If you (or your child) are applying to a private or independent elementary, middle, or high school, you may have heard of the SSAT. Often used as an entrance exam, the SSAT is a series of standardized tests that can be administered to students in grades 3-11.
The SSAT, or Secondary School Admissions Test, is a standardized exam often given to students hoping to enter a private or independent elementary, middle, or high school. If you want to boost your chances of getting into one of these schools, working on SSAT practice tests is a great way to do it. Here, I’ll discuss where you can find these practice tests (both official and unofficial), and how you should use them. I’ll wrap up with important SSAT test-taking tips.
What’s on the SSAT?
There are three different levels of SSAT tests. The number and type of questions on the test will depend on students’ grade level:
- Elementary Level - For students applying to grades 4-5
- Middle Level - For students applying to grades 6-8
- High School Level - For students applying to grades 9-12
Although the content will vary based on level, you’ll find these sections on each of the tests:
- An unscored writing sample
- A quantitative/mathematics section
- A reading comprehension section
- A verbal section
Official SSAT Practice Tests
When it comes to preparing for any standardized test, official practice tests or sample questions are the gold standard for study material. Using real SSAT questions will help you better understand exactly what you should expect on test day.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of official practice materials out there - not as many students prep for the SSAT as for other standardized tests (like the SAT or ACT). Here’s where you can find these official materials:
The SSAT publishes official sample questions for each level of the exam. These are free, but the amount of material available is extremely limited:
The SSAT Official Guides
The makers of the SSAT publish official test prep guides that include sample questions and full-length practice tests. These are the best available sources for practice materials, as the other official resources don’t give students many problems to work with.
To get your hands on the most recent Middle and Upper-Level Official Guides (2015-2016), you’ll have to purchase them through the SSAT website. These guides include two full-length practice tests, scoring instructions and explanations, descriptions of question types, and information about registering for the SSAT. Both the Upper and Middle-Level guides cost $37 through the site.
The most recent Elementary-Level Guides (2015-2016) are free to download through the SSAT site, although they include less information and less practice material than the guides available for purchase. They each include one half-length practice test, info on test format and question types, sample testing schedule, test day info, and preparation advice. There are separate guides available for students in Grade 3 and Grade 4.
How to Use Official SSAT Practice Tests and Questions
Because official practice problems are hard to come by, you’ll want to be careful with how you use them. Like I mentioned, using official SSAT tests is really important when it comes to getting a feel for different question types and overall test format.
I encourage you to save any full-length tests for mimicking real testing conditions. This means following through with all test policies and timing instructions in a controlled setting - it’s best if you can sit through an entire practice test all at once. This will give you the best idea of what your performance will be like on the actual exam.
As for the sampling of official SSAT questions provided on the website? These are great for question analysis. As part of your study plan, spend some time looking closely at these questions and thinking about what they’re asking and how they’re written (spend extra time on questions you get wrong). Official SSAT questions have their own style and logic (unofficial sources usually aren’t great at imitating these sorts of questions). If you notice you’re having difficulty with a certain question type, these sample questions will serve as great practice and review.
You don’t need to replicate exact testing conditions, but you’ll get the best practice experience if you treat full-length tests like the real thing.
Unofficial SSAT Practice Tests
Since there isn’t that much practice material for the SSAT, you may end up turning to unofficial sources for practice tests.
Ivy Global has free questions organized by level and section. They may be helpful for reviewing test content, but they shouldn’t be used to get a feel for actual SSAT questions and format - the style in which the questions are presented are pretty different from the actual test.
The materials available for download are best used if you print them out and work on them by hand since the actual SSAT is done on paper, not on the computer.
Varsity Tutors offers free Upper-level and Middle-level practice, with questions organized by skill type. These might serve well as supplemental material, but don’t expect them to look like official SSAT practice problems.
The questions on 4test.com aren’t particularly similar to what you’d see on the SSAT. You can only see one question at a time, and you can only work on them online.
Key SSAT Test Taking Tips
Now that you have access to all of this prep material, you may be wondering what to do with it. Follow these tips and strategies to get the most out of your SSAT prep.
Start With a Real Baseline
Start with a full SSAT test to get a baseline score. It’s important to use an official test for this, as unofficial diagnostic tests won’t give you a good sense of what the SSAT is like or what your strengths and weaknesses are.
You can’t get a valid baseline score without using one of those official SSAT practice tests.
Practice Skills and Review Content With Unofficial Materials Supplements
Once you have your baseline, analyze your mistakes and errors (link out) and focus on your weaknesses. Most serious weaknesses will be in content comprehension - use study materials like textbooks and notes to raise your scores.
Use Official SSATs as Full Practice Tests
After you’ve spent some time improving on your weaknesses, use official practice tests to test your knowledge and gain familiarity with test formatting. Take these exams under real testing conditions - time them properly and work in a quiet room with no distractions.
The SSATs aren’t the only standardized tests out there for younger students. Read more about ACT Aspire and get your hands on official practice tests.
Thinking about the future? Read about whether you should start prepping for the SAT/ACT in 7th or 8th grade.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.