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There are many steps that you must take to prepare your child for the admissions process for a private school. Actions such as filling out applications, submitted essays, and even having interviews are essential parts of the process. Another critical step is taking any required assessments before acceptance. There are two specific exams that schools may ask your child to take during their application: the SSAT or ISEE exams.

These exams will provide data for schools to understand your child’s academic abilities.

It is important to remember that these assessments are not an accurate representation of your child’s classroom behaviors, but instead, a black and white snapshot of what they can and cannot do academically.

Students will not be required to take both the SSAT and the ISEE, but many schools will let you choose which test you want.

This is why it’s critically important to understand the differences of each test to make sure that your child is taking the test that is best for them.

This SSAT and ISEE guide will help you wade through the various similarities and differences between the two assessments to make an informed decision about your child’s private education.

What is the Purpose of the SSAT and ISEE?



The SSAT and ISEE are assessments that gauge student understanding of various content areas. These tests are used exclusively to determine a student’s eligibility for independent (or private) school instruction.

These assessments are broken up into various sections: math, verbal, reading, and writing skills.

Students from elementary school through high school may be asked to take one of these assessments upon applying for private school.

Naturally, as students advance through their education, the tests will become more challenging to align with the knowledge expectations that the students should have maters by this point in their education.

The SSAT and ISEE are used throughout the United States, and so you may be wondering, “what’s the big difference?”.

While the assessments have the same goal of assessing a kid’s knowledge, there are a few differences that make each test unique.

How is the Test Administered?


  • A paper-based test administered at approved testing locations.
  • A computer-based test administered at testing locations.
  • Most recently, at-home tests have been offered to accommodate social distancing restrictions.
  • A computer-based test administered at testing locations.


Can You Only Take the Test Once?


No, you can take the test up to eight times a year. The tests are offered once a month from October to April. No, tests are given during specific periods each season and can be taken up to three times in a year.


SSAT vs. ISEE Breakdown


The SSAT vs. ISEE are similarly structured for Middle and Upper Level assessments. Both tests are broken into five separate sections that assess critical thinking skills, content understanding, verbal skills, etc.

SSAT vs. ISEE Structure

The SSAT and ISEE are similar in many ways, but they also have some apparent differences. Many students will not have a choice of the test they would prefer to take; however, if they do, it’s essential to understand the differences to choose the best option for your child.

For more detailed information about the differences between the  


  • Can take the test at home or in-person.
  • Can test up to eight times year-round.
  • 151 questions
  • 3 hours and 5 minutes of testing time (Middle and Upper Levels)
  • Question difficulty is random.
  • Can take the test at home, in school, or in-person.
  • Can test up to three times during seasonal testing windows.
  • 161 questions.
  • 2 hours and 40 minute testing time.
  • Question difficulty increases throughout sections.


Which Test Should My Student Take?


If the school where you are applying to allows you to choose between the two tests, how do you decide which test your child should take?

As you can see, there are many ways that the SSAT and ISEE are similar, so it should boil down to your child’s academic abilities when selected the best option.

The SSAT is a little bit longer, has fewer questions, and randomizes difficulty of questions throughout the assessment. It also allows students to take the test up to eight times.

The ISEE is shorter in length, has more questions, but it incrementally increases the question difficulty throughout the assessment. The ISEE only allows three test retakes.

When you are weighing your options, consider if your child will perform better on the classic literature and poetry questions on the SSAT or prefer the contemporary examples on the ISEE.

It might be helpful to have your child take a practice test from each organization to determine which route will be best for them.  


Content Sections


Reading Section


  • Cover a variety of different subjects.
  • Assess the student’s ability to identify themes, literary devices, and text-purpose.
  • Includes poetry and classic literature.
  • Cover a variety of different subjects.
  • Assess the student’s ability to identify themes, literary devices, and text-purpose.
  • Includes contemporary passages.


Verbal Section

  • Students must answer synonym questions.
  • Tests students using analogy questions

Sample Question: 

Matriarch is to patriarch as

(A) daughter is to father

(B) girl is to boy

(C) right is to wrong

(D) male is to female

(E) clan is to family

  • Students must answer synonym questions.
  • Tests students using sentence completion questions.

Sample Question: 

Rats give some _____ as scavengers, but this is over-balanced by their _____ activities.

  • A. help … useful
  • B. service … harmful
  • C. problems … nocturnal
  • D. trouble … breeding



Math Section

  • A mix of critical thinking and knowledge-based questions.
  • Includes quantitative reasoning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and knowledge-based questions.


Writing Section

  • The writing section is unscored but sent to institutions along with assessment scores to provide admissions boards with a complete picture of the student.
  • The writing section is unscored but sent to institutions along with assessment scores to provide admissions boards with a complete picture of the student.


Strategy Section

Guessing Strategy

  • Assessments are scored with guessing forgiveness. This means that a student receives 1 point for correct answers, 0 points for blank answers, and 1/4 point for wrong answers.
  • This scoring model only applies to Middle and Upper Level SSAT.
  • Assessment scoring does not include score forgiveness for guessing on questions. A problem is scored with 1 point for correct answers and 0 points for incorrect answers.


How Can My Student Prepare?


There are so many ways that a student can prepare for these assessments, but the most crucial first step is to start preparing early.

Studies show that any caliber of “cramming” is ineffective in test preparation. Data shows that when students cram, they are more likely to forget information versus remember it.

Start preparing for these assessments early (up to 6-8 months before the first testing date).

To obtain a baseline, have your student take a full-length practice assessment. Make sure to time them to demonstrate the section length as well.

Note: These assessment scores measurements are contrasted against national averages of students your child’s age. It’s not unlikely that the score will seem lower than what you expect. 

It’s important to remember that the SSAT vs. ISEE is not a good gauge of your child’s classroom performance, but merely a tool in understanding what they know about specific academic skills. 

Use Your Baseline Assessment to Create a Gameplan

Once your child has taken their baseline assessment, use the results to create a gameplan to begin studying for the test. This can include: identifying strengths and weaknesses, learning test-taking strategies, practicing specific sections, and using workbooks to reinforce skills.

ArgoPrep has created high-quality grade-level and assessment workbooks to help students prepare for the SSAT and the ISEE. These workbooks are the perfect addition to any child’s assessment prep because they offer detailed explanations of skills to help students understand the root of the knowledge to apply their understanding of information to any problem they encounter.



Since many private school applications are the first interactions institutions have with your child, these assessments must provide an accurate picture of your child’s knowledge.

Since the SSAT and ISEE are similar, you must take time to make sure that you understand which test will best suit your child.

Remember, these assessment scores are just a piece of the overall application, and while important, are not the only part. 

If you are looking for a great resource to boost your child’s assessment scores, ArgoPrep has the products to help your child shine on these assessments. 

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