Studying for the SSAT, like any other standardized test, has a cadence and flow to it. One of the most common questions parents and students often ask me about the exam is “How do we get started?” The answer to this question, simple as it is, is never the same. Every student is unique – we all are! Each of us learns, retains, and applies information in different ways. While I may learn vocabulary best by reviewing stems lists, you may appreciate a deeper application of words in context.
Perhaps what is most difficult about the SSAT, though, is that it forces elementary, middle, and high school students, most of whom are still developing their own personal learning styles, to try and learn material in a very specific way for a very specific application. It is for this reason that a tutor is so helpful! Whenever I meet with a student for the first time, I share with him or her that we’re a team – my job is to help them figure out how they learn and to provide them with constant support and knowledge. Their role is to communicate with me so we can narrow in on their own personal style and strengthen it.
While no two learning styles are exactly the same, there are some concepts and strategies that remain consistent between students and, are important to implement early in the review process to prepare for success. These strategies, practiced throughout the entire tutoring process are:
1. Demystifying the exam
Most of the time students come to our first session without a clear understanding of the exam, why they have to take it, or what SSAT prep will actually entail. They’ve taken a single practice test prior to our meeting, but often articulate to me that studying feels like a futile task -- a bit like building a bridge to nowhere. There is nothing more frustrating for us as humans than feeling like we’re doing unnecessary work. It is important to dialogue with students about the reasons they are devoting some of their limited free time to study. To help students achieve their goals, I like to begin by orienting every them to what the workload will actually be, what they can expect, and what it’s like to sit for 3+ hours taking an exam. Even just 5 minutes allocated to this can allay a lot of testing fears for a student.
2. Plan around strengths and areas for improvement
Part of the learning process is gaining the ability to self-identify strengths and weaknesses. It’s a skill often under-practiced in school but crucial to comfort and success on the SSAT. While it may seem more comfortable to start a review with a student’s strengths, this can actually be counterproductive to the tutoring process. Just like our muscles, the more we use a skill, the stronger we will get at employing it. Because of this, an SSAT plan will generally start with a review of the student’s weakest area. This allows us to have more time to strengthen it and gives an unbelievable confidence boost when progress is seen. Part of getting started is identifying this and planning around it.
3. Test anxiety
Test anxiety is absolutely a real thing and can stall a student’s learning irrespective of his or her knowledge. Students often ask me to devote a session to helping them overcome this anxiety and the truth is that we practice overcoming it every session! Test anxiety isn’t something that can be solved quickly but takes consistent practice with problems and new concepts to eliminate. We’ve all felt the cold sweat, racing heart, and lightheadedness that comes with facing unfamiliar and stressful environments, but each time we’re exposed to that environment it becomes less and less scary. This same strategy – exposure to and practice in real testing scenarios with low consequence – is consistently employed for every student taking the SSAT and is included in any study plan.
The SSAT, while often exasperating for students, is but another standardized test and one that I believe every student can do well on. It is precisely this reason that I love tutoring the exam and helping students develop their own skills to achieve their goal on the test.
Are you interested in connecting with Graham to help your family prepare for the SSAT?