Students receive SSAT tutoring at Open Door Education in Acton and Concord


As families begin the often confusing process of applying to private high school, we hear a variety of questions about the SSAT. Here are answers to those we hear most frequently.


When should my child take the SSAT?

The SSAT is offered eight times over the school year, beginning in October; test dates can be found here. Check with the schools to which your student is applying as to the final possible date that will meet their deadline.


Can my child take the SSAT more than once?

Yes. Most students plan to take it twice.


How much preparation will my child need?

Even the strongest students benefit from SSAT test prep. It’s a difficult test, and familiarity with the types of questions, format, and, of course, material covered makes a huge difference. We recommend minimally four sessions; students see the greatest benefit from 6-12. In particular, vocabulary practice is time-intensive–there are no shortcuts.


What is the most important element of the private high school application?

Answers to this question vary. Private school admissions officers will say that the SSAT is not the most important factor; however, it is rare to see acceptance of a student whose scores are far outside the school’s typical range. Other top factors include interviews with student and family–they aim to build a well-rounded student body with a diversity of talents and interests, supported by involved parents. Grades, recommendations, and extracurriculars are also of high importance. Essays and short answers on the applications themselves are also indicators of whether the student will be a good fit.


How many schools should be on my student’s list?

Most students have a good idea of a few schools they’d like to attend, and families in Eastern Massachusetts are fortunate to have multiple excellent choices nearby. No matter the reputation of the school, however, it’s important to do your own online research to learn whether the environment is right for your child, and then schedule a tour during a school day. If you already know your student will be applying, request an interview the same day.


Am I too late for this year?

Most private and Catholic high schools have mid-December application deadlines. In most cases, admissions and financial aid/scholarship decisions are made by February.


Where can I learn more?

Here is more detail about the SSAT we have compiled. If you are interested in working with an admissions consultant, please contact our office for a list of consultants we recommend. Below is a list of some of the top private and religious affiliated schools in our region.


Area private schools

Highest range of SSAT scores

Buckingham, Browne, and Nichols, Cambridge

Cambridge School of Weston

Concord Academy, Concord

Deerfield Academy, Deerfield

Groton School, Groton

Middlesex School, Concord

Milton Academy, Milton

Nobles and Greenough, Newton

Phillips Academy Andover, Andover

St. Mark’s School, Southborough


Middle range of SSAT scores

Brooks School, North Andover

Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall, Waltham

Dana Hall School, Wellesley

Lawrence Academy, Groton


Catholic High Schools

Boston College High, Boston

St. Sebastian’s School, Needham

Xaverian Brothers, Westwood


If you are interested in SSAT tutoring, email to schedule a free consultation. Open Door also prepares students for the lower and middle levels of the SSAT and ISEE.

Students study and receive midterm tutoring in Acton and Concord Massachusetts

It’s Finally Here: The August SAT

Coming to A Testing Center (Hopefully) Near You…


August 26, 2017 marks the (re)introduction of a summer SAT testing date, much to the applause of over-committed, rising high school seniors looking for an opportunity to prepare and sit for the SAT or SAT Subject Tests without the added pressure of a full plate of classes; extracurricular demands; and the time required in the fall to complete college applications.


This debut of the August test date is expected to draw a large number of test takers. Note that while the regular deadline to register is July 28, certain metropolitan areas, including Boston and New York City, are expected to experience high demand for the available number of seats.  Early registration is essential for preferred testing locations.


The availability of a summer testing date offers a number of potential benefits to students:


1.  The growth in the number of schools with Early Action/Early Decision/Priority application deadlines necessitates that students complete testing equally promptly.


2.  If a student has waited for the middle or end of junior year to test and would like the benefit of an additional testing opportunity, she can now do so without the demands of the senior fall staring her in the face.


3.  If a student was caught short in studying for Subject Tests, say amid the requirements of preparing for May APs toward the end of junior year, or perhaps missed the June test date due to other exigencies, there is still the summer to refresh recently-completed subject material.  This is valuable before the introduction of new coursework in senior year, particularly in courses that do not build in tandem ex. chemistry with little to no overlap with physics or biology.


4.  Initiating or refreshing test prep without the distraction of other academic pressures may enable the student to focus more on his preparation contributing, at least in theory, to a higher test score. Even though some school districts start up again in late August, the school year will not yet be in full swing.


5. At the very least sitting for a summer SAT, with the advantage of some breathing room in the calendar, can potentially make a huge difference for students disposed to anxiety in anticipation of high-stakes testing.


6.  For students who had put their eggs into the ACT basket but now want to try their hand at the SAT can now do so without having to wait for October of senior year to come around.  And…


7.  …those students who decide to — or need to — take the SAT in fall of senior year, can now potentially avoid the pressures of back-to-back October and November testing.  Testing as such, with precious little time in between to assess prior scores and shore up weak areas, is unlikely to be productive in significantly boosting scores.


For more information about the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and registration, visit the College Board website.


This guest post is courtesy of Marla Platt, MBA, an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA. Through AchieveCoach College Consulting, she provides personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search, and admissions process. Marla has been a frequent speaker at area college events; an alumni interviewer on behalf of Cornell University; and a volunteer coach at Babson College’s CLTP program. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via

The PSAT at a Glance

Soon many juniors will begin their college testing process by sitting for the PSAT. Below are short descriptions of the sections and some general strategies to help students score their best.

Test Taking Tips

  • Get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast!
  • Wear a watch to track your time. Some testing rooms have the clock on the back wall, or no clocks at all.
  • There is no guessing penalty on the PSAT, so answer all of the questions.


  • Passages: 5
  • Questions: 47
  • Time Allotted: 60 minutes
  • Strategies:
    • Start with the passage that seems the most interesting to you; save the 19th century passage for last, since these tend to be the hardest.
    • For the paired passages, read Passage 1 and answer those questions. Next, read Passage 2 and answer the rest of the questions.
    • Some questions will be paired: a question will ask for evidence to support the previous question. For these questions, look at the evidence first, and use that to choose the correct answer.

Writing and Language

  • Passages: 4
  • Questions: 44
  • Time Allotted: 35 minutes
  • Strategies:
    • The PSAT emphasizes on making choices in context, and it is important to read the whole passage.
    • Mouthing the words as you read can help you determine what sounds right.
    • Simple answers are good answers. Choose answers with fewer commas and simple sentence structure


  • Questions:
    • 17 without a calculator (13 multiple choice, 4 grid-in)
    • 31 (27 multiple choice, 4 grid-in)
  • Time Allotted:
    • 25 minutes without a calculator
    • 35 minutes with a calculator
  • Strategies:
    • Math on the PSAT is mostly word problems. Try drawing pictures or listing information given to you in the lengthy questions to help make it make sense.
    • The math test increases with difficulty as you move through the section, but it resets when you get to the grid-in questions. If you are low on time, guess on the last few multiple choice questions, and get points from the easier grid-in questions.

Some families aren’t sure if they should sign up for the PSAT. The most common justification for taking the PSAT is the fact that it is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. While this is indeed a potential benefit for a small subset of testers, the PSAT is also a low-stakes opportunity for a student to experience the type of standardized testing that your student will have to navigate as part of their admissions process, which is wholly different than anything they’ve done in school. Through this experience, students can get an idea of what the SAT will look like and begin to determine whether it’s worthwhile to explore the ACT as an alternative.

SAT or ACT? – Shedding Light on the Tests

The biggest challenge that students who take the SAT will face is the relative newness of the test: there are fewer practice tests, fewer certainties, and a certain lack of sophistication in the test prep process. The ACT has stayed more or less the same for years, giving students more material to review, but many families aren’t familiar with this test. So which test should we take?


Students with strong verbal skills will likely excel on either test; however, the ACT demands fast, superficial reading while the SAT aims for deeper reading. The SAT reading material is generally more difficult–many tests include a classic literature passage (think Jane Eyre or Charlotte Brontë) or other dense reading material–but students get significantly more time to complete the test. On the ACT, passages are modern and three out of four passages are straightforward with questions that mainly ask for fact recall, but many students find the timing difficult.

Grammar and Language

Both tests have similar grammar sections. As with all aspects of the ACT, the timing is more difficult on the English test, but it is a good fit for students with a good understanding of punctuation rules. The SAT Writing and Language test has slightly more emphasis on tone matching, vocabulary, and word choice, which can be difficult for some students. Due to the similarities between the two tests, the grammar section is usually not a deciding factor for most students.


While there is significant overlap on the math tests, there are some key differences in terms of timing, content, and approach for each test. The ACT Math favors students who can remember a lot of math, from Pre-Algebra and Geometry to Algebra 2 and even a little Pre-Calculus, and perform that math quickly and accurately. Good mental math skills can save time on the ACT, but they are a must on the SAT, which now includes a portion of the test to be completed without a calculator. The SAT provides some formulas, gives students more time, and focuses mostly on Algebra. Data analysis appears in the math section in the form of statistics questions on the SAT Math, which many students haven’t seen yet. In general, the questions are more context driven, asking students to interpret the meaning of a linear equation instead of simply solving it. Many students find that they need more practice with the somewhat more abstract math and multi-step word problems on the SAT, but it is not insurmountable. Students with a strong, fundamental understanding of Algebra 1 and 2 who need a little more time to demonstrate their potential should consider the SAT; students with a surface-level understanding of Geometry and Algebras 1 and 2 who can move quickly through math problems might find that the ACT is a better fit for them.

Data Analysis

Both tests will ask students to analyze graphs and data for trends, extrapolate data, predict outcomes of additional experiments, and evaluate experiment design, but in slightly different ways. The SAT has incorporated these skills into each section of the test. Reading and Writing and Language passages will include graphs at the end; the math test will have data tables and ask questions about random sampling and statistics. There is less science content on the SAT, which benefits some students, but it requires students to be more flexible in moving from reading comprehension to data analysis and back. The ACT has a separate Science test, which is daunting to students at first, but can be learned. Students who are good at reading graphs will do well on the ACT Science test, but the Science section should not be the only reason that a student chooses the SAT.


Overall, the ACT has difficult timing and straightforward questions but it also moves quite quickly. For this reason, students with extended time often find the ACT to be a better fit. Please note, however, that the ACT is notoriously stringent in evaluating student applications for extended time. The SAT, while generous with timing, focuses on whether or not students truly understand a concept.  While the test styles can be generalized and simplified, this decision must be made on a case-by-case basis. A great first step is to take a diagnostic test of each. Open Door Education proudly offers free proctored tests every weekend; to sign up, visit our website or call us directly. We are here to help families make this important choice and we are always happy to discuss a student’s testing options.