Is Your Child Ready for the SSAT?

If you’re thinking about private school for your child, you probably have questions about the secondary school admission test (SSAT). Many independent, private and boarding schools use this exam as part of their admissions process to gauge students’ mastery of grade-level skills and to compare them to other students their age. To help your child do their best on the exam, here are a few facts and tips on the SSAT.

What is the SSAT?

The SSAT test is available for students in grades 3 through 12. While the Elementary Level SSAT is just under two hours long, the Middle Level and Upper Level exams lasts three hours and five minutes. All exams test verbal, reading, quantitative and writing skills.

  • Little girl in private school uniformSSAT Writing: This unscored essay is sent to private schools along with test results, which allows admissions officers to judge student writing for themselves. Though Upper Level students have a choice between a creative prompt and a traditional essay, younger students are assessed on their creative writing skills and ability to tell a story.
  • SSAT Reading: This section provides short narrative or informational passages and tests the student’s ability to understand  plot, structure, tone and other aspects of reading comprehension.
  • SSAT Verbal: This section asks a series of multiple choice vocabulary questions. Half the questions are synonyms; the other half are analogies.
  • SSAT Math: This section asks grade-level computation questions to test number sense and geometric reasoning. Upper Level questions include algebra, geometry and probability concepts.

How to Prepare for the SSAT

Good test preparation is two-fold. First, students should have a solid ​basis of understanding in the subject matter on the test. In the case of the SSAT, this means that the student should have mastered the grade-level reading and math skills taught at their grade level in school.

Second, it is vital that students do some preparation for the test. Unprepared students may know the material well, but be unable to cope with the test environment or waste time struggling with an unfamiliar format.

It’s important for the student to get a feel for the type and format of  the questions they will be answering and to understand the time limitations on the exam, well before they face the actual test. Being familiar with the test will help reduce anxiety and allow the student to dive right into the exam.  At a minimum, the child should take a practice test. But the best approach is a comprehensive one that addresses the many factors that can affect the outcome of a standardized test.

If you are applying for your child to attend a private school that requires the SSAT for entry, here are some tips to help your child do well:

  • Teacher Talk. Set up a meeting with your child’s current teacher to discuss his or her progress. Ask which areas in math or reading need improvement, and get suggestions on ways your child can strengthen these skills.
  • Regular Reading. One of the best ways to help your child be ready for the verbal and reading sections of the SSAT is through regular reading for pleasure. The more exposure he or she has to varied vocabulary in context, the better they will do not only on the verbal section, but on the exam as a whole because their comprehension skills will be strong.
  • SSAT Tutors. If your child is behind on reading, writing or math skills, or suffers from test anxiety, consider tutoring to improve these areas. Tutoring is also helpful in situations where the admissions process is competitive and an excellent score on the exam is expected. A good test prep tutoring program will focus on reinforcing and improving basic skills, offer practice tests, and teach the child test taking skills that will reduce anxiety and help them use the test time more effectively.
  • Perfect Practice. Be sure your child has the chance to try sample questions and a full-length sample test. Learning the format of the test will help your child feel ready for test day. Be sure to score the sample test: learning from mistakes is an important part of test preparation.

Solid Support. The makers of the SSAT offer some great advice for parents. You can reduce your child’s anxiety and boost their confidence by staying positive during the testing and admissions process.