What’s the difference between the SSAT and ISEE? | Ivy Tutors Network
What’s the difference between the SSAT and ISEE?

What’s the difference between the SSAT and ISEE?

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.

Ivy Tutors Network
Ivy Tutors Network

Here's your private school exam primer!

What’s the difference between these two exams, and when should your child start studying?

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.

Some differences in content seem subtle, but can be significant for your child.

1. SSAT reports scores on two verbal and one quantitative test, while the ISEE score is comprised of 50% verbal and 50% math scores. Students strong in math sometimes prefer the ISEE, while language-oriented students sometimes opt for the SSAT. One key difference is the type of verbal questions.

2. Both the SSAT and ISEE have synonyms. However, they differ in that the SSAT has analogies, whereas the ISEE makes students complete sentences.

3. 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 for 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.

4. Scheduling.

Students can take the SSAT multiple times throughout the year, including October 19, November 16 and December 14, 2019, and January 4, February 8, March 7, April 25, and June 13, 2020.

The ISEE limits students to testing once every six months, or only once during each admissions’ cycle. 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.


Our 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 free 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 1000 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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