What is the difference between the SSAT and SHSAT Tests?

The SSAT and the SHSAT are different in more ways than just the test questions. Along with those two tests, high school students may encounter the ISEE, SAT, PSAT, ACT and both the SSAT and SHSAT depending on what the student is trying to gain admission towards. All test differently, all score differently and all serve different institutions.

Specifically, the SHSAT test is for students looking to attend New York’s specialized high schools. The LaGuardia Music and Art school accepts students by audition only, otherwise the following schools require the SHSAT:

  • Bronx High School of Science
  • Brooklyn Technical High School
  • Brooklyn Latin School
  • High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College/li>
  • High School of American Studies at Lehman College
  • Queens High School for the Sciences
  • Staten Island Technical High School
  • Stuyvesant High School

The SSAT on the other hand is for students looking for admission into parochial, private or other independent high schools and junior high schools. Not all require the test, so check with the admissions department of each school.

SSAT vs SHSAT Content

From a content perspective the difference between the SSAT and SHSAT are pretty comprehensive, however, there are many overriding themes consistent through both.

The math section in the two tests are not too different. Both tests are 50 questions with the SSAT breaking that into 2 30 minute sections.  Both cover basic math, pre-algebra, algebra, logic problems, word questions, factoring and substitution. The SHSAT specifically asks 9th graders geometry questions and 8th graders graphing questions. Otherwise, a basic expertise in these areas of mathematics would adequately cover both tests.

Takers of both tests will not find reading preparation to be as all encompassing as the math. The SHSAT should be much easier to study for than the SSAT. While the questions are not easy, the difference between the SSAT and SHSAT is in what they want to learn about the student.

The verbal or reading section of both the SHSAT and SSAT are similar. Both have a reading comprehension section. The SHSAT adds to that a logical reasoning section and 5 scrambled paragraphs. In this section it is clear the SHSAT wants to understand your ability to read, comprehend and put pieces together.

The SSAT adds a section on synonyms and analogies, akin to the SAT itself. Similar to the logic reasoning questions, analogies require you to make sense of dissimilar things. However the SSAT adds a dimension of creative writing that’s not in the other. While the writing assignment is couched as a position paper, they clearly want to see how you express yourself, whether the student can coherent arguments, and proper use of grammar and vocabulary.  This is the only section of the two tests that enables the student to showcase their value.


Finally, the grading of the two. While the common misconception is unanswered questions hurt your score, the truth is no points are deducted for unanswered questions. However, logically a question you don’t get points on does reduce your potential score. (It’s hard to get a 100% if 4% were neither graded nor deducted. The highest available then would be a 96%). Also similar to both tests is the scale at the end. While a numerical grade is given for the test, the only score that really matters is the percent better or lower than your peers.

The SHSAT is black-and-white when it comes to admissions. If there are 500 students in the school, the 500 top scores get admitted. There is no cut-off. You’ll have to get with the specific school you’re planning to attend to determine how the SSAT score is used for admission. Some schools have a cut-off, like the 85th percentile for admittance. Others use the SSAT as part of the admission process.


Both tests significantly impact a student’s future if either the Specialized Schools or private institutions are the goal. With such high stakes, is it worth leaving your success up to a book that can’t answer questions, can’t provide supervised practice tests and doesn’t really teach strategy? Call us and let us help you prepare for the SSAT, the SHSAT, the ISEE, the SAT or any other test that greatly impacts your future. We will help.

For more on SSAT help from our Westchester County Exams office.

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