Educators - Blog

What’s new for the Upper Level SSAT

A couple weeks ago, the SSATB released new official guides for both the Upper Level SSAT and the Middle Level SSAT.   How are these guides different from the ones released last fall?  We examine the Upper Level below.  Check back for our take on the Middle Level shortly, or sign up for our newsletter to receive it automatically.

So, what’s new for the Upper Level SSAT?

Let’s take a look at each section:

Quantitative: Comparing the practice tests, about two-thirds of the 100 questions are repeated from the previous version of the official guide. In general, the new questions align more with the common core. There are more problems where students will need to know specific terms and rules, such as what an equilateral triangle is, what happens when you raise a negative number to a power, and the rules of exponents. There are more geometry, measurement, and data questions. There are fewer wonky word problems than we’ve seen in the past (how many vehicles in the parking lot, what?)

In the instructional sections at the beginning of the book, the questions are also now multiple-choice. A pet peeve here at Test Prep Works has been the use of open response questions to prepare students for a multiple-choice test. The SSATB also made an attempt to update the content for the “modern student” – one question was updated to refer to “tablets” instead of “computers”, and there is now an actual pie graph in the official SSAT guide that includes “Justin Bieber” and “One Direction”.

Reading: There aren’t major changes to the reading section. Most of the passages are repeated directly from the previous book. Of the passages that were changed, if anything the questions are more straightforward than in the previous edition. A couple of questions were thrown in that use literary terms such as “sensory image” and “hyperbole”. The same strategies that helped students succeed on the previous version will continue to help on this edition.

Verbal: On the verbal section, nearly three-quarters of the 120 total questions on both practice tests are repeated from the previous version of the official guide. Of the synonym questions that were replaced, the vocabulary has generally gotten tougher. Of the analogies that were replaced, there seems to be a shift toward vocabulary that students are more likely to see in their current studies and away from terms that are old-fashioned. For example, they removed relationships such as “piccolo is to flute”, “silks is to jockeys”, and “bobbin is to yarn”.

So what is Test Prep Works doing to adapt to the new Official Guide?

We are working on a supplement to go with our books that are on the market. We will be integrating this material into our full books as soon as possible, but want to be sure that we get the material out for students who will be taking the test shortly. Please send us an e-mail at if you are a customer and would like us to send you the supplement when it is available. We will let you know in this newsletter when the material has been integrated into our books.

Do we need to have the “even adults make mistakes” talk with our students?

Yes, we are afraid so. For those of you who used the guide when it came out last year, you will remember that there were several errors. This book is much, much better in that regard, but my students have noticed a few errors. There is a math problem where you need to make an assumption that is not stated in the problem in order to be able to solve. A synonym question asks for the definition of “jeopardize” and then gives both “threaten” and “endanger” as possible answer choices, which are a little too close in our opinion.

Reassure your students that the actual test undergoes rigorous testing for validity but the practice book does not. After each form is given, the SSATB also cranks through all the data to determine if any questions were not “good” questions. It is unfortunate that there are errors in the practice book, but that won’t affect the actual test that they have on game day.