SSAT Sections

The SSAT Has Five Sections

SSAT Sections

The SSAT has five sections

The SSAT has five sections:

  • 1 Unscored essay.
  • 1 scored Verbal Section
  • 2 scored Math Sections
  • 1 Scored Reading Section

The SSAT is only offered in English. For timing of the sections on an Upper level exam, take a look at this post. To find sample questions for every section, please see the official SSAT website or order the official SSAT guide to get two full practice tests.

Now for a description of each section.


SSAT Essay

The SSAT Essay is Unscored

This section gives you a brief prompt, usually an English idiom such as ‘no pain, no gain’. The student has 25 minutes to plan and write an essay in which they agree or disagree with the idea expressed in the prompt.

There is no right or wrong answer. The prompts are such that a case can be made for either side. Indeed, the best essays acknowledge the weak points of their own side.

The essay is not scored. Instead, a copy is sent to the school. Schools use these according to their own policies. In most cases the schools use it to get a sense of the student’s writing abilities when they don’t have any help from a parent or a tutor.

This section is particularly challenging for non-native speakers, as some of the prompts are incomprehensible unless the student is already familiar with the idiom. Non-native speakers should study lists of English idioms (sayings) to boost their chances of recognizing the essay prompt.

Math Section

SSAT Geometry

Geometry Is Important On The SSAT

The math section doesn’t require knowledge of advanced mathematical concepts. No trigonometry, calculus, or anything beyond basic algebra.

Instead, the math section tests your child’s ability to reason through logical problems, and their mental arithmetic.

This post talks about using the Khan Academy to get better at mental math.

Students have 25 minutes to finish the math section, and there are 25 questions. On average, each question should take one minute. There are two math sections.

Reading Section

SSAT Reading Section

SSAT Reading has around 8 passages

The reading section consists of 40 questions, with a 40 minute time limit. Just like the math sections, that leaves 1 minute per question. The section has around 8 short passages on a variety of subjects. Usually about half will be non-fiction covering various subjects: art, music, science, history. One passage is generally a poem, these can be difficult, especially for non-native speakers. The other passages tend to be fiction or more non-fiction.

The passages are not overly difficult, but the time limit makes it tricky to gain a full understanding. Nonetheless, spending enough time to understand the passage is the best strategy, it will increase a student’s speed as they move through the questions.

See this post about  how to improve SSAT reading skills.

Verbal Section

SSAT Words

Learn More Words

The verbal section is the hardest section to get better at. This is because it mostly tests knowledge of vocabulary. Vocabulary takes a long time to build, so success at the vocabulary section depends on what the student has learned in their past.

There are two types of verbal questions: analogies and synonyms.

Analogies are easier to improve at. With proper strategies, it’s possible to correctly guess some questions even when the student doesn’t know all the words. An example of an analogy is ‘soap is to body as shampoo is to hair’. The best way to solve many analogies is to think of a sentence that explains the relationship. Soap is something that cleans the body, and shampoo cleans hair.

Synonyms are the other half of the verbal section, and they are much harder. One word is given, and the student must find another word that has the same meaning. Often, obscure meanings of the word are used. The only reliable way to improve is to learn more words. Learning root word, suffixes and prefixes is of some use.

See this post on improving your vocabulary, and this post on SSAT reading materials for tips on how to get better at SSAT verbal.

Deciding What To Focus On

SSAT Priorities


There are two big questions to ask to decide how to prioritize:

  1. What do you score on each section?
  2. How easy is it to improve?

For instance, you might have a low Verbal score, but realize that it’s easier to make progress on math. Therefore you should focus on math.

For more detailed advice on tutoring, or for help creating a study plan, contact me for tutoring.

A good study guide can help you learn the SSAT. The best guides for all sections are by Ivy Global. No other guide on the market comes close in terms of both the strategies offered and the quantity of the practice materials.

They’re expensive, but it’s worth it. For $100 more than other guides, you might earn a scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Une version Francaise suivra.

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