There’s no shortage of discussion around the SAT and the ACT, but if your student is planning to apply to a private high school, there’s another important standardized test you’ll need to have on your radar: the SSAT.
The SSAT covers verbal, math, and reading skills. Private schools evaluate students’ SSAT performance, along with other materials such as essays and transcripts, as part of the admissions process.
Signet’s Principal Tutor & Academic Coach Liz Benson recently led a short SSAT prep course with a group of 15 high school students, helping them to improve their scores by an average of 140 points with just 4 days of professional guidance.
We spoke with Liz about the importance of preparing for the SSAT, test prep strategies, and quick tips for successful test taking. Here’s a summary of our conversation.
SSAT Q&A with Principal Tutor & Academic Coach Liz Benson
What makes the SSAT so challenging?
Each private school has a different curriculum for the SSAT, so it’s important for students to be prepared for whatever subject matter lies ahead. For instance, the SSAT that they take might include mathematics topics they haven’t seen in years—if at all.
It’s nearly impossible for students to perform well on the SSAT if they aren’t familiar with the strategies for each section. Parents and students may be able to read about the strategies online and incorporate them into a study plan, but it can be difficult for students to identify any missteps along the way.
When it comes to regular high school exams, students can expect that if they keep studying and taking the same practice tests over and over again that their scores will eventually improve. Unfortunately, this logic doesn’t apply to the SSAT. When students are unable to identify their missteps, they become stuck in the cycle of failing to improve and feeling frustrated about it.
What are some examples of strategies that you teach in your course?
Strategies vary depending on the subject matter, but here are a few examples of the approaches I take for different sections.
In the mathematics section, certain problems are impossible to solve without a strategy. For instance, some problems contain no real numbers, and the answer choices might not contain numbers either. Understandably, students become confused when they see these problems.
I work with students to teach them different mathematics strategies and when to use them. The strategies might involve plugging in numbers that meet a given criteria or a process called back-solving, which consists of plugging the answer choices into a word problem.
In the reading section, I work with students to help them determine the purpose and tone of each and every passage so that they don’t risk conflating the answer choices. Students tend to get really frustrated when the answers look similar because they can’t understand how it’s possible to have just one right answer.
How long do students typically need to prepare for the SSAT?
Most students should expect to dedicate about 2 months to the SSAT test prep process. Some students may need longer than that, whereas other students may not need that long at all. If a student is behind in any particular subject area or skill set, they’ll likely need more than 2 months to catch up.
Students generally take the SSAT the fall before the year they intend to switch schools, so all test prep plans should be timed accordingly.
Any quick tips you can share for students preparing for the SSAT?
- Take a diagnostic exam. Diagnostic exams pinpoint students’ test-taking strengths and weaknesses and help them structure test prep more effectively. They also establish a baseline for the test prep process and assist in setting a goal score.
- Set a goal score. The goal score serves as a target for students to work toward with their test preparation. In general, the more a student wants to improve their score, the more time and effort they should expect to put into studying.
- Create a test prep plan. Students should plan the entire test prep schedule in advance, all the way up to the SSAT exam date. Students who score highly on the diagnostic exam will likely do just fine with self-preparation, while students seeking significant score gains will benefit from the support of a class with a test prep tutor who can customize the curriculum to their exact needs.
In my course, I also like to find ways to make SSAT test prep fun. Games and interactive activities can make a world of difference for students during the learning process.
The best part about taking the SSAT (aside from securing acceptance to a private school of choice) is that it helps lay the foundation for studying for the SAT or ACT. By the time students begin preparing for these other major standardized tests, they’ll have already built up their test-taking confidence.
If your student needs support preparing for the SSAT, Signet is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our SSAT tutoring services.