You have chosen the date to have your child write the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) and now it is time to prepare. However, the choices for preparation are vast. Methods range from buying a prep book and working through it with your child, to group classes taught by professional educators, to one on one tutoring with a curriculum designed for the particular needs of your child. What will be most effective?
If you have a good ‘working’ relationship with your child, and you feel comfortable with the SSAT content and strategies, then working through a course book with your child may be an option. However, most parents express extreme stress and frustration when working with their own children and would rather have a professional educator provide the tuition (even when the parent is a professional educator). A professional educator can provide the skills needed in an atmosphere that is relaxed, calm, and productive. I find that it is most helpful to have someone from outside the home assign the work and have the parent follow through with monitoring the work at home on a regular basis. It takes the pressure off the parent-child relationship.
Knowing your child’s strengths and challenges is key. A child who works well in a group, who has average to above average capabilities across the board in language, math, and written expression, and who has time in their schedule, may benefit from a group class. Children who have focus issues, particular exceptionalities in one or more areas of the SSAT content, or limited time, may benefit from private one on one sessions. It is also possible to combine the best of both worlds by taking a group class and then augmenting your child’s lessons with some individualized private sessions aimed at particular areas of the SSAT.
Whether you choose to send your child to a group SSAT course or private tuition, keep in mind that a great course is highly specialized, well researched, and written and taught by trained specialists. Prepare yourself for the expense. Group courses can range anywhere from $900 to about $2600. Individual tutoring varies from about $40/hr to $95/hr.
You should be wary of price. A course may appear more attractive because of a lower price, but a parent must ensure that all aspects of the SSAT are covered in the time allotted and that preparation is comprehensive. A low price may mean below standard quality. Be certain that the class you have your eye on is provided by a reputable learning centre or school, that the marketing literature clearly explains course goals, and that the program coordinator can speak knowledgeably about the SSAT and how their course addresses your child’s needs. I also suggest against enrollment if the course does not have a full workbook which the student uses in class and for homework.
Count hours! In my experience, a course needs to be at least 40 hours in length to give ample time to thoroughly teach all concepts while providing three rounds of practice tests, one each at the beginning, middle and end of the course. It may also be wise for parents to choose a curriculum that contains an essay writing component geared to the demands and structure of the SSAT essay, as it is slightly different than a standard essay.
Whether you sit down with your child once a week and work through a course book, or have an individualized class designed for them, choose the method of SSAT preparation that works for your child. I do believe that thorough preparation allows for greater SSAT success. This is not a test that the vast majority can simply sit down and write. High scores not only improve your child’s chances of a spot in the school of their choice, but can have a lasting positive effect on their self esteem and outlook on education.