The SSAT and ISEE are the most commonly used admissions tests that private non-parochial day and boarding schools use to assess a candidate's readiness to do the work at their schools. The scores on these tests help schools evaluate candidates from a range of schools to understand how they compare to each other. While the ISEE and SSAT are only part of the private school admissions process, which also includes interviews, transcripts, extracurricular activities, and teacher recommendations, they are an important part. Some schools ask for the SSAT, while others accept the ISEE. Some schools accept both tests, so be sure to check which test or tests the school you are applying to accepts. Schools vary in how much weight they place on these tests, but parents and students often wonder what good ISEE or SSAT scores are and whether their scores are good enough to get into the school of their choice. Here's an explanation of the scores and what they mean.
What the SSAT Is and How It Is Scored
The SSAT is a multiple-choice test given to students around the world in grades 5-12 who are interested in applying to private schools. Students currently in grades 5-7 take the lower-level test, while students in grades 8-11 take the upper-level test. The SSAT has verbal, quantitative (math), and reading sections and an essay. The verbal sub-sections include synonyms (that is, finding the word that is closest in meaning to the given word) and analogies (finding the world pair whose relationship is closest to the given pair). The reading comprehension section asks test-takers to read passages and answer questions about them. There are two math sections and an essay that asks students to respond to a topic in a well-organized way. While the essay is not scored, it is sent to the schools the student is applying to.
The SSATs are scored in a particular way. The Lower-level SSATs are scored from 1320-2130, and the verbal, quantitative, and reading scores are from 440-710. The upper-level SSATs are scored from 1500-2400 for the total score and from 500-800 for the verbal, quantitative, and reading scores. The test also provides percentiles that show how a test-taker's score compares to other students of the same gender and grade who have taken the SSAT in the past three years. For example, a quantitative percentile of 50% means that you scored the same or better than 50% of the students in your grade and of your gender who took the test in the last three years. The SSAT also provides an estimated national percentile rank for grades 5-9 that show where the student's scores stand in reference to the national population, and students in grades 7-10 are provided with a predicted 12th grade SAT score.
What the ISEE Measures and How It Is Scored
The ISEE has a lower-level test for students currently in grades 4 and 5, a middle-level test for students currently in grades 6 and 7, and an upper-level test for students currently in grades 8 to 11. The test consists of a verbal reasoning section with synonyms and sentence completion sections, two math sections (quantitative reasoning and mathematics achievement), and a reading comprehension section. Like the SSAT, the test has an essay that asks students to respond in an organized fashion to a prompt, and the essay isn't scored but is sent to schools to which the child is applying.
The score report for the ISEE includes a scaled score from 760-940 for each level of the test. The score report includes a percentile rank that compares the student to the norm group of all students who took the test over the last three years. For example, a percentile rank of 45% would mean that the student scored the same or better than 45% of the students in his or her norm group who took the test in the last three years. It's different than scoring 45 on a test, in that a percentile rank compares students to other similar students. In addition, the test provides a stanine, or standard nine score, that breaks all the scores into nine groups. Scores below 5 are below average, and those above 5 are above average.
So, What's A "Good" SSAT or ISEE Score?
The SSAT and ISEE scores needed for admission at different schools vary. Some schools require higher scores than others, and it's hard to know exactly where the "cut-off" score lies (or even if a school has a specific cut-off score). It's generally true that schools consider a wide range of factors in admission, and standardized-test scores become more important if they are very low or if schools have other reservations or considerations about the student. Sometimes, a student who has low test scores but great teacher recommendations and a mature personality will still be admitted to a competitive school, as some schools recognize that smart kids do not always test well.
It's also very important to keep in mind that students who take the ISEE or SSAT are compared to other very high-achieving students, and therefore it's hard to always score in the top percentiles or stanines on these tests. In other words, if a student scores at the 50th percentile on the ISEE or SSAT, he or she is about at the middle of students applying to private school--a group of generally high-achieving kids. Such a score doesn't mean that the student is average on a national level. Keeping these facts in mind can help reduce some of students' and parents' stress around testing.