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SSATs – A parent’s view on testing for private schools

SSAT – to my son, it stands for “Special Saturday,” but it’s really an acronym for “Secondary School Admission Test.” 

So, you know when you’re considered ‘old’ when your own children start studying for entrance exams. It’s hard to believe my son is at this stage in his life. We are considering private school options for middle school and up, and many of them require SSAT scores for their application package. 

I’m quite proud of the hard work my son has been putting into studying for the middle school SSAT. He has been spending his weekends and evenings being ‘serious’ by giving it his all in preparation, rather than his typical routine of browsing YouTube or playing video games. Obviously, it’s not something easy, and whatever the outcome, I know he will give it his all. But, what’s interesting about SSATs this time around is seeing it through the eyes of a parent. I admit this brings back lots of memories of being in school and under pressure. 

It’s different looking at examinations as a parent. Sometimes, we (as parents) put unnecessary stress on our kids because who doesn’t want their kids to do well and let’s be honest here, the test itself isn’t cheap either. But, we must remind ourselves to be sensitive to our child’s feelings in the whole process. Would you like it if someone kept reminding you that you HAD to do well. 

This post is to remind all parents on things we can do to help our children prepare for their SSATs and to maximize their readiness. 

It’s important to learn a few strategies on general test taking by practicing timed sections. You snooze, you lose is the saying, isn’t it? Apart from giving your child practice tests, other things you can do that are indirectly teaching them to work quickly under pressure is to challenge them to do everyday tasks within a given amount of time. If they normally have chores to clean their room, challenge them to clean it in 15 minutes, and if they can accomplish it, give them a small reward like some screen time. It’s already stressful staring at a book all day, so taking a break and enjoying some gaming could be a well-needed break to come back refreshed for another study session.

Discuss tips on how to work through questions by looking for key words and using symbols like circles or asterisks to give yourself guidelines when writing the test. For example, if you circle a question, then you skipped over it. Perhaps an asterisks are questions you need to return to and ‘check’ your answer if you have time to spare.

Use previous year’s tests and practice tests available online to prepare. These will give your child an idea of the type of questions that can be asked, and also mentally prepares them too. Imitate the test scenario by timing them when they complete it and removing all distractions. Then, take up the test together with them and go through the questions they had trouble with. Sometimes, the reason why they got something wrong isn’t due to a lack of understanding. It’s because they might have misunderstood the question or rushed.

Block off time to work with your child on test preparation. Although you’ll need to trust them to study on their own too, it’s good to check up on them and to let them know that they can come to you for support. Remember that when you’re working with your child, do not yell at them if they’ve made errors. Instead, acknowledge that the answer is wrong, and ask them to show you how they came up with that answer so you can see their thinking process and where they gone wrong. It does take a lot of patience in working with your child, and every kid responses differently too. However, keeping a chill attitude, while reinforcing the importance of strong study habits and dedication, will help your child mentally prepare for the actual test.

Lastly, the most important tip for parents is to not be too emotionally upset if the end result for your child’s SSAT isn’t as high as you wanted it to be. Frankly, this test is very difficult, and depending on the age of the child, some sections might be daunting and it’s likely the first time they are in this intense test scenario. If you child, unfortunately, doesn’t do too well, rather than punishing them for a poor score, acknowledge their hard work and encourage them to try again next year. Also, take this as a learning opportunity to see what worked and didn’t work when preparing for the test. If you child did well, but didn’t have a super high school, celebrate their accomplishments for making completing it with a good score. Don’t dwell on whether they got 90% vs 80% – remember that your SSAT score isn’t the only thing admissions looks at when applying for private schools. And if your child did really well, make sure you note down what worked for your preparations so they’ll be ready for their SATs in the future. Plus, make sure you celebrate with them as well, because a high score will definitely up their application in case any other areas are lacking.

Remember, your children, whether you realize it or not, look up to you. How you respond in situations and how you work with them set your relationship with them and guides them throughout life. By setting a good example of being calm during test preparations, dedicated when working through prep daily, and understanding whatever the final result is, will help your child feel confident going into the examination and be ready to accept the score they receive.

In the end, grades are not everything, and if you miss the cut to get into your first choice school, don’t be too upset. Sometimes, things might not seem like it at first, but they will work out in the end as long as you don’t quit and keep trying.


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