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Private School Admissions: Fast Facts about ISEE & SSAT Entrance Exams

Students who want to attend private schools typically need to take an entrance exam. The two tests that private schools use for admissions are ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) and SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test; no relation to the SAT). In many ways, these tests are the same, and usually schools will accept either test score, but there are still differences in format and content worth noting.

ISEE Basics

Since the exam is used for admissions to 5th - 12th grades, there are three different levels:

  • Lower Level - for students entering 5th and 6th grades

  • Middle Level - for 7th and 8th grades

  • Upper Level - for 9th grade and above

All of the levels test the same content areas:

  • Verbal Reasoning

  • Quantitative Reasoning

  • Reading Comprehension

  • Mathematics Achievement

The questions within these content areas differ depending on the test level.

ISEE is offered throughout the year, and its examination dates are broken up into three testing seasons: Fall, Winter, and Summer/Spring. You are only permitted to take one test per season.

ISEE Scoring

The ISEE scoring process includes a raw score (simply the number of questions you answered correctly out of the total number of questions) that is converted to a scaled score, which ranges from 760-940 for each section. Since multiple versions of ISEE are administered, this scaled score provides a common range for all versions of the exam.

Students are also provided a percentile rank and a stanine number, which is a number given to each student based on dividing all the test scores of that exam date into nine different segments. (For example, a student in the 99th percentile would rank 9 on the stanine scale; a student in 45th percentile would rank 5.)

There is also an unscored essay that schools receive. The students do not receive the essay back in the score report because ISEE wants to keep the test prompts secure.

When working on practice exams, you will notice that the formats are slightly different than the official test. Most ISEE practice tests are shortened versions. As a result, when calculating your scaled score, you are only provided a score range as a rough estimate.

SSAT Basics

Similar to ISEE, the SSAT has three different levels:

  • Elementary Level (for 3rd and 4th graders applying to 4th and 5th grades)

  • Middle Level (for 5th - 7th graders applying to 6th - 8th grades)

  • Upper Level (for 8th - 11th graders applying to 9th and above)

Each of the levels tests ...

  • Quantitative (Math)

  • Verbal

  • Reading Comprehension

(There's also an unscored essay and an experimental section, which is used to create future tests and is not scored.)

SSAT is offered on eight different Saturdays from October to June. There’s also the options for a “flex” date; for a higher fee, students can choose when they take the test.

SSAT Scoring

Similar to ISEE, SSAT provides a scaled score on each section. Students are also given a grade-appropriate percentile ranking. Here is the score range for each section and test level:


  • 500-800 (Upper Level)

  • 440-704 (Middle Level)

  • 300-600 (Elementary Level)

Reading Comprehension

  • 500-800 (Upper Level)

  • 440-710 (Middle Level)

  • 300-600 (Elementary Level)

Verbal Reasoning

  • 500-800 (Upper Level)

  • 410-710 (Middle Level)

  • 300-600 (Elementary Level)

The essays are unscored, but each school you apply to will receive a copy.

What is the major difference between ISEE and SSAT?


  • ISEE includes sentences completions and synonym questions to test vocabulary.

  • SSAT includes synonyms and analogies. (Usually analogies are harder for students.)


  • ISEE passages are longer.

  • SSAT passages include more genres, including poetry. (Students often struggle more with the different genres.)


  • ISEE is more concerned with mathematical reasoning than SSAT is.

  • If you're a math whiz, then you may be better off with ISEE.

If your target school accepts either test score, then choose whichever best suits your abilities. (Think of it like taking SAT or ACT: either is fine as long as you have a good score.)

Are you considering taking ISEE or SSAT? Have no fear! We have test-prep materials and tutors willing to help make your transition to private school as easy as possible.

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