Editor's note: This week, our guest blogger is Alexis Avila, founder of Prepped & Polished, a tutoring and test preparation company in Natick, MA. Please read his complete bio at the end of this article.
The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is the required entrance exam that leads to enrollment in some of the world’s best independent schools. It is undoubtedly an important test, so students and parents are naturally anxious when it comes to the Score Report. Upon receiving the Score Report, most parents are eager to know if the scores are “good” or “bad.” The most frequent question that parents ask about the SSAT is: “What is a good score?” This is not always easy to ascertain.
It helps to know how the SSAT is scored. Then, the answer to the burning question becomes clearer. SSAT raw scores on the Middle Level (which tests grades 5-7) and on the Upper Level (which tests grades 8-11) are determined by subtracting a percentage of wrong answers from the number of right answers. A student receives 1 point for every correct answer and loses ¼ point for each incorrect answer. No points are lost by skipping a question. At the Elementary Level (which tests grades 3 and 4), there is no penalty for incorrect answers. So, third and fourth graders should answer every question and certainly guess if unsure of the correct answer choice. A student’s raw score is converted to a scaled score for each of the three sections of the SSAT: Verbal, Reading, and Quantitative. The Upper Level scaled score range is 500-800, the Middle Level scaled score range is 440-710, and the Elementary Level scaled score range is 300-600. The Score Report will show an overall score which is a combination of the Verbal, Reading, and Quantitative scores. A student will also receive a percentile score of between 1-99% that compares that student’s test scores with those of other test takers of same grade and gender from the past 3 years. Many parents of younger students at the lower end of the Middle and Upper Levels are concerned that some of the content will be difficult to answer. For example, students in 5th grade or 8th grade may not have been introduced to or mastered some of the concepts tested. However, parents need not worry, and students need not be discouraged. Scaled scores and percentiles take into account a student’s age and gender, so these scores will not be negatively impacted
Now that you have some background about scoring the SSAT, it is easier to identify - What is a “good” score on the SSAT? Did you know that a “good” admission test question is only answered correctly 50% of the time? In fact, the overall difficulty level of the SSAT is designed to be at 50%. Yes, the SSAT is supposed to be challenging to differentiate between and among candidates – to reveal individual strengths as they relate to the selective school curriculum and programs. Admission officers typically focus on the SSAT Scaled Score which is considered the most precise and consistent over time and the SSAT Percentile which is helpful in comparing a student’s performance to others in the testing year.
Each school weighs SSAT scores differently according to its own standards and requirements; it is just one piece used in the decision-making process. So, along with a student’s SSAT scores, many other factors are weighed such as trends in grades and test scores, strengths and weaknesses, a candidate’s ability to handle varying kinds of work, and perceptive recommendations from teachers and counselors. The bottom line is that parents should speak to the admissions staff at a particular school to learn if a student’s score is “good” – considered within the school’s acceptable test score range.
It is important to note that the writing sample is often used as the final judgment although it is not scored. Students should not underestimate the power of the writing sample. Schools use the writing sample as an indication of how well a student writes under controlled conditions, to estimate academic capability to perform in an independent setting, and to compare performance with other applicants.
In the quest for a “good score,” parents and students often ask another question – “Should a student take the SSAT multiple times?” Typically, scores on multiple SSATs will fall within the range on a student’s score report. However, there is a great deal that a student can do to improve his or her performance on the SSAT. In conjunction with practicing with an experienced tutor to assimilate strategies for each section, applying oneself to regular school studies and reading outside of the classroom to increase vocabulary will help to boost a student’s SSAT scores.
To put it all in perspective, The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is used by most independent schools as a standard comparison for rating a student’s academic aptitude. However, keep in mind that the admission decision is important for the school as well as for the prospective student. A good match between student and school goes beyond a “good” score. It is beneficial for independent schools to focus on the individual applicant in context of the larger student body. Admissions professionals consider the potential student’s academic success at the school, prospects for the student to participate and contribute to the “fabric” of school life, and the belief that the institution can meet the student’s education and development needs.
Hopefully, this information will allay your anxiety about what is considered a “good” score on the SSAT. There are a host of factors involved in an admission decision, some within the student’s control and some based on a particular independent school’s requirements and goals. So, a student should aim to perform his or her best both in his or her academic environment as well as on the SSAT.
Frequently quoted in US News & World Report, Alexis Avila is a licensed guidance counselor Pre K-12 and professional tutor since 1999. His company is Prepped & Polished, http://www.preppedandpolished.com. Over the last 16 years he and his team of tutors have worked full-time helping thousands of students both in person and online achieve better grades, test scores, and self-confidence in and outside of school. Alexis hosts a weekly podcast, The Prepped & Polished podcast which interviewers educational influencers and celebrities, http://www.preppedandpolished.com/podcast