Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT): Upper Level

Quick Facts

Get the “need to know” information at a quick glance.


The Upper Level SSAT is taken by students in grades 8-11 who are applying to programs intended for grade 9 through college.

The SSAT measures the verbal, math, and reading skills that students will need in order to achieve success in independent schools. School admissions offices use SSAT scores to help make decisions about whether individual students will be good candidates for their schools.


The SSAT has 5 sections: 

  • Writing
  • Quantitative
  • Reading
  • Verbal
  • Experimental

The Writing section contains 1 essay question, which you will have 25 minutes to complete. Although the essay will not be scored, it will be sent to the admissions offices of the schools that you apply to. There is a separate fee of $20 if you would like to receive a personal copy of your essay when you receive the rest of your score report.

The Quantitative section contains 50 questions. It is broken into two 25 question sections. You will have 30 minutes on each of these subsections, for a total of 60 minutes.

The Reading section contains 40 questions, which you will be given 40 minutes to complete.

The Verbal section contains 60 questions, which you will be given 30 minutes to complete.

You will be given 15 minutes to complete the 16 questions in the Experimental section. This section will not be scored. It is only included to help test-makers check the SSAT for quality.

During the SSAT, you will be given one 5 minute break and one 10 minute break.

So, as a whole, you will have a total of 170 minutes (almost 3 hours) to answer the 167 questions on the exam. You will spend an additional 15 minutes taking breaks.


$139 for a domestic Standard test (Tests taken in U.S., Canada, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the USVI) 

$269 for an international Standard test (All other locations)

If you are unable to pay the full exam fee due to an economic hardship, ask the admissions office of the school to which you are applying if you are eligible for a fee waiver before you register for the SSAT.

SSAT Score Breakdown

Your total score is calculated by adding your scores on the quantitative, verbal, and reading sections. For each of these sections, scores range from 500 to 800.

The lowest possible cumulative score is 1500, and the highest possible cumulative score is 2400.

A score range will also be provided to show the range in which your score will most likely fall if you were to take the test again in a short period of time.

Average SSAT Score

Some independent schools release their average SSAT scores, and others do not. A competitive secondary school typically has an average SSAT score near the 75th percentile.

Pass rate

The SSAT is not a “pass or fail” test. Different schools accept which scores they will accept. You should call the school you are applying to and ask about score requirements.

It is also important to remember that school admissions look at other factors along with your SSAT score and that they will also take into consideration how well you did in comparison to other students.

Study Time

According to the makers of the SSAT, the test is meant to be challenging. Do not underestimate the amount of time that you will need to spend studying for the test.

You can use our practice materials to determine your strengths and weaknesses, then, spend the majority of your study time on the areas in which you need the most help.

Also, plan to succeed by studying over a long period of time. You are far more likely to achieve a great score if you spend a little bit of time each day reviewing a particular concept or two than if you try to cram in many concepts in a short time. Besides, cramming for a test can be very stressful! Slow and steady wins the race.

What test takers wish they would’ve known:

  • You do not have to designate that your score will be sent to any schools before you take the exam. You can take the exam first and decide whether you are satisfied with your score before sending it to schools. You’re able to send your score to a school at any time during the academic year in which you take the test.
  • Some students are concerned that they may negatively affect their scores by bubbling in an answer incorrectly because the computer will misread the sheet. For a $60 fee, you may request that your test is scored by a person instead of a computer.
  • Arrive 30 minutes early on test day and make sure that you get plenty of sleep the night before. This will allow you to feel more rested and less stressed.
  • Do not speed through the test, but do not waste a lot of time on a single question. If a question is taking you too long to answer, mark it and return to it.
  • If you can eliminate two answer choices, there is a 50% chance that you will answer the question correctly. In this case, choose the answer which feels best out of the remaining two options.
  • If you can eliminate none of the choices, or only one choice, you should not answer the question. This is because you will receive no points for unanswered questions, but you will lose a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer.
  • Remember, the SSAT is just a test. You can always take the test again.

Information and screenshot obtained from the website.


The Writing section requires you to write 1 essay. You will have 25 minutes to complete this content area.

This section focuses on knowledge of the following 5 concepts:

  • The Writing Process
  • Writing Mechanics
  • Capitalization 
  • Grammar
  • Commonly Confused Words

So, let’s talk about them.

The Writing Process

On the Writing section, you will have the option to choose between two different prompts: a creative writing prompt or an essay prompt. If you chose the creative writing prompt, you will showcase your ability to write an interesting story. If you chose the essay prompt, you will explain your opinion about an issue.

No matter which of the two prompts you choose, you should not stray from the main idea. Instead, the details should be focused on your point.

Example essay (opinion) prompts:

Schools should have dress codes. Do you agree?

Does everyone have a special talent? Support your answer.
Is important to regularly spend time outdoors? Why or why not?

Example creative writing prompts:

I heard something run quickly across the floor…

The school was completely empty…

When I looked into its eyes, it suddenly…

Let’s take a closer look at the Writing section.


After selecting your essay question, the prewriting phase of the writing process begins. Although you will spend the majority of your time on the writing phase, the prewriting phase must not be skipped.

Here are some important components to pre-writing:

Understanding the prompt: It is absolutely essential that you read the prompt carefully and understand what it is asking you to do. For example, if the prompt is “One day, I woke up and I was 9 inches tall…” and you do not read it carefully, you might accidentally write an essay about being 9 feet tall!

Brainstorming: After you are sure of what the prompt is asking you to write about, brainstorm some ideas for 2-3 minutes. Just jot down what comes to mind. For example, if you are given the prompt “One day, I woke up and I was 10 inches tall…” you might write:

Fit into small places
Getting stepped on
Can’t reach doors
Easy to hide

Developing a focus: After brainstorming, decide what your main focus will be. If you are writing an argument, what is the primary argument. For example, if you are arguing against dress codes, your primary argument might be that students need to express themselves through clothing.

If you are writing a creative piece, you might want to focus on “mice” and “easy to hide.”

Perhaps you meet a mouse and you and your new friend have to find a hiding space because you are being chased by a cat.

Outlines: Spend 3-5 minutes creating an outline, or overview of your essay. The outline should include a couple of words for each paragraph to explain what it will be about.


When writing, make sure to include the following elements:

Topic sentence: Your topic sentence should clearly introduce the main idea. Remember, a topic sentence immediately tells the reader what the text will be about. 

Make your topic sentence interesting. If you are writing a creative piece, you may want to write a surprising or suspenseful topic sentence. An opinionated essay should include a topic sentence that uses language showing certainty.

Supporting details: All of the details in your essay should logically support the main idea in some way. Do not wander away from the storyline or your opinion. 

Language: When writing an argumentative essay, use precise language intended to persuade your reader. 

Example: “It’s important that students are able to choose what they wear so that they can express themselves with clothing.”

Improvement: “It’s crucial for students to be able to freely express themselves as unique individuals by making choices about the clothing they wear on their bodies.”

When writing a creative essay, use descriptive language to help the reader picture the scene and to feel emotion.

Example: “The cat was clearly about to attack because it stood with its back arched and its pupils were dilated.”

Improvement: “For one excruciatingly endless moment, the menacing creature stood completely still, its back arched and its pupils dilated in preparation for the attack.”

Orderly Connections: Remember to make clear connections between sentences in a paragraph and between paragraphs. Here are some words and phrases which can help you make connections:

“As a result of this…”
“Immediately afterwards…”
“This clearly leads to…”
“Because this occurs frequently,…”

Conclusion: When writing a conclusion for an argumentative essay, reiterate your main point without stating it exactly as you did in your introduction. Summarize the key details and leave the reader with a strong message to consider.

A conclusion for a creative writing essay does not need to summarize the details of the essay. Instead, it should show that the main problem is resolved or show how the characters have changed after facing the problem. You can also hint at something that might happen later in the lives of the characters in order to make the reader feel curious.


When writing your essay, be sure to leave 3-4 minutes to revise your work. Although the majority of your time on the writing section should be spent writing your essay, it’s important to go back and look for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. We will address these concepts soon.

What you should not do on the Writing portion is to reorganize or rewrite large sections of your essay. Remember, you only have 25 minutes to complete the Writing portion!

Let’s look at a few more writing concepts.

Writing Mechanics

Writing mechanics refers to the standard conventions, or rules of writing. It is important to show that you have a good understanding of writing mechanics while completing the Writing section of the exam.

Let’s look at some specifics together.

Number Conventions

Take a look at the following rules and examples of standard number conventions:

Now let’s look at some capitalization rules.


Some words are always capitalized, while others are only capitalized in certain situations. It’s important that you can demonstrate the use of proper capitalization on the Writing section of the test.

Let’s take a look at some examples of when to capitalize words and when to leave them lowercase.

Punctuation is just as important as capitalization. Let’s review that concept next.


Punctuation marks such as commas, apostrophes, periods, question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks help readers to understand the meaning of a text. They can be used to separate different parts of a text and to show emotion. When writing, it is important that you show that you are able to use punctuation marks correctly.


Commas (,) are used for different reasons in different circumstances. We’ll review those reasons as well as some examples.

End Marks

There are three different end marks used to punctuate sentences: periods, exclamation points, and question marks. Review them below:

Period (.): Used to declare an idea or give a command


  • Please pass the sugar.
  • According to the forecast, it will be sunny today.

Exclamation point (!): Used to show urgency or a strong emotion, such as fear, surprise, or excitement


  • He has been missing for almost a week!
  • You broke my favorite glass!

Question mark (?): Used to make an inquiry


  • Will you be joining us for dinner?
  • What is your favorite memory?

Now, let’s look at a different type of punctuation mark.

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks (“ “) can be used in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Sometimes, quotation marks and apostrophes are confused. Let’s take a closer look at apostrophes.


There are three main circumstances in which apostrophes ( ‘ ) are used. 

To take the place of a letter in a contraction


  • He cannot attend. = He can’t attend.
  • She is not ready. = She isn’t ready.

To show possession


  • Eric’s new puppy is loud.
  • Chris’s pencil is missing.
  • The cats’ toys are all over the floor.

Note: In the final example, more than one cat is mentioned. We know this because if a plural word is also possessive, only the apostrophe is added. There is no need to add an extra “s.” To write “cats’s toys” would be incorrect.

To show a missing letter or letters


  • ‘twas = it was
  • ‘bout = about

Note: This use of the apostrophe is very informal. It is usually found in literature to show that a character speaks in a nonstandard way.

To indicate a quote within another quote


  • “I believe he told us to ‘look for a strange purple box painted with flowers’ when we search the attic,” she said.
  • “Well,” said Timothy, “Mom always says that people should ‘just trust their instincts,’ but I’m not sure if that applies to this case.”

We’ve reviewed several concepts which you will need to know while completing the Writing section of the SSAT. The next concept we will review will be grammar.


It is important to use appropriate grammar on the Writing section of the test in order to demonstrate that you are a strong and capable writer. Let’s look at a few specific concepts.

Parts of Speech

These are the main parts of speech:

  • Nouns
  • Adjectives
  • Verbs
  • Adverbs
  • Conjunctions

In order to write a grammatically correct essay, you must understand the role of each of these parts of speech. The chart below provides definitions and examples.

So, you just reviewed some parts of speech, including verbs. Now we will look at how verbs should agree with their subjects.

Subject/Verb Agreement

When the subject of a sentence is plural, the verb describing its action should also be plural. Likewise, if a subject is singular, the verb which describes it should also be singular. 

Take a look at the following examples. In each example, the subject is in bold text and the verb is italicized.


My brother, along with a few of his friends, were planning to go camping.


My brother, along with a few of his friends, was planning to go camping.


Creativity, particularly with regard to subject matter and materials, are needed in order to score well on the art assignment.


Creativity, particularly with regard to subject matter and materials, is needed in order to score well on the art assignment.


Each one of the students have taken the exam.


Each one of the students has taken the exam.

Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement

An antecedent is the noun to which a pronoun (he, she, it, they) refers to. Just as subjects and verbs must agree, pronouns and their antecedents must agree. Here are a few examples for you to review:


Like the other pupils, Marcus says that they would like to attend the trip.


Like the other pupils, Marcus says that he would like to attend the trip.


Although the brown rabbit is my favorite, none of the rabbits are aggressive, and it may be safely petted.


Although the brown rabbit is my favorite, none of the rabbits are aggressive, and they may be safely petted.

Now, let’s more on to a different Writing concept.

Commonly Confused Words

When writing, many students and test-takers commonly confused words that sound alike or are spelled alike. In order to write well, you should correctly use the words that you choose to include in your essay!

Let’s take a look at some words which are often confused with each other.

And that’s some basic info about the Writing test.


The Qualitative section has 50 questions, broken into two groups of 25. You will have 30 minutes on each of these sections, for a total of 60 minutes.

This section focuses on knowledge of the following 12 concepts:

  • Place Value
  • Fractions
  • Order of Operations
  • Percentage
  • Arithmetic Sequences
  • Algebraic Equations
  • Graphing
  • Circles
  • Perimeter and Area
  • Volume

So, let’s talk about them.

Place Value

First, let’s review place value. This concept will come in handy throughout the Mathematics section of the SSAT. 

Place value is based on tens. If you move 1 digit to the left, the new digit is worth 10 times the original digit you moved from. If you move 1 digit to the right, the new digit is worth a tenth of the original value.

For example, consider the number 333.

The 3 on the far left, which is in the hundreds place, is worth 10 times the 3 in the middle, which is in the tens place. The 3 on the far right, which is in the ones place, is worth a tenth of the 3 in the middle. 

Here’s a chart to help you review:

So, in the chart above, the 9 is in the hundreds place. In other words, its value is 900.


A fraction shows a part in proportion to a whole. If you have two buttons and one button is yellow, you would write that fraction as ½. The numerator (1 in this case) is located on the top and the denominator (2 in this case) is located on the bottom.

A mixed number is a combination that includes a whole number and a fraction. An example of a mixed number is 4½. If you had 5 apples and you ate half of one, you would have 4½ apples.

Converting Mixed Numbers to Improper Fractions

It is likely that you will need to convert mixed numbers to improper fractions on the Mathematics section of the test. An improper fraction contains a numerator that is greater than its denominator.

Let’s practice with our leftover apples: 4½

Step 1: Multiply the denominator and the whole number. (4 x 2 = 8)

Step 2: Add the answer from the first step to the numerator. (8 + 1 = 9)

Step 3: Write answer from the second step over the denominator. (9 / 2)

So, 4½ is the same as 9 / 2. We just converted a mixed number to an improper fraction – 9 apple halves are left!

Comparing Fractions

Sometimes on the SSAT, you may need to compare fractions. For example, you may be given a list of fractions and be asked to order them from least to greatest. Usually, these fractions will have different denominators.

Take a look at the list below.

In order to order this list from least to greatest, all of the fractions must have the same denominator. We must find the LCD, or least common denominator, by determining the lowest number that each of the denominators can divide without remainders.

The least common denominator for these fractions is 24; 2 x 12 = 24, 3 x 8 = 24, 6 x 4 = 24, and so on.

In order to compare the fractions, we must multiply each numerator by the same number that the denominator must be multiplied by for a result of 24.

For example, take a look at the first fraction. Since 2 x 12 = 24, we must multiply 3 x 12 to get 36. Now, we write our new numerator over 24: (36 / 24).

Adding Fractions

So, let’s review adding fractions next. This is another important concept to know on the SSAT. Take a look at the following problem:

Penelope has a jar full of candy. She gives ¼ of the total number of candies to Jason, and she gives ⅙ of the total number of candies to Emani. What fraction of her candies does Penelope give away?

The question is basically asking us to add ¼ and ⅙. First, we need to find the LCD, which is 12.

Since 4 x 3 = 12 and 6 x 2 = 12, we need to multiply the first numerator by 3 and the second numerator by 2. Then, our problem looks like this:

(3 / 12) + (2 / 12) = 5 / 12

Penelope gave away 5 / 12 of her candies.

Subtracting Fractions

Next, we will practice doing the opposite of adding fractions; we will review subtracting them. Here’s another sample problem:

Alicia has has 3¼ cups of blueberries. If she uses ⅔ of a cup of her blueberries in a pancake recipe, how many blueberries does she have left?

The question is asking us to subtract ⅔ from 3¼.

In order to solve this problem, we will complete many of the same steps that we did in earlier examples.

So, let’s start by converting 3¼ to an improper fraction. Since 3 x 4 = 12 and 12 + 1 = 13, Alicia started with 13 / 4 cups of blueberries.

Now, we must subtract ⅔ from 13 / 4. Our LCD is 12 and by multiplying our numerators by the same number that we multiply our denominators by to get 12, we find that the problem is (39 / 12) (4 / 12).

Because this is a subtraction problem, we will subtract 4 from 12. Alicia now has 35 / 12 cups of blueberries. The number 12 goes into 35 twice.

12 x 2 = 24

So, we know that we have 2 full cups of blueberries left, but we have a remainder of 11 (35 – 24 = 11). 

So, Alicia is left with 2 11/12 cups of blueberries.

Multiplying Fractions

Next, let’s take a look at a multiplication problem using fractions.

Margaret has a large bag of rocks. She pours ¼ of the bag around her pond on Tuesday. On Wednesday, she pours twice that amount around a statue in her garden. What fraction of the original full bag of rocks does Margaret pour on Wednesday?

In order to solve this problem, we need to multiply ¼ by 2. Since 2 is the same as 2/1, our problem looks like this:

¼ x 2/1 =

We can solve the problem by multiplying the two numerators together and the two denominators together:

¼ x 2/1 = 2/4

Since both 2 and 4 can be evenly divided by two, we can simplify our answer to ½.

On Wednesday, Margaret used half of the original amount of rocks.

Dividing Fractions

Dividing fractions is just like multiplying fractions, except we take the inverse of one of the fractions. In other words, we turn it upside down, so that the numerator and denominator switch places. Here’s an example question:

What is ¼ divided by ½?

¼ ÷ ½ = ¼ x 2/1

Notice that we flip one of the fractions and change the division sign to an addition sign.

¼ x 2/4= 2

The answer is 2. 

That was pretty simple, right? Now, let’s review another concept.

Order of Operations

When solving problems on the Mathematics test, it is important that you perform operations, such as subtraction and multiplication, in the correct order. 

You may have used the acronym “PEMDAS” while solving problems before.

This acronym stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction. The phrase, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” can help you to remember “PEMDAS,” which is the correct order in which to solve an equation.

Let’s practice with a sample equation and solve it step by step:

16 + (2 x 5) x 3⁴ ÷ 9

  1. Parentheses: 16 + (10) x 3⁴ ÷ 9
  2. Exponents: 16 + (10) x 81 ÷ 9
  3. Multiplication/Division: 16 + 810 ÷ 9
                                                         = 16 + 90
  4. Addition/Subtraction: 106

Remember to solve problems left to right, just like you read from left to right. Notice that in the multiplication/division step, we multiplied (left) before we divided (right).

It’s very important to practice using the order of operations; this concept will come in handy for lots of problems on the Mathematics test!


A percentage is just a decimal value shown in a different form. For example, .40 = 40%. We simply move the decimal point two places to the right because a percentage is out of 100, which has 2 zeros.

Converting a Fraction to a Percentage

Let’s look at an example problem:

Express 7/9 as a percentage.

Step 1: Set up the following ratio:  x/100 = 7/9 

Step 2: Solve for x.

x/100 = 7/9 = 9x = 700 (cross multiply)

9x = 700 (divide by 9 on each side)

x = 77.8

So, 7/9 is the same as 77.8%.

Converting a Percentage to a Fraction

Now, let’s convert a percentage to a fraction. Here’s an example problem:

Express 16% as a fraction.

A percentage is the same thing as parts per 100, so 16% is the same as 16/100. By dividing the denominator by 4, which is the GCF of 16 and 100, we can reduce the fraction to 4/25, which is our final answer.

Arithmetic Sequences

Sometimes, you will be given a sequence of numbers and asked to find the next number in the sequence, or another number in the sequence. Other times, you may be asked to find the common difference between the numbers in a sequence. Let’s practice with some examples.

Finding the Common Difference in Sequences

It is likely that the Mathematics test will include questions which ask you to find the common difference in a sequence. Take a look at the sequence below:

1, 3, 9, 27, 81

If you were asked to find the next number in the sequence, 243 would be the correct answer. This is because each number is multiplied by 3 to find the next number. 

Sometimes, find the common difference between numbers in sequences is a little bit more complicated. You may have to use a “trial and error” approach to find the relationship between the numbers. Here’s an example:

6, 16, 11, 21, 16, 26, 21

In this example, the next term would be 31 (21 + 10 = 31). The pattern is add 10 to find the next term, then subtract 5 to find the term after that. Then add 10 to find the next term, and subtract 5 after that. Do you see the pattern now?

Questions on the exam may also appear in a format similar to the question below:

Series S consists of multiples of 4. Which series is also included within set S?

  1. Series A, containing multiples of 2. 
  2. Series B, containing multiples of 3. 
  3. Series C, containing multiples of 8. 
  4. Series D, containing multiples of 9. 

We can find the answer by writing out part of series S and comparing it to Series A, B, C, and D.

Series S: 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32

Series A: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12

Series B: 3, 6, 9, 12, 15

Series C: 8, 16, 24, 32, 40

Series D: 9, 18, 27, 36

B is the correct choice because all of Series B is contained within Series S.

Finding a Term in a Sequence

On the test, it is likely that you will be given a sequence and asked to identify a certain term within the sequence.

Algebraic Equations

On the test, you will need to solve algebraic equations. An equation contains at least one variable (such as x, y, or a) which stands for a number. Your job is to find out which number that variable stands for.

Many of the algebra questions on the test will not be presented to you in the form of a straightforward equation. Instead, you will be given a word problem, and you will need to create an equation yourself to solve the problem.

Here’s an example:

Elena makes the following scores on science tests during the first semester: 95, 87, 88, 93, and 94. If she has one more test this year, and she wants to have an average score of at least 92, what does she need to score on her test?

Now, let’s set up our equation. We will use the variable x in place of the final test score.

(95 + 87 + 88 + 92 + 94 + x ) ÷ 6 = 92
(456 + x) ÷ 6 = 92

Since we need to move the 6 to the other side of the equation, we will multiply instead of divide:

456 + x = 552

Subtract 456 from the right side to isolate x.

x = 96

Elena will need to make a 96 on her final science test in order to receive a 92 average.


On the test, it is very likely that you will need to apply some knowledge of graphing. Let’s practice.

Graphing a Point

Points on a graph are expressed as (x, y). The x value describes where the point is on the x-axis and the y value describes where the point is on the y-axis. Below, you can see point (3.5, 0) on the graph:

Graphing a Line

You can use the formula y = mx + b to describe any line on a coordinate plane (graph). The x and y values of any point on the line may be used as substitutes in the equation. The variable m represents the slope and b represents they-intercept. The y-intercept is where the line crosses the y-axis.

Let’s look at an example question:

On a coordinate plane, at what point does a line passing through point T (5, –2) and point U (3, 4) intersect the y-axis?

This question is asking us to find the y-intercept (b) of a line. We already know the values of two points, so we just need to find the slope (m).

Here is the equation to find the slope of a line:

Basically, you need to subtract the y value of one point from the y value of the other point. Divide that number by the x value of one point subtracted from the x value of the other point. Whichever point you chose for y₁ should also be used for x₁.

Now that we have the slope, let’s go back to the formula y = mx + b. You can use either point to find the answer. Let’s plug in the values from point U:

y = mx + b
4 = (-3)3 + b
4 = -9 + b
13 = b

The y-intercept is b, so our graph will look like this:

Now that we’ve reviewed graphs, let’s check out some geometry concepts.


First, we’ll review circles and how to discuss their perimeters and areas.

Circumference of a Circle

The circumference of a circle is the length of the outside of the circle. We use the formula C = 2πr to find the circumference. In this formula, r is the radius. The radius is a straight line from the exact center of the circle to any point on the circle’s edge.

In the image below, the radius is 8. Let’s find the circumference of the circle.

C = 2πr
C = 2π8
C = 50.27 ft.

The circumference of that circle is 50.27 feet. 

Area of a Circle

Now, let’s use the same circle from the previous example to find the area. The area is the total space inside the circle. The formula for the area of a circle is A = πr².

A = πr²
A = π8²
A = 201.06 square feet

Notice that area is expressed in square units. This is because the area is more than just a length; it is the entire space within the circle.

Perimeter and Area

Unlike circles, most two-dimensional shapes have sides. However, it is still possible to calculate the area within these shapes as well as the perimeter of these shapes. Perimeter is similar to circumference. It can be found by adding the length of each side of a figure.

Use the following chart to review formulas for perimeter and area.


Volume is similar to area, but it is used to describe the space inside three-dimensional objects instead of two-dimensional figures.

And that’s some basic info about the Mathematics test.


The Reading section contains 40 questions, and you will be given 40 minutes to complete this section.

This content area focuses on knowledge of the following 6 concepts:

  • Types of Texts
  • Main Idea
  • Details
  • Making Inferences
  • Purpose, Attitude, and Tone
  • Vocabulary

So, let’s talk about them.

Types of Texts

During the Reading test, you will answer questions based on several passages. The passages fall into three main categories: narrative, literary fiction, and argumentative. Together, we’ll take a look at how the different types of passages will appear on the test.

Narrative Passages

On the SSAT, you will be provided with narrative passages which relate to areas such as science, social science, or humanities. You can identify a narrative passage on the SSAT because it will be used to explain a concept. 

A narrative passage on the SSAT Reading test will be a nonfiction passage that is intended to inform the reader. It is not intended to persuade a reader to agree with an opinion.

Below, you will find an example paragraph from a narrative passage on a scientific topic. It is similar to the content that you are likely to see on the test.

From The Elements of Geology by William Harmon Norton (public domain)

Geology deals with the rocks of the earth’s crust. It learns from their composition and structure how the rocks were made and how they have been modified. It ascertains how they have been brought to their present places and wrought to their various topographic forms, such as hills and valleys, plains and mountains. It studies the vestiges which the rocks preserve of ancient organisms which once inhabited our planet. Geology is the history of the earth and its inhabitants, as read in the rocks of the earth’s crust.

Literary Fiction Passages

Literary fiction, unlike nonfiction, is made up by the author. It is not intended to be a factual representation of concepts or events. Some fiction passages on the SSAT are poetry and others are prose (not poetry). 

Here is an example excerpt from a literary fiction passage, similar to what you might see on the test:

From The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (public domain)

“No mention of that local hunt, Watson,” said Holmes with a mischievous smile, “but a country doctor, as you very astutely observed. I think that I am fairly justified in my inferences. As to the adjectives, I said, if I remember right, amiable, unambitious, and absent-minded. It is my experience that it is only an amiable man in this world who receives testimonials, only an unambitious one who abandons a London career for the country, and only an absent-minded one who leaves his stick and not his visiting-card after waiting an hour in your room.”

“And the dog?”

“Has been in the habit of carrying this stick behind his master. Being a heavy stick the dog has held it tightly by the middle, and the marks of his teeth are very plainly visible. The dog’s jaw, as shown in the space between these marks, is too broad in my opinion for a terrier and not broad enough for a mastiff. It may have been—yes, by Jove, it is a curly-haired spaniel.”

Argumentative Passages

Think back to when you read about the difference between the essay (opinion) prompts and the creative writing prompts on the SSAT Writing test. Remember how the essay prompts require you to convince the reader to agree with your opinion?

Argumentative passages are very similar to those essays. You can identify argumentative passages on the SSAT because the author will be trying to convince you of something. Take a look at the sample excerpt from an argumentative text below:

From On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation by David Ricardo (public domain)

I say that, under these circumstances, wages would fall, if they were regulated only by the supply and demand of labourers; but we must not forget, that wages are also regulated by the prices of the commodities on which they are expended.

As population increases, these necessaries will be constantly rising in price, because more labour will be necessary to produce them. If, then, the money wages of labour should fall, whilst every commodity on which the wages of labour were expended rose, the labourer would be doubly affected, and would be soon totally deprived of subsistence. Instead, therefore, of the money wages of labour falling, they would rise; but they would not rise sufficiently to enable the labourer to purchase as many comforts and necessaries as he did before the rise in the price of those commodities.

Main Idea

Regardless of what type of passage you are reading, it will generally be accompanied by at least one question about the main, or central, idea of the text. 

The main idea is the overall message of the passage. In order to determine the main idea, just ask yourself, “What is this passage about?,” and summarize it in a few words. 

Main idea questions often include words and phrases like “summarizes,” “main focus,” “central message,” and “main point.”

Take a look at the brief passage below and see if you can answer the question.

From White Fang by Jack London (public domain)

After a searching scrutiny, the animal trotted forward a few steps. This it repeated several times, till it was a short hundred yards away. It paused, head up, close by a clump of spruce trees, and with sight and scent studied the outfit of the watching men. It looked at them in a strangely wistful way, after the manner of a dog; but in its wistfulness there was none of the dog affection. It was a wistfulness bred of hunger, as cruel as its own fangs, as merciless as the frost itself.

It was large for a wolf, its gaunt frame advertising the lines of an animal that was among the largest of its kind.

“Stands pretty close to two feet an’ a half at the shoulders,” Henry commented. “An’ I’ll bet it ain’t far from five feet long.”

“Kind of strange colour for a wolf,” was Bill’s criticism. “I never seen a red wolf before. Looks almost cinnamon to me.”

The animal was certainly not cinnamon-coloured. Its coat was the true wolf-coat. The dominant colour was grey, and yet there was to it a faint reddish hue—a hue that was baffling, that appeared and disappeared, that was more like an illusion of the vision, now grey, distinctly grey, and again giving hints and glints of a vague redness of colour not classifiable in terms of ordinary experience.

“Looks for all the world like a big husky sled-dog,” Bill said. “I wouldn’t be s’prised to see it wag its tail.”

“Hello, you husky!” he called. “Come here, you whatever-your-name-is.”

“Ain’t a bit scairt of you,” Henry laughed.

Which of the following options best describes the main idea of this passage?

  1. A shy dog, which looks similar to a wolf, approaches a couple of men.
  2. A wolf-like animal becomes so hungry that it approaches two humans.
  3. There is a strange-looking animal which is large, even for a wolf, and oddly colored.
  4. Two men have an encounter an animal which could either be a wolf or a dog.

We can eliminate answer choice A because it is unclear, based on the passage, whether the animal is a dog. Choices B and C are also not correct answers. Even though B and C are true statements, based on the passage, they are really just details. 

Often, the Reading test will present details as options for a main idea question. This can throw students off because they get distracted by the idea that the details are true.

Choice D is the correct answer because it correctly summarizes the overall situation in the passage. It is not a detail; it is the main idea.


Now that we’ve covered finding the main idea, let’s talk a little bit more about details. As you saw when reading the explanation for the answer to the previous question, details can be found in the text; they just aren’t the main idea.

So, what’s the point of details? They provide support for the main idea.

Supporting Details in Narrative Passages

A supporting detail in a narrative passage helps the reader to understand the point that the author is making. Often, supporting details in narrative passages provide examples or facts that help to strengthen the concept which the author is teaching. Here’s an example:

Although domestic cats are often thought of as defenseless pets, there is a surprisingly wild side to these creatures. Cats retain many of the characteristics and behaviors of their wild ancestors, which were first domesticated thousands of years ago. 

Even a well-feed housecat, which has no need to hunt, will regularly exhibit stalking behaviors, as if in pursuit of prey. Often, these stalking behaviors are seen as playful to humans. It can be amusing to see a cat chase a ball, stuffed mouse, or a feather. 

However, this “playtime” is a cat’s way of keeping its hunting skills sharp. Before cats became domesticated, they were unable to depend upon humans for food. They also could not count on mankind for shelter from the elements or protection from other animals.

In this passage, the main idea is that cats retain characteristics and behaviors of their wild ancestors. One supporting detail is that pet cats “exhibit stalking behaviors.”

So, how does this support the main idea? It provides evidence that domesticated cats are like their ancestors by giving an example of a behavior which they engage in, not because they need to hunt, but because hunting is instinctive.

Supporting Details in Literary Fiction Passages

A supporting detail in a fiction passage helps to “paint a picture” for the reader. Supporting details in literary fiction can help the reader to imagine a scene, understand a character’s traits and motivations, and help to develop a theme (a lesson to be learned).

Take a look at the following literary fiction excerpt:

As the fog rolled in, somehow managing to make the gray city seem even more colorless, the boy sat nestled in the doorway of a boarded-up shop front. His legs and feet were bare and it seemed as though a live fox were trying to scratch its way out of his belly. The ability to turn a blind eye to hunger is a learned skill, and in this art he was thoroughly practiced. However, the abandoned shop he sat in front of was just next door to a shop which was not unoccupied at all; he was, in fact, a mere five yards from a bustling bakery.

Heavenly, buttery-warm smells invaded his nasal cavity and brought thoughts of fresh pies, rolls, and biscuits directly to his brain. In turn, his brain relayed the message directly to his hollow stomach. Salivating, he began to think of crusty bread, raisins, nuts…perhaps, just perhaps, the baker would be willing to part with a few leftover items from the previous day in exchange for a bit of labor.

This passage is clearly about a boy who is hungry. The author uses details to emphasize this idea and to help you imagine the boy’s thoughts and feelings. Phrases such as “a live fox trying to scratch its way out,” “buttery-warm smells,” and “hollow stomach” all help to depict the scene. 

Imagine if the author had not included these details, and just directly stated that the boy felt hungry. It would be more difficult to imagine exactly how the boy was feeling, and the scene would be less interesting.

Supporting Details in Argumentative Passages

Details in an argumentative passage are included to help persuade a reader. Take a look at the example excerpt below.

The town claims that its drinking water is safe, but many residents feel otherwise. The water, which is slightly milk-white in appearance, has a suspicious taste. Clean water should have little to no taste at all. Furthermore, the town’s utilities site proclaims that the water is tested every three years – as though that were sufficient! Residents of the town should fight for their health and refuse to accept unsafe water which is labeled “clean” under false pretenses.

The passage is mainly about how the town’s drinking water is unclean. The author uses details about the appearance and taste of the water, as well as a fact about how frequently the water is tested for lead, in order to support this point. Without this evidence, the author’s argument would be much weaker.

Making Inferences

An inference is a guess that you can support based on details in the passage.

Authors do not always state every detail and leave it up to the reader to infer certain ideas. Take a look at the following excerpt.

From Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (public domain)

Squatting upon his haunches on the table top in the cabin his father had built—his smooth, brown, naked little body bent over the book which rested in his strong slender hands, and his great shock of long, black hair falling about his well-shaped head and bright, intelligent eyes—Tarzan of the apes, little primitive man, presented a picture filled, at once, with pathos and with promise—an allegorical figure of the primordial groping through the black night of ignorance toward the light of learning.

His little face was tense in study, for he had partially grasped, in a hazy, nebulous way, the rudiments of a thought which was destined to prove the key and the solution to the puzzling problem of the strange little bugs.

In his hands was a primer opened at a picture of a little ape similar to himself, but covered, except for hands and face, with strange, colored fur, for such he thought the jacket and trousers to be. Beneath the picture were three little bugs — BOY

And now he had discovered in the text upon the page that these three were repeated many times in the same sequence.

In this passage, the author describes “bugs” on a page. Although the author does not state that these “bugs” are printed letters, you can make an inference based on the clue “BOY” that these “bugs” must be letters. 

When making an inference, make sure that there is evidence in the text to support your ideas.

Purpose, Attitude, and Tone

An author’s attitude, purpose, and tone are closely related. On the SSAT, you will be asked questions to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts. Let’s review each of them:

Purpose: Purpose refers to the author’s goal. When reading, ask yourself if the author is writing to entertain the reader, to inform the reader, or to persuade the reader. Does the author want you to agree or disagree with something? Is the author presenting facts, opinions, or elaborate details about a fictional event? These questions will help you to determine the author’s purpose.

Attitude: The author’s attitude is how he or she feels about a subject. For example, the author of an argumentative essay may have a negative, judgmental attitude about people who do not recycle.

Tone: Tone helps the reader to understand the author’s attitude. It is developed through the use of the author’s language. If you can determine the author’s tone, you can determine the author’s attitude and purpose. Some examples of tone are: disgusted, enthusiastic, pleading, upbeat, and dreary.

When reading, you should look at the author’s word choice to determine his or her tone. This is because in addition to denotation (a word’s dictionary definition), words also have a connotation. The connotation of a word refers to the feelings and ideas associated with that word. A word’s connotation may be positive, negative, or neutral.

Each row in the following chart contains words which are similar in meaning. Notice the difference in their connotations.

So, if an author describes an individual as assertive, the author has a positive or neutral attitude towards the individual. However, if the author describes an individual as pushy, he or she has a negative attitude towards the individual.

Pay attention to the author’s word choice, and you’ll get the message!


It is crucial to use your vocabulary skills when reading SSAT passages. If you cannot determine the meaning of words and phrases, you may misinterpret the author’s purpose, tone, and attitude, as well as the main idea and details.

Context Clues

Using context clues is a good strategy to interpret unfamiliar words. If you can understand the text around an unknown word, you can generally get an idea of the meaning of the unknown word. 

Consider the word cacomistle following statement:

“The cacomistle, a species related to the common raccoon, reaches an adult weight of about 2 pounds.”

If you are unfamiliar with the term cacomistle and you had no context clues, you might wonder, “What in the world is that? A cactus?” The underlined context clues, however, tells you that it is an animal species. 

When you see an unfamiliar word on the Reading test, just remember to re-read the words around it for context clues.

Word Parts

Sometimes, you might encounter an unknown word with few or insufficient context clues. If this happens, you should look at the parts of the word, including the root, the prefix, and the suffix. Prefixes are added to the beginning of words and suffixes are added to the end of words.

Knowing common roots, prefixes, and suffixes can help you out a lot on the test when it comes to determining the meaning of a word!

Here is a table that includes some examples of prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

And that’s some basic info about the Reading test.


The Verbal section contains 60 questions, and you will be given 30 minutes to complete this section.

This section focuses on knowledge of the following 2 concepts:

  • Synonyms and Antonyms
  • Understanding Analogies

It is important to know that all of the questions on the Verbal test will require you to understand and analogy or interpret synonyms and antonyms.

So, let’s talk about synonyms and antonyms first.

Synonyms and Antonyms

Synonyms are words that are very close in meaning, such as “small” and “little.” Antonyms can best be described as words that are opposite in meaning, such as “tall” and “short.”


Synonym questions will not necessarily contain the word “synonym.” Here is an example of a synonym question which is similar to what you might see on the test:

Which word is closest in meaning to extravagant?

  1. luxurious (correct answer)
  2. miserly
  3. inhospitable
  4. adept

Look for phrases such as “closest in meaning” and “most similar in meaning” to identify synonym questions.

Let’s look at some examples of synonyms.


Next, we’ll take a look at antonyms. How does an antonym question look on the SSAT Reading text? The sample question below gives you an example of how these questions may appear.

Which word means the opposite of extroverted?

  1. introverted (correct answer)
  2. excommunicated 
  3. interested
  4. expressive

Let’s look at some examples of antonyms.

We’ve looked at some examples of synonyms and antonyms, so you should be more familiar with these concepts. On the test, you should make sure that you are using the correct definition of a word before determining the synonym or antonym. 

This is because some words, called multiple meaning words, have definitions which vary greatly. Take a look at these examples:


The noun jam means a sweet paste or jelly. 

The verb jam means to cram something into a space.


When used as a noun, season usually refers to a specific time of year. 

When used as a verb, season usually means to add flavor to something.


The noun current usually refers to the flow of a liquid or electricity (such as water in the ocean or in a river), gas, or electricity.

The adjective current refers to something which is up-to-date. 

Keep multiple meaning words in mind as you answer the following question:

Which word most nearly means novel?

  1. unconventional
  2. nonfiction
  3. prose
  4. pampered

This is a synonym question. If you chose A as the correct answer, you were correct. In this context, novel means in a new or interesting manner. It does not refer to a piece of literature.

Although choices B and C relate to literature, they are not synonyms for the noun novel. Choice D is unrelated to the meaning of the noun novel.

Therefore, you can determine that the question is using the verb novel, not the noun novel.

Understanding Analogies

You might be less familiar with the concept of analogies than you are with the concepts of synonyms and antonyms. Don’t worry–it’s easy to understand analogies, and they’re actually like fun word puzzles to figure out!

An analogy is a comparison between two things. On the Verbal test, you will be given two words that relate to each other and a third word. You’ll figure out the relationship between the two related words. Then, you’ll apply the concept to a another word or pair of words.

As an example, think about the relationship between card and envelope. A card goes inside of an envelope.

So, if you are given lunchbox as the third word, you would choose the option that would logically go inside of a lunchbox. For example, sandwich might be the correct answer choice.

You would not choose television, wheel, foot, or any other term which does not describe something which typically goes inside of a lunchbox.

Not all analogies describe one object which goes inside of the other. Try to complete the following analogy on your own before deciding upon the answer:

Flood is to monsoon as

  1. boat is to pond
  2. hammer is to nail
  3. immunity is to guilt
  4. sickness is to bacteria

First, consider the relationship between flood and monsoon. A flood can be an effect caused by a monsoon. So, if sickness is an effect, what is its cause? Choice D is the only logical answer; exposure to harmful bacteria can cause a person to become sick.

Let’s look at some examples of different relationships between words. You are likely to encounter analogy questions on the test that require you to recognize these relationships. Notice that the analogies in the second example sets relate to each other the same way that the analogies in the first example sets relate to one another.

Sometimes, you will need to rely on your knowledge of specific terminology in order to complete analogies correctly. After all, if you don’t know the meaning of each term, you cannot complete the analogy.

Two of the most common types of special terminology included on the SSAT are animal terminology and gendered terminology.

Review the following charts.

And that’s some basic info about the SSAT!