When students think of what happens in high school, they probably never think of taking a literacy test. They often think of the excitement of new relationships, joining clubs, getting a driver’s license, trying out for sports teams, taking more specialized courses, getting ready for university, or possibly even prom night. These are all, of course, the best things to get excited about: they are the life events that make high school so momentous and exciting. With so much to think about as a teenager - let’s be honest - it’s hard to remember school is even happening sometimes!

Of course, we need to prioritize school as the decisions and successes we have in high school are a precursor to what happens in our adult lives. We all have dreams and goals as adults, and it’s important to remember that we need to stay focused on achieving those dreams even from a young age. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have fun - we just need to maintain a balance so we aren’t making things harder for ourselves in the future.

The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, or OSSLT, has become a fixture in the high school experience of Ontarians that probably should get a little more attention from the time we start grades 7 and 8. While most middle schoolers get stoked about literally anything and everything else, very little thought goes to the OSSLT.

And yet, the OSSLT remains one of the most important assessments secondary school students in grade 10 will take: without passing this test, you simply cannot graduate high school. Why is the OSSLT so important? One big reason is because literacy is a life skill.

Literacy remains one of the most important skills we acquire at school. Literacy skills are life skills: we need them to read forms, signs, participate in a digital economy, analyze information, communicate with others, just to name a handful of things we need literacy for. You will need literacy skills for college, university, the trades and nearly every career out there. In a modern age, we need to read to survive.

The OSSLT is a literacy test that ensures students have been acquiring the basic literacy skills it takes to be successful in the older grades of high school. So what exactly is the OSSLT?

Preparing for the OSSLT is no small task. Learn more about the OSSLT and what you can do to be ready for the big day.

osslt practice test
Start preparing for the OSSLT as early as possible. Source: Unsplash.
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What is the OSSLT?

The OSSLT assesses the literacy skills you would have learned in all areas of the curriculum from grade 7 to the end of grade 9. The purpose of the OSSLT is to measure whether or not you are meeting the minimum standard of literacy across all subjects up to that point in your learning.

There are many other reasons Ontario’s Ministry of Education has mandated high schoolers to take the test in addition to ensuring you have developed sufficient literacy skills. The OSSLT provides the ministry with a snapshot of how Ontario high schoolers are doing in every cohort, to see what their strengths and weaknesses may be. With the data provided by the OSSLT, educators can focus their energies on specific areas of teaching to ensure that any gaps that trend across communities, cohorts or demographics are addressed. The test also gives the government and schools a sense of what the current attitudes toward reading and writing are through the questionnaire that happens at the end.

What Will the OSSLT Look Like?

The OSSLT is made up of two components: reading and writing, and is taken over two sessions that take approximately one hour each.

In the reading component, students interact with different texts and demonstrate their understanding of them through multiple select questions and an open response question. The reading selections focus on three reading skills:

  • understanding explicitly stated information and ideas.
  • making inferences from implicitly stated information and ideas.
  • making connections between a text and personal knowledge and experience.

During the writing component, students will also respond to multiple select questions to demonstrate their ability to communicate ideas and information clearly and with coherence. An opinion essay will be written. Questions focus on three writing skills

  • Developing a main idea with sufficient supporting details.
  • Organizing information and ideas coherently.
  • Using grammar and writing conventions in a way that does not distract from the ideas being communicated.
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Is the OSSLT like EQAO Grade 3 or Grade 6?

If you took the EQAO in grade 3 and grade 6, the OSSLT will be eerily familiar, minus the fact that the math component will be taken as a completely separate test. There are a lot of similarities between the EQAO and the OSSLT.

First, both assessments are created and distributed by the Education Quality and Accountability Office, or EQAO. EQAO leaders and officials are appointed by the Ontario Ministry of Education. They hire assessors every year to grade the thousands of tests that come in, and organize testing not only for the EQAO and OSSLT but also the Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics and the Math proficiency test for teacher candidates.

The assessments organized by the EQAO have not been without controversy. Many teachers unions have opposed the tests in years past, and during the pandemic it was deemed unfair to administer with so much interrupted learning and technical issues. The test has been criticized for being used to rank schools, for providing a limited view of students, and has even been missed in years where teachers took strike action. However you feel about the EQAO, it is clear that the assessments are here to stay, and that the data can play an important role in understanding student learning and planning for schools.

The OSSLT is also in many ways like the EQAO as it happens over a specific period of time and looks at the literacy skills of students. While the OSSLT focus only on literacy (EQAO assessments also include math), you will take a separate provincial assessment for math at the end of grade 9. Both the EQAO and OSSLT generally assess the same literacy skills: making connections, making inferences, and understanding literal meanings of texts. However you can expect much more challenging text samples in the OSSLT, and higher expectations for the kind of writing you produce.

Your EQAO scores can help you understand what you may want to do to prepare for the OSSLT. Your grade 6 score will give you a sense of how well you were reading and writing in grade 6 - which is important as that is the foundation on which you build your literacy skills in grades 7-9, which is what the OSSLT will focus on. 

If you see that you had less than ideal scores in grade 6, such as level 2 or 1, you might want to really focus your energy on preparing for the OSSLT. This is because those scores indicate your literacy skills were in need of intensive support and approaching grade level that year. 

If your scores in grade 6 were level 3 or 4, it signifies you were at or exceeding grade level expectations in grade 6, so you likely built your latest skills on a strong knowledge and skills base. You may still want to preview the test to prepare, but you are likely in a good position to succeed if you kept up with your reading and writing tasks in grades 7,8, and 9.

Whatever your EQAO scores were, it’s important to remember that you will want to do some preparation prior to the OSSLT to ensure that you feel confident going in. 

Get your OSSLT preparation kickstarted with our latest study tips.

OSSLT practice
Being a good reader is one way to prepare. Source: Unsplash.

What are the Best Ways to Get OSSLT Practice?

Now that we have a good understanding of what the OSSLT is, let’s get into some strategies we can use to ensure we are as prepared as possible. Here are our top tips for preparing for the OSSLT.

Preview the Test

Start your OSSLT preparation by taking some time to examine and preview the test carefully. Why will this help you? Any test, especially the OSSLT, can give learners anxiety. When you know exactly what you will be seeing on the day of the test, you will feel more confident going in. 

You can preview the OSSLT easily by looking for tests from previous years. Your school board or any other school board in Ontario likely has a page on their site with links to tests that you can use to get a sense of what to expect when test time comes - explore tests from recent years so there are no surprises when the test day comes.

Focus on Mental and Physical Health

Knowing you have a big test to prepare for is always a good time to focus on supporting your mental and physical health. When we are busy or stressed preparing for a test on top of our regular routines, it’s easy to neglect things like exercise, rest or our mental well-being when test time comes.

Practice self-care by starting your OSSLT preparation early so you won’t be losing any sleep and have your study routine balanced with regular exercise. This can be especially important if you have a part time job or have a lot of family responsibilities. A good time to start practicing would be the summer before grade 10, or even halfway through grade 9, depending on when the test writing dates are published. Speak to a guidance counsellor or someone in your school’s office if you are not sure when you will be writing the test.

Take time to do some deep breathing or belly breathing, which can be a great practice to calm your nerves if you get anxious while writing the test.

What are the best resources you can use to prepare for the OSSLT this year? Find out what you can do to be ready for the literacy test.

OSSLT Test
The OSSLT is a literacy assessment based on the Ontario curriculum. Source: Unsplash.

Become a Frequent Reader

Another way you can prepare yourself for the OSSLT is to become a frequent reader. The OSSLT is a literacy test that assesses the skills you have acquired over time, and your skills as a reader are a perfect example of skills that do not come overnight. If you aren’t already a frequent reader, become one by making time to read texts on a regular basis.

Fiction books and novels are always a great way to start, since storytelling has a unique power to engross and engage you. Think critically about characters, and talk about the books you are reading with a friend or a family member. Make time to read other genres, like non fiction books, news articles, magazines, editorials, and other media texts, so you will be familiar with any text form you may encounter on the test.

As you read, look for patterns in similar texts so you can deconstruct how they are written. In many questions, you will be asked to support your answers with references from the text, so practice re-reading and reading strategically to identify main ideas.

If you are nervous about taking the OSSLT you are not alone. Find out the best strategies for taking and passing the OSSLT with flying colours.

Practice Test Questions Regularly

This type of studying can be some of the most important ways to prepare for the test. As you probably have discovered, there are tons of tests from previous years posted on the internet for you to use. Use these tests to practice, writing answers, doing the multiple select questions, and comparing them to the answers. This will take a lot of commitment and discipline on your end, so make sure you allocate time to do this and find a friend or family member to look at your work and give you feedback.

Doing readings and questions from previous years will help you work out some strategies you can use when the actual test time comes. You’ll see the difference it makes to read questions first before reading, by using a scrap paper to jot notes or plan writing, or simply get into a rhythm of reading and writing. You can even find examples of answers that received a high score or a lower score so you can compare your work to see how it measures up.

You can also find practice tests in workbooks on sites like Amazon or in bookstores like Chapters or Indigo. Workbooks are a great, portable option for study that can get you away from the screen and save you the trouble of printing documents. Set a goal for doing a few pages at a time, and you’ll soon find yourself studying for the OSSLT on a regular basis.

eqao grade 6
You must pass the OSSLT to graduate secondary school in Ontario. Source: Unsplash.

Make the Most of Your Classes

If you are taking English classes or any course that requires you to submit writing or analyses of texts, make the most of those classes by pushing yourself on your tasks and assignments and requesting feedback from your teacher. Remember that your OSSLT is assessing literacy across all subjects, so don’t feel like it’s only your English classes where you will be doing all of your writing and reading. Put in your best efforts to write detailed, text-referenced answers when doing simple homework or textbook assignments. Make a list of phrases to introduce your inferences or to state that you are referencing information.

Get into the habit of asking your teachers for regular feedback on your writing and reading tasks so you can identify areas for improvement. We don’t always use our teachers as sources for descriptive feedback, and yet they are in some of the best positions to give you personalized writing help as they are looking at your work regularly. In many cases, they will be happy that you asked and will give you lots of useful tips to take your work to the next level.

Understanding what to expect on the OSSLT is the most important steps you can do to prepare for it. 

Brush Up on Punctuation and Grammar

Punctuation, spelling and grammar do not always get addressed enough in our English and Language Arts classes. So much focus is put toward learning how to read and write holistically, and we have come to rely on tools like spell check and apps like Grammarly to do the work of showing us where to punctuate. While all of these tools are great, it’s also important to understand why commas get placed where they are, and how you can use other forms of punctuation to add style and variety to our writing.

Think about how well you already understand punctuation and grammar. Try out different websites that offer free grammar activities, or consider purchasing a grammar workbook that will teach you how to use these conventions of writing strategically. If it seems silly to do all this work to pass a single test, remember that you will likely be using your writing and communication skills for the rest of your life, so any work you do now is a great investment in your communication skills for the future.

Talk to Someone Who Has Taken the Test

Sometimes the best test advice can be found in people that have already taken the test. If you have friends or family members that have taken the OSSLT recently, use them as a resource to find out exactly what you can expect and the best strategies for preparation. Some questions you can ask include:

  • What were the questions like? 
  • How long did it actually take to write the test? 
  • What did you do to be successful? 
  • Are you happy with your mark?
  • What would you do differently next time?

There are probably lots of people you know or can be connected with that took the test recently - get their insights as that can make a huge difference in the approach you take to prepare.

Ontario Literacy Test
Make sure you make time to take breaks and keep fit while studying. Source: Unsplash.

Should I Use a Tutor for the OSSLT?

If you are worried that you will have a tough time managing yourself and preparing for the OSSLT, one of the best solutions is to find a professional OSSLT tutor on Superprof.ca. The Superprof site is designed to connect learners with some of the best and brightest tutors in your area that can help you achieve your learning goals. The site is easy to use and navigate, and you can quickly and easily find a number of prospective tutors that can help you prepare for the OSSLT. There are hundreds of tutor profiles you can compare to find someone you think you might work well with, as well as the costs that each tutor is charging. Quickly learn their educational backgrounds and strengths to find the best tutor for you.

Superprof has been used by students all around the world to find help in learning. Parents of students love having a tutor to help their child with their work. A tutor can focus on your specific areas of need, assess your strengths and weaknesses as a writer or reader, and provide you with valuable targeted feedback relevant to the OSSLT. Many Superprof tutors offer the first hour for free, so you can ensure that you get to know your tutor to see if they are a great fit.

Can I Do Literacy Test Practice Online?

Absolutely - Superprof tutors can work online or in person to practice the literacy test with you. They can use platforms like Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet to meet with you in a safe virtual environment and provide live feedback or coach you through the answer writing process. Learning virtually has become one of the most popular options for students who prefer not to have an additional commute to meet a tutor and enjoy the flexibility of simply meeting their tutor with the click of a button.

Find your OSSLT tutor on Superprof today!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.