The ISEE and the SSAT are both designed to rank the people who apply to elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.
The ISEE has 5 section types. The Verbal Reasoning section has synonym questions and sentence completion questions, all multiple-choice. The Quantitative Reasoning question has multiple-choice math questions. The Reading Comprehension section has multiple-choice questions on your understanding of passages. The Mathematical Achievement component of the test is another set of multiple-choice math questions (most students don’t see any real difference between the questions on the Mathematical Achievement section and the math questions on the Quantitative Reasoning section). There’s also an essay section, but the essay isn’t scored. It’s just sent to the schools you apply to so they can read it if they feel like it.
The SSAT has an unscored essay section that’s similar to the one on the ISEE. It also has two Quantitative sections with multiple-choice math questions, a Verbal section with synonym questions and analogy questions, and a Reading Comprehension question with multiple-choice questions about passages and poems.
One other difference is that the SSAT penalizes you for marking a wrong answer, while the ISEE doesn’t penalize you for that, so guessing on the ISEE seems like a good idea to some people, while some people will prefer not to guess on the SSAT. (For a detailed explanation of why guessing is a bad idea on the SSAT but an okay idea on the ISEE, please see this article on guessing on standardized tests.)
So some people think the ISEE is easier, and some people think the SSAT is easier. It’s really a personal thing–if you like guessing a lot, you’ll probably prefer the ISEE; if you like analogies, you’ll probably like the SSAT more. To decide which test is probably better for you, the best thing to do is try some practice questions from each test and see if one test feels easier for you.
If you decide to do this, you have to make sure of two things:
1) Use practice questions from the proper level of the test to make sure your comparison is accurate. The SSAT has an Upper Level and Lower Level; the Upper Level is for people applying to 8th grade or higher. The ISEE has a Lower Level for applying to grades 5 and 6, a Middle Level for applying to grades 7 and 8, and an Upper Level for applying to grades 9, 10, 11, and 12. So, for example, if you’re applying to go to grade 8, you should compare the Upper Level of the SSAT to the Middle Level of the ISEE.
2) Use practice questions from the companies that make the real tests! Test prep companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and all the rest publish their own books of practice questions for the ISEE and SSAT, but those questions aren’t real test questions, so they might differ in important ways from the real thing. For this reason, I strongly advise you use only real practice questions, so you can make sure that your experience with the practice questions is truly representative. To find a few real practice SSAT questions, visit the SSAT’s official site at this link:
(if you’d like to see more real SSAT questions, you can order a book of real tests from the SSAT itself at this link: http://www.ssat.org/ssat/test/test-prep-orderguide.html)
You can get real ISEE practice questions for the appropriate level of the test at this link: