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Headed to Private School? Check Out These FAQs on the SSAT

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Whether you are thinking of applying to a private school in Los Angeles or a boarding school in Massachusetts, the odds are you will be required to take the SSAT - the Secondary School Admissions Test. It is used for admission to private schools and boarding schools, from elementary through high school, to assess applicants’ verbal, math and reading skills.

What do you need to know about the SSAT? Here are the answers to some FAQs:

1. How often is the SSAT given?

The SSAT is given once a month from October to April and once in June. It lasts three hours and five minutes for high-school and middle-school students; one hour and 50 minutes for elementary level. Students with disabilities may apply for testing accommodations.

2. Where is the SSAT given?

There are two types of test administrations: standard and flex. The standard test is given on designated Saturdays during the academic year at SSAT test sites around the country and the world. The flex test can be given to an individual or group on any date other than the standard dates; however, this test is not available at the elementary level. Flex tests may be given by member schools or approved educational consultants.

3. What does the SSAT include?

The test covers math, reading and writing. It includes:

  • Quantitative (two sections of math for upper and middle, one for elementary)

  • Reading Comprehension

  • Verbal Reasoning

  • Unscored essay that is sent to the schools where you apply.

  • An unscored experimental (upper and middle levels only) section that tests future material.

4. What are the different SSAT testing levels?

Different levels are offered depending on grade level. Tests are designed for students in elementary (Grades 3-4), middle school (Grades 5-7) and high school (Grades 8 and above). These divisions help the schools test appropriately with specific questions and skills tailored toward each education level.

5. Where do SSAT questions come from?

Independent-school educators and testing experts write and review the questions, which are then reviewed by a committee. Questions then go through a standard process to analyze the question and possible answers. Once questions pass these tests, they are added to the test. The SSAT is managed by the Enrollment Management Association, a group that supports private school admissions.

6. How is the SSAT scored?

Scoring is based on whether students perform better or worse than a hypothetical average. This is determined by comparing scores against the performance results of a statistically selected group of test-takers: “the norm group.”

The scoring is as follows:

Quantitative (Math)

  • 500-800 (Upper Level)

  • 440-704 (Middle Level)

  • 300-600 (Elementary Level)

Reading Comprehension

  • 500-800 (Upper Level)

  • 440-710 (Middle Level)

  • 300-600 (Elementary Level)

Verbal

  • 500-800 (Upper Level)

  • 410-710 (Middle Level)

  • 300-600 (Elementary Level)

Essay

  • It is not scored but a copy is sent to the schools to which the student is applying.

In general, students at more selective schools are likely to have scored in the highest SSAT percentiles. For example, students accepted to Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., one of the country’s most selective boarding schools, average in the 94th scoring percentile, according to BoardingSchoolReview.com.

At the Kent School in Kent, Conn., the average is 70 percent and at the Ojai Valley School in Ojai, Calif., it’s 45 percent.

Remember, some schools may weigh SSAT scores more or less heavily depending on curriculum and individual students.

7. Why do private schools use the SSAT for admission?

A student’s SSAT scores are compared the scores of other students of the same grade and gender who have taken the test over the last three years. Schools use these scores to determine the percentile in which you rank compared to other students.

8. Can you study for the SSAT?

As with any test, it’s important to take practice tests so you understand how the test works and to be rested on test day. There are also test-prep companies and tutors that offer test-prep for the SSAT. The Enrollment Management Association cautions students, however, to be realistic about how much a test-prep class or tutor can affect scores.

You can find out more about the SSAT and download the handbook at the SSAT website. You can also order the Official Guide to the SSAT, which has information and practice tests.

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Written by Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

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