Preparing for the SSAT

From Spelling Bees to Practice Tests, Everything You Need to Know

ssat - admission

Going to apply to private school? Chances are your child will need to take the SSAT. This entrance exam covers everything from writing abilities and quantitative reasoning skills to verbal and reading skills. From spelling bees as study tools to strategies for success, here are some of the things parents and students need to know and some of the best ways to prepare.

Practice Makes Perfect

While this may seem obvious to some, many families neglect to practice taking exams.

This is especially important if students are not used to taking standardized tests, as this can be an intimidating process. Younger students in particular may benefit from practicing test-taking. Parents can find SSAT test examples online or purchase study books from SSAT for students to use for practice.

Parents can also help students get used to sitting still for the duration of each section, as some students struggle with this component of the test. Practice writing essays in the allotted time frame, as well as taking multiple choice tests within the allotted time. Parents can even help students practice the entire routine of the test, starting and stopping each section and taking breaks that are the same as those allowed on the actual testing day. While most tests sections can be completed in about two hours, the overall time commitment on testing day is slightly longer to accommodate filling out forms, and the test proctor must read directions out loud to students prior to the start of each section.

Breaks also add to the overall time commitment.

The test is also designed to assess what the student already knows, so paying attention in class is important. Class participation, homework, tests, and review sessions to master what is being taught normally will also increase a student’s chances to doing well on the SSAT.

Participate in Educational Activities

From Spelling Bees to recreational reading and even tutoring, there are plenty of ways students can prepare for the test.

Many elementary and middle schools offer Spelling Bees, which help familiarize students with root words and teach them comprehension skills when encountering new words. This is especially helpful for the writing sample, Reading section, and Verbal sections, as Spelling bees help build students’ vocabularies and improve their confidence by engaging them in friendly and supportive competition. Even if a spelling bee isn’t offered at school, parents can create mock spelling bees at home. Students can engage their siblings, friends, and even parents in a competition to see who can spell the best, and who can use the words in a sentence.

Reading, especially when students are active learners and engage in understanding what they are reading, is an awesome way to prepare for the SSAT. Students should take the time to look up words they don’t understand, and familiarize themselves with the usage of the new words. While students can absolutely choose to read the young adult books that are popular at the moment, they should also push themselves to read more challenging books, and some of the classics.

If parents and students have particular private schools in mind for admission, they can also reach out to the school to gain access to summer reading lists and books covered in the English classes. Parents can also look online at course curriculums for guidance, as some schools include the core reading assignments in there.

Students who know they struggle in a particular area can always engage in tutoring. The SSAT clearly outlines the types of questions covered in the various sections, which allows students to assess where they need the most help and focus on improving those areas. If a student isn’t sure what sections they may need extra tutoring for, he or she can always take a practice exam and use scores to determine which section of the exam needs the most preparation and practice.

Even games like Scrabble, Words With Friends or Boggle can help students practice using identifying root words, familiarizing themselves with unique words and learning definitions.

Keep a dictionary on hand and make flashcards to study the hard ones later.

Review Test Strategies

Understanding how the test is scored is also important. On the middle and upper level tests, each correct answer will add one point to the overall score, while an incorrect answer will result in a deduction of one quarter of a point, and a blank answer will neither gain nor lose any points. That means, that if the test taker can narrow down choices to make an educated guess, then go for it. If not, skip the question. The elementary level doesn’t penalize students for an incorrect answer, so they should always guess.

It’s also important that students understand how to manage their time. Dwelling too long on a challenging question may result in not enough time to answer other questions that might be easier. A good strategy is to know when to skip a challenging question, and return to it after completing the rest of the questions. Paying attention to the clock is also important. Normally the proctor will write times on a board and give warnings as time is running out. If the student is going to skip questions, it’s also important to keep track of the answer sheet and make sure the test question numbers align with the answer sheet bubbles.

Elementary Level Exam Basics

The elementary level exam is designed for students applying to grades four and five, and has four sections, three of which are multiple choice.

  • The Quantitative/Math section has 30 questions to complete in 30 minutes

  • The Verbal Section consists of 30 questions to be completed in 20 minutes.

  • The Reading section has 28 questions to be answered within 30 minutes.

  • The Writing Sample provides students with a single prompt to complete in 15 minutes.

Students are given a 15-minute break to stretch, use the restroom, or have a snack. In total, students complete 1 hour and 40 minutes of testing.  

Middle Level Exam Basics

The Middle Level Test includes multiple choice questions and a writing sample for students applying to grades six through eight. The writing sample offers a choice in topics for students, and is not scored. So why is this portion of the exam important? The writing sample gives schools an idea of the student’s writing style and voice, and demonstrates his or her ability to organize thoughts without assistance from a parent or teacher. Students have 25 minutes to complete the writing sample.

The multiple choice sections include:

  • The Reading Section, which includes 40 questions to be completed in 40 minutes

  • The Verbal Section, which includes 60 questions to be completed in 30 minutes

  • The Quantitative Reasoning Section, which is the math section that includes 25 questions to be completed in 30 minutes

  • The Experimental Section is a newer section that isn’t scored, but has 16 questions that must be answered in 15 minutes. This section covers verbal, reading, and quantitative questions to be answered and tests out new questions that may appear on future versions of the SSAT

Students are given two breaks, one that is five minutes long, and one that is ten minutes long. During the breaks they may stretch, use the restroom, or have a snack.

Upper Level Exam Basics

This exam is for students applying for grades 9-12 and PGs. However, students applying as juniors, seniors, and PGs may submit PSAT or SAT scores in place of the SSAT. The writing sample offers students a choice of two prompts, one creative and one more traditional essay. The upper level writing sample gives schools an idea of the student’s writing style and voice, and demonstrates his or her ability to organize thoughts without assistance from a parent or teacher. Students have 25 minutes to complete the writing sample.

The multiple choice sections include:

  • The Quantitative Section is given in two parts. This is the math section and includes 50 questions that will be divided in half, each part of the Quantitative section is completed in 30 minutes.

  • The Reading Comprehension Section includes 40 questions that are to be answered in 40 minutes.  

  • The Verbal Section includes 60 questions, half of which are synonyms and half of which are analogies. 

  • The Experimental Section is a newer component. It takes 15 minutes to complete, and is not scored. Students will encounter reading, verbal, and quantitative questions that may appear on future versions of the SSAT.

Students are given two breaks, one that is five minutes long, and one that is ten minutes long. During the breaks they may stretch, use the restroom, or have a snack.

Be Ready for Testing Day

After going over practice tests and studying up on the areas in need of extra attention, it’s time to take the test. The day before the test, it’s important to make sure to get a good night’s rest. Eat a healthy breakfast in the morning, and be sure to dress comfortably. It’s always a good idea to dress in layers, as testing centers room temperatures can vary. Remember, If a student doesn’t do well on the test, it’s ok. The test can be taken more than once. And, it’s not the only method of assessment that schools use to determine eligibility.

Good luck!