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Upper Level Ssat Essay Tips

Writing Sample for the SSAT Essay

Brief Introduction to the SSAT Essay and a Sample Essay

The SSAT stands for the Secondary School Admission Test. It is a standardized test that is taken by those school students of USA who are planning to enter into private or independent schools across USA. This article focuses on the Writing sample section of the SSAT test and also includes a sample essay. Hence, go through the article carefully to acquire complete knowledge of the Writing Sample test.

SSAT Writing Test

Elementary Level

For the Elementary Level, a simple essay has to be written for which the students are given 15 minutes. The test at this level contains a picture prompt and the student has to express himself or herself through a written response based on that prompt. This sample is not scored but a copy of it is sent to the chosen schools for evaluation.

Middle and Upper Levels

In the SSAT, at this level, you are provided 25 minutes for this section and are given a choice of two writing prompts. This writing sample is used by admission officers of various schools to evaluate your writing skills. Although the essay is not scored, a copy of it is provided to each school you select as a score recipient.

SSAT Essay Prompts

The essay prompts are written in such a way that the student is able to tell the school something better about himself or herself. Two pages are given to you in order to write an essay on the given essay prompts. For more clarity on the types of topics that you may encounter, you can go through a few SSAT essay prompts that are available on the official website (http://www.ssat.org/ssat/test/test-prep-sample.html):

Elementary Level

The essay prompt given to Elementary Level test-takers is in the form of a picture. The students have to make sure that the story they form on the given picture has a complete beginning, middle and an end. For this level, no copy of the sample is available for purchase by the student's family later.

Middle Level

Both these prompts, taken up from the official website, are creative in their tone.

  1. I looked into its eyes and suddenly...
  2. The classroom was empty.

Your response to such prompts must be creative and must use vivid explanations. Additionally, the grammar and vocabulary that you use must be in accordance with the conventions of Standard English.

Upper Level

The following sample prompts have been taken up from the official test website for your reference. One of these prompts is creative and the other one is an essay.

  1. If you could do something over again, what would it be and why?
  2. He couldn't believe they wanted his help.

For the creative prompt, your response must be equally imaginative and creative. For the essay prompt, your response must be supported by well-developed examples.

The essays you write are not scored by the SSAT Board. In fact, it is not scored at all. However, a copy of your written essay is sent to all the schools the names of which you mentioned at the time of registration. It is these schools that evaluate your essay. You may purchase a copy of the writing sample later for a fee of 20$.

SSAT Sample Essay:

Here is an essay written for a prompt that is ideal for a Middle Level essay:

Essay Prompt: Where there is a will, there is a way.

Sample:There is truth in the saying "Where there's a will, there's a way." According to me, if people have some hope even in an abject situation, they will always find a way by working hard or by putting in more efforts. Whenever they need help and then work hard, and if they really do aspire to achieve the best that they can do in such a given condition, then they can always find the correct way that will lead them to success.

There is an example I would like to quote here. When I was ten years old, I used to play handball with my elder brothers. However, one day while playing with them, I got hit while catching the ball. My brother had thrown the ball for fun straight into my face, and subsequently, my face started hurting a lot. It also swelled and became red in color. However, I did not give up at that moment. Instead, I kept on playing, and eventually my side won the game.

Another example I can quote here is of the story of Robert, the Bruce and the spider. Once during a war, Robert, the Bruce took shelter in the cave as he was very scared. However, he saw a spider making his web painstakingly. The spider would fail every time, yet he would start making the web again. This act of the spider and his zeal to overcome his failures inspired Robert, the Bruce. He gained the will to win the war and so he went and fought bravely. In the end, he had found a way and had won

In conclusion, the phrase "Where there's a will, there's a way" is a really good phrase to learn from. If we work hard and have faith in our hard work, we can achieve the impossible. The reason is that due to our hope, we start working towards our goal. And when we work, we accomplish many tasks. By doing so, we can be sure that we will not fail because now we have a will. It is this will that will create a way for us.

Hence, remember that even though the written essay is not scored, it is advisable to attempt it in the best possible way. The reason is that a copy of the response will be sent to all the schools you selected when you registered for the SSAT. For ensuring this, there are a few important tips that you must keep in mind:

  • Always remember to start the essay with the sentence given to you in the essay prompt.
  • You must also write neatly and eligibly within the margins provided.
  • The grammar and vocabulary that you use in the essay must be correct and in accordance with the rules of Standard English.
  • The writing sample may have more than one meaning. However, you must stick to the meaning that you have understood.
  • Creativity is always encouraged as long as it is appropriate and effective.
  • You need to support your statements with relevant and specific examples. These examples could be derived from your personal experience, studies, literature, science or arts.
  • The essay must contain a clear introduction, at least two paragraphs in the main body and a well-defined conclusion.
  • The essay must also be at least 350 words in length.

So, start preparing and brushing up your skills for this section!

This summary has detailed information about each SSAT section and will help you prepare.

Writing Sample Section

This section is not scored, but schools use it as an indicator of what a student can write independently.

Elementary Level Writing Sample

The Elementary students are given a picture prompt, and are asked to write a story about what happened in the picture, including a beginning, middle, and end. Students should practice this activity so they are comfortable with the task and the time frame given, and should review editing for capitals, spelling, and punctuation.

Middle Level Writing Sample

The Middle Level students have the choice of two creative prompt story starters.


I opened the door and couldn’t believe what I saw.

Nothing could have prepared her for this moment.


The prompts are intentionally open-ended, and students can get creative with their stories! It’s only 25 minutes, however, so it’s important to keep an eye on the time. Spending a few minutes jotting down the main plot points can help writers plan a complete story arc and keep them on task. Students should also leave time to review their work, checking for spelling, punctuation, and clarity of ideas.


Upper Level Writing Sample

The Upper Level students have the choice of two prompts: a creative short story, or an opinion essay.

Creative prompt sample:

It was completely dark.

Essay Prompt Sample:

What qualities make a good leader?


Students generally have a preference for writing creative stories or essays, so they might want to focus preparation on one style or the other. Practising for the creative prompts will include working on story arc, character development, literary devices, and editing skills. Practising for the essay prompts will include planning and organizing ideas, developing examples, essay structure, and editing skills.


Tips for improving:

  • Read creative short stories by others. Inspiration goes a long way! Identify what authors did well, the main plot points, why the author’s writing spoke to you, etc.
  • Practise! At first, learn about the parts of story writing or essay writing from a teacher, tutor, or even a guide book. Then use prompts and practice under timed conditions. Use a plan each time so you know where your writing is going.
  • Get feedback. Have a teacher/tutor/parent look over your writing, identify what they liked and where you could improve, and point out any errors in grammar or punctuation that you may need help editing.
  • Write again! Take the suggestions of others to heart, and try again! Go to the same person and see if you hit the nail on their suggestions.


Tips for during the test:

  • Make a plan. Knowing where your writing is going will keep it focused and directed. But don’t spend too much time on this–2-4 minutes is plenty.
  • Watch the clock. You only have 25 minutes, so make sure you leave time to finish your writing and read what you’ve written.
  • Think about past ideas. If you’re writing the creative prompt, you might have elements of a story you did for practice that weave nicely into this prompt. Don’t force it though–it’s obvious when a student tries to make an unrelated story prompt fit with a story they’ve already written.
  • Use juicy vocabulary. Add those scintillating adjectives that hook readers and vividly describe your story or topic.
  • Edit. As mentioned earlier, leave a few minutes at the end to look back over your work and make minor edits. Be aware of what you might need to watch out for based on your practice writing samples. Capitals? Periods? Quotation marks? Demonstrate what you know about editing in those final minutes.

Math Section

Referred to as the ‘Quantitative’ Section, both the Middle and Upper Level math sections test a wide range of math concepts, including number sense, geometry, algebraic reasoning, visual/spatial awareness, and problem-solving. According to the SSAT official website, both the Middle and Upper tests could test any of the following concepts:


Information from ssat.org:

Topics covered:

Number Concepts and Operations

  • Arithmetic word problems (including percent, ratio)
  • Basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Estimation
  • Rational numbers
  • Sequences and series
  • Frequencies

Algebra (elementary concepts of algebra)

  • Properties of exponents
  • Algebraic word problems
  • Equations of lines
  • Patterns
  • Absolute value


  • Area and circumference of a circle
  • Area and perimeter of a polygon
  • Volume of a cube, cylinder, box
  • Pythagorean theorem and properties of right, isosceles, equilateral triangles
  • Properties of parallel and perpendicular lines
  • Coordinate geometry
  • Slope

Data analysis/probability

  • Interpretation (tables, graphs)
  • Trends and inferences
  • Probability


What you’re probably wondering, is why would the Middle Level and Upper Level test cover all the same topics? Well, they both put emphasis in different areas, and the level of difficulty varies. This list of topics is helpful, but certainly overwhelming. To help narrow down your study, here’s the same list with reference to each test level:


TopicMiddle LevelUpper Level
• Arithmetic word problems (including percent, ratio)Very commonVery common
• Basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and divisionNecessary for most other questionsFrequent
• EstimationCan be used instead of complex calculations for some questionsFrequent
• Rational numbersCommonVery common
• Sequences and seriesCommonCommon
FrequenciesSomewhat commonCommon
• Properties of exponentsInfrequentCommon
• Algebraic word problemsCommonVery common
• Equations of linesVery infrequentCommon
• PatternsCommonInfrequent
• Absolute valueInfrequentInfrequent
• Area and circumference of a circleInfrequentInfrequent
• Area and perimeter of a polygonCommonFrequent
• Volume of a cube, cylinder, boxLess commonFrequent
• Pythagorean theorem and properties of right, isosceles, equilateral trianglesSomewhat commonFrequent
• Properties of parallel and perpendicular linesInfrequentFrequent
• Coordinate geometryLess commonCommon
• SlopeInfrequentFrequent
• Interpretation (tables, graphs)CommonCommon
• Trends and inferencesCommonCommon


Tips for Improving:


Tips for During the Test:


Reading Comprehension Section

Both the Middle Level and Upper Level sections follow the same format: students read a short passage, and answer comprehension questions about them. The types of passages range in style and genre, but there are generally 8-9 passages chosen from history, science, sociology, art, biography, novels, poetry, medicine, etc.

On the SSAT score report, answers will be grouped into two categories: main idea and higher order. In reality, there are many more detailed question types, and it’s important to recognize them when you see them.

Main idea: Asks about the author’s central idea

Detail: Asks for specific information from the passage

Inference: Asks the reader to use clues from the passage to determine new information

Tone/attitude: Asks how the author feels about the subject (or how the character in a story feels)

Author’s purpose/intent: Asks why the author chose to include a specific phrase or word

Vocabulary: Asks reader to determine the meaning of a word in the context of the text–usually a word with more than one meaning

Text type: Asks the reader where the text might appear (e.g., newspaper, biography, textbook, etc.)


For all questions, referring back to the text to double-check your gut answer is the most helpful in improving accuracy. Many times there are “trap answers” that reuse words from the text, but don’t actually answer the question being asked, or have changed in meaning slightly to make an answer choice wrong. It doesn’t take long; just look back and check for proof for your answer!

Verbal Section

This section includes 30 synonym and 30 analogy questions.

The synonym questions ask students to read a word and determine which of the five answer option words is a synonym of the question word. The vocabulary for these ranges from words found in the top 3000 spoken words of the language (rank, debate, solve) to more obscure words that would leave many adults scratching their heads (bellicose, vetted, callow). Students who are voracious readers have a natural advantage in this section, as the more frequently you see or hear a word, the more likely you are to infer and retain its meaning. That being said, those who want to improve their vocabulary can start to read more challenging books/journals/newspapers on a regular basis, and learn about the roots of words to help figure out the meaning of those they haven’t seen before.

The analogies ask students to determine the relationship between a pair of words, and find another pair of words with the most similar relationship. There are many common types of relationships that will appear, such as “synonyms” (joyful is to elated) and “worker/tool” (painter is to brush), but there are many other obscure relationships that might be mistaken for more common relationships (e.g., June is to July shows not just category, but sequence). Learning to recognize these relationships is very helpful in this section, as well as using the process of elimination.

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