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What is the SSAT and do you need to take it?

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The SSAT can be very complicated, let us break it down for you.

What is the SSAT and do you need to take it?

When it comes to navigating American Test Prep, things are always a bit tricky. However, usually we can break things down into just "take the ACT/SAT, and if your not a native speaker, take the TOEFL."

However, when it comes to boarding schools, in particular the more prominent ones, students will need to take the SSAT or ISEE. While the ACT and SAT are rather straight forward, these tests can be a nightmare to navigate for both parents and students alike. In this article I will focus on the SSAT, its various versions, who should take them, and why its important to prepare for each of them. 


How Many Levels are there?

There are 3 levels of SSAT, Elementary (Lower), Middle, and Upper levels. Unlike the past, all three of these levels now share a common direction, with the only difference being the difficulty level of the questions on the tests. 

Who should take them?

This is actually a difficult question to answer. I often tell people that no one should really take any of them unless absolutely required, and the lower level test is almost never required. 

The official guidance is as follows:


  • Elementary - Grade 3-4
  • Middle - Grade 5-7
  • Upper - Grade 8-11

That said, its exceedingly rare for any boarding school to accept anything other than the upper level, so if your counselor is saying you need the middle level, you should double check. 

What’s the difference between the different levels?

As mentioned above, there are 3 versions of the test with the primary difference being the level of difficulty.  The Elementary test is quite a bit easier than the other two levels, but still includes the same core sections(Quantitative, Verbal(both synonyms and analogies), Essay, and Critical Reading) The Middle and Upper level tests  share nearly all content, with the middle level test having a smaller range of overall content for the student to take. I have broken down the tests below. 

Elementary Test


  • Math - Basic Algebra, Basic Geometry, Word Problems, and Arithmetic
  • Reading - 30 questions in 1 passage-based section. 
  • Verbal - 15 Synonym and 15 Analogy questions
  • Essay - On the elementary version of this test the essay involves writing a story about an image they provide. Only 15 minutes to write the essay. 

For more information on the Elementary Level Test, you can read the SSAT's official breakdown of the test here. 

Middle Level Test


  • Only a Narrative style essay, 2 choices of topic. 25 minutes to write the essay. 
  • Math - Algebra, Geometry, Arithmetic, and more. 
  • Reading - 1 section with passage-based questions. These questions are very formulaic, and the strategies applied here will apply to any reading exam in the future. (Such as the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT) 
  • Verbal - 30 Synonym and 30 Analogy questions

For more information on the Middle Level Test, you can read the SSAT's official breakdown of the test here. 

Upper Level Test

  • A choice of a narrative or personal essay, 1 of each to choose from. 25 minutes to write the essay. 
  • Math is the same as the Middle Level Test, but offers a few more difficult question types 
  • Reading - Same as the Middle Level Test, but the passages are usually a bit longer and the questions more obscure. 
  • Verbal - Same as the Middle Level Test. 

For more information on the Upper Level Test, you can read the SSAT's official breakdown of the test here. 

Which schools currently require them?

This changes from time to time and the best advice anyone can give you is to check with the admissions team at that particular school. However, as of this writing, here are some of the schools which require the SSAT and which level is required for each. 


  1. Hotchkiss School - Upper Level
  2. Blue Ridge School - Upper Level
  3. Cheshire Academy - Upper Level
  4. Concord Academy - Upper Level
  5. Cushing Academy - Upper Level
  6. Deerfield Academy - Upper Level
  7. Milton Academy - Upper Level
  8. Monteverde Academy - Upper Level
  9. Phillips Exeter Academy - Upper Level
  10. Salisbury School - Upper Level

For more schools that require the SSAT, you can go over to the SSAT's school search engine. 


In a future article, I will write up more details on what type of preparation you should do for each of these tests. For this article though, I will only go into why its important to prep for any of these SSAT tests, something I can really sum up in just a few words. 

The Verbal Section of this Test is Terrible!

That is all there is to it. This test forces kids to memorize hundreds to thousands of vocabulary words which are almost certainly never going to be used in any form of real-world context. It then requires them to be able to classify these words and identify relationships between second and third definitions for these obscure words. In short, the Verbal section is an absolute nightmare. The other sections of the test are actually quite good indicators of comprehension and ability and are very similar to what we've seen the ACT and SAT become over the years.

However the inclusion of the Verbal section essentially mandates that students start studying at least 6 months prior to the exam. Please note this only applies to the Middle and Upper Level versions of this exam, as the Elementary version of this test is, as described above, a very different test. Preparation for the Elementary version of the test should you need or want to take it for some reason, can be limited to a small amount of time, usually 5 hours or less, in order to get a good understanding of the framework and practice some questions. 

So thats about it for this section, if you have further questions please feel free to contact me at

If your looking for help on the test The Edge Prep has an AI powered self-learning program available. If its more live help your in need of, The Edge Tutors has dozens of available SSAT tutors for you to choose from. 

About the Author

Chris Fuller has been teaching since 2006, and the SSAT for over 10 years. He has an MBA from The University of South Dakota, a B.A. in Economics from Temple University Japan Campus, and holds multiple teaching and technical certificates. 

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Alive - A Story of Perseverance at Boston University


I walk on old train tracks while the city sleeps. The Boston skyline greets me.


College is a whirlwind of both stress and excitement, a hectic canvas splashed with jarring contrasts. Academics pull my limbs one way as ever-changing social dynamics yank them another; current events and family concerns join in to bind and quarter me on a butcher’s block.


My bones feel like coiled springs, searching for release and relief. I need to shout; I need to be still.


It took a bit over a year for me to figure out what exactly I needed to release and relieve stress. College frayed the knotted ends of my wits, in ways both good and bad. Between attending classes, studying for tests, and pulling my hair out over homework deadlines, school was draining my mental energy by the second. Suddenly dropped into the deep end of the social pool, I could also barely keep my introverted head above water. I needed to find outlets of not-worrying, beyond the endlessly repetitive Netflix binges and Instagram scrolling that filled my spare time. I needed a place to feel alive and energized, but also a place to feel alive and calm.


In the end, kendo became my energy; train tracks became my calm.


“When you enter the gym,” the BU kendo club’s coach said to the team, “you leave everything else outside. I know you have classes and other things to worry about. But when we mokuso at the beginning and end of practice, we clear our minds.” We left our worries at the door, or at least tried our best to. And perhaps my mind was not completely clear; but for a few hours a week, concerns about grades and GPA requirements momentarily forgotten, the tension in my spirit unwound into the energy with which I fought. The pressures of exams and assignments, friends and classmates, global humanitarian disasters and family troubles, manifested into fuel that drove my strikes. I kiai’d, shouted, with all the energy of my frustration. The catharsis radiated through my entirety.


In search of catharsis of a different kind, I found my way to the train tracks on a walk with my roommate on a wintry day during sophomore year. The tracks were seldom used and crossed the length of Boston’s Charles River, disappearing northwards towards Cambridge and southwards into Boston. I returned to them many times after, sometimes to watch the sky burst with color as the sun set, but more often to air out my mind in the middle of the night. Far from the crowded lecture halls and cramped seminar rooms that filled my daytime hours, away from my small, dimly lit dorm, I could finally breathe peace. Cars would pass on the road above me. The water would lap at the pillars below me. The occasional quack or honk of waterfowl would break the monotony.


These places filled my need to let go of stress and feel alive in opposite ways— a balance of complementing flavors. If kendo cleared my mind like the release of a spring, the train tracks cleared it like the relief of stillness post-release.


I swing my legs over rusted railings and stare at the twinkling city lights.


During kendo practice, my worries burn away with aggression as I kiai and swing my bamboo sword. But here, at 3 in the morning, standing 20 feet above the rushing black waves of the Charles, they dissipate gently in the breeze. I found my release with the swing of a shinai; I found my relief in an old rail bridge.


To Go or Not to Go? The Choice is Simple

        To the Parents in Hong Kong who are hesitating on whether to send their kids abroad for University, or think that Zoom University can replace in-person college experiences, think again. Sure, the learning might be comparable in some fields, and in the midst of a global pandemic, it was probably the right move. But as vaccination rates climb and the world begins to reopen, it’s important to consider the multitude of experiences that can just happen that cannot be replaced by Zoom. To help explain why, I’ll tell you about one of my most memorable experiences during my first semester of college at NYU before the world shut down––and then let you decide for yourself.

         It all started during one of my more interesting classes of the day––Film and TV Production. Being a Global Studies major, it was an elective––but out of all my classes, it was the one of the few classes that could drag yours truly out of bed at 8 in the morning. It was certainly more interesting than a riveting lecture about global shipping lanes. My professor was a bald eccentric man in his 50s, and would never stick to the syllabus. He’d always end up lecturing about the time he directed some famous actor, or about how “parents kill more dreams than anybody”. However, his classes were extremely popular––because, well, the man had multiple Oscars. Having Alec Baldwin as a recurring guest lecturer probably helped a ton, too. And of course, his name was Spike Lee. Google him. You’ll see why.

        The film nerds who are reading this are probably salivating at this point. But to everyone else (including myself at the time), you might ask yourself, now why does this matter? I can listen to all his lectures online! They’re probably recorded too, so I don’t even have to get up at 8 in the morning. Sure. You might have a point. But then again, you’d probably never get a chance to understand what Professor Spike would say, “how you actually make a f**king Hollywood movie”. So, after talking about framing techniques and some further ranting about Donald Trump, Professor Lee informed us that we were going on a field trip the next day––and instructed us to “put our acting shoes on”.

        We assembled in front of a nondescript building outside Chelsea Piers at the ungodly (for college students, anyway) hour of 6 in the morning. Even so, we were all visibly wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. We had all heard the crazy escapades from upperclassmen from past classes. A lady with a walkie talkie ran out from one of the trailers to greet us. “Oh, good. You all are here on time. Come on in––there’s not a moment to lose”. We were all handed clipboards that had “NON DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT––NBC CORPORATION” emblazoned on top, and told to sign them. An audible silence descended on the group as we realized that we, in fact, were being thrown headfirst into the world of TV production.

After we made our (signed) pinky-promises not to tell anyone about our experiences until whatever was to be filmed was publicly released, we were ushered into another building, where our professor was waiting. “Welcome!”, he exclaimed, “to a TV Set!” He pointed to a man standing to his right, who was clutching a megaphone. “This is Jon Bokencamp. Please listen to him, as he’ll tell you what to do”.

       We were then ushered onto what looked like the lobby of a bank. There were three massive sized IMAX cameras that were positioned around the lobby floor. “Pretend like they don’t exist”, Jon said. “There will be gunfire. Act as you would normally”. With that, he stepped behind the camera.




“Bang!” Everyone instinctively hit the floor as the sound of a gunshot and broken glass ricocheted around the room. A car door slammed. Tires Chriped. Seconds later, the wail of sirens echoed throughout the lobby. Men in navy jackets with the words “FBI” emblazoned in big yellow letters stormed in, along with half a dozen NYPD officers, guns drawn. One of the agents displayed a picture of a balding man to the crowd. “Have you seen him?” he barked. Still discombobulated from the gunfire, we all shook our heads no. “Okay. Everyone out!” he ordered, and whirled back out the door.


“CUT! Great job everyone. Let’s wrap it up.”


Try replacing that with Zoom.


By Dylan Yen, NYU Class of 2023

2021-2022 SAT International Test Schedule

The upcomong 2021-2022 International SAT test dates have been confirmed.

The dates are the same as the anticipated ones released before summer, so there shouldn't be any surprises here. To register, please click the link below the table and register via college board. 

2021-22 International SAT Administration Dates 

Test Date
Fall SAT   August 28, 2021
Fall SAT October 2, 2021
Winter SAT  December 4, 2021
Spring SAT  March 12, 2022
Spring SAT May 7, 2022

Source: College Board


If you're planning on taking the test this Fall, its not too late to prep. Our Edge Prep SAT courses are a great way to review.

If live classes are more of your thing, our sister site, The Edge Tutors has a course which includes complementary SAT Premium for $1,200. You can find more info and enroll here


Big Changes to the SAT!

College Board, the makers of the SAT exam used in US university admissions, has announced some drastic changes to their SAT exam. The exam, which has seen its takers diminish to near zero amidst the pandemic has cited the need to be more flexible and less demanding for its students. 

In their announcement, they stated they will make 3 profound changes to the way they handle and administer tests. All of which will have a great impact on students who are currently preparing to take the exam, as well as those who will take it in the future. 

  1. Discontinuing SAT Subject Tests - Many universities have required these to supplement the SAT or even ACT scores, particularly the top 50 universities. College board has stated they feel the current SAT and academic profiles of students currently provides enough info to show achievements. The bad news here is that this appears to only impact US based students, so international students will need to keep taking the subject tests. Admissions requirements may change though, so keep checking with us to see if things change for international students. 
  2. Removing the Optional SAT Essay - In the past 5 years the SAT has transformed from being the only exam to require an essay, to not even offering one. While we are sure this will make a lot of students happy, there is a good chance that we will see a more comprehensive replacement on a per university basis in the future. For now, though, this will considerably cut prep time for students. 
  3. Changing the delivery mode of the exams - They do not have a lot of information on this one, but as far as we can tell it means they will be providing a digital format of the exam. If these means testing centers will receive a digital copy, if you will go to a prometric center, or if you will just take it at home, we are unsure. College board has promised more info to come this spring. 

For more information, please see the official press release from College Board. 

Find out why The Edge Prep is perfectly suited for these changes by starting a Free Trial(Freemium).