ISEE vs SSAT Exams - Which Test To Take?

The ISEE and SSAT aptitude tests can be very confusing. We break down for parents the differences between them and how to choose which exam to take. Overall, most of our clients, opt take the ISEE. Most children are more comfortable taking the ISEE and it is probably slightly easier - unless youre very strong in maths.

ISEE vs SSAT Exams - Which Test To Take?

The ISEE and SSAT aptitude tests can be very confusing. We break down for parents the differences between them and how to choose which exam to take. Overall, most of our clients, opt take the ISEE. Most children are more comfortable taking the ISEE and it is probably slightly easier - unless youre very strong in maths.

ISEE vs SSAT

What are the ISEE & SSAT?

The ISEE is used for application to independent secondary schools in the United States. There are three levels of the ISEE depending on whether a student is applying for entrance to Grades 5/6, 7/8 or 9-12. The ISEE assesses verbal and quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, and mathematics. There is also an essay component that is sent to the schools to which a student is applying. The exam lasts between 2 hours and 20 minutes and 2 hours and 40 minutes.

SSAT Tutoring at with Wentworth Education

The Secondary Schools Admissions Test (SSAT) is another examination that is used for application to secondary schools. It assesses the reading, writing, and mathematical skills of students. It is divided into two test types, lower and middle/upper, depending upon the age of the student.

These exams are excellent preparation for the SAT exams that students take in the 10th and 11th grade; indeed, many of our students have gone on to excel in the SATs. Read more about our ISEE and SSAT private tutoring options, our experience and approach, and about testing and measuring success.

ISEE vs SSAT - which to take?

The ISEE and SSAT are very similar and we're often asked what the difference is and what is the best exam for our students to take. The only definitive answer is you need to take the test the school you're applying to requires; you should double check this with the admission departments of your schools. There is no hard and fast rule for which schools require which exam, as they are free to choose whichever exam they choose. New York private day schools and boarding schools often prefer the SSAT; whilst other private schools often only accept ISEE; nonetheless many schools accept both.

ISEE Tutoring at with Wentworth Education

If you're in the position of being able to choose between the two exams, it can seem a difficult choice between the two. There are subtle differences between the two and one or either may be slightly better for your child. We've prepared a short guide on the differences between the two exams to help you think about this decision. We find, amoungst our students, the ISEE is about twice as popular as the SSAT. Nonetheless, both tests are quite different to what most British children are used to. Both exams rely heavily on multiple choice style questions and are of a long duration. The 11+ and 13+ syllabii are quite similar, but the exam style (and thus exam strategies) are quite different.

Our Recommendation: The ISEE

Overall, most of our clients, opt take the ISEE. Most children are more comfortable taking the ISEE and it is probably slightly easier - unless you're very strong in maths. Nonetheless, it is very important you make sure you know what tests your potential new schools accept, your school may require one and not the other.

Verbal Questions - ISEE
Synonyms and sentence completion. Generally considered to be more straightforward than the SSAT verbal questions.
Verbal Questions - SSAT
Synonyms and analogies. Often more difficult than the ISEE. The anaolgy questions are generally considered to be hardest part of the SSAT
Verbal Questions - Our Verdict
ISEE. We recommend the ISEE for students who aren't particularly strong verbally. If you really can differentiate yourself verbally then consider the SSAT.
 
Math Questions - ISEE
4-choice multiple choice type questions. Some question formats can seem unfamiliar to students, and there are more numerical questions in the ISEE than the SSAT.
Math Questions - SSAT
5-choice multiple choice type questions. The SSAT math questions do get very hard - and even our best students find some of them tricky.
Math Questions - Our Verdict
Tie. We don't have a strong preference, there are more ISEE math questions, but there are always some very hard math questions in the SSAT.
 
Marking Questions - ISEE
Only positive marking. This can feel nicer and more gentle on students who struggle to deduce 'best guesses'.
Marking Questions - SSAT
Negative marking (-1/4 mark per wrong answer). Negative marking can really intimidate some students. But with practice and experience students get used to it.
Marking Questions - Our Verdict
ISEE. Negative marking is somewhat alien to most students in the British system. Our young students, in particular sometimes find it difficult to provide an answer unless they're 100% certain and negative marking can really throw them off

Functional differences between the ISEE and SSAT

Test Levels - ISEE
  • Primary Level: entrance to grades 2 - 4
  • Lower Level: entrance to grades 5 - 6
  • Middle Level: entrance to grades 7 - 8
  • Upper Level: entrance to grades 9 - 12
Test Levels - SSAT
  • Elementary Level: students currently in grades 3-4
  • Middle Level: students currently in grades 5-7
  • Upper Level: students currently in grades 8-12
 
Test Format, Length & Questions - ISEE
  • Primary Level: younger grades have a short listening section; 20-30 minute reading section; 20-30 minute math section; untimed writing sample; dependent on level c.1 hour total time plus unlimited writing time
  • Lower Level: 20 minute verbal reasoning section; 35 minute quantitative resasoning section; 25 minute reading comprehension section; 30 minute math achievement section; 30 minute essay; 2 hours 20 minutes total.
  • Middle and Upper Levels: 20 minute verbal reasoning section; 35 minute quantitative reasoning section; 35 minute reading comprehension section; 40 minute math achievement section; 30 minute essay; 2 hours 40 minutes total.
Test Format, Length & Questions - SSAT
  • Elementary Level: 30 minute quantative/math section; 20 minute verbal section; 15 minute break; 30 minute reading section; 15 minute writing sample; 1 hour 50 minutes total.
  • Middle and Upper Levels: 25 minute writing sample; 5 minute break; 30 minute quantitative section; 40 minute reading section; 10 minute break; 30 minute verbal section; 30 minute quantitative section; 15 minute experimental section; 3 hours 5 minutes total.
 
Further Reading - ISEE
The ISEE's official site by ERB Learn is comprehensive and has lots of detail and resources, or download some of the most helpful ISEE resources below.
 
Further Reading - SSAT
The SSAT's official site is comprehensive and has lots of detail and resources, some of which you need to buy, or download the SSAT resources we find most helpful below.
 
Disclaimer: we do not own any of these resources and full credit goes to the original owners.

Selected ISEE & SSAT Testimonials

Please see below some example ISEE & SSAT Testimonials that we have received. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor guarantee or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more ISEE & SSAT Testimonials can be found on our dedicated testimonials page, where you can filter by subject.

ISEE | Scarlett Maguire

"We were very happy we both were with the lessons." ... See Scarlett Maguire's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Sophia Ohler

"[Our daughter] enjoyed very much the sessions she had from you and she gained a good ground. " ... See Sophia Ohler's tutoring profile.

SSAT | Emily Hennah

"Thanks again for being such a great tutor, Emily. My daughter enjoyed every session that she had with you." ... See Emily Hennah's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Thomas Evans

"Everything went well and I’m optimistic my daughter will get into both schools and then have their choice of where to go. Her ISEE results are in and they are strong." ... See Thomas Evans's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Alexander Peter

"Alex was really great for our son as he is knowledgeable, calm and reassuring. As a result, he just achieved 9, 9,8 and an 8 on the ISEE. He started at 5's and 6's!" ... See Alexander Peter's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Wentworth Education Private Tutoring

"[The tutor] cleared all [my daughter's] doubts and reinforced her confidence in her ability to answer the questions and understand the techniques."

ISEE | Caitlin Rea

"You have captured our imagination with your methods ; I have to confess this was very much an eye opener for me, so much so that I have been inspired to learn more about what [student] knows and doesn't, how he copes and how you go about it. " ... See Caitlin Rea's tutoring profile.

Maths and English, SSAT | Arthur House

"Arthur enjoyed a good rapport with my children and engaged them extremely well. He was accommodating and organised. I am happy to recommend Arthur as a tutor and am confident that he will do well teaching students at any level." ... See Arthur House's tutoring profile.

ISEE Lower Level | Catriona Ramsay

"Catriona Ramsay is a fabulous tutor - we've never engaged one before and I must say we are very pleased to know such a competent, conscientious and brilliant professional. Catriona 'got' [our daughter] immediately and understands what [she] likes and dislikes. She knows how to negotiate working on the subjects [she] is less keen on (i.e. maths) and devises creatives ways to make learning these topics more fun." ... See Catriona Ramsay's tutoring profile.

Selected Profiles of our ISEE & SSAT

Please see below some example profiles of the ISEE & SSAT that we represent. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor selection criteria or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more profiles of our ISEE & SSAT can be found on our dedicated tutors page, where you can filter by subject.

My passion for tutoring stems from my own personal experience with understanding the impact that excellent teachers can have on our lives. At Winchester College, the leadership and inspiration of my teachers motivated me to succeed, and is reflected in my consistently strong academic record. Having now graduated with a First Class BA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and successfully completed an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, I am keen to share my understanding and passion of the sciences and mathematics with new students. ...
I'm originally from New York, and have been living in London for a bit over a year now. After graduating from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Creative Writing (Cum Laude), I received my Master's degree from the London Film School. I've been privately tutoring for years, as a peer tutor on Harvard's campus with the Bureau of Study Council, as well as with private agencies. I also have extensive experience as an Admissions Representative in the Harvard Admissions Office. I specialise in the American curriculum and US College Counselling, but know and work with the English curriculum as well. ...
Born in New York City, I moved to the UK when I was 12 years old. I attended two North London day schools: The Hall and University College School. I completed both US and UK university applications. I attended Georgetown University, where I earned a Bachelor's degree from the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

I am familiar with the challenges associated with applying to US universities from the UK, as well as what is required to prepare for the SATs in the UK system. I have worked as a trained English teacher abroad and a junior athletic coach in New York City. ...
I’m a postgraduate medical student at King’s College London and Bristol University graduate with a passion for a wide range of subjects. Studying humanities to A level, focusing on crop genetics during my undergraduate degree and now working to become a doctor translates well into tutoring a varied curriculum and ensures I’ve had plenty of experience in the process of learning. I'm an enthusiastic tutor; effective tutoring raises children’s confidence and gives them skills which they can take far beyond our sessions, which is my favourite aspect of the job. ...
I have experience teaching a range of ages, both privately part-time and in full time employment as a teacher at Hurstpierpoint College, where I worked for a year before starting my degree at Oxford University. I have a particular interest in entrance into the UK's top schools and Universities, teaching 11 plus, Common Entrance, and preparing students for Oxbridge. I am aided by a detailed understanding of UK independent schools as well as experience preparing for the American education system at ISEE and SSAT level in particular. I have delivered private tuition to children between 5 and 20 years. I find tutoring immensely rewarding and particularly enjoy the focused nature of assisting an individual with their academic goals. ...
I'm a tutor and PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Cambridge. I'm looking to take on a select number of Wentworth students who are seeking to gain admissions to American and/or British preparatory schools and universities. I offer tutoring in prep school and university admissions, standardised testing (SAT, SAT II, PSAT, SSAT, ACT, APs, IB, ISEE), and crafting personal statements. I'm also available for tutoring in English literature GCSE, A-level, and AS-level. ...
I graduated from Cambridge University in 2015, where I studied Arabic and Spanish. Following graduation, I worked in a top boarding school in midtown Manhattan, New York supporting the students' preparation for SSAT/ISEE exams. On my return from the US, I began working for an educational charity in Cambridge, Red Balloon, which recovers severely bullied children who have self-excluded from mainstream education through a bespoke educational and therapeutic provision. Currently I am doing a social innovation graduate scheme, Year Here, I have introduced engaging new methods to support English language acquisition for participants of English Speakers for Other Languages (ESOL) courses at the Bromley by Bow community centre. Education has always been very important to me. My experiences above, in conjunction with teaching English to refugees in Jordan and supporting students in the US prepare for Spanish tests, leads me to having a broad understanding of education and the techniques that work for people of all levels. ...
I am a friendly, encouraging teacher with over a decade's experience, particularly with students aged 11-13. Since graduating from Cambridge 13 years ago I have taught students of all sorts of abilities and ages (5-58) anywhere from Notting Hill to Nairobi. My curiosity about the world has drawn me to journalism as well as teaching. I worked at the Telegraph for two years and now I write about arts and culture for The Economist’s 1843, The Spectator and Apollo magazines. I am also the co-author of 'What on Earth is Going On? A Crash Course in Current Affairs' (HarperCollins, 2009 - Sunday Times 'Stocking Filler of the Year'). Both my teaching and writing are informed by a desire to understand the world, and to help others do so too. ...
I graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2015, where I studied French and Italian. Since then, I have completed the Graduate Diploma in Law with Distinction and I am currently studying for the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in Moorgate. I have been working as a tutor for four years, with a particular focus on language tuition, Oxbridge applications and tutoring for the 11+. For me, tutoring is an incredibly rewarding experience. I particularly enjoy the opportunity to watch my tutees make progress not only in terms of their academic ability but also in developing self-confidence and a love for learning overall. ...
I'm a graduate medical student at King's College London, having previously studied Biomedical Science as an undergraduate at Imperial College London.

I have experience in teaching maths, biology and the ISEE. In addition, I've spent time working with children as a nanny, and volunteering at youth and children's groups, both in the UK and abroad. I am passionate about releasing the potential in every student, with a particular focus on building confidence and nurturing a love of learning. ...