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Everything you need to know about the SSAT

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The SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) is a standardized entrance exam used by private and independent schools in the United States, and international schools worldwide. It is owned, published, and developed by the Secondary School Admission Test Board.

Which level to take

The SSAT is administered on three levels: Elementary, Middle, and Upper. Atom offers exam preparation for all three levels. Your child will take the level based on the grade that they are applying to.

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Exam format

All SSAT questions are multiple-choice, except for the essay prompt. SSAT questions have five answer options and each question is awarded one mark.

Students can take the SSAT either on paper or on a computer. The tests can also be taken either on-site or remotely.

Exam sections

The SSAT has three different sections:

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There is also an essay section. The essay is not scored, but a copy is sent to the school or schools where the student is applying.


The Verbal section consists of Synonyms and Analogies questions.

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The Quantitative section covers traditional math tasks, as well as tasks that need logic to be solved, such as multi-step word problems.

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The Reading section includes a set of fiction (prose and poetry) and non-fiction reading passages with related questions about the main and supporting ideas, vocabulary, author’s purpose, among others.

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The Experimental Section displays 16 questions, distributed the following way: six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative.

The objective of this section is to test the utility of potential new questions, which might or might not be included in future versions of the exam. This section has no impact on the final score, so there is no prep required!

Section Overview

The Lower Level SSAT is 1 hour and 50 minutes. The Middle and Upper Level SSAT are 2 hours and 50 minutes.

Here’s a breakdown of the number of questions in each section for each level.

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On the SSAT each correct answer is worth one mark. In SSAT Elementary papers, incorrect answers are not penalized. However, in Middle and Upper, each incorrect answer deducts ¼ mark.

If you're not sure on a question, guessing is the right call only if you can rule out three options for sure! No marks are awarded or deducted for questions left blank.

SSAT exams are non-adaptive. This means all students taking the exam do the same test, independent of the grade they are in. Those tests are scored equally.

What varies is the percentile a student is expected to fall in, as they are only compared to students their own age.The norm group against which each student is compared is composed of all students in the same grade who took the SSAT test within the past three years.

Viewing results

SSAT Results are put together in an result summary report. Families decide who receives the report, as well as the non-scored essay, and when.

When booking an exam date, families are given access to an account. One section of the account is the “Score recipient list,” which they can edit with the email addresses of schools, tutors, or family members they would like to receive the results.

They can add/remove recipients from that list as many times as they want for free before the test date. They can also add recipients for free after the test date and once they have reviewed those scores themselves. However, once they add the recipient after the results have been released, that person or institution will receive the report automatically.

Each recipient gets a full report; families cannot decide that recipients receive a partial report.

When to take the SSAT

Students may take the SSAT up to twice a year. For complete SSAT Test Dates, examination centers and registration please click here.

How long to study for the SSAT

It is important to view entrance exam preparation as a marathon rather than a sprint. We recommend spending approximately 90 to 120 minutes studying each week for at least one year before taking the exam.

In our experience, the short and frequent approach to studying has the greatest impact on balancing progress with long-term engagement.

Resources to prepare for the SSAT

Atom Learning uses an adaptive algorithm to create a tailored learning journey for each student!

As the student works through the main course area, the algorithm will take into account their strengths and weaknesses, balancing new content with a review of more challenging topics.

Atom ensures that each student remains engaged and challenged without ever becoming demotivated. Students can access thousands of practice questions and hundreds of video and text-based learning resources in order to build their understanding.

The platform will also set weekly targets and provide guidance on how much time they should spend working on each subject in order to reach their goals.

Sample help sheet from Atom Learning

Students will have access to hundreds of videos and helpsheets to aid their learning as well as access to unlimited custom practices and practice tests to help them feel confident going into their exams. Below is a sample of just one of the hundreds of helpsheets that are available on Atom.

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