ISEE vs. SSAT | IvyWise


For students and families who are interested in the private school application process, there are generally two major tests on their radar: the ISEE and the SSAT. While both exams have a lot in common, there are also some distinct differences between the tests that students should keep in mind.

When it comes to deciding which standardized test is the right fit for you, knowing all of the facts about each option is crucial. Keep reading to learn more about how the ISEE and SSAT compare and what to keep in mind while preparing for these exams.

Should I take the ISEE or SSAT?

Choosing between the ISEE and SSAT comes down to doing your research, both about the exams themselves and the requirements for the schools you are planning to apply to. If the private schools you are interested in accept both the ISEE or SSAT, consider taking a practice exam for both tests and comparing your scores. If one or more of the schools on your best-fit list only accept one of the testing options, it may be best to focus your test preparation efforts on whichever exam is needed to apply to every school you’re interested in.

Testing Levels

For both the ISEE and SSAT exams, there are several levels available that correspond to various test-takers’ ages and grade levels. For the ISEE, the categories include Primary (students applying to grades 2-4), Lower Level (students applying to grades 5 and 6), Middle Level (students applying to grades 7 and 8), and Upper Level (students applying to high school). In contrast, the breakdowns for the SSAT are as follows: Elementary Level (students applying to grades 4 and 5), Middle Level (students applying to grades 6-8), and Upper Level (students applying to high school).


Both the ISEE and SSAT exams are composed of five sections that test students’ verbal, reading, quantitative, and writing skills. However, when it comes to section scores, there are some differences between the tests. The ISEE includes 4 section scores (verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, mathematics, and reading comprehension), while the SSAT consists of only 3 (verbal, reading, and quantitative). As a part of both exams, students also complete an unscored writing sample, which is sent to schools along with the testing scores and considered part of every student’s application.

Exam Strategy and Scoring

One noteworthy difference between the tests is that there is no guessing penalty for the ISEE, while students taking the Middle and Upper-Level SSAT lose ¼ of a point for every incorrect answer they fill out. The scoring systems are also a bit different; while both exams scale scores to account for variations in test difficulty, the SSAT score is converted into a percentile score, whereas on the ISEE, the primary normative score is a stanine.


Both the ISEE and SSAT are administered either via a computer or as a paper-based exam. Students can take the computer version at home or a testing center, or complete the paper-based Flex SSAT at school or at a testing center. The ISEE can be taken up to three times, one during each of the following testing seasons: fall (August-November), winter (December-March), and spring/summer (Aprile-July). In contrast, the SSAT can be taken a maximum of 8 times and the SSAT at Home can be taken no more than 5 times.

While applying to private and independent schools may feel like an overwhelming process at first, students can eliminate a lot of application-related stress by beginning their preparation process early. If you’re interested in learning more about the ISEE vs SSAT exams and getting a jumpstart on the admissions process, our team can point you in the right direction and help you reach your school placement goals in a WiseStart™ program.

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