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SSAT Math—5 Important Test-taking Strategies!

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1. Know what level of SSAT is the right one to take!

The SSAT is broken up into the levels of Elementary (sometimes referred to as lower), Middle, and Upper. Elementary is appropriate for an 8-9 year old student, Middle for a 10-13 year old student, and Upper for 14-17 year old students.

Accordingly, there will be different maximum levels of math required. Lower level will have some geometry and some algebra, but not much. These elements will increase in prevalence as the student goes to higher and higher levels.  All levels will have a high amount of word problems, which leads us on to our next section. So know which level of SSAT you are meant to take!

2. Know how to approach word problems!

Many people have a hard time understanding word problems. To some, a word problem might be as comprehensible as the following: “If you have 4 pencils and I have 7 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof?”  Jokes aside, word problems are really best answered if they can be converted into algebra. Take, for instance, the following problem:
Michael scores a 95, 87, 85, 93, and a 94 on his first 5 math tests. If he wants a 90 average, what must he score on the final math test?
To solve this, we would set up an equation for the final score:
Add the five past test scores and you get 454. Then set up an algebraic equation where you add 454 to x, which is the final test score, and divide by six, because you want the average for 6 tests now. You make this equation equal to 90 because that is the average Michael wants and solve for x:

(454+x) /6=90
454+x=540
X=86

All in all, the better you are at translating a word problem into the language of algebra, the better you’ll do on the SSAT!

3. Be familiar with basic geometric facts!

Although geometry appears in only a few problems on the lower level SSAT, it is helpful for students of all levels of the SSAT to have a basic knowledge of geometry.  The number of degrees in basic shapes is helpful, for instance, a circle has 360 degrees and a triangle, 180. Knowledge of typical side ratios such as right isosceles triangles (1:1:√2) and 30-60-90 triangles (1:2:√3) is very important. Formulas for the length of a line in coordinate geometry are also important.

Another helpful trick in geometry involves applying the fact that all polygons can be divided into a number of triangles.
ICON+ Blog SSAT
In square ABCD above, AB=3, BE=EC, and DF=FC. What is the ratio between the white area and the shaded area?

  1. 1:3
  2. 2:5
  3. 1:2
  4. 2:3
  5. 3:5

The correct answer here is “E”. We know E is the correct answer because we were able to divide the square into 8 equally-sized triangles. Three of these are white, and five are black.

4. Be prepared to use estimation and elimination extensively!

Calculators are not allowed on the SSAT. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that this makes all students equal, no inequalities caused by who has a fancier calculator. The bad news is that you don’t have a calculator! Never fear, all of the problems are designed to be done without a calculator. Mental math is very important. One major technique, elimination and estimation, is particularly important. I will illustrate this technique with the following problem:

Shop

Park locations

External locations

A

20

18

B

15

60

C

13

78

D

5

35

E

12

30

The table shows the number of bicycle rental locations for five rental shops. For which of the shops is the ratio of the number of park locations to the number of external locations the lowest?

  1. Shop A
  2. Shop B
  3. Shop C
  4. Shop D
  5. Shop E

The first thing we need to do is eliminate some of the options. More particularly, we need to eliminate any choices where we have more park locations than external locations. The only option fitting this definition is Shop A. Next, we need to estimate the approximate ratio of parks to external locations from among the remaining choices. Shop B is 1:4, C about 1:5 (working with rounded numbers of 15 to 75), D 1:7, E 1:2. Now we can clearly see that the correct answer is D!

5. Be comfortable moving between fractions, decimals, and percents!

Percent

Decimal

Fraction

1%

0.01

1/100

5%

0.05

1/20

10%

0.1

1/10

12 ½%

0/125

1/8

20%

0.2

1/5

25%

0.25

1/4

33 1/3 %

0.333...

1/3

50%

0.5

1/2

75%

0.75

3/4

80%

0.8

4/5

90%

0.9

9/10

100%

1

1

125%

1.25

5/4

150%

1.5

3/2

200%

2

2

The above chart shows the relationship between percents, decimals, and fractions. Frequently, percentages will be given in a question and the answer expected will be a fraction. Also, if you have fractions that don’t have a common denominator, if you know what their percentage equivalent is, it is a bit easier to see which fraction is bigger.

Besides these top 5 suggestions, remember, to do well on the math section of the SSAT, know multiplication and division tables, seek expert tutoring, and practice heavily! When you take this advice to heart and work hard, you’ll be well on your way to success! Good luck! :)

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