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As an educator, I’ve often encountered a question from parents and tutors – How are the SSAT & ISEE different? or from students Which exam should I take, the SSAT or ISEE?

SSAT and ISEE are admission tests to independent schools. Over 900 private and independent schools in the United States, Canada, and worldwide consider SSAT student scores for admissions. The ISEE is an admission test developed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) for its member schools as part of their admission process.

Both measure the basic verbal, quantitative, and reading skills students develop over time—skills that are needed for successful performance in independent schools and hence in the future. These tests do not measure other characteristics, such as motivation, persistence, or creativity that may contribute to your success in school.

This brings us back to the question, ‘Which assessment should be taken for applying to schools?’ The answer actually lies with the schools themselves. Students should be very clear on the admission process of the individual schools before taking any test.

10 Key Differences Between ISEE and SSAT

Some online research and discussion with students, parents, and tutors have helped me come up with a comparison table between the SSAT and the ISEE.

The ISEE and SSAT are both standardized tests used for admission to independent or private schools. While they have a similar purpose but there are some differences between the two exams. Here’s a breakdown of differences between the ISEE vs SSAT:






Grade levels are:

  • Elementary (applying for grades 4 & 5)
  • Middle Level (applying for grades 6 – 8)
  • Upper Level (applying for grades 9-12)

Grade levels are:

  • Lower Level (applying for grades 5 & 6)
  • Middle Level (applying for grades 7 & 8)
  • upper Level (applying for grades 9-12)
2.Wrong answers are penalized by subtracting one-quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. No points are subtracted for unanswered questions. Students cannot take the risk of guessing answers.No penalty for incorrect or unanswered questions. Students can take the risk of guessing answers.
3. All questions have 5 answer options to choose from.All questions have only 4 answer options to choose from.
4.The SSAT is offered on eight designated Saturdays during the academic year between October and June. Limited Testing (only once) is offered to students who cannot take the test on Saturdays due to religious observance. Students may send to schools only scores of tests that they are confident of doing well.Though the ISEE is offered several times a year between November and May, the ISEE may be taken only when a formal application to a school(s) is being made. You can take the ISEE only once per admission season, and cannot take the ISEE for practice.
5.The SSAT gives scores between 440 and 710 for the Middle level and 500 and 800 for the Upper level on verbal, reading, and math.ISEE gives scores between 760 and 940 on verbal, reading, quantitative reasoning, and math achievement
6. The SSAT has two verbal and one quantitative test, while. Students who feel stronger with language are inclined toward the SSAT. However, the final decision between the two exams depends on what scores the school you applying to considers.The ISEE score is made up of half verbal and half math scores. Students who feel stronger in math tend to take the ISEE. However, the final decision between the two exams depends on what scores the school you applying to considers.
7.All questions on the SSAT are ‘multiple choice’ with 5 choices on each question.Some questions on the ISEE are of the ‘Column A/Column B’ type which tests your ability to compare quantities.
8.The verbal section comprises synonyms and analogies.The verbal section comprises synonyms and sentence completions…no analogies!
9.Earlier in the writing section, SSAT used to give an argumentative essay topic to Middle and Upper-Level students. Students had to write about their interpretation, understanding & opinion (for or against related questions) of that saying. However, now Middle-Level students are given a choice of two creative prompts from which they should write one. The Upper-Level students have to choose between a persuasive essay prompt or a creative essay prompt. The elementary level test usually has a picture as an essay/story prompt.The ISEE essay prompt (for all levels) is usually a question that asks students to describe a person, animal, place, object, experience, idea, or ambition. Writing about an idea or ambition is usually for Upper-Level students.
 10.It has been observed that the SSAT is more about complex wording and logical reasoning than mastery of the material. So if you are good at solving puzzles and dealing with complex concepts, then you could consider taking the SSAT…provided SSAT scores are accepted by the schools you are applying to.However, if you have a good mastery of the material and are not so comfortable with strangely worded questions, then you could take the ISEE. The ISEE is observed to be a more straightforward exam demanding good math, writing, and reading skills rather than logical reasoning. Again, the choice is valid if ISEE scores are accepted by the schools you are applying to.

It’s important to note that individual schools may have specific requirements regarding which test they accept for admission. Some schools may accept both, while others may prefer one over the other. If you’re planning to apply to a particular school, it’s best to check their admission requirements and guidelines to determine which test to take.

Ultimately, both the ISEE and SSAT are standardized tests that help schools evaluate applicants. While there are differences in their format, content, and scoring, the goal is to assess a student’s academic abilities and potential for success in an independent school setting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which test should my child take, the ISEE or SSAT?

The choice between the ISEE and SSAT often depends on the specific requirements of the schools you are applying to. It is best to check the admission guidelines of each school to determine which test they accept or prefer.

Can my child take both the ISEE and SSAT?

Yes, in most cases, students are allowed to take both tests if they wish. It can be beneficial to take both exams and submit the scores of the test on which the student performed better.

When are the ISEE and SSAT offered?

Both tests are typically offered multiple times throughout the year. The testing schedules may vary depending on your location and the test administration organization. You can visit the official websites of the ISEE (erblearn.org) and SSAT (ssat.org) to find the most up-to-date information on test dates and registration.

How long do the ISEE and SSAT tests take?

The duration of the tests varies depending on the level of the test and the specific sections. Generally, the ISEE takes approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes for Lower Level, 2 hours and 50 minutes for Middle Level, and 3 hours and 30 minutes for Upper Level. The SSAT takes approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes for Elementary Level, 3 hours and 5 minutes for Middle Level, and 3 hours and 30 minutes for Upper Level.

How are the scores reported?

Both the ISEE and SSAT provide scaled scores for each section. These scores are reported to schools as percentile ranks, which indicate how a student performed compared to other test-takers. The ISEE also provides a stanine score, ranging from 1 to 9, which provides a broader indication of performance.