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A Primer on the HSPT and SSAT for Parents

What are the HSPT and the SSAT? Are they Different?

Many students applying to independent  high schools are required to take standardized tests as part of the admissions process.  In the Washington, DC area, the majority of Catholic high schools require the High School Preparation Test (HSPT) while many secular schools require the SSAT or ISEE. (Note: there are a few Catholic schools that require the SSAT). In the fall of 2020, many independent schools have elected to go “test optional” allowing students to submit standardized test scores if they wish.  However,  most Catholic schools are still requiring students to take the HSPT for admission purposes.  While students can take the SSAT multiple times, they generally may take the HSPT only once. Read on for further differences between the two tests.

What are the HSPT and the SSAT?

Both the SSAT and the HSPT are school admissions exams. The HSPT is an admissions requirement at many Catholic high schools and is taken by 8th graders seeking entry to those schools. The SSAT is required by many independent and some parochial high schools. 5th-11th graders who are applying for admission to independent schools take the SSAT.

What are the main differences between the SSAT and the HSPT?

While both tests contain reading, verbal and quantitative sections, the SSAT and the HSPT differ in multiple ways.

Strategy and Pacing

  • The SSAT rewards accuracy rather than speed. Students can perform well on the test without answering all of the questions. In some cases, students can actually improve their scores by answering fewer questions and strategically skipping difficult questions. The SSAT deducts a ¼ point for every wrong answer, so random guessing will not improve a student’s score.
  • The HSPT on the other hand does not penalize wrong answers, so guessing is okay especially if a student can eliminate some answers. The HSPT requires students to move quickly through the exam, balancing accuracy with speed.

Verbal skills

  • The SSAT tests student vocabulary with two different types of questions that are given in separate sections: synonyms and analogies.
  • The HSPT, on the other hand, tests vocabulary through antonyms, synonyms, analogies, verbal classifications and logic. Different types of questions are all mixed together.

Language Skills

  • The HSPT includes questions that test punctuation, capitalization, spelling and grammar. There are no such questions on the SSAT.

Quantitative/Math skills

  • Both tests contain questions on geometry, algebra, arithmetic and mathematics concepts. The HSPT also contains questions testing numerical patterns and series. 

How many tutoring sessions will my student need?

  • Your tutor will help you determine how many tutoring sessions your child needs based on a baseline practice test. Typically students require from 5-15 sessions for the SSAT and 5 -10 sessions for the HSPT.

If my child has done SSAT tutoring, will that be sufficient for the HSPT?

  • The SSAT and the HSPT are different tests, and while some of the content may overlap, the strategies and pacing needed to succeed on the tests differ significantly. It is, therefore, beneficial to prepare for the tests separately. For example, while the SSAT rewards accuracy and penalizes mistakes, the HSPT rewards working quickly and there is no wrong answer penalty.

How many times can a student take the tests?

  • A student may take the SSAT multiple times. By contrast, the STS (maker of HSPT) recommends that the HSPT be taken only once by students. It is up to an individual school to allow a student to re-sit the HSPT. 

What do you cover in tutoring sessions?

  • Students cover content as well as test-taking strategies in their sessions. For example, they will brush up on their geometry formulae such as the Pythagorean theorem or the area of a triangle as well as learn how many questions to answer or skip for each section of the test.

Is my child eligible for special accommodations on the SSAT/HSPT?

  • Students who routinely receive special accommodations at school may apply for similar accommodations for the SSAT. Testing accommodations must be approved prior to test day. According to the SSAT Board, “the applicant must supply SSAT with the email address of an individual who oversees the student’s accommodations in their current school environment. This person will receive an email requesting confirmation of the student’s accommodations.”
  • The SSAT will permit a maximum of time and half on the test.
  • For more information on accommodations, check the following link:
  • The STS recommends contacting the school where the child will be testing to request accommodations. Some schools require documentation to grant accommodations, and they will let you know at that time.

Will tests be offered online this year?

While the SSAT will be offering an online at-home version of the test this year and Flex testing through accredited consultants, the HSPT will be offered at high schools serving as testing centers on select dates in November and December.

For more information on preparing for the HSPT, the SSAT or  academic subject tutoring, please contact Kirsten Thomas at 240-800-4413 or via email at


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