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Exam information

What you need to know about the SBAC

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a coalition of educators in a number of states who have constructed and use the SBAC test. This test is designed to measure the progress of students before, during, and after instruction at grade levels 3 through 8 and 11. We provide practice only for the 11th grade “summative” (post-instruction) tests.

The tests provide levels of both achievement and growth in both English language arts and math and are touted to be appropriate for all students, including ESL, students with disabilities, and other testing subgroups. Over 220 colleges and universities in ten states say they will use SBAC test scores as part of their evaluation of readiness of entering students. Also, a few colleges in South Dakota use the scores as a guarantee of general admission even before the students have applied to the school.

The SBAC tests contain both the standard multiple-choice questions and some other item formats, such as short answer, grid-in items (math), and extended-response (essay or short essay).

There is information about the language used in questions on this test available from Smarter Balance. Just scroll down to “Grade 11.”

Important Note:

The actual SBAC test has only two sections for high school: English Language Arts and Literacy (ELA) and Mathematics. However, there is such an enormous amount of content tested that we have subdivided our preparation materials into more manageable sections.

The ELA content divides easily into the four skill areas tested: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Research. Math content goals did not provide for such easy manipulation, however. There are overarching reasoning skills that are expected in many, if not all, of the content areas, and you also have to know the concepts and how to work with them in specific ways. So, we have divided the math sections by content area: Numbers and Operations, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, and Statistics and Probability for ease of review. In addition, we’ll include information and practice questions that cover the reasoning abilities. Note an “extra” study guide to accommodate this.

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Exam facts

Answers to all your questions about the SBAC

Table of Contents

What are the costs?

There should be no cost for taking the SBAC as it is usually given in, and paid for by, school systems in the participating SBAC states as part of their testing program.

What should I bring?

Your school will inform you about items to bring and those to leave at home or in your locker. You will probably be provided number 2 pencils and scratch paper to use during the test if they are deemed necessary. You will have an online calculator capable of performing scientific, regression, and graphing tasks for part of the Mathematics section of the test.

How is it scored?

Much of the test is scored by machine, but there are extended response questions that require human scoring. You will be assigned a numerical score between 2000 and 3000, based on your performance on the test. From that score, you will be assigned an “achievement level” of 1, 2, 3, or 4. To show that you are ready for college-level courses, you’ll need to achieve at least a level of 3 on each of the Mathematics and English Language Arts sections of the SBAC test.

What kind of job can I get?

Finishing high school successfully and being admitted to college or other advanced studies program boosts your future earning potential. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both a high school diploma and at least some college will help you avoid the unemployment pitfall. Unemployment rates for 2018 were as follows:

  • less than high school: 5.9%
  • only high school: 4.3%
  • some college or assoc. degree: 3.5%

The difference in these figures may seem small, but if you’re one of the unemployed simply because of your level of education, they are important.

Am I eligible?

The SBAC is typically given during the last part of a student’s 11th-grade year in public high school if the state participates in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Private and homeschooled students may or may not utilize the SBAC as part of the student achievement process.

Why does it matter?

The important thing about your score on the SBAC is that it should truly show what you know. Colleges are using it to decide if you need remedial classes before or with enrollment in college-level courses. Bypassing these “catch-up” classes if you don’t need them can save you both time and money in college. Your score is important for these reasons and in making sure you are placed in the appropriate level of study.

What salary can I expect?

There is a fairly clear correspondence between your level of education and the salary you can earn when on the job. Estimated salary averages published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that people with a high school diploma, but no college, average around $700 per week in earnings. Some college or an associate’s degree can bump those earnings up to about $800 per week. Add on a bachelor’s degree, and there is a larger increase—to over $1100 weekly.

When is it available?

The SBAC is available in schools whose state uses the test and is a member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. It is administered by school officials and staff and scheduled according to local or statewide testing guidelines.

What are some Tips & Tricks

Tackling Differently Formatted Test Items

The SBAC test uses a variety of measures to assess your competence in English Language Arts and Literacy. There are, of course, the typical multiple choice questions that you see on many other tests. Also, however, you will see a number of others, described below.

On our website, we can only provide specific practice on multiple-choice questions, but we also try to simulate some of the other types in the way we structure these questions. In addition, we’ll give you some solid information about the question types likely to be present in each test and the best way to address them. And, as always, all of our practice questions and flashcards reflect the actual content on which you will be tested. Used with our study guides, you should be able to both review content and become aware of, and prepared for, the types of questions you’ll see.

“Objective” Test Questions

An objectively-formatted test item is any question in which the answer is there, on the page or screen, and you just have to find it. These items include the typical multiple-choice questions with which you are probably familiar, but modern testing technology has enabled several other formats, as well. We have listed all of the types used in the SBAC test below, with an explanation of each, so you’ll be prepared to see them.

  • multiple-choice (sometimes called “selected response”)—a question followed by four or more answer choices (Some are “evidence-based” where you answer a question and then, in the next question, choose evidence for your answer.)

  • multiple-choice with multiple answers—same as multiple-choice, but you must find two or more answers that are correct

  • hot spot or hot text questions—require you to hover over and “click” the answer within a graph, text, or other stimulus provided

  • matching tables—where you select items in tables or to place in specific spots in tables

  • drag and drop—where you “drag” an item from one place to another on the screen to answer the question (These may be equation questions in math, where you drag and drop numbers and symbols into their proper position in an equation, etc.)

  • graphing—(math only) the answer will be a point or a line that you create on a graph

  • grid item—(math only) you fill in numbers on a grid to answer

“Subjective” Test Questions

By subjective, we mean any question that requires you to write your own answer. Subjective questions can range from simply filling in a blank to writing a complete essay. This is the type of question that generally puts test-takers in a bit of a “freak-out” mode or, at least, causes them to take a very deep breath. Why? Because the answer is not among a group of choices on the page or screen. No. The answer has to come out of, gulp, your head. You know, the place filled with all that test anxiety, mixed in with what you thought you knew before testing, mixed in with all the other details of your life. And you have to retrieve it, spell it correctly, make good word choices, use good grammar, and make sure it actually answers the question. Seriously? Yes… but there are a few things that can help you tame this task and one thing is knowing what the scorers are looking for in a good answer. We’ll help you with that in the study guides for this test.

The SBAC test contains several types of subjective questions, and they are generally, at least for now, scored by humans, not machines. These types are:

  • brief write and constructed response items— Responses to these are usually between one to three paragraphs in length. They require you to also provide evidence of the correct answer instead of just the answer to a question.

  • full-write response questions— These require more lengthy writing responses and, if given as part of a performance task, are preceded by a short, related, unscored activity to warm you up. They are scored for focus/purpose, evidence/elaboration, and writing conventions. At the high school level, these are not narratives, but will be either an informative/explanatory or argumentative/opinion type of writing.

How much time is allowed?

SBAC tests were designed to be untimed, and it is recommended that students be allowed to complete the tests, even if they need extra time. Schools plan testing sessions based on the typical time an average student would need to complete the tests. There is a computer-adaptive test (CAT) which contains multiple-choice and other objective types of questions and a “performance task” section (extended answer questions) in both the ELA/Literacy and the Mathematics test. According to data from the SBAC, the 11th grade ELA/Literacy Test usually takes about a total of 4 hours to complete (2 hours each for the CAT portion and the performance task part). The entire mathematics test occupies about 3 hours and 30 minutes of time: 2 hours for the CAT portion and 1.5 hours for the performance tasks.

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