SSAT Reading: Grade (In)Appropriate?


If you’re preparing for the SSAT, one of the important things to learn early is how to roll with the punches. The SSAT is an inconsistent and fickle beast chock-full of trips, traps, bumps and hiccups. It’s designed for students in multiple grades and thus most of those taking the test will see concepts they have not yet learned, or be required to read at a level that is above (or below) what they’ve been doing in school. This creates lots of variability and can be confusing and daunting. Let’s check out what we mean by variability by exploring the grade levels of the reading passages in the reading section.

In order to analyze the reading level of the passages on the test, we took the passages that were in the “The Official Guide to the Middle Level SSAT” and ran them through the Flesch-Kincaid (F-K) analysis to see the grade level and readability score of each passage. This gives us one objective and consistent way to see how hard the passages were. Our findings are summarized in the chart below:

Source Page Topic Word count F-K Grade Level

Official Guide Test 1

80

Muslim – Ghana

153

6.9

Official Guide Test 1

81

Greek Myths

124

6.2

Official Guide Test 1

82

Little Jim

138

5.6

Official Guide Test 1

83

Mountaineering

124

10.5

Official Guide Test 1

84

Microscope

187

12.1

Official Guide Test 1

86

Hopi

276

8.7

Official Guide Test 1

87

Melanie’s Purse

116

8.1

Averages

159.71

8.3

Official Guide Test 2

112

FDA

98

7.9

Official Guide Test 2

113

Mother Charles

277

 2.4

Official Guide Test 2

114

Africa

180

12.5

Official Guide Test 2

115

Octopus

256

8.8

Official Guide Test 2

116

China

264

5

Official Guide Test 2

117

Waiting

133

5.8

Official Guide Test 2

118

Firewood

197

13.2

Official Guide Test 2

119

Feminist

131

15

Averages

192.00

8.83

What the F-K?

A quick glance at the grade levels assigned to these passages indicates that for a test intended for 5th – 7th graders, the range of difficulty levels is startlingly broad. What is also startling is that it’s wildly inconsistent! A student taking the first test would probably perform much better than she would on the second – not through any success or failure of her own but rather due to the inconsistency of the test itself. Even if we accept that this is a good testing mechanism, you’ve got to question the impact on the student. If a student starts a section with a passage with a grade of 12 and gets bogged down in trying to answer questions, how is that fair or comparable to a student who starts the section with a passage rated 5.2 and coasts through the associated questions, building confidence and comfort?

As a few points of comparison here are a few more texts:

 

Source Word count F-K Grade Level

This blog post

-

906

12.0

A Long Walk to Water

NYS Common Core 7th ELA List

193

6.4

NY Times

Jets QB Decision

817

8.9

“Loss of Culturally Vital Cattle Leaves Dinka Tribe Adrift in Refugee Camps”

NYS Common Core 7th ELA List

439

8.2

Water Is Life

Jets QB Decision

213

9.5

Note that the NYS CC passage selections are from the new tougher standards that have not yet been implemented in many districts. 

 

So What to Do?
But before I get too ranty, let me provide you with some strategies that will help your child perform better on this test.

1. Learn to skip

The SSAT like most timed tests tends to reward efficiency rather than volume, so for most students it’s more important that they spend time and effort on the questions they know they can get right before they spend time on questions they are  uncertain of. This is especially true of this test in Reading and Verbal. If your child gets bogged down in a hard reading passage, he may never reach the easier ones.  Or if  she obsesses over synonyms for words she doesn’t know rather than moving on to analogies (where strategies allow her to overcome vocabulary deficiencies), her score will be negatively impacted. Learning what and when to skip is imperative to effective test taking.

2. Learn to guess well

Many students (especially those who are good at understanding specificity) can eliminate choices on harder reading passages that are inconsistent with the typical logic of the test. These choices are often extreme or contrary to fact and can often help students narrow down choices and make a better guess.

3. Practice realistically

To properly prepare for the experience of the test, it’s important to take more than 1 practice test.  Additionally, all practice tests should be taken in as realistic a setting as possible. The experience of sitting in the same room with sneezing, nervously fidgeting children while you try to concentrate on understanding why the author mentioned “milky opacity” can’t really be simulated in the home and often negatively impacts children who are not ready for that experience on test day. If at all possible, find a way to have your child take 2 or more practice tests in a proctored, group setting.

4. Read, define, and discuss

Another great way to get your child prepared for a test like this and help them get ready for school is to make sure you are spending some time with them reading texts, like articles from the NY Times or Washington Post. Discuss these texts with your child to make sure he or she is thinking about the content in a deep and thoughtful way. Get them into the habit of figuring out what they think words mean, looking up words in the dictionary, and using those words frequently so they commit them to memory.

With a bit of preparation, evaluation of mistakes, and thoughtful study the SSAT (despite all its quirks and suspect validity) can be mastered.


  • SAT Classes in Pune

    Your Last Point Is Awesome, How Parent can help Their Child To Help In Preparing For The Exams Like This.

  • (877) 223-3828
CONNECT WITH US
COPYRIGHT ©2002 - 2014 BELL CURVES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All tests names are registered trademarks of the respective testing companies, which do not endorse and are not affiliated with Bell Curves.
BELL CURVES - 25 West 36th Street Street, 8th Floor - New York, NY 10018 Bell Curves is an educational services and test preparation company. It delivers high-quality consulting services, test preparation programs, and self-study resources to students throughout the country.
Equal Opportunity Employer - Privacy Policy - Refund Policy