Creating an Effective SSAT Study Plan

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s FREE SSAT Guidebook

The Secondary School Admissions Test is a standard component of private school admissions. 

Students now have even more options to take the SSAT now that the Enrollment Management Association is offering at-home testing.

If your student is a prospective SSAT test-taker, you’ve come to the right place! Now is the time to start thinking about your student’s SSAT prep.

We encourage students to allocate at least three months for effective SSAT prep. In many cases, students begin their SSAT prep at least a year prior to an official test date.

We also encourage students to create an SSAT study plan that aligns with their goals and timeline.

In this post, we give our best advice for creating an effective and actionable SSAT study plan. You’ll also get access to our free SSAT guidebook, which covers study plans, strategies, administrative tips, and more. Download this now below.

Here’s what we cover:

4 Components of Effective SSAT Prep

Studying for the SSAT can be a lot like studying for a normal middle school exam. Effective study for the SSAT can rely on flashcards, for example, note-taking, strategic study sessions, and regular practice. 

The difference, of course, lies in the fact that the SSAT itself is an entirely different beast than the tests students encounter in a standard middle school classroom.

In general, there are three huge differences between the SSAT and middle school tests:

  • Strategy
  • Content
  • Duration

Strategy plays a larger role on the SSAT than most students realize. In fact, the SSAT Reading section requires very little outside content knowledge. Success on this section depends significantly on strategy–and a student’s capacity to move quickly through extensive and complex reading material.

Specific strategies can also aid the savvy test-taker on the other sections of the SSAT, including Quantitative 1 and 2 and the SSAT Verbal Section.

SSAT test-takers will be tested on their knowledge of advanced vocabulary and math content. However, this familiar content often appears in unfamiliar ways on the SSAT.

Lastly, the SSAT itself is over three hours long. Students must apply their brainpower to this exam for a marathon of a sitting. For this reason, effective SSAT study often involves building the physical and mental stamina for taking the test.

Every student’s process is different, but studying for the SSAT generally involves the following 4 characteristics:

  1. Timed practice (to build stamina and assess progress)
  2. Content review and application
  3. Strategy learning and application
  4. Regular review of progress through drills and practice exams

The study plan tips below are designed to integrate these characteristics into an actionable timeline for your SSAT Prep.

6 Tips for Creating an SSAT Study Plan

1) Identify Your Testing Date & Type

Begin by identifying the first official SSAT testing date and type. EMA now offers multiple testing options and dates, as we discuss in our SSAT Testing Options post:

  • Computer-based SSAT At Home
  • Computer-based Prometric testing
  • Paper-based SSAT  

Parents can register their student for an SSAT test date up to 90 days in advance, and EMA has a relatively flexible cancellation & rescheduling policy. 

Be mindful of private school application deadlines! Many schools have a strict cut-off date for SSAT score submission, especially for traditional fall admission. 

If you are within the 90-day testing window, we recommend that parents register their student for an SSAT as soon as possible.

2) Take a Diagnostic Exam & Establish a Target Score

Taking a diagnostic SSAT effectively introduces students to those components that make this standardized test so different from standard exams: duration, content, and strategy.

It also establishes a baseline score for all sections, giving students a clearer sense of what stands between them and their target score. Diagnostic score reports can additionally highlight content areas for further work, essential strategies, and timing issues.

To identify a target score, we encourage families to check out scores likely to ensure a competitive application with specific schools. 

We talk about this more in our post about the emphasis that private schools place on SSAT scores in the admissions process.

3) Determine Your Resources & Study Tools

Effective SSAT studying requires effective resources. Take the time prior to jumping into your prep to assemble the study tools guaranteed to give you success!

We outline SSAT prep resources available to students in our SSAT Prep Resources post. For example, we strongly encourage students to prep as close to the source as possible, which means taking advantage of Official practice materials.

Students can also benefit from these vocabulary-building tips in preparation for SSAT Verbal.

Tutors or test prep experts can also be helpful, specifically to aid in strategy development.

4) Set Aside Weekly Time

Effective SSAT prep requires consistent time and effort. Treat your prep as you would any high school class, and devote weekly time to homework and practice. 

Determine which times per week suit your SSAT prep the best. Starting your prep on Wednesday evenings at 10 P.M., for example, may not be as beneficial in the long-run.

Practicing on Saturday mornings, however, when you’ll likely be taking the official exam, may be more productive. Students who work with a private tutor are at an advantage here, as such a partnership often involves scheduled homework and weekly meeting times.

5) Take Regular SSAT Practice Tests

Regular practice tests give students the surest means of enforcing the strategies they’ve been developing on their own. It can also build physical and mental stamina – not to be underestimated on Test Day! 

We recommend taking a practice test every 3-4 weeks prior to your official test date.

Where can you find practice tests? has official practice tests available to students for a fee. You can learn more about practice materials in our SSAT Prep Resources post.

6) Establish Consistent Goals

Your SSAT study plan should include realistic, specific, and actionable goals. Begin by setting a goal SSAT score after you’ve taken your first diagnostic exam for each section.

Then set smaller, individual goals throughout your practice to help you reach this goal score. Here are some examples:

  • Scoring 80% accuracy on all geometry questions on Quantitative 1 & 2
  • Getting Synonym questions 1-10 100% correct
  • Working through 80% of the Reading passages with high accuracy
  • Creating an effective outline for an SSAT Writing Sample prompt

We recommend that students familiarize themselves with how scoring on the SSAT works before setting these goals, as it can be confusing at first.

Frequently Asked Questions: Your SSAT Study Plan

When should I start preparing for the SSAT?

We encourage students to start preparing for the SSAT as soon as possible, yet in general, we suggest allocating at least three months prior to an official test date for adequate preparation. 

Yet a percentage of our students choose to start preparing 1+ years beforehand. Doing so can enable students to more effectively build vocabulary, prepare for tested material not covered in school, and develop skills specific to standardized testing.

When should I take the SSAT for the first time?

According to, most SSAT test-takers will take the SSAT for the first time in September, several months before they submit applications to secondary schools. The September administration is the first in the academic year testing cycle.

However, students who wish to have more opportunities to take the SSAT may take their first official exam in June. 

Note: Students now have many more testing options available to them. Learn more by visiting our SSAT Testing Options post.

How many times should I take the SSAT?

While the vast majority of students take the test only once (according to, most of the students we work with will sit for the SSAT at least twice to maximize the potential for score increases. 

Some private schools also “superscore,” meaning that they review a student’s highest scores across multiple test dates.

Download Our Free SSAT Guidebook

We discuss creating an SSAT study plan, which SSAT testing option you should pursue, and much more in our free SSAT Guidebook.

Here’s what you’ll find in this Guidebook:

  • 90+ pages of valuable SSAT guidance
  • Details about SSAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s SSAT strategies for all 5 sections of the test
  • Information about SSAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. private high schools
  • and much more! 

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.