What is a Good SSAT or ISEE Score?

Students taking a test in classroom
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The SSAT and ISEE are the most commonly used admission tests that private day and boarding schools use to assess a candidate's readiness to handle the work at their schools. The scores on these tests help schools evaluate candidates from a range of schools to understand how they compare to each other. It's one of the few ways to truly benchmark student performance evenly. Which leaves many families wondering what ISEE scores or what SSAT scores their student should be trying to achieve. Before we answer that, let's delve into some information about these important, and usually required, admission tests. 

What test is accepted?

The first step is to determine which test the school accepts or prefers for admission. Some schools prefer for the SSAT but will accept another test, while others accept only the ISEE. Older students may be able to submit PSAT or SAT scores instead, depending on the school's requirements. Students should be sure to check which test the school you are applying to requires and accepts. Schools vary in how much weight they place on these tests, some won't even require them, but many parents and students often wonder what good ISEE or SSAT scores are and whether their scores are high enough to get into the school of their choice.

What is the SSAT?

The SSAT is a multiple-choice test given to students around the world in grades 5-12 who are interested in applying to private schools. Students currently in grades 5-7 take the lower-level test, while students in grades 8-11 take the upper-level test. The SSAT is broken down into four main sections, and a fifth "experimental" section:

  1. Verbal - one 30 minute section that includes 30 synonym questions and 30 analogy questions to test vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills.
  2. Quantitative (math) - 60 minutes total, broken down into two 30-minute sections, each with 50 multiple-choice questions, that focus on math computation and reasoning
  3. Reading - one 40-minute section that includes 7 passages and 40-questions that cover reading comprehension. 
  4. The Writing Sample - often referred to as the essay, this piece gives students 1 essay prompt and 25 minutes to respond. While it's not scored, the writing sample is sent to the schools.
  5. Experimental - this is a smaller section that allows the testing service to test new questions. It is one 15-minute section that includes 16 questions that test each of the first three sections listed. 

How is the SSAT scored?

The SSATs are scored in a particular way. The Lower-level SSATs are scored from 1320-2130, and the verbal, quantitative, and reading scores are from 440-710. The upper-level SSATs are scored from 1500-2400 for the total score and from 500-800 for the verbal, quantitative, and reading scores. The test also provides percentiles that show how a test-taker's score compares to other students of the same gender and grade who have taken the SSAT in the past three years. For example, a quantitative percentile of 50% means that you scored the same or better than 50% of the students in your grade and of your gender who took the test in the last three years. The SSAT also provides an estimated national percentile rank for grades 5-9 that show where the student's scores stand in reference to the national population, and students in grades 7-10 are provided with a predicted 12th grade SAT score.

What the ISEE Measures and How It Is Scored

The ISEE has a lower-level test for students currently in grades 4 and 5, a middle-level test for students currently in grades 6 and 7, and an upper-level test for students currently in grades 8 to 11. The test consists of a verbal reasoning section with synonyms and sentence completion sections, two math sections (quantitative reasoning and mathematics achievement), and a reading comprehension section. Like the SSAT, the test has an essay that asks students to respond in an organized fashion to a prompt, and while the essay isn't scored, it is sent to schools to which the child is applying.

The score report for the ISEE includes a scaled score from 760-940 for each level of the test. The score report includes a percentile rank that compares the student to the norm group of all students who took the test over the last three years. For example, a percentile rank of 45% would mean that the student scored the same or better than 45% of the students in his or her norm group who took the test in the last three years. It's different than scoring 45 on a test, in that a percentile rank compares students to other similar students. In addition, the test provides a stanine, or standard nine score, that breaks all the scores into nine groups.

Will a low score mean I don't get accepted?

Stanine scores below 5 are below average, and those above 5 are above average. Students will receive a stanine score in each of the four sections: Verbal Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Reasoning, and Mathematics. Higher stanine scores in some areas can balance out lower scores in other areas, especially if the student's academic transcript shows solid mastery of the material. Many schools acknowledge that some students just don't test well, and they will take into account more than just the ISEE score for admission, so don't fret if your scores aren't perfect. 

So, What's a Good SSAT or ISEE Score?

The SSAT and ISEE scores needed for admission at different schools vary. Some schools require higher scores than others, and it's hard to know exactly where the "cut-off" score lies (or even if a school has a specific cut-off score). It's generally true that schools consider a wide range of factors in admission, and standardized-test scores become more important if they are very low or if schools have other reservations or considerations about the student. Sometimes, a student who has low test scores but great teacher recommendations and a mature personality will still be admitted to a competitive school, as some schools recognize that smart kids do not always test well.

That said, testing scores for many students who are accepted to private school average in the 60th percentile, while more competitive schools may favor scores in the 80th percentile or higher. 

It's also very important to keep in mind that students who take the ISEE or SSAT are compared to other very high-achieving students, and therefore it's hard to always score in the top percentiles or stanines on these tests. In other words, if a student scores at the 50th percentile on the ISEE or SSAT, he or she is about at the middle of students applying to private school, a group of generally high-achieving kids. Such a score doesn't mean that the student is average on a national level. Keeping these facts in mind can help reduce some of students' and parents' stress around testing.


Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski