We get it: the phrase “standardized test” doesn’t give off any warm-and-fuzzy feelings. In fact, when you hear these words, you may have quite the opposite reaction. Maybe your palms sweat, or your heart races, or some other fight-or-flight response takes over.
It’s true that taking a standardized school admission test meant to measure your skills or ability can be a little intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be.
Remember: an admission test like the SSAT is simply one component of a complete application process. It does not alone determine admission, or whether a private school is the right fit. Instead, it should be viewed as a way for both schools and students to ensure they find the best match.
By changing the way you think about and prepare for standardized school admission tests, you can transform the test-taking process from stressful to simple.
With a little bit of preparation, your skills and personality can shine through the results of a test like the SSAT. Here are our top tips for preparing for a standardized private school admission test:
#1: Get familiar.
The first step in preparing for a standardized test is to understand exactly what the test is all about. Familiarize yourself with the test format, content, and scoring in advance, and determine the best testing location and option for you. (For example, you can now take the SSAT at a test center, on paper, or at home.) In addition, apply for any testing accommodations you may need when taking your test.
#2: Practice — early and often!
For any admission test, the more you practice, the more confident you will feel when test day arrives. If you’re preparing for the SSAT, there are a variety of ways to practice prior to taking the test: you can sign up for SSAT Practice Online (do this a few months before your test day because your subscription lasts a full year!), or you can purchase the printed Official Guide to the SSAT.
#3: Read (a lot).
The saying is true: the more you read, the more you know. The best way to build your vocabulary and your ability to decipher unfamiliar words is to see them in the context of other words.
#4: Prep your “prompt.”
Most standardized tests include a writing component. For the SSAT, that includes responding to a writing prompt. This prompt is meant to help you structure your ideas.
To prepare, you may want to review basic punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure. If you’re taking a computer-based SSAT, you may want to practice your typing skills.
#5: Strengthen weaker skills.
If you know you’re weak in another subject, such as math, get help before you take the test. Practice subject-area skills every day until they improve. SSAT Practice Online contains full-length timed practice tests, quizzes, and indicators designed to highlight any of your strengths and weaknesses.
#6: Learn test-taking strategies.
There are a variety of strategies you can employ for taking standardized tests; however, you have to understand how a test is scored in order to determine which strategies are best.
For example, on the SSAT, you will receive one point for each correct answer. You will lose one quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. You will not receive or lose points for questions that are not answered. This means that guessing on an answer is only an appropriate strategy when you can eliminate one or more answer choices as wrong.
#7: Visualize success.
During the test-prep process, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. You’re already doing a great job by getting prepared! One way to stay positive: imagine yourself feeling happy and confident on test-taking day. Sometimes a little visualization can go a long way!
#8: Don’t overthink your score.
Remember that SSAT scores are only one part of the picture the admission staff sees. Your current grades, your interview, recommendations, and other factors are just as important.
If you’re stressed about scores, ask the admission office at the school to which you are applying how much importance they place on SSAT scores. Better yet, take the Character Skills Snapshot to help the school have a more complete picture of you. That being said…
#9: Don’t even consider cheating.
Think that you can beat the system? Don’t try it. One test score isn’t worth a blot on your file.
#10: Get a good night’s rest!
The night before your test, prepare for the next day. Gather up your test-day materials, and revisit the requirements for the type of test you will be taking. Most important: try to relax and get plenty of sleep!
How to Get Your Best Score on the SSAT
Looking for more SSAT test prep advice? Learn the best strategies for improving SSAT test scores on the Middle and Upper Level versions here.