The SSAT: Planning, Preparation, and Practice

If you're interested in attending an independent school, you may have heard the term SSAT and may now be wondering how to study for the test. In this article, we'll briefly cover the basics of what the SSAT is and does and offer key SSAT prep strategies and tips.

What Is the SSAT?

The SSAT, or Secondary School Admission Test, is a standardized test required by a number of independent schools worldwide as a part of any hopeful student's application.
It's offered at three levels:

• Elementary, for students currently enrolled in Grades 3 or 4
• Middle, for students currently enrolled in Grades 5 through 7
• Upper, for students currently enrolled in Grades 8 through 11

What Does the SSAT Test?

The SSAT measures verbal, quantitative, and reading skills, all the while emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving.
The quantitative section tests things like basic operations, basic fractions, and ordering numbers (for the elementary-level students) and algebra, geometry, and data analysis (for the upper-level students).

The verbal section consists of responding to synonym and analogy questions at an appropriate level for the student's age.

The reading section is focused on answering comprehension and analysis questions related to short passages from a variety of genres.

The test is almost entirely multiple-choice, with the exception of one 15-25 minute free-response writing exercise. Younger students will be asked to write a short story, while older students will have the choice of constructing an essay if they prefer.

The SSAT is designed to measures skills rather than achievement; in other words, it's not intended to rely on your mastery of specific material. This is supposed to help keep the test fair across all different backgrounds from which a student might originate.

How Is the SSAT Scored?

The SSAT is norm-referenced, meaning your final score is based on how well you do compared to other test takers. You will receive a scaled score and a percentile ranking. The scaled score's range will depend on the student's grade level:

• For Elementary, the range is 300-600 per section, or 1200-1800.
• For Middle, the range is 440-710 per section, or 1320-2130.
• For Upper, the range is 500-800 per section, or 1500-2400.

The percentile ranking is always on a scale of 1-99, and it represents your performance as compared to students of the same grade who tested on the SSAT for the first time within the past three years in the US or Canada.

While the test is designed to be of "middle difficulty," this is a very competitive group of students against which you're being scored—these are the select students applying to the finest independent schools.

SSAT Practice Tests

Use practice tests to familiarize yourself with the format, instructions, time constraints, and content. They're a great opportunity to practice as well as to ease the uncertainty you are likely to feel when facing a test of unknown characteristics.

Practice tests also provide the perfect opportunity to assess your own strengths and weaknesses. From there, you can ask a tutor, teacher, or parent for help on the specific areas where you struggle.

VHES offers a free in-home baseline practice test to help students familiarize themselves with the SSAT and prepare for the official exam. Click here for more information about our SSAT Prep service and diagnostic reports.

How to Study for the SSAT: 5 Steps

#1: Take an Official Practice Test

You should start prepping at least three months before you plan to take the SSAT. The first step is to take a practice test and then analyze your performance: what are your strengths and weaknesses, and what growth will you need to see in order to reach your goal? Quantify where you are and where you want to be. Note your performance in each of the three scored content areas.

#2: Study Regularly

Having a regular study schedule is vital to raising your score, since you need to put in real time and effort to improve.

Are you way behind your goal—say, more than 200 points? Think about scheduling at least an hour or two a week for Elementary students or up to three or four hours a week for Upper students.

Are you looking to make a more moderate score increase of 100 - 200 points? You'll still want to study regularly, but can cut down to an hour or less per week for Elementary-level or roughly two hours per week for Upper-level.

Are you right about where you need to be in your score? You don't need to put in quite the same level of sustained SSAT prep, but we still recommend taking one or two more practice tests to keep your scores stable (or even improve them!).

In your prep, focus in on the topics that were hardest for you, but don't forget to dust the ones you've mastered off pretty routinely, too.

For the quantitative section, pay close attention in your math class; especially review/practice the topics that are slated to come up on the test, according to the Official Guide.

For the verbal section, make a game of playing with synonyms and analogies in everyday life. Get your friends and family in on it, too, if you can!

For the reading section, the best thing you can do is actively engage with reading on a daily basis. Draw from multiple genres, and force yourself to answer questions (your own or someone else's) about the text you've read.

For all sections, complete practice problems as often as you can.

#4: Take Another Practice Test—In Fact, Take a Few

Take a practice test every four weeks or so—more often if you are uncomfortable with the test and want a greater improvement, less often if you feel at ease testing and are near your goal score.

Use these practice tests as a time to increase your familiarity with the format and feel of the test. Also perform a check-in to see how your trouble areas are progressing. Ask where your focus needs to be at this point in time.

#5: Slow Down About a Week Before the Test

Give yourself plenty of time to relax; cut down on your study time, and get plenty of rest. Stop studying altogether a day or two before the test. You need to start storing up sleep for the big day!

Please let us know if you have any questions about the SSAT.

Email us at contact@vinthilles.com for a free SSAT diagnostic report.

SSAT Tips and Strategies

A good SSAT test prep program will strengthen underlying skills, instill confidence, and help students reach their full potential. Successful test-taking not only encompasses the necessary academic skills, but also the understanding of how to take standardized tests. Utilizing a two-pass approach, pacing drills, process of elimination, plugging in the answer choices, and question recognition, are all ways to help increase your score. Having a tips and strategies toolbox will help the student be in control of the test. View the SSAT test format.

•    Guess if you can eliminate 2 answer choices on easy or medium questions. Guess on hard questions if you can eliminate 3 answer choices.
•    Attractor answers are most common towards the end of a section.
•    The student receives 1 minute per question on the reading section.
•    The student receives 30 seconds per question on the verbal section.
•    The student receives 72 seconds per question on both math sections.

SSAT Math:

•    Half of the math questions are arithmetic and about one-fifth are Geometry based.
•    If the problem doesn't say “not drawn to scale” then estimate by looking at it.
•    Use numbers that are easy to work with when plugging in for variables.
•    If you think a question will take more than 72 seconds, circle it, and come back to it later.
•    Watch out for sudden measurement changes. For example, the chart lists yards and the answers are given in feet.

SSAT Verbal:

•    Review the tested word and find the correct definition.
•    The answers may also use a secondary definition.
•    Examine the word for roots, prefixes, and suffixes.
•    Does the word sound positive or negative?
•    For analogies, build a sentence with the word to understand the relationship.
•    Eliminate answer choices with no relation and that seem weak in their relationship.

•    Spend the first minute looking for “easy” passages to tackle.
•    Reading is the only section that doesn’t progress from easy to difficult.
•    Usually, the very first sentence will be the main idea.
•    Try not to worry about rushing through passages.
•    Don’t move onto the next passage, until you answer all of the current passage questions.
•    If you’re running short on time, look for the questions that ask for a definition.

Contact us regarding test prep for the SSAT, including a free diagnostic report!

Private School Admissions: SSAT & ISEE

Throughout the Washington DC area, parents often ask us, “When should we take a practice SSAT or ISEE?” or “When should we start SSAT or ISEE prep?” Current 7th graders should take a practice upper level SSAT or ISEE in the spring or the summer going into 8th grade. That’s for students looking to apply for 9th grade entrance to a private high school. The official tests are usually taken during the fall or winter of 8th grade. Taking a full-length official SSAT or ISEE practice test beforehand, will let the student know where to focus. The student may need more math, verbal, or reading support. Furthermore, the practice test will reveal what types of questions the student is struggling with the most. For example, on the SSAT verbal section, the student may do really well on the synonyms, yet have problems with the analogies questions.

Here’s how the private high school admissions process works:

1)    Create a school list during 7th grade year. Look over:
o    Co-ed or single gender
o    Class size
o    Location
o    Athletics
o    Safety procedures
o    Learning center
o    Matriculation list
o    Tips:
    Don’t have too many schools on your list
    Have reach schools, middle of the road schools, and safety schools

2)    Other factors:
•    Schools accept SSAT or ISEE
•    Financial aid and payment plans
•    Fine arts program
•    Student body diversity
•    Faculty background
•    Test scores
•    Campus facilities
•    Technology
•    STEAM

3)    Application criteria:
•    SSAT or ISEE scores
•    Interview
•    Essays
•    Campus tour
•    Extracurricular activities
•    Volunteer work
•    Community involvement

4)    How to start:
•    Attend campus open houses
•    Research school websites
•    Look at a various schools
•    Take a baseline SSAT or ISEE
•    Plan for 2 months – 6 months of test prep
•    Review admissions deadlines for paperwork and test scores (usually, January or February due dates).

5)    SSAT:
•    Offered 8 times per year on predetermined national testing dates.
•    Students can also take a flex test one-to-one or in a small group setting (usually setup through an IECA member).
•    Students can take all national testing dates and a flex test (meaning they can take the SSAT more than once).

6)    ISEE:
•    All students will have the option to test once in each of three four-month long testing windows; meaning, students can test up to three times in a 12-month admission cycle.
•    There are no national testing dates. Tests are setup through approved testing site member schools.
•    Students may take the ISEE at approved ERB member school test sites, Prometric locations worldwide, or at ERB’s main New York City office.

We can help you get prepared for the SSAT and ISEE. Get started with your customized test prep program today!

SSAT Prep: Test Day Checklist

Here are some things to do the week before taking an official SSAT:

1)    Get your bag together. It’s extremely important to include your admission ticket. If your ticket is missing or you never printed it, login to your SSAT account and print one immediately. The ticket is located under “My Tests.” Find the test date and click on “Print Ticket.” Remember additional items: three No. 2 pencils with erasers, snacks, water bottle, etc. Do not bring mechanical pencils. Do not bring anything like a running watch or any type of a watch/alarm that beeps.

2)    Get a good night’s sleep the entire week before the test. Practice waking up early for a few days. Eat a healthy breakfast before you leave on test day. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes to the test center.

3)    Don't bring a calculator or computer, or other electronic device unless you've been approved for testing accommodations that require them. Do not bring a cell phone.

4)    A photo ID is NOT needed. The SSAT doesn’t require a photo ID of the student. This is why it is so important to remember your admission ticket.

5)    Gather yourself during the scheduled breaks. It is common to discuss the questions amongst other students in the hallway, but that will only make you more anxious.

6)    Watch the weather reports. If there is bad weather in the area the night before the test, the test center could close. You don't want to go out in an icy winter storm and the test center is closed when you show up.

7)    Plan to arrive at the test location at least 30 minutes prior to the start time. Total testing time for the middle and upper level SSAT is 2 hours and 50 minutes, plus two added breaks. With the breaks included, the total time comes to 3 hours and 5 minutes. Most students are not familiar with taking a test for such a long period of time. Make sure that pickup is arranged for after the test. Test supervisors are not responsible for remaining at the center after the test ends.

8)    No visitors, this includes parents, are allowed in the testing room. Also, all test materials will be picked up at the end of the test and cannot be taken from the testing room.

SSAT Tips and Strategies

•    Guess if you can eliminate 2 answer choices on easy or medium questions. Guess on hard questions if you can eliminate 3 answer choices.
•    "Attractor" answers are most common towards the middle and end of a section.
•    The student receives 1 minute per question on the reading section.
•    The student receives 30 seconds per question on the verbal section.
•    The student receives 72 seconds per question on both math sections.

MATH
•    Half of the math questions are arithmetic and about one-fifth Geometry based.
•    If it doesn’t say “not drawn to scale” then estimate by looking at it.
•    Use numbers that are easy to work with when plugging in for variables.
•    If you think a question will take more than 72 seconds, circle it and come back to it later.
•    Watch out for sudden measurement changes. For example, the chart lists yards and the answers are given in feet.

VERBAL
•    Review the word and find the correct definition.
•    The answers may also use a secondary definition.
•    Examine the word for roots, prefixes, and suffixes.
•    Does the word sound positive or negative.
•    For analogies, build a sentence with the word to understand the relationship.
•    Eliminate answer choices with no relation and that seem weak in their relationship.

•    Spend the first minute looking for “easy” passages to tackle.
•    Reading is the only section that doesn’t progress from easy to difficult.
•    Usually the very first sentence will be the main idea.
•    Try not to worry about rushing through passages.
•    Don’t move onto the next passage until you answer all the questions.
•    If you’re running short on time, look for the questions that ask for a definition.