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ISEE vs SSAT: What’s the difference between ISEE and SSAT?

ISEE vs SSAT: What’s the difference between ISEE and SSAT?

Thinking about independent schools, boarding schools, or switching from one private school to another? You need to think about and prepare for the SSAT or ISEE.

Lisa Speransky
Lisa Speransky

Both standardized test companies offer tests ranging from the elementary, middle and upper grades. Typically, elite boarding schools prefer the SSAT, while New York City private schools prefer the ISEE. Many schools accept either test. But we suggest you contact the admissions office of each school to confirm they accept the test you prefer.

The two tests are similar in duration and content, requiring that students master verbal reasoning, vocabulary, quantitative reasoning, math and reading. Both also demand writing samples, which they send unscored with the test results directly to the schools where your child applies.

ISEE vs SSAT: 7 Key Differences

ISEE vs SSAT Format Difference

The formats for both exams are very similar. Both the ISEE and SSAT have reading comprehension, verbal, and two math sections, as well as an unscored essay section.

The main difference is that the SSAT has two “Quantitative Reasoning” sections, whereas the ISEE has one “Quantitative Reasoning” and one “Mathematics Achievement” section. The SSAT also has an ungraded "experimental" section where the test makers try out new questions on students.

Upper Level ISEE Test StructureUpper Level SSAT Test Structure

ISEE vs SSAT Verbal Difference

Both the SSAT and ISEE have synonyms.

However, they differ in that the SSAT has analogies, whereas the ISEE makes students complete sentences.

ISEE vs SSAT Essay Difference

Both the ISEE and SSAT have an unscored essay section that is sent to schools as a writing sample.

For the ISEE, students must write an expository essay; for the middle level SSAT, students have creative writing prompts, and for the upper level SSAT, students choose between a creative and expository essay.

ISEE vs SSAT Math Difference

The SSAT has two Quantitative Reasoning sections, whereas the ISEE has one Quantitative Reasoning and one Math Achievement section.

Both tests cover similar math content, although the ISEE math sections are generally considered more difficult.

ISEE and SSAT Scoring Difference

The SSAT and ISEE score differently. The SSAT gives 1 point for each correct answer and deducts one-quarter point for each wrong answer. But the ISEE does not penalize wrong answers. There’s no harm in guessing. This is where tutoring can really help: learning to strategize the overall test and learning the essential process of eliminating clearly wrong answers in multiple choice and then guessing among the best options.

Check out our article about SSAT Scoring.

Another key difference is that the ISEE provides a separate score for both math sections (Quantitative Reasoning and Math Achievement), while the SSAT rolls both math sections into one Quantitative Reasoning score. This is another reason students who are less strong in math may favor the SSAT.

ISEE vs SSAT Difficulty Difference

The SSAT or ISEE will be more or less difficult for students depending on whether they are stronger in math or ELA. The verbal section on the SSAT is considered harder than that on the ISEE, while the math sections on ISEE are likewise considered more difficult than those on the SSAT.

ISEE vs SSAT Scheduling Difference

Students can take the SSAT multiple times throughout the year. In fact, there are test dates offered every month.

The ISEE limits students to testing 3 times within a 12 month period, or only once per testing season (Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer). Psychologically, this puts more pressure on students taking the ISEE, if they have no recourse to retake the test and improve scores. Make sure you register for these tests well in advance as the test sites fill up quickly. Registering any later than a month in advance may cost you a late registration fee.

ISEE and SSAT Test Prep

Our ISEE tutors and SSAT tutors have scored exceptionally well on standardized tests during their own school years. Subsequently, they are trained to teach the content and strategies for all the standardized tests.

We also emphasize sensitivity to the emotional needs and learning differences of each of our students. The big question everyone asks: how much time will my child need for (ISEE or SSAT) test prep? This is, of course, relative to each student.

How diligent a studier is she? What’s his baseline score? Ivy Tutors offers diagnostic and practice tests to our clients at our test center. We highly recommend an early evaluation test to establish a baseline and then at least one more test later in the process to chart progress and establish a comfort level with the test-talking process.

If the practice test results come close to the goal score, we suggest about a month of light review, say 1,000 problems. Otherwise, if there is a large gap between the first diagnostic test and the target score, we recommend anywhere up to 4 months with 3,000 practice problems.


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