ISEE vs. SSAT (Meaning, Differences, Similarities, Which is better)


As part of the admissions process in the United States, it is required by most private schools that candidates take entrance examinations. So, if you’ve decided to attend a private school, sure, you will be wondering what exams you will take. 

The admissions committee uses two standardized examinations at private high, middle, and elementary schools: the ISEE and the SSAT.

This article will explain the difference between the two exams, and offer tips to help you make decisions on the choice of exam to take. 


What is ISEE?

The Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) is a standardized exam used by admissions committees at private elementary, middle, and high schools to assess the likely performances of candidates.

As part of their admission processes, ISEE scores would be accepted in more than 1,200 independent schools worldwide.

ISEE is in four levels:

  • Primary level (entry to grades 2-4)
  • Lower level (entry to grades 5-6)
  • Middle level (entry to grades 7-8)
  • Upper level (entry to grades 9-12)

What is the SSAT?

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is a standardized test that evaluates applicants (those to attend private schools) abilities. SSAT measures your math, verbal, and reading abilities.

Aside from evaluating applicants, it also serves to determine the chances of you excelling in an independent school. Moreover, there are three categories of the SSAT:

  • Elementary level (entry to grades 4-5)
  • Middle level (entry to grades 6-8)
  • Upper level (entry to grades 9-postgraduate)

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ISEE vs. SSAT: Which Should You Take?

Most independent schools don’t have a strong preference in any of the exams over the other. The two exams are partly substitutable as both show your readiness for an independent school.

When deciding between the ISEE and SSAT exams, it is of utmost importance; you consider factors such as:

1. Knowing the private school’s standardized test:

First, before applying, find out whether the school accepts the ISEE or SSAT, as each independent school accepts either test. You could call your intended school admissions office/committee for inquiries.

Although the websites of most private schools claim that they accept both exams, there might be a preference for one over the other.

For instance, most New York City prep schools accept the ISEE, whereas many New England boarding schools accept the SSAT.

2. Age and Grade Consideration:

It is also important to consider your age and the grade you are seeking entry into. The ISEE exam is for students seeking entry into the 2nd grade at the primary level, whereas the SSAT exam is for students seeking entry into the 4th grade.

ISEE vs. SSAT: Differences between the two

The ISEE and SSAT tests are quite similar in several ways. Asides, aiding students to gain admission into an independent school, they have very similar content.

There are five notable differences between the ISEE and SSAT. Let’s have a look at these differences.

1. Score Report: 

Although the ISEE and SSAT are multiple-choice grouped into sections, the score reports for each test differ.

The score report highlights the distinct scores for the various four sections of the ISEE, whereas, for the SSAT, there are three different scores due to a combination of the two math section scores.

The scores from the math section add-up to a single score. So, if you’re looking to showcase your math ability, you should take the ISEE.

2. Writing Sample: 

The ISEE and SSAT writing sample or essay has no score. The admissions committee receives the writing samples from both tests as one of the factors in their admissions decision.

However, it doesn’t determine your overall score on either of the tests.

The writing samples of the two exams differ in topics. For the ISEE test, students should write an explanatory essay.

For the SSAT, students must decide between creative and expository prompts at the upper level, and creative writing prompts at the middle level.

3. Verbal Section: 

Although the ISEE and SSAT exams have synonymous questions, the SSAT asks analogy questions while the ISEE asks sentence completion questions.

It’s not a bad idea to try solving both the analogy and sentence completion questions to see which test seems more natural to you.

4. Guessing Strategy: 

Students taking the SSAT have the guessing penalty to face; for every correct answer, they get one point, for questions left blank, no points at all, and for each wrong answer, they lose 1/4 point.

On the other hand, the ISEE has no such thing as a penalty, and there is no loss of point in giving an incorrect answer.

5. Available Test Dates: 

The ISEE is usually taken once at any of its three annual sessions. The SSAT test dates fall every month throughout the year and can be taken as many times as possible.

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Preparation Study tips for the ISEE and SSAT Tests

Preparation is fundamental to performing well in both the ISEE and SSAT. The higher your score performance, the higher your chances of gaining admission into the independent school you so desire to attend.

The best strategy to perform well is to plan and prepare. Before the time of the official test, you should have practiced repeatedly. Moreover, to improve your level of readiness, take a sample test every day.

In addition, you could look up resources to assist you with the preparation. There are many paid and free ISEE and SSAT materials, including online practice questions, tutors, and study books.

Lastly, note that your test score isn’t the only factor determining your admission gain into a private school.

As part of the admissions process, the admissions committee will also look at your grades, skills, recommendations, and extracurriculars when making their decision.


The ISEE and SSAT are standardized examinations used by elementary, middle, and high schools of private US and overseas. While the two tests share similarities, they differ in content, guessing strategy, test dates, and scoring.

The decision on which exam to take: ISEE or SSAT is based on different factors, such as your strengths (for instance, students who perform well in math might want to prioritize the ISEE), the accepted exam in your intending private school, and the number of times you want to take the tests.

Conclusively, the decision to take the ISEE or SSAT is personal, the same as deciding which independent school you wish to apply to.

It’s encouraged you choose which test to take care of as this article has offered you tips to aid your decision-making.

Awesome one; I hope this article answered your question.

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