometric Test Centers are used for many different types of computer-based testing, so the student may share the test room with adults and students taking a variety of different examinations.

As the student arrives, they will need to confirm their identity, often via a parent or guardian. Students must be aware of prohibited items that may not be brought into the test room; these may be left in the waiting area with a parent or guardian or placed in a locker.

Prohibited items include all electronics including calculators and mobile phones, bags, coats and hats, any stationery including paper and pens. This list is not exhaustive.

It is recommended that the student bring a snack and a drink for consumption in the allocated breaks; these should be in a zip-lock bag.

The computer-based SSAT begins with a tutorial explaining the format and how to answer each question. There may be times when it is appropriate to use the headphones provided to listen to the questions, and the instructions will inform the student when that might be.

Each section will have a five-minute warning before the timed end; students may not move on from the section until the allocated time has passed, even if they have finished the section early.

Results for computer-based tests are generally available online in the SSAT account within four business days.

It is important to note that there is no distinction made between paper-based and computer-based tests; when the scores are shared, the way the test was taken is not noted.

Computer-Based at Home

The at-home computer-based test is the same as the Prometric Test Center – with similar rules regarding prohibited items.

The test has the same content, length and quality via a secure browser-based option.

The security and efficiency of the computer-based at-home test are important, so the browser uses facial recognition technology, data forensics and video recording to ensure that there are no concerns about cheating.

How Is the Test Scored?

The SSAT is scored in two main ways:

First, a mark is awarded for every correct answer, and a quarter mark is deducted for every wrong answer. An unanswered question receives no marks.

This raw score is then graded against a ‘norm’ score – an average taken from the marks awarded to students of the same grade and gender taking the test for the first time in the last three years.

  • For the elementary level, a total scaled score is between 900 – 1,800
  • For the middle level, the total scaled score is between 1,320 – 2,130
  • For the upper level, the total scaled score is between 1,500 – 2,400

The most important part of the results given is the percentile scoring, which is the grading against the ‘norm’ as mentioned above. This is a percentage between 1 and 99.

Although the written part of the test is not scored, it will be sent to the prospective school with the test results.

Top Tips for Getting a Good Result in the SSAT

1. Read – A Lot

The reading comprehension tests at all levels expect you to understand and interpret text. The best way to revise these skills is to read.

When you have read an article or part of a book, think about some questions to answer.

For example,

  • Who is telling the story?
  • Why did the author use that particular word?
  • What nouns, verbs and adjectives are in the text?

2. Synonyms and Analogies

For this part of the test, think about the language you use in speaking and writing. Try and find synonyms for different words as you go about your day.

If you are consciously thinking about more interesting words, you can use them in your written work, too.

3. Brush Up on Math Basics

The quantitative section requires you to have some knowledge about the basic functions in mathematics, like integers, operations, fractions and decimals.

Practicing these, and getting used to completing math word problems, will be a great way to sharpen your skills for the math questions.

4. Be Creative

If you are using a creative writing prompt in the test, it is a great idea to practice writing in creative and interesting ways.

Your creative writing will showcase your abilities to your chosen school, so you want to impress them.

Write stories, dialogue and descriptions, use interesting language and concepts, and let your creativity shine.

5. Practice

Taking SSAT test papers – either official prep packs from the Enrollment Management Association or other training courses – is the best way to understand not only the format and structure of the test but to get used to the timings for each section.

This is also a good way to understand where you might need more practice – if you get questions wrong in a particular section, you can focus your study there.

Final Thoughts

Like many other academic tests, the SSAT was designed to give a standardized result that can be used no matter what the student’s background.

The SSAT can be taken in the US, Canada and internationally as part of an application to a private or independent school.

The concepts used are basic enough to be accessible but are difficult enough to challenge students – making them a reliable way of differentiating.

Taking the SSAT can be intimidating, but with good study prep, including taking practice tests, students will understand what is expected of them and can perform well.

Practice SSAT Test

Final Thoughts

Like many other academic tests, the SSAT was designed to give a standardized result that can be used no matter what the student’s background.

The SSAT can be taken in the US, Canada and internationally as part of an application to a private or independent school.

The concepts used are basic enough to be accessible but are difficult enough to challenge students – making them a reliable way of differentiating.

Taking the SSAT can be intimidating, but with good study prep, including taking practice tests, students will understand what is expected of them and can perform well.

SSAT Practice Test

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