Update: Some of this article's advice is now outdated due to changes in the SSAT. A more recent article on the exam can be found here.
The SSAT along with the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) are used for admissions into private/independent schools. Some schools favor the ISEE, others favor the SSAT and some will look at whichever you scored best on.
See more from Varsity Tutors on how to improve ISEE scores.
Don’t add pressure: The tests can cause tons of pressure and anxiety for younger students, especially when parents pile it on. That’s why having the right mindset is just as important as the best SSAT prep. Avoid telling your child “you need to do well,” “you must do well,” or “if you don’t do well…”
SSAT tutor/SSAT prep coach: You need to find a way to help your child relax and see why scoring high on the SSAT is important. A lot of students benefit from a professional SSAT tutor or prep coach who can ease the anxiety regarding the test and guide your child through the complex SSAT questions.
Motivate your child: Ask yourself this: Is my child taking this test for himself/herself or for me? Be honest with yourself. You have to help your child find a reason why he/she wants to do well. That reason cannot be you. Maybe they like the facilities or computer equipment at a private school, and want to score well enough to be admitted. Whatever it is, your child needs a desire. If students don’t want to do well – they won’t. It really is that simple.
Familiarize yourself with the SSAT: Once your child has the right mindset, start reading up on the SSAT. Get a few books, read some blogs, talk to other parents with children who have taken it, etc. The SSAT is a multiple choice, aptitude test with five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning (math), Mathematics Achievement, Reading Comprehension and Writing (essay).
The verbal section tests vocab/verbal reasoning skills and your ability to relate ideas. The Quantitative/Mathematics Achievement tests your problem-solving, arithmetic, elementary algebra and geometry skills. Reading Comprehension tests how fast you can read and how much you can retain. The essay is not graded, and you have to respond to a given prompt. You can send your essay to schools, or leave it off your scoring report entirely. But, if you want to get into a top school, you’ll need to have a strong essay.
The SSAT has two levels: lower for students currently in grades 5-7 and upper for grades 8-11, who are seeking admission into the next grade.
Ease your child into SSAT practice tests: The first few tests might be a little rough, so don’t worry about the SSAT scores, or how long your child is taking. Just try to find out where he/she struggles, and then work to improve in those areas.
Target problematic areas: This is right where your SSAT tutor will help you by giving your child detailed explanations for each question they struggled with. This will ensure that they learn from their mistakes and get it right on the actual test.
Mimic SSAT setting: Once you’ve ironed out some of your problematic areas, take a swing at a full practice test. Try to sit down once a week for 2 hours and 35 minutes (length of SSAT) and take a full practice test in the exact order of the SSAT. Then, review the questions you got wrong with your tutor sometime during the week. If you do this for 3-6 months, you will see a dramatic improvement in your score.
What’s a good SSAT score: The lower level is scored 1320-2120 and the upper level is scored 1500-2400. But, most independent/private schools consider your percentile scores. If you want to be accepted into a top school, you’ll need to score in the top 90th percentile, above-average schools want scores in the top 75th percentile, and some average schools will accept students with scores in the top 50th percentile.
Combine scores: You can take the SSAT multiple times a year and combine scores from previous tests. For example, you can use the Reading Comprehension, Mathematical Achievement from your first test and combine them with the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning scores of your second. Schools will only see each section’s best score.
So, we recommend taking the test multiple times. Prepare for the entire test the first time you take it, and if you ace a couple sections, then only prep for the other sections. But, your SSAT tutor will help you create an SSAT strategy for combining scores, maximizing your final score.
Contact Varsity Tutors today about SSAT prep, and we’ll begin forming an SSAT prep plan tailored around your child’s strengths and weaknesses.