ISEE Vs. SSAT: What is the Difference?

November 22, 2023
6 min read

If you or your child are planning on applying to private school, it is likely you have come across the acronyms ISEE and SSAT. But what do they mean? Read on to find out more about each exam and how to find out which is best for your child!

Both the ISEE and the SSAT are standardized tests used by private middle and high schools across the US to determine applicants eligibility. 

The ISEE, or the Independent School Entrance Exam, is a standardized test run by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). Founded at Columbia University in New York, the ISEE is now offered nation-wide.  

The SSAT, or the Secondary School Admissions Test, on the other hand, is administered by the Enrollment Managment Association (EMA). Created and launched in the US in 1957, the SSAT is now offered internationally as well. 

While the ISEE and the SSAT have some similarities, they also have some important differences that may make one a better fit. Since which test a student takes is up to parental or student discretion, it’s important to learn all you can about the two exams to make the most informed decision. 

Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of the ISEE vs. SSAT so that, when it comess time to pick an exam, you can make a fully informed and confident choice regarding which one is best for you.

ISEE Vs. SSAT: Key Differences

As mentioned, there are similarities and differences between the ISEE and the SSAT. Both tests are relatively similar in their overall time allottment for exam completion and test on similar subjects. 

Female student looking at phone while studying

With this said, the SSAT has two math sections whereas the ISEE only has one.  The ISEE, on the otherhand, is thought to have a more challenging verbal reasoning section than the SSAT. 

These two distinctions could make the ISEE a better fit for students interested in pursuing a private school that is more focused on language arts since there is less of an emphasis on quantitative reasoning. The reverse is true for students who enjoy quantitative studies more; the SSAT might, therefore, be the right exam for them.  

The tables below cover a breakdown of the ISEE vs. SSAT differences in sections, number of questions, and time allotted for section completion.

ISEE Format

The Middle- and Upper-levels of the ISEE test is as follows: 

Sections Number of Questions Time Allotted for Completion
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning (Math) 37 35 minutes
Break N/A 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break N/A 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
TOTAL: 161 questions 2 hours and 40 minutes (plus 10-20 minutes for breaks)

Source: ERB Learn

SSAT Format

The Middle- and Upper-levels of the SSAT exam consist of the following:

Sections Number of Questions Time Allotted for Completion
Writing Sample 1 prompt 25 minutes
Break N/A 10 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning I (Math) 25 30 minutes
Reading Comprehension 40 40 minutes
Break N/A 10 minutes
Verbal 60 30 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning II (Math) 25 30 minutes
Experimental 16 15 minutes
TOTAL: 167 questions 3 hours and 10 minutes

Source: SSAT

Besides their sections, there are a few more things that differentiate the ISEE and SSAT. 

Where the ISEE uses a stanine scoring system which ranks students on a nine-point scale, the SSAT uses a percentile system (1-99 percent) for each section. Furthermore, the ISEE does not penalize wrong answers while the SSAT deducts one-quarter point. For this reason, the ISEE may be the better option for anxious test takers. 

Finally, a key difference to note between the ISEE vs. SSAT is their availability. The ISEE has three testing seasons in which a student can test once per season. In comparison, the SSAT is offered six times per year. Depending on the level and mode of testing, students can take the SSAT one to two times a year.   

All in all, both exams are fairly similar, though they do have a few key differences. This may make one more appealing than the other depending on the student’s strengths. Ensure to familiarize yourself with each exam’s test material and format before deciding. 

Remember that these differences do not mean that one exam is more prestigious than the other! This is simply about figuring out which test works best by learning the ins and outs of both exams.     

SSAT or ISEE: Which One to Take?

Deciding whether your child should take the SSAT or ISEE can be confusing– but it doesn’t have to be! Learning more about eachexam and contents, to help start you on the process of choosing. 

Young female student reading book on couch

Understanding your child’s strengths and comfort level is another great way to figure out which exam is best. 

Some students may be more nervous test takers than others, which may make the ISEE a better fit for them. Some students may prefer math to creative writing, which may make the SSAT more appealing. This knowledge can help you to make an informed choice between the ISEE vs. SSAT. 

If you are not sure which test works best for your child, there are a ton of great tools at your disposal to help you figure it out, such as hands-on tutoring options for both the SSAT and the ISEE. 

Overall, hiring a tutor can hold students accountable and gives structure as they prep for these exams. If you’re uncertain,  you can always set up a free consultation to help students and parents figure out the next steps. 

Besides tutoring, online resources such as practice tests and assessments are available through each test’s host websites! 

Ultimately, making this decision is a personal choice and truly depends on you or your child’s needs, interests, and strengths. Both are excellent exam options so don’t worry to much about  whichever to choose - either will ultimately just help you in your academic journey.   


Understanding the differences between SSAT vs. ISEE is important, but it’s not all you’ll want to know when determining which exam is right for you or your child. This is why we have answered some commonly asked questions to provide you with further insight into both exams.  

1. Do Schools Prefer SSAT or ISEE?

Most schools do not have a preference for SSAT or ISEE. Considering that both exams test students on similar content and both are used to demonstrate academic aptitude, many schools view them as equivalent. 

That being said, it is always a good idea to check the testing requirements for your private school of choice to see if they specify a preference for one exam over the other. If you are unsure, it never hurts to give their admissions desk a quick call to ask.  

2. What is the Difference Between ISEE and SSAT?

There are several differences between the ISEE vs. SSAT. One of the most noticeable differences is that the SSAT has two math sections while the ISEE only has one. 

Besides section differences, the ISEE and the SSAT are also scored differently and both handle incorrect answers differently.

Finally, each exam has their own unique test times; the ISEE has three test seasons per year while the SSAT is offered six times per full calendar year.  

3. What Grade is the ISEE For?

The ISEE is available from elementary school up to grade 12. The ISEE divides grades into levels - lower, middle, and upper. The Lower level consists of grades five and lower, the Middle level is for grades six and seven, and the Upper level is for grades eight and above.  

4. What Grade is the SSAT For?

Just like the ISEE, the SSAT tests students from the fifthgrade  up to twelfth grade. Similarly, the grades are divided into levels, however, the SSAT only has two levels - Middle and Upper. The Middle level consists of grades five to seven while the Upper level is for grade eight and above.

Final Thoughts

There are several factors that differentiate the ISEE from the SSAT. From the variations in study sections to test availability, both these exams have their own unique features that may make one a better option for some students than the other. 

Students and parents also do not need to figure out this journey on their own. There are excellent resources available to both determine between and then prep for the SSAT and the ISEE. 

Finally, remember that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to picking between the ISEE or the SSAT. More than anything, figuring out the best exam to take comes down to personal preference and school of choice. 

As you decide, take your time and do your research to ensure you make the best choice! 

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