High school entrance exams: The differences between the HSPT and SSAT

By Kathryn Marquis Azevedo
Director of English, Sullivan Tutoring, Inc.

The High School Placement Test (HSPT) and Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) are two common standardized tests for entry into private schools.

The HSPT is administered to eighth graders seeking admission into private high school, and may also be used for class placement purposes. The SSAT is administered on two levels: the Lower Level (grades 5-7) and Upper Level (grades 8-11). The SSAT may also be used for class placement. Both tests take about three hours to complete.

HSPT vs. SSAT: Differences in test content

There are several differences in content between the HSPT and SSAT. The SSAT measures aptitude in synonyms, analogies, reading comprehension and writing skills (students must complete a 25-minute essay, which is not scored but is used as part of the admissions process). The math section measures aptitude in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, computations and various mathematical concepts.

The HSPT measures a broader scope of skills than does the SSAT, particularly in the verbal component. In addition to synonyms, analogies and reading comprehension, the HSPT includes verbal logic, antonyms, grammar, punctuation, spelling and capitalization. There is no written essay. The HSPT math is similar to the SSAT math, and includes arithmetic, algebra, geometry and mathematical concepts.

The chart below shows the major similarities and differences between the HSPT and SSAT.

HSPT SSAT
Verbal Synonyms, antonyms, analogies, verbal logic Synonyms, analogies
Reading Comprehension Passages and questions Passages and questions
Language Grammar, capitalization, punctuation None
Spelling Yes No
Writing No 25-minute essay
Math Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, problem solving, fractions, decimals, ratios, series, percents Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, percents, fractions, decimals, ratios
Test time about 2.5 hours about 2.5 hours
Test dates Administered independently by schools Administered 8 times a year
Scores 200-800 Lower Level: 1320-2130, Upper Level: 1500-2400

Most private high schools require a student to take either the HSPT or the SSAT, but the HSPT is primarily a requisite for Catholic high schools. Some private schools require the ISEE (another similar test) or administer their own comparable entrance exam.

The good news is that students can prepare (study!) for both the HSPT and the SSAT by taking practice exams and learning the test content. Studying the common HSPT/SSAT words can significantly increase a student’s score, as can reading regularly and becoming competent in the math skills.

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