Students and Families - Blog

SSAT vs. ISEE — Which test should my student take?

We often hear from parents whose children are applying to schools that accept scores for either the SSAT or the ISEE. Parents naturally want to know which test is “better”, but the answer is not always clear-cut. There are some important factors in the decision:

Number of times a student can take the test
The ISEE can be taken only once in a six-month period. The SSAT has no such limitation and offers score choice. Score choice means that you can just send scores from the test dates that you choose. For some families it is a relief that they may have only one shot at taking the ISEE, but for others it is the ultimate in high-stakes test-taking.

Test administration
Both tests can be taken in large group settings. The SSAT can be given at a consultant’s office in many locations, while the ISEE can only be given at a consultant’s office in very limited locations. However, the ISEE can also be taken on the computer at Prometric sites. This allows for greater flexibility, but also requires that a student be comfortable with taking the test on a computer.

Verbal section
The SSAT has analogies while the ISEE has sentence completions. Both have synonyms. For some students, the analogies are very frustrating. The sentence completions provide additional context, making them more straightforward. Keep in mind that what matters is the percentile score for your student, so if they do well with analogies that can be a bonus for them.

Math content
The SSAT tends to include more questions that can be reasoned through, while the ISEE has more terminology that a student must know. The ISEE aligns more closely to national standards. This can make some questions on the ISEE more like what students have seen in school. The big caveat, however, is that the Middle and Upper Level ISEE have quantitative comparison questions. These questions ask students to determine which of two quantities is greater, or if they are always the same, or if it cannot be determined. These questions can really throw a wrench in the works for some students.

The ISEE simply adds up the number of questions answer correctly while the SSAT subtracts a quarter point for each question that a student answers incorrectly. Some students find it stressful on the SSAT to have to consider whether or not they should even answer a question, but other students are not bothered by it at all.

Ultimately, it is a very individual decision. It can be helpful to go on the websites for the SSAT and the ISEE and try sample problems to see which test your student is more comfortable with.