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A Guide to the SBAC Test: with Tips

A Guide to the SBAC Test: with Tips

Updated November 18, 2023

By Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale

What Is the SBAC Assessment?

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium consists of educators and representatives of district and state education agencies, who came together in 2010 to design a system of assessment that would evaluate students and give teachers the actionable data they need to help students achieve.

The first SBAC assessment session was delivered in the Spring of 2015 to seven million students and has been used every year since to evaluate the progress of students in Grades 3 to 8.

The SBAC assessments are aligned with the Common Core, and the tests are on both mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA).

The difference between tests like the ACT and the SBAC is what they are assessing – the ACT and the SAT are norm-referenced, so they are looking at student performance when compared to their peers, whereas the SBAC is criterion-referenced, which means that students are only assessed on their knowledge of the curriculum and their ability to apply that understanding and skills in real-world applications.

While schools might use interim assessments to check on development and growth, it is the annual assessment that produces the most important information – the results can be used to create a framework designed to support the individual learning needs of the child.

Practice the SBAC Assessment on TestPrep-Online

What Is Assessed on the SBAC

There are two separate tests covered by the SBAC:

  • Mathematics
  • English Language Arts

Each test lasts about four hours, but if students are taking them together, there is a seven-hour allowance. They are annual tests, and the results are used to ensure that a student is achieving as they are expected to.

The scores are also used to evaluate each school and district to ensure that they are reaching the required standards.


The content of the math SBAC assessment is based on the Common Core Curriculum, and the subject matter (and difficulty) of the questions changes depending on the grade of the child.

The first part of the test, the CAT, is multiple-choice math questions that are simple knowledge checks.

The second part of the SBAC math assessment involves one multi-step problem based on a real-world scenario.

Students will be required to work within this problem to solve it, answering different types of questions and analyzing information in different ways.

In Grade 3, the content of the SBAC math covers:

  • Operations and algebraic thinking
  • Number and operations using a 10 base
  • Number and operations using fractions
  • Geometry

In Grades 4 and 5, the content of the questions is similar to that of Grade 3, but with the addition of measurement and data operations.

The difficulty level of the questions also increases through the grade levels.

For Grades 6 to 8, the questions will include the following:

English Language Arts

Unlike the mathematics test, the ELA assessment covers the same content at all levels, just with different expectations from the students.

The assessment will evaluate:

  • Reading – Both informational and literary texts – the number of items and difficulty increase through the grades.
  • Writing – While this is mostly assessed in the PT section, some questions in the CAT require a written response, and students will need to demonstrate that they can use and understand different languages and vocabulary, as well as editing and proofreading.
  • Listening – This includes comprehension skills at all levels and interpretation skills at the higher grades.

The first part of the test is the CAT, which will be followed by two short texts that the student is required to read.

They need to use the information in these texts to answer a series of questions, much like in a verbal reasoning assessment.

The long-form writing in the PT for the SBAC ELA involves writing an essay. Students will be given two hours to write, and they will need to show that they are able to write something that is well organized and constructed, using the appropriate evidence and following writing conventions like punctuation, vocabulary and grammar.

Example Questions on the SBAC

SBAC Math Practice Test

Example Question 1 – Grade 3 Mathematics

Example Question

There are four bowls containing sweets. Lucy takes 5 sweets from each bowl, and then she eats 11 of them.

How many sweets are left?

a) 12
b) 9
c) 14
d) 20

Example Question 2 – Grade 4 ELA

Example Question

’It was a beautiful day in the countryside, and Grandma was taking me to go and see some animals on the farm. We saw lots of cows and sheep in the field, and we even got to see how the cows were milked in the milking shed. The fluffy baby chicks were my favorite, but I also enjoyed playing with the sheepdogs. After we went to the farm, Grandma took me for some ice cream – I chose chocolate chip because that was my favorite’

According to the information above, the author learned that cows are milked in a milking shed. True or False?

a) True
b) False

Example Question 3 – Grade 5 Math

Example Question

Angela is making a rug, and she wants to use two different colors of material (red and blue) to cover it, in equal amounts.

If the rug measures 12 squares by 5 squares, how many blue squares will she need?

a) 50
b) 46
c) 48
d) 96

Example Question 4 – Grade 6 – ELA

Example Question

A student is writing about their experience when they went on holiday, and they want to make it sound better. Choose from the list below a better word they could choose for the word in bold.

’Going to the beach was a great experience, I got to try some surfing and that was really great because it got my adrenaline pumping. I also enjoyed being able to play in the sand and paddle in the sea, especially because my dog loved it all so much too!’

a) Exciting
b) Boring
c) Good
d) Sad

Example Question 5 – Grade 7 Math

Example Question

What is the decimal equivalent of 12/8?

a) 1.6
b) 1.4
c) 1.8
d) 1.5

Example Question 6 – Grade 8 Math

Example Question

James and Fred ate 37 sweets between them, but Fred ate 9 more than James.

How many sweets did James eat?

a) 14
b) 16
c) 12
d) 13

How Is the SBAC Tested?

The SBAC assessment is about the knowledge that a student has in a subject – and the questions are designed to test children at the grade level they are at.

To differentiate between students, the early part of the test adapts to help identify the upper knowledge limit of each student.

Both the Math and the ELA assessments are split into two, and all students will have to complete both sections of the assessment.


The Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) is an untimed multiple-choice question bank, and the difficulty of the questions presented depends on the performance of the student in the previous question.

If they answer a question quickly and correctly, the next one will be more challenging.

If they get the question wrong, the next question will be easier.

This means that the SBAC assessment is tailored and adjusted to suit the level of ability that a student has.

Performance Task

The second part of the assessment is all about applying knowledge and skills to a situation. In both SBAC assessments, this section of the assessment is all about the depth of understanding.

SBAC Test: Guide and Tips
SBAC Test: Guide and Tips

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How Are Scores Reported?

The scores on the SBAC assessments are received by the student through the post, and there are two different types of scores given.

The first is a scale score, which is used to track each student’s trajectory through education. The scale score is a four-digit number between 2000-3000.

The second part is the Achievement Level, which aligns each student into one of four groups, depending on their overall score.

The groups are as follows:

  • Minimal Understanding – The student has not met the required standard and will need significant improvement for likely success in the future.
  • Partial Understanding – The student has nearly met the standard, but they may require further development to demonstrate knowledge and skills.
  • Proficient – The student has met the standard and is developing progress toward mastery.
  • Advanced – The student has exceeded the required standard and is showing advanced progress toward mastery.

How Are the SBAC Tests Different?

There are several ways that the SBAC assessments are different from other tests used in schools. Firstly, as already mentioned, they focus on the knowledge that students have gained in the academic year, using content based on the Common Core curriculum.

Aside from this, the way the test is administered and the way the questions are answered also make the SBAC tests different.

The content of the assessment is things that a student will either know or won’t. This is all based on what is being taught in math and English lessons in school. The assessments are considered to be more rigorous in terms of content than traditional standardized tests.

Other stressors that add to the relative difficulty include:

Question Types

Both the CAT questions and the Performance Test section of the tests require interaction with the assessment in different ways, and students need to be confident in manipulating the questions in different ways to provide the correct answers.

Some of the different question types that might be found in the SBAC are:

  • Radio buttons (for single answers)
  • Highlighting for single and multiple answers)
  • Checkboxes (for multiple answers)
  • True/False or Yes/No
  • Short Text
  • Drag & Drop
  • Table fill in
  • Creating a graph by connecting points with lines
  • Select and move text
  • Listening (using play, stop and pause buttons)
  • Long-form (essay) writing

Strategic Thinking

The way the questions are written can make it difficult for a student to choose the right way to answer a question, so they have to be prepared to be more strategic in their considerations and use logical thinking and reasoning skills to find the right answer.

This can make the questions themselves confusing and time-consuming.

How to Prepare for the SBAC Assessment

Step 1. Taking Practice SBAC Assessments

The SBAC assessment is designed to evaluate a student on their current level of learning and their mastery of math and English. However, using practice tests can help them boost their score.

Firstly, through familiarity. Taking a test is nerve-wracking enough, and it can be overwhelming if you are not comfortable with the structure, layout, and different ways of answering questions. Using practice tests will expose your student to the different ways that questions can be answered, as well as the different content of the questions themselves.

The results of these practice tests can also help identify any gaps in their knowledge or learning or if they have any problems with certain areas of the curriculum. This can be used to create a revision plan.

Step 2. Ensure Students Are Well-Fed, Not Thirsty and Rested Before the Test

Self-care is important for students anyway, but when a test is approaching, you need to make sure that the focus is on providing their brains with as much support as possible.

This means that they need to get adequate sleep in the days leading to the test and that they eat healthy and nutritious meals and snacks. Hydration is also very important.

Step 3. Ensure Their Test Equipment Is Functioning Well

This is a computer-based test, which means that when the student is practicing at home, they need to have access to working technology.

A good, reliable internet connection and a PC or a laptop that is responsive is a must – these tests are not designed to be completed on mobile phones or tablets.

The actual test will be completed at school, so they should have the appropriate technology there to ensure that the test can be completed.

Step 4. Students Should Be Relaxed About the Test

Any standardized testing in school can cause worry for a child, and it is up to you to ensure that you let them know that there are plenty of opportunities for growth and development while they are learning – and this is just a diagnostic tool.

The results of the SBAC are as much about providing a framework for teachers to help your child succeed as they are about gauging individual success – and schools or districts that are seeing low results across several children or even different grades will be able to access any support they need to help the children achieve their potential.

Step 5. Online Practice

Paper tests might be a good indicator of content, but they have limited use as practice tests because they do not accurately represent the real thing.

You might want to use paper tests to create mini quizzes for your child on certain subjects, but don’t rely on them to indicate how well they will do on their SBAC.

Step 6. Setup a Revision Cycle

Based on the results of the practice tests, you should initiate a revision cycle to help your child retain the knowledge that they are getting in the school year.

This should be normal practice – remembering how to solve certain math problems several months after learning them might not be easy, but regular practice and check-ins based on what they already know will help cement the ideas in their minds.

Revision should not be hard work – it needs to be interspersed with some downtime to ensure good levels of self-care are maintained.

Frequently Asked Questions

The SBAC test is a pair of assessments created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and they have been designed to evaluate students on what they have learned in math and English lessons throughout the school year.

The results of the test show how well the students are learning and help teachers to support them for success in the future.

The number of questions that your child will face on the SBAC test will depend on whether they are taking the Math or English assessment and also what grade they are in.

The second part of the assessment is the Performance Task; this consists of one question that covers the application of learned knowledge and skills in a real-world scenario.

The SBAC test is to evaluate students and see how much of the Common Core curriculum they know is appropriate to their age and grade. It is also used to monitor the effectiveness of schools and districts and give educators some data that helps them create better and more effective lesson plans.

To pass the SBAC math test, your child needs to have a good grasp of the mathematical principles that they have been taught throughout their school year.

The questions can be difficult to understand with some challenging vocabulary, but the content is always relevant to what the child has learned during the school year.

Each SBAC test has a four-hour time limit. The CAT section at the beginning is untimed, and the Performance Task at the end can last between 60-120 minutes, depending on the grade level of the test.

The SBAC is considered to be better than other standardized tests because it has been developed with state education agencies and educators with the express intention of being an evaluation system that provides meaningful results and actionable data.

There are many resources available on the SBAC website, which include individual practice questions and practice tests, too.

If you are looking for more resources to help your child prepare, then TestPrep-Online is a great source of knowledge, with more practice tests for each grade.

The highest score that you can get on the SBAC test is 3,000, with an Achievement Level of 4. The score is scaled, however, so that it can be used to track progress across several years of education.

The best way to study for the SBAC test is to take practice tests and revisit some of the areas of the curriculum that you have identified as being weaker from the results of these tests. In essence, it is about keeping newly acquired knowledge at the top of your mind.

The SBAC test is different from other standardized tests used in school because it measures knowledge and learning – and the results are compared to the criteria rather than to the performance of other test takers.

You can find practice SBAC tests on the SBAC website, or you can use the resources available at TestPrep-Online for more in-depth coverage of each type of test.

Make sure that you practice online tests rather than paper tests for the best result.

The summative SBAC math test is only administered once a year, in the Spring. However, some educators might use interim tests to check knowledge and achievement as the year progresses to ensure that all content is covered appropriately.

Final Thoughts

Standardized testing is used in schools to ensure that students are achieving as they should and, in some cases, to evaluate students for gifted and talented programs.

The SBAC assessments are similar, but they focus on the knowledge gained in school for that particular grade, and the content of the questions is based on Common Core Mathematics and English.

The SBAC questions are challenging, both in terms of content and in the way that they need to be answered, so to give your child the best chance of success, you will want to ensure that they practice, that they revise what they have learned throughout the year, and that they are as relaxed as possible as they take the exam.

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