How to Prepare for the SSAT

The following piece was written by Wendy Williams. Wendy is the founder of Williams Educational Consultants and is a national expert on the SSAT.

If you are looking at placing your student into a private school, then you will need to have your child take The Secondary School Admission Test, or the SSAT. Many private schools require this exam as part of their application process. Although this test is an important ingredient in an applicant’s file, it is not the only thing that the admissions office looks at in evaluating applicants. However, it is important that families understand what the SSAT is testing as well as options on testing environments.

The SSAT is an admission test that is administered by the SSAT Board to students who are in grades 3-11. This test helps determine placement into independent or private elementary, middle, and high schools. There are three different levels of the test. The first of these is the Elementary level and is for students who are in grades 3 and 4 who are applying to grades 4 and 5. The next is the Middle level for students in grades 5-7 who are applying for grades 6-8, and the last level, Upper Level, is designed for students in grades 8-11 who are applying for grades 9-12. This test measures student ability, regardless of school record.

The SSAT consists of two parts. One is multiple choice that includes Verbal, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics. The second part is an un-scored writing sample. The essay is not graded, but a copy is sent to schools that the student applies to. The Verbal section of the test has vocabulary questions, verbal reasoning questions, and tests ability to relate ideas logically. It is 30 minutes long and includes 30 synonym and 30 analogy questions. The Reading Comprehension section tests a student’s ability to understand passages they are reading. It is 40 minutes long and has 40 questions. The math questions test ability to solve problems that involve algebra, geometry and arithmetic. This portion has two 30-minute sections with 25 questions each. There will be word problems and equations.

Students should be as prepared to take the test as possible. Encourage your student and study together. It is important to practice, but also not too put too much pressure on the student. The SSAT publishes a book of full-length practice tests called Preparing and Applying for the Middle and Upper Level SSAT (grades 5-11). This is a great book to help a student feel comfortable taking the test because they will get to read tips and practice. They will get a better idea of what to expect once test day comes. The book also includes tips for using time effectively and scoring explanations. Another way to prepare is looking through student’s current schoolbooks as well as brushing up on math and vocabulary. 

When it comes to scoring, the student does not have to answer every question on the test to score well. According to the SSAT website, the score is determined by subtracting a percentage of the wrong answers from the number of right answers. One point is received for every correct answer and one fourth of a point is taken away for every wrong answer. If a question is skipped, there will not be any points lost. If a student cannot make an educated guess about an answer, it’s better just to skip that question.

After SSAT scores are determined, students will receive a report of their scores for each section, along with percentile rankings for each area that will compare them with students of the same grade and gender. Students can send the results to private schools they would like to apply to. All schools have their own requirements for SSAT scores.

There are eight national testing dates for the SSAT. A student may take the exam as often as they would like to. However, I suggest that students should not test more than three times in an academic year. In addition to the national testing sites, there are other options for students to take this exam. Students are allowed to take a SSAT Flex test once per academic year. 

Wendy Williams runs Williams Educational Consulting and offers flex SSAT options.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.