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9 Essential SSAT Test-Taking Tips

Daren Worcester
Sep 1, 2023
3 minute read

It’s SSAT test day. You’ve followed our preparation advice and tips for reducing anxiety, utilized the official SSAT practice materials, slept well, ate a healthy breakfast, and dressed in comfy clothes. You’ve got this.

As you check in to take the Middle or Upper Level SSAT, be mindful of the following tips.

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<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Go to the restroom before testing.</span>

If I sound like your parents, it’s because they are right. (It’s okay, it’ll be our little secret.) And yes, the first section is only 25 minutes before the break, but you’ll be seated in the testing room longer than that, waiting for the SSAT to begin. 

After the first break, there’s an hour and ten minutes until the second break, and it’s another hour and fifteen minutes after the second break until the exam concludes. Again, plan accordingly. The last thing you want is to be uncomfortable and distracted while testing.

You can ask to be excused during testing to use the restroom; however, you can’t make up the lost time.

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<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Relax. Don’t worry about the timer.</span>

There’s adequate time for most students to complete each SSAT section. Students with disabilities can request an accommodation for additional time before registering.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and concentrate on the questions. Read the directions and questions carefully, and review each option before selecting your answer. Rushing through the test can result in needless mistakes. That being said, don’t spend too much time on the most challenging questions per our next piece of advice.

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<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Skip and come back to the toughest questions.</span>

The SSAT features questions that range in difficulty and are intended to challenge students of all abilities. You will encounter questions you can answer confidently and others you’ll feel unsure about. While you should have adequate time, it’s still a good idea to complete the questions you are comfortable answering first to ensure you don’t miss out on points. You can go back to the most challenging questions afterward. 

When taking a paper test, you can make a notation in the test booklet (not the answer sheet!) and dog-ear the page so you can easily find the skipped question later. If you test on a computer, you can easily see and navigate back to the skipped questions.

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<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Make sure to enter answers in the right answer-sheet location.</span> 

The most common paper-testing mistake on SSAT score sheets is accidentally marking an answer in the wrong spot. This error typically happens when students skip a question and inadvertently put the answer to the subsequent question in the previous question’s answer location. Avoid this mistake by making a mental note that you’ve skipped a question and double-checking that you’re aligning the next answer to the correct location.

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<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Pay attention to units of measurement.</span>

In the quantitative sections, pay close attention to the units of measurement used in each question. Be sure your answer aligns with the units asked for in the question. 

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<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Read with purpose.</span>

In the reading comprehension section, make notations or take notes on the key topics, facts, and the author’s tone and purpose, making it easier to refer back when answering questions. Paper testers can add notes in the test book, at-home testers can use scrap paper, and those at a Prometric center are provided a white board. Also, pay close attention to definitive language such as “always,” “never,” “every,” and “none,” as these may factor into the answer. 

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<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Make educated guesses where appropriate.</span>

On the Middle and Upper Level SSAT, a quarter of a point is deducted for each incorrect answer. There are no points awarded or penalties given if a question is left unanswered. With this scoring system, it’s better to make educated guesses when you can confidently remove at least two and preferably three incorrect answers to improve your odds of guessing correctly. 

If you can eliminate three incorrect answers, you have a 50% chance of answering correctly, whereas you only have a 20% chance if you guess without eliminating any incorrect answers.

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<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Maintain proper essay structure on the writing sample.</span>

Because there’s no editorial process for the SSAT writing sample, it can feel like a free-flowing writing exercise. To stay focused, organize your thoughts on scrap paper (or the white board at Prometric centers) and follow the writing prompt directions carefully. If writing a personal or general essay, be sure to follow proper essay structure with an introduction, body, and conclusion. 

The writing sample is unscored by EMA, but many admission teams see it as a better representation of your authentic writing voice than the application essay, so you want to take this section seriously.

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<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Review your answers.</span>

If you finish early, go back through and review your work. Just be careful about second-guessing yourself. Correct any obvious mistakes, but also trust your initial instincts. 

If you take a paper test, recheck that answers have been entered in the correct locations. When changing an answer, make sure the initial response is fully erased. Also, remove any errant pencil marks on the answer sheet that could potentially interfere with scoring. 

And remember, you’ve got this!

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