SSAT vs. ISEE

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By Kate Kula

We encourage students to find the test – SSAT or ISEE – that works for them and to prepare for that test. However, sometimes students will perform about the same on both tests or will simply want to give both the SSAT and ISEE a try. How should students best go about preparing to take these two tests?


Great news! Most of the topics covered on the SSAT are covered on the ISEE, and vice versa. However, the tests’ structures and the style of their questions are different enough that students will want to put in some time to learn how to prepare for each test.


The most important difference between the SSAT and the ISEE is not one of content but of strategy: the ISEE has no penalty for incorrect answers, while on the SSAT, a student loses ¼ of a point for each incorrect answer. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial students take some time to learn and practice when to make an “educated guess” on the SSAT and when to skip a question. On the ISEE, even if you’re totally stumped, bubble in a guess! 

This strategy is one that is the most difficult for many students, and it might help your student decide if the SSAT or the ISEE is the right test for them.


Students will also benefit from practicing with the timing constraints of each test. The ISEE moves a bit more quickly than the SSAT does, but on both tests, learning how to manage one’s time most efficiently is beneficial.


A student’s grade level will also determine the differences between the SSAT and ISEE:


For students in grades 6-11…

For upper-level students, there are a few more differences between the SSAT and ISEE than there are for younger test-takers. 


The Quantitative Reasoning section of the upper- and middle-level ISEE features quantitative comparisons, in which students are asked to compare two different values or algebraic expressions and decide which is bigger, if they are equal, or if the relationship cannot be determined. This style of multiple-choice math question is new to many students and requires a bit of practice and strategic-thinking.


Students will see synonyms in the Verbal sections of both the SSAT and the ISEE. However, whereas the SSAT Verbal section includes analogies, the ISEE Verbal section includes sentence completions, in which students are asked to fill in a sentence with one or two missing vocabulary words. Don’t worry – the strategies are much the same for both of these types of questions. The best thing your student can do to prepare for the Verbal section of either test is to commit to studying their vocabulary workbook or flashcards every day!



For students in grades 4-5…

The lower-level ISEE is, again, mostly similar in content to the SSAT. Sentence completions take the place of analogies in the Verbal section, but 4th and 5th graders will not have to tackle the tougher math quantitative comparison questions. There are two math sections (Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement) on the ISEE; there is only one math section on the lower-level SSAT. Particularly with younger students, emphasizing time management and maintaining concentration throughout a nearly three-hour test is important for both the SSAT and the ISEE.