SSAT Scores: What Is A Good SSAT Score?

ssat scores image 1Needless to say, having administered the SSAT test to hundreds of students in the Northern Virginia area, I get asked about SSAT scores… a lot!

And of the questions about the SSAT I usually receive, among the most common include:

“What score does my child need to get into ____ school?”

“What should my daughter wear?”

“Do you need a copy of her birth certificate?”

“Can my son eat lunch?” …and so on.

Among these, one thing is clear: the SSAT is confusing and parents, regardless of their experience, have a lot of questions about it.

So I wanted to take the time to answer the three most frequently asked questions about the SSAT to make the confusing process a little bit easier for parents everywhere.

1. What is a good SSAT score?

During the peak SSAT season (late November – early February), I am asked on a daily basis what a good SSAT score is or some variation of the question. Many times parents want to know what score is necessary to get their child into a specific school. The truth is, there isn’t a magic number and it really depends on the child’s background and schools to which he or she is applying.

Most schools want to see above the 50th percentile, but some of DC’s more competitive schools are looking for students who are above the 75th percentile. However, almost every school will tell you that they take SSAT scores with a grain of salt.

Often times, SSAT scores are used as a benchmark. Once a student has reached a certain point, he or she will be considered for admission based on other information such as GPA, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities.

Finding out what SSAT scores a school typically looks for can be tricky, because unlike at colleges, most private schools don’t publicize the information. You can always ask an admissions representative what their average SSAT percentiles were for their last incoming class, but some will not share that information. The best bet is to try to aim for above the 50th percentile.

2. What accommodations does the SSAT offer and will my child qualify?

The SSAT offers the following accommodations to students: 1.5 extra time (extending the test time to 4.5 hours compared to 3.25), use of different test equipment (laptop with a spelling aid, calculator, etc.), answer directly in book, the use of a reader or scribe (a non-family member who can either read the test out loud for the child or bubble in the test booklet for the child), large print, and extra breaks for students with diabetes.

The most popular accommodation is extended time. This accommodation adds half of the standard time to each section.

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So, for example, the reading section is typically 40 minutes, but with extended time, it is 60 minutes. It is important to note that students who receive this accommodation are still given the standard 5 and 10 minute breaks.

One of the most confusing parts of the accommodation process for parents is determining if their child will qualify. The general rule of thumb to follow is if the student receives the accommodation in school, then he or she will likely be approved for it on the SSAT. The SSAT typically mirrors accommodations granted on students’ IEP or 504 reports.

For students to be given accommodations during their test, parents will need to apply for those accommodations about a month in advance. To do so, parents must select the accommodations they are applying for and provide documentation, including a contact at the school who can verify the student requires these accommodations, and wait for the SSAT to either approve or deny these accommodations.

Some testing sites offer the SSAT on a national date for students with accommodations, but many students with accommodations prefer to take a flex test because of the smaller and more intimate atmosphere.

3. Does my child need to prep for the SSAT?

The SSAT has a statement on its website discouraging students from preparing for the test. However, the reality is, if your child does not prep for the SSAT, he or she will be at a disadvantage, especially in the Washington DC area, where test prep is the norm for the SSAT.

Working with an experienced SSAT tutor has a few advantages. First, students are able to take a practice test. For most students, one of the most challenging parts of the SSAT is the stamina required. Taking a practice tests allows students to get a feel for the length of the test and also the types of questions they will be asked.

Second, tutors teach content that students may not have covered in the classroom. Because the tests range in grades they cover (5th-7th graders take the Middle Level test and 8th-11th graders take the Upper Level test), there is a wide range of content covered on the SSAT.  Additionally, the SSAT tends to be a logic-based test requiring more than just rote memorization. For many students, especially those on the younger side, this can prove difficult.

Finally, if your child is moving from a public school and only has experience with standardized state tests (such as the SOLs), where he or she is encouraged to answer every question, the SSAT is completely different. On the SSAT, students are actually penalized for guessing incorrectly. In fact, for every answer a student gets correct he or she gains a point, for every question he or she gets incorrect a quarter-point is deducted, and should a student omit a question, no points are deducted.

Even for students who have straight A’s and a firm grasp on the content, a few sessions with a tutor to learn strategies for the test often benefits them.

So if you think your child may benefit, you can request a free diagnostic test from us here, which will get you started off on the right foot. We’ve also outlined a typical timeline for the application process, which you can find here.

What other SSAT questions do you have?

Have any other questions about the SSAT or the private school application process?

Let us know below in the comments! We’d love to help.

How to Write a Private High School Application Essay Worth Reading

high school application essay image 1

If you want to write a high school application essay that is worth reading; one that your audience will remember:

Forget everything you’ve ever learned about writing an essay.

Okay, I may be being a bit melodramatic. You still need appropriate grammar, syntax, spelling, and formatting.

But as for the generic boring cluster that begins with “In this essay, I am going to be discussing ___ by looking at x,y, and z,” throw that out the window because it’s nothing but a one way ticket to Snoozeville not only for you but for anyone tasked with reading it.

Remember Your Private High School Application Essay Audience

The biggest mistake students make when writing an essay is that they forget who their audience is. Your audience, be it a teacher, an administrator, or an admissions committee, has likely read hundreds if not thousands of student’s admissions essays.

This means that you are going to have to do more than throw in a few SAT words to impress them. The key to writing an essay worth reading is writing an essay that has not been written before. It needs to be your own story, not the story you think they want to hear.

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One of my favorite things about writing is that there is no right or wrong answer. An essay isn’t a scantron that you have to correctly bubble in or risk some computer incorrectly grading you.  You can’t just play eenie miney moe and hope for the best. Writing is personal. It’s written by one individual and read by another.

But all too often students, especially in the application process, forget this. They write the essay they think that the admission committee wants to read when in reality it’s an essay that the committee has probably already read a million times.

From private high school applications to college ones, this is information that your child will be using for many years. We want to keep up with their journey, so click here to get updated resources and tips so we can help them every step of the way.

The Importance of the Essay Topic

What is the root of this cause? The topic.

If your topic is flawed, cliché, generic, or boring, it doesn’t matter how well crafted your essay is it will be forgotten. When approaching your admission essay, think of it this way: when the admission committee begins reading your essay they’ll view you as just a number, but when they finish it you want them to view you as an individual student.

So, how do we accomplish this?

It’s simple: don’t write the essay you think an admissions committee wants to read, write one that YOU would want to read. If your own essay bores you, it’s highly likely that it will bore everyone else.

Let’s say that your topic is to discuss an extracurricular activity that has played a large impact on your life. A lot of times students are tempted to write what they think the admission committee want to hear.

“I love to volunteer because it has taught me to be appreciative of what I have,”

Or “I love National Honors Society because it allows me to combine my love of academics with my love of service.”

While both of these are wonderful extracurricular activities, unless you are truly passionate about either and have specific details to intertwine into your narrative, it’s going to come off dry and predictable.

What Your Topic Should Be Instead

When describing their ideal student, one of the top words used by the Director of Admissions at some of DC’s top private schools is “passionate.”

Admissions Committees are not looking for a cookie-cutter student; rather they are looking for a student who genuinely loves something and will share that love with other students.

So if you love to spend your weekends driving four-wheelers or riding horses or making short films on iMovie, write about that because I can assure you that your natural enthusiasm will read a whole lot better than the stale and generic “I love to volunteer” response – unless that is actually what you spend your weekends doing.

The Essay’s Opening Paragraph

Don’t believe me?

Consider these two opening paragraphs. You tell me which one you want to keep reading?

1. “’Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ These famous words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, one of the best politicians of all life. John F. Kennedy led America and has become my role model. He encouraged me to get into politics which is why I joined student government. When asked what extracurricular activity has had the largest impact on me as a person, I immediately thought of student government. In this essay I will discuss how student government has impacted me as a person by growing my leadership skills, developing my social connections, and making me take academics more seriously.”

2. “I don’t ride for blue ribbons or Olympic gold, although I respect and admire those chosen few who do. I don’t ride for the workout, although my trembling muscles at the end of a good lesson indicate otherwise. I don’t ride because I have anything to prove, although I’ve proven a lot to myself along the way. I ride for the feeling of two individual beings becoming one, so perfectly matched that it’s impossible to tell where rider ends and horse begins. I ride to feel the staccato beat of hooves against dirt echoed in the rhythm of my own heart. I ride because it isn’t easy to navigate a creature with a mind of its own around a course of solid obstacles, but in that perfect moment when horse and rider work as one, it can be the easiest thing in the world. I ride for an affectionate nose nudging my shoulder as I turn to leave, searching for a treat or a pat or murmured words of praise. I ride for myself, but for my horse as well, my partner and my equal.”

Next Steps: Your Perfect Admissions Essay

Okay, now you have the framework.

First, remember that you’re writing to a private school admissions audience that has probably seen every high school application essay in the book. So don’t write the one you think they want to read… write the one that you care most about.

Then, choose the essay topic that resonates most with you as a student. That enthusiasm will shine through in your writing, and hopefully “wow” the reader enough to convince them they have to have you at their school.

If you found this article helpful, click here for more free resources and tips that you can use to prepare your child for any application process that comes up next!

Your Private School Application Timeline (Here’s how to prepare, step-by-step)

private school timeline image 1The first step to finding the best private school match for your child is to understand the timing of the process.

Although the timeline varies a bit from school to school, the following schedule is a good overview of what to expect and when to expect it.



  • Begin to compile a list of schools that meet your criteria. Request catalogs from selected schools and peruse their websites.
  • Take an SSAT diagnostic test. Request a test now!
  • Review diagnostic scores to determine if prep is needed and if so, when to start.


  • Fill out online applications for the schools you are considering. Begin the financial aid process.
  • If you haven’t already done so, attend an open house or go on a tour. (Note: Some schools require an application to be submitted prior to touring the school.)
  • Schedule interviews and shadow days.


  • Request letters of recommendations.
  • Register for the SSAT or any other necessary testing to be completed in December. If you need accommodations, plan about a month ahead to make sure you have all the necessary documentation.
  • Submit the candidate questionnaire (usually for grades 7-12).


  • Complete the interviews and shadow visits. Send thank-you notes afterwards.
  • Complete financial aid forms.


  • Final opportunity to take the SSAT.
  • Submit applications and send in all supporting documents for schools with December deadlines.


  • Be sure all applications, testing, and supporting documents have been submitted. Beat deadlines by a week or more.


  • Stack rank your schools.
  • Wait for the admission letter, unless the school is on a rolling admission schedule.


  • Watch for decision letters, which usually arrive via email early to mid-month.


  • Plan revisit days to the schools to which your child was accepted.
  • Make a final decision.
  • Inform the schools that your child won’t be attending of your decision.


When in doubt about a particular school’s timeline, give them a call directly. Admission departments are always happy to help!

Webinar: Learn How To Ace The SSAT

If you’re a parent, and you’ve started the process of looking at private schools for your son or daughter, there’s one thing that’s clear:

You care deeply about their education.

You want to give them access to the best teachers, the best curriculum, and the best opportunities for getting into top colleges and going on to be successful in life.

But your biggest problem right now?

Figuring out how to get them IN to your top choice private school in the first place.

And one of the biggest hurdles to doing that is…

…the SSAT

Now you probably know at this point that the SSAT is the entrance exam most private schools in the D.C. area use to decide (among other things) to accept or deny your child when you apply to attend.

But there’s also a good chance you don’t know too much about it beyond that. (Who has the time to keep up with all of these standardized tests anyway?)

When it comes to the SSAT, a few things that are true for most families:

  • You know it’s a requirement, but you don’t know what it is, or what’s involved in getting ready for it
  • When you finally do start looking into it (maybe after your kid takes a practice test and the results that come back are NOT stellar), it’s usually too late to do much about it other than some last-minute crash study sessions
  • And this all ultimately puts pressure and stress on you AND your kid(s), because you’re all well aware that most competitive schools want to see strong scores

We know this all too well, so we decided to put together a free webinar this coming June 14th to help you sort out the whole SSAT process now, so you can be ready when it counts.

In the webinar with Ann you’ll learn:

  • What’s on the SSAT and how it’s scored, so that you know what to have your kid(s) study ahead of time, and the types of questions they should be prepared for
  • What a “good” score is and how important it is in the private school admission process (so that you know where you stand, and what your chances of getting in are)
  • The easiest ways to IMPROVE your child’s scores if they’re not up to par, with step-by-step recommendations on how to maximize their score by the time the actual test rolls around

To register for the June 14th webinar (held from 12:15 to 1pm eastern), just click the link below and enter your name and contact information.

We’ll email you with a link and the confirmation details so you can easily join in on the 14th.

See you in the webinar!

Testing for Private School Admission: The SSAT

the SSATIn the DC area, the SSAT is the most widely used assessment for students in third through eleventh grade for independent school admission. For the last nine years my company has administered the SSAT to hundreds of students throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. There’s no doubt that this assessment produces a tremendous amount of anxiety. Kids place a lot of pressure on themselves. They are well aware that the most competitive schools want to see strong scores. But in some cases, the adage “a parent’s stress is a child’s stress” is true. Although this test and other assessments play a role in acceptance, it’s vital to keep testing in perspective. There are many other factors that are more important.

Taking the SSAT in the Washington DC Area

The SSAT offers a national test once a month at local independent schools and testing centers from September through June. Parents can expect to pay $80 for the lower level test and $120 for the middle and upper level test. It’s also possible to schedule a Flex test with a certified testing center for an additional fee. A Flex test is scored the same as the nationally administered SSAT, but it’s given at a private testing location at the convenience of your schedule. The problem is that due to a new policy, there are very few Flex centers available, so finding a location to administer the test can be difficult. I now encourage parents to schedule a Flex or national test date a few months out because the centers get booked quickly. Although the national test can be taken as many times as the student wishes, the Flex test can only be administered to a student once per school year.

Timing is Important

The most popular test date is in December, but students can actually take the test as late as early January and still be on time with their applications. Scores are sent directly from the SSAT and do not accompany the student’s application. Parents can designate schools for their student’s scores to be sent to during the registration process. Be sure to check the website ( and sign up just as soon as registration opens. It’s important that you don’t procrastinate on this part of the admission process.

The Nuts and Bolts of the SSAT

The upper and middle-level SSAT is a long test. It’s a three-hour-and-15-minute academic assessment which begins with a 25-minute essay. Although the essay isn’t graded, it is reviewed by the admission team so that they can get a sense of the child’s writing ability. The writing sample is followed by five multiple choice sections. In order, the five sections are Quantitative, Critical Reading, Vocabulary, a second Quantitative portion, and an Experimental section (not graded). Critical Reading is 40 minutes, the Verbal section and each Quantitative section are 30 minutes, and the Experimental section is 15 minutes. There is a 5-minute break after the essay and a 10-minute break after the Critical Reading section.

There are three levels of the test: elementary for third and fourth grade, middle for fifth through seventh grade, and upper for eighth through eleventh grade. Students with special needs who normally have accommodations through their school, such as extra time on tests, can apply for accommodations on the SSAT. These requests must be made ahead of time through the SSAT website and proper documentation is required. This typically takes two to three weeks, so be sure to plan ahead.

How the SSAT Is Scored

The SSAT is a strategy-based test, which is often very different from what a student is used to in the classroom. For correct answers, students gain one point. For incorrect answers, students lose one-fourth of a point. For answers left blank, there is no positive or negative effect, simply a zero towards the raw score. The fact that students are penalized for wrong answers greatly affects test-taking strategy on the SSAT. Students are not necessarily expected to answer every question, and many sink their score by rushing to finish questions they may not answer correctly.

The educated guessing strategy is a best practice for students. Here’s how it works: if you know the answer, fill in the answer and move on. If you don’t know the answer, but can eliminate two of the answer choices, take a guess. This puts your odds of getting the question right at one-out-of-three (five possible answers with two eliminated). A one-out-of-three chance is worth risking one fourth of a point since, statistically, you will gain points in the long run. If you do not know the answer to the question and cannot eliminate any choices, leave the answer blank. The ultimate goal of the guessing strategy is to answer all of the questions that you have the best chance at getting right while avoiding the questions that are likely to drag your score down. It takes some practice, but if a student can master this scoring strategy, she will maximize her score on the SSAT.

The total amount of points gained and lost creates a raw score for the test, which is then converted to a range between 200 and 800 points (similar to how the SAT is scored). When you receive the score report, you will see an SSAT percentile that tells you how well your student fared against the other test takers in the same grade and of the same gender. Scoring in the 80th percentile means that the student was in the top 20 percent of his or her demographic.

Take SSAT Scores with a Grain of Salt

In addition to the SSAT percentile, students in fifth through ninth grade receive an estimated national percentile, which is a comparison to other students across the country, not just to those applying to an independent school. As you can imagine, the national percentile score is higher than the SSAT percentile score, since students are compared to a wider pool of students from varying backgrounds. For example, a student can have a verbal score in the 53rd percentile on the SSAT scale and in the 87th percentile on the national scale. This creates a lot of confusion. Parents panic when they see that their child, who earns mostly As and Bs as report card grades, scores at a level not consistent with their classroom performance. Take these SSAT scores with a grain of salt; your child is compared only to others taking the SSAT. By nature, these students are going to be academically advanced when compared to a national sample of students coming from different upbringings. Although schools only look at the SSAT score, as a parent, consider both scores to get a better indicator of your child’s ability.

Learn more about the SSAT, HSPT, WISC, and WPPSI in my upcoming book, A Guide to Private Schools: The Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland Edition.

Start Preparing for the SSAT Now!

Will your son or daughter be taking the SSAT this fall for private school admissions? If so, right now is the time to start getting ready. Seriously…right now. Do not put it off. Too often we see families wait until it’s too late. The student takes a practice test in October when planning to take the test in December. The results come in and they are not stellar. At most, two months of crunch time remain to memorize test taking strategies, learn how to solve analogies, review long division, etc. Often, it’s not nearly enough time to fully prepare. Regardless of whether your student ends up needing test prep, I strongly recommend that he or she takes a full length practice test as soon as possible. Start preparing for the SSAT now!

The practice test will give you an estimate of your student’s score. It will allow you to determine any specific areas of weakness that may attention before the actual test and plan ahead. Best case scenario, a high score will give you and your student peace of mind that your student’s SSAT score is not going to be a weak point in their applications.

Practice SSAT Test

We offer proctored practice SSAT tests at our Fairfax, VA office. However, if you are not able to visit us, you can purchase practice tests from the SSAT directly and have your student take a practice test at home. The SSAT sells a book on their website titled Preparing and Applying for Independent School Admission and the SSAT. Inside are four practice SSAT tests, two upper levels tests and two middle level tests. There are scoring instructions and conversion tables that allow you to get a rough estimate for your student’s percentile score. Visit Starting in August 2013, students will be able to take practice tests online through the SSAT website.

Your best tool for the entire private school admissions process is planning ahead. The SSAT is certainly no exception. Have your student take a practice test ASAP. If you have any questions about the SSAT, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. If you’re interested in scheduling a practice test with us, click the button below!