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The SSAT – To Prepare or Not to Prepare

So, you’ve gone to the open houses, gathered your short list of private schools, and registered your child for the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test). Your child is excited and somewhat nervous as he begins the admissions process. I don’t blame him for the anxiety. The thought of a 3 hour, multiple choice test that assesses knowledge and skills 2 to 3 years above one’s grade level would be intimidating to most adults, let alone students in grades 5 to 8. In my experience, the best way to combat these issues is preparation.

Parents wrestle with the issue of preparation. I often receive phone calls from parents questioning the type of SSAT preparation to provide for their children, how far in advance to begin, and whether preparation is necessary at all. Some believe that their children should be evaluated on what they know at present, or that advance preparation will only add more stress to their child’s already busy life. Other parents think that high SSAT scores will give their children a marked advantage and so begin preparation 2 years in advance of the test.

Given the formal nature and advanced level of the test content, it’s very sensible to provide a child with training before the ‘big day’. The majority of students at this grade level have never encountered such things as analogies, algebra, or persuasive writing, before. Most Children in grades 5 through 8 are unfamiliar with the demands of the SSAT and benefit from a ‘heads up’, not only in the content areas, but in study and test writing strategies as well.

For example, without understanding how the SSAT is marked, a child may think that guessing at an answer is better than leaving it blank. However, the SSAT has a very specific marking scheme. Test takers are awarded one point for a correct answer, zero points for questions left blank, and are deducted a ¼ point for each incorrect answer. In this case, guessing wildly at an answer could potentially work against them, unless they are taught an appropriate strategy.

In choosing whether or not to prepare, it is important to remember that the SSAT is a standardized test, designed to gage specific content knowledge. The test does not take into account a child’s personality, creativity, intelligence or other strengths, but only measures the child’s ability to take the test effectively. In my opinion, when a student prepares properly for the SSAT, they will come away with new knowledge that can be applied to both the test and their future studies. In addition they’ll have an arsenal of time management and test taking strategies; all very valuable for continued learning.

Test situations are difficult to begin with. A child that walks into the SSAT examination room without preparation can become overwhelmed and anxious, and therefore perform poorly. That experience can damage a child’s self-esteem, leading to negative thoughts toward themselves and the private school application process. In my experience, most parents, want their children to be confident and think well of themselves. It is for this reason that I always recommend preparation.

Please read my next blog for insight on the different ways to prepare your child for the big exam.

If you have any questions about the SSAT prep class in Toronto offered at Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space, please call us at 416.925.1225.

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