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SSAT, SAT and ACT testing: preparing students for success

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The SSAT, SAT and ACT tests sound intimidating to many but David Stoll and Blaise Moritz explain below why standardized tests are a powerful tool for student success throughout their lives.


Not all standardized tests are created equal! Entrance examinations such as the SSAT, SAT and ACT originate outside Canada's educational system. Specialized preparation is essential for students, especially Canadian students, to maximize their scores and educational opportunities. But preparation can do more than that: it can transform a young student's experience of the test from an abstract or intimidating exercise to an empowering introduction to skills beneficial throughout future educational transitions.

Standardized Testing in Canada

Today's Canadian students are exposed to standardized testing at an early age through provincial standards tests such as the CAT4 and Ontario's EQAO. But many Canadian students don't encounter high stakes standardized entrance examinations until university when they consider medical school (MCAT) or law school (LSAT). Almost all standardized entrance examinations used in Canada are created by U.S. educational companies, primarily for use by U.S. schools.

This means that a family considering sending a student to an independent Canadian or international high school (or even junior high schools and elementary schools) must enter the world of standardized admissions tests before many of the child's peers. You might assume that a standardized admissions test is similar to tests the student has taken at school for years, but this is not the case.

Tests such as the SSAT differ in concept and design—and require preparation that is entirely unlike the manner in which you study for tests.

Learn more about SSAT schools and SSAT preparation in Tips on Preparing for the SSAT Exam

Consider this. If the country's terrific math teachers taught everyone at your math level so well that you each earned an A, how do you think your teachers would feel? Great, of course! Now imagine that everyone in Canada scored a perfect 800 on the Quantitative (Math) section of the SSAT. You might be happy, but high schools considering applications wouldn't be, nor would the test writers. The SSAT works only if it generates a bell curve of scores every time the test is given, and the test is carefully constructed to do exactly that.

Understanding SSAT, SAT and ACT Testing and Coaching Students

How do they do that, and what does this mean for you? Well, they create a tricky, high-pressure test through a number of methods, including presenting odd question tasks, writing clever trap answers, and providing insufficient time to complete questions. Thus, no matter how well prepared you think you are for the vocabulary, math concepts, and passage-based reading that are tested on the SSAT (or SAT or ACT), you may be inadequately prepared to succeed.

Read more about student anxiety and preparing for admissions testing in Student Anxiety and the College Admission Testing Process: Advice for Parents and Students

The good news is that standardized tests are coachable. And no matter how well taught a student has been, a student benefits from being coached for standardized tests. A student should work with someone who is experienced in the wealth of strategies and skills available to avoid the roadblocks that the test writers have attempted to place in your path.

There's more. A nice benefit of preparing properly for the SSAT (or SAT or ACT) is the development of a goal driven approach and skills that apply broadly to standardized exams. While tests such as the SSAT, ACT and SAT (and at the graduate level MCAT, LSAT, GMAT and GRE), differ in some ways and allow for different strategic approaches, they share some core elements, including foreign question tasks, trap answers, insufficient time, and a high-pressure environment.

Mastering a standardized test in elementary or high school, therefore, is a first step towards toward confidence and success in a critical component of future educational transitions.

Read more about globalized testing for students in the Relevance of International Standardized Testing
—David Stoll is The Princeton Review's Senior Tutor in charge of Professional Development of Mentoring and SSAT Content Developer. Blaise Moritz is the Executive Director of The Princeton Review's Canadian programs.
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