• 19 May 2019
Brush Up on Middle School Admission Test Requirements Early

Brush Up on Middle School Admission Test Requirements Early

Mar 13, 2018

Private, specialized, or magnet middle schools across the US require students to take either the SSAT or ISEE admissions exam. Which test should your child take and when should they take it?

Most private, specialized, or magnet middle schools across the United States require an admissions exam as part of the application process. The two tests you’ll find mentioned on school websites are the SSAT and the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam). Schools will require results from just one test, so be sure to check the website for the school you are interested in to determine if they have a test preference, or if you can submit scores from either the SSAT or ISEE.

The ISEE and the SSAT share some similar characteristics:

  • They both contain Quantitative, Verbal, and Reading Comprehension sections.
  • The essay component is not graded.
  • They have roughly the same amount of questions (around 160) and roughly the same time limit (about three hours).

At a Glance — the SSAT

The SSAT is administered by The Enrollment Management Association (formerly named the Secondary School Admission Test Board).

  • Duration — 3 hours and 5 minutes (Upper and Middle Levels); 1 hour and 50 minutes (Elementary Level)
  • Levels — The Upper Level is designed for applicants in 8th grade and above. The Middle Level is for applicants in 5th, 6th and 7th grade, and the Elementary Level is for applicants in 3rd and 4th grade.
  • Sections — Quantitative (the Upper and Middle Levels have two sections of this, as opposed to one for Elementary), Reading Comprehension, and Verbal Reasoning. The test also contains an unscored essay that is sent to the schools you're applying to.

The Upper and Middle Levels of the SSAT contain one unscored experimental section of the test that contains Verbal, Reading and Quantitative questions. This section won't affect your score; it is used to make sure that future versions of the exam have reliable, acceptable questions.

At a Glance — the ISEE Test

The ISEE is an admission test developed and administered by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB).

  • Duration — 2 hours and 50 minutes (Upper and Middle Levels); 2 hours and 30 minutes (Lower Level).
  • Levels — The Upper Level is designed for applicants in 9th grade and above. The Middle Level is for applicants in 7th and 8th grade, and the Lower Level is for applicants in 5th and 6th grade.
  • Sections — Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement and an unscored essay.

What's the difference between the SSAT and the ISEE?

Do they test vocabulary differently?
The ISEE uses synonyms and sentence completion to test students while the SSAT uses synonyms and analogies.

How do the reading selections differ?
The reading passages on the ISEE are only nonfiction and tend to be longer than those on the SSAT, while the SSAT includes a broader range of genres, including poetry.

Is there a penalty for guessing?
The SSAT subtracts one-quarter of a point for each incorrect answer, so students must be careful about guessing. The ISEE, however, does not penalize for guessing. A wrong answer and an omitted answer are weighed the same on the ISEE.

Can my child take the test more than once?
While the Middle and Upper Levels of the SSAT can be taken multiple times, the ISEE can only be taken once each admissions cycle (and must coincide with outstanding applications to prevent students from taking the test early for practice). The Huffington Post provided this insight, “If your student has a history of significant test anxiety, the SSAT is likely the better choice; in a study by psychologist William Davidson, 80% of students said their test anxiety was reduced when they knew they had the option to retake a similar test, and over 50% of those who did retest saw a significant score improvement”.

Is your child stronger in math or language?
The SSAT reports scores on two verbal and one quantitative test, while the ISEE score is made up of half verbal and half math scores. The ISEE places a heavier emphasis on mathematical reasoning. Students comfortable with language gravitate toward the SSAT and those who feel stronger in math tend to take the ISEE.

If you’ve made up your target list and one of the schools will only accept a particular test, you might be better off focusing on that test alone so your child only has to prepare for one exam.

When to take the test:

Most schools suggest taking the test in the early fall, but again, each school has different requirements so be sure to check as to when they require the results. Because each state has different test times and locations please follow the appropriate link for each exam.

The SSAT is given once a month from October to April, with an additional date in June. Flex dates, which are additional testing dates offered outside of the standard administrations, are also available. Info on test registration, dates, and locations.

The ISEE is given several times throughout the year, but the majority of the testing dates occur during the fall and early winter. Remember you can only take the ISEE once in a six month period. Info on test registration, dates, and locations.


Ultimately, the very best thing you can do to help your child though is to explain that the test is just one part of the application process and help them prepare. Devising a study plan and taking practice tests will help your child become familiar with the test, gain confidence, and reduce anxiety.

Did your child take the SSAT or ISEE and do you have any tips? If so we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

About The Author

Clark

Clark