SSAT Verbal Section: An Overview

We understand that preparing your child for the SSAT can be a nerve-wracking endeavor. It’s a significant milestone in your child’s development, and the results can have a big impact on their educational journey. Thankfully, we’re here to help break down one of the most challenging sections of this standardized test: the SSAT Verbal Section.

In this blog post, we’ll demystify this critical element of the SSAT and provide an easy-to-understand overview of the ins and outs of this section. Don’t worry, we won’t be using jargon or test-prep lingo here. Think of this as a friendly chat, where we just discuss how to help your child tackle the SSAT Verbal Section with confidence.

Grab your coffee, sit back, and let’s delve into the fascinating world of synonyms, analogies, and vocabulary building. Here’s everything you need to know about the SSAT Verbal Section!

What Is The SSAT Verbal Section? 

Let’s get started with the SSAT as a whole before dive into the specifics of the Verbal Section.

The Secondary School Admission Test, or SSAT for short, is a test administered by the United States-based Enrollment Management Association for students currently in grades 3 through 11 seeking admission into a private or independent elementary, middle or high school. This exam is tests a student’s verbal, quantitative, and reading skills. 

The SSAT Verbal Section is designed to measure a student’s vocabulary, verbal reasoning, and ability to understand relationships between words. This section is composed of two main question types: Synonyms and Analogies. 

Synonyms questions test a student’s knowledge of word meanings and vocabulary, while Analogies questions assess a student’s ability to recognize relationships between words and apply logical reasoning. A strong performance in the Verbal Section showcases your language skills and can significantly boost your overall SSAT score.

The verbal section of the SSAT is 30 minutes long and consists of 30 synonym questions and 30 analogy questions for a toal of 60 questions (the most of any SSAT section), which means students will have roughly 30 seconds to answer each question. It’s important to note that as a student progresses through this section, the questions will become increasingly difficult, though will revert to easier questions when transitioning from synonyms to analogies. 

SSAT Verbal: Synonyms

The Synonyms portion of the Verbal Section consists of 30 multiple-choice questions, where a student will be asked to identify the word that is most similar in meaning to a given word. To excel in this section, it’s essential to have a robust vocabulary and be familiar with a wide range of words. Regular reading, using flashcards, and engaging in vocabulary-building activities can help you expand your word knowledge and increase your confidence in tackling these questions.

Below we’ve provided an example of a question a student might encounter on this portion of the SSAT Verbal section:


Choose the word that is most similar in meaning to the capitalized word.


A) Gloomy

B) Delighted

C) Tired

D) Angry

E) Sick


B) Pleased

In this example question, “happy” is the capitalized word. The correct answer is “delighted” as it is the word most similar in meaning to “happy”. This question tests a student’s understanding of basic vocabulary and their ability to identify synonyms.

SSAT Verbal Synonym Strategies

A “synonym” is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language. For example, “happy,” “joyful,” and “cheerful” are synonyms because they all have similar meanings relating to a state of happiness or pleasure. Synonyms are often used in language to avoid repetition and add variety to speech or writing. Below, we’ve listed some ways to help your child excel on the synonym portion of the SSAT Verbal, both in preparation before the test and test-day strategies. 

  • Develop a Strong Vocabulary: The synonyms section is a vocabulary test at its core. Building a strong vocabulary is crucial. Use vocabulary flashcards, read widely, and use new words in your writing and speaking to ensure you remember them.
  • Understand the Context: Words can have different meanings depending on context. Make sure you understand the nuances of words. Using words in sentences can help with this.
  • Learn Word Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes: Knowing the roots of words can help you decipher their meaning. For example, if you know ‘bio’ means life and ‘graphy’ means writing, you can guess that ‘biography’ means writing about someone’s life.
  • Elimination: If you don’t know the exact meaning of a word, eliminate the options you know are wrong. This will increase your chances if you need to guess.
  • Don’t Rush: Even if you know the meaning of a word, read all the options. There may be a word that is a better match than your first instinct.

The synonym section of the SSAT might be difficult, but by following these simple strategies, your child will be able to soar through this section with confidence. 

SSAT Verbal: Analogies

The Analogies portion of the SSAT Verbal section requires you to identify the relationship between a pair of words and then apply that same relationship to another pair of words. Analogies questions can be challenging, as they demand both a strong vocabulary and sharp reasoning skills. 

To prepare for this section, practice identifying different types of relationships between words, such as synonyms, antonyms, part-to-whole, cause-and-effect, and degree. Familiarizing yourself with these relationships and practicing analogies questions will enable you to recognize patterns and make connections more quickly during the test.

Below we’ve provided an example of an Analogy question a student might encounter in the SSAT Verbal section:

Artist : Palette :: Writer : ___________

A) Pen

B) Keyboard

C) Book

D) Dictionary

In this analogy, the relationship between “Artist” and “Palette” needs to be determined in order to find the most appropriate answer choice that exhibits a similar relationship for the second pair of words. An artist typically uses a palette to mix and hold different colors of paint while creating artwork. To solve the analogy, we need to identify an object or tool commonly associated with a writer.

Looking at the answer choices:

A) Pen: A pen is indeed a tool used by a writer, but it does not represent the writer’s workspace or medium as directly as a palette does for an artist.

B) Keyboard: This answer choice is the most suitable analogy. Just as an artist uses a palette to create art, a writer uses a keyboard as their primary tool for writing.

C) Book: While books are often associated with writers, the relationship between “Writer” and “Book” does not mirror the relationship between “Artist” and “Palette.”

D) Dictionary: While a dictionary is a resource that writers may consult, it does not represent the primary tool or workspace for a writer.

Therefore, the correct answer is B) Keyboard, as it best reflects the analogous relationship between “Writer” and “Keyboard” similar to “Artist” and “Palette.”

If a student is consistently struggling with the Verbal Section, parents can explore additional resources such as hiring an SSAT tutor or enrolling their child in a test preparation course. These resources can provide specialized instruction, individualized feedback, and strategies tailored to the student’s specific needs. 

SSAT Analogies Strategies

An analogy is a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. It is a form of reasoning that explains one thing in terms of another in order to highlight some form of similarity or connection between them.

In the context of the SSAT, an analogy question involves identifying a relationship between two given words and then finding a second pair of words that has the same relationship. Below, we’ve provided some tips & tricks to master this section:

  • Form a Sentence: When you see the given pair, try to form a complete sentence that captures their relationship. For example, “A kitten grows up to become a cat.” Then apply this sentence to the answer choices.
  • Flip the Analogy: If you’re stuck, try reversing the order of the given pair. Sometimes looking at the analogy from a different angle can make the relationship clearer.
  • Process of Elimination: As with synonyms, if you’re stuck, eliminate the options that you know are incorrect. This can help narrow down your choices.
  • Don’t Assume Unstated Relationships: The relationship should be clear from the given pair of words. Don’t assume a relationship that isn’t obvious from the words themselves.

How Is The SSAT Verbal Section Scored?

A student’s score on the SSAT Verbal section is based on the total number of correctly answered questions on this section of the exam and is not impacted by any of the other SSAT sections. With a total of 60 questions, the lowest score a student can receive on the SSAT Verbal is 500, while the highest score a student can receive is 800. 

Keep in mind that there is a wrong answer penalty, and each incorrectly answered question will result in a deduction of ¼ of a point. That being said, we recommend not making random guesses as this strategy could severely impact your score. 

Why a High Score on the SSAT Verbal Is Important

A high score on the SSAT Verbal Section is important for several reasons when it comes to gaining admission to a top private school. 

Private schools often have rigorous academic programs, and they seek students who can handle the challenging coursework. A high score in this section demonstrates strong language abilities and the potential for success in a demanding academic environment.

Additionally, private schools typically emphasize strong communication skills, both verbal and written. Since the Verbal Section of the SSAT focuses on vocabulary, analogies, and reading comprehension, a high score indicates a student’s proficiency in understanding and using language.

Challenges of the SSAT Verbal Section

While the Verbal Section of the SSAT may seem pretty straightforward, students may encounter several challenges in before or during this portion of the exam. Below, we’ve listed some common concerns and different ways parents can help their children overcome them.

Challenge #1: Time Management

One crucial challenge that students face while preparing for and taking the SSAT Verbal Section is time management. With a 30-minute verbal section consisting of 30 synonym questions and 30 analogy questions, students have roughly 30 seconds to answer each question. 

In this time, they have to read and comprehend the question, mentally process possible word relationships, and select the best answer from the available options. Under such strict time constraints, even the most prepared students can find themselves faltering.

For example, consider an analogy question like “Revolutionary is to Change as Guardian is to…?” A student may be well-versed in both vocabulary and the relationships between words. However, the ticking test clock might impact their ability to apply this knowledge calmly and efficiently, causing them to spend more time than necessary trying to determine whether “Protection” or “Stability” is the more fitting answer. This delay could lead to insufficient time to finish the test or cause them to rush through the remaining questions, increasing the chances of errors.

Additionally, the progressively increasing difficulty of questions within the SSAT Verbal Section might exacerbate time management struggles. As students encounter harder questions, they may take progressively longer to determine the correct answers, potentially using up valuable time for subsequent questions. 

For instance, they might spend a full minute grappling with a particularly complex analogy question, such as “Allegory is to Story as Metaphor is to…?” Consequently, effective time management remains a significant challenge when it comes to mastering the SSAT Verbal Section.

Challenge #2: Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can pose a substantial challenge for even the most well-prepared students when they tackle the SSAT Verbal Section. 

The pressure of the test environment and the weight of this exam’s importance in school admissions can cause a surge of nerves that negatively impact a student’s performance. 

This test-driven stress might be further heightened by the stringent time constraints and the progressively increasing difficulty level of the questions.

For instance, consider an analogy question that appears mid-way into the test: “Thrifty is to Stingy as Courageous is to…?” On a typical day, the student might quickly recognize the relationship and confidently select “Reckless” as the correct answer. 

However, under test stress, they might overthink, second-guess themselves, or inadvertently attach negative connotations to the word ‘Courageous’. They might wrongly opt for a word like “Fearful”, mistakenly correlating ‘Courageous’ and ‘Fearful’ as antonyms akin to ‘Thrifty’ and ‘Stingy’.

Furthermore, in a high-pressure situation like the SSAT, a student might correlate words based on their appearance rather than their actual meanings. This may lead to errors like assuming “Enigma is most similar in meaning to Enema” due to the phonetic similarities in these unrelated words. 

Therefore, test anxiety can notably influence a student’s ability to stay calm, clear-minded, and focused on the SSAT Verbal Section, making it a considerable challenge for even the most prepared student.

Challenge #3: Not Enough Preparation

Experts say that in order to succeed on the SSAT, a child should begin studying for the exam 3-6 months ahead of test day. Allocating enough prep time for the SSAT will ensure that your child has all of the skills they need to effectively complete this exam with confidence.

In all cases, it’s important for parents to maintain open lines of communication with their children, offering support, encouragement, and reassurance throughout the SSAT preparation process. Parents should also ensure that the emphasis remains on learning and growth rather than solely on achieving a high score, as a positive mindset can contribute to improved performance.

SSAT Verbal Preparation

In addition to addressing the specific challenges listed above, we’ve provided a variety of other strategies to better prepare your child to ace not only the Verbal Section of the SSAT, but the entire test as well. 

Tip #1: Develop Strong a Vocabulary 

Since the Verbal SSAT assesses your child’s ability to understand the meaning of words and their relationships to other words, ensuring that your child has a strong vocabulary is arguably the most important thing you can do as a parent in preparation for this test. Below are some ways you can work with your child to help them develop a better vocabulary:

  • Use Vocabulary Flashcards: Write new words on one side of a card and their meanings on the other. Review them together regularly.
  • Word of the Day: Introduce a “Word of the Day” every day and encourage them to use it in conversation. Words could include “perseverance,” “tenacious,” “altruism,” etc.
  • Play Word Games: Games like Scrabble, Boggle, or online games like Pictoword can make learning new words fun. Crossword puzzles and word search puzzles can also be entertaining and educational.

Building a strong vocabulary is even more important for student’s who are not native-English speakers, especially if they’re not used to hearing English at home in their daily lives. 

Tip #2: Setting up a study schedule 

A well-planned study schedule is crucial for efficient and effective preparation. Encourage your child to designate specific times for studying the SSAT verbal section each day, ensuring consistency and routine. This can help your child avoid last-minute cramming, enabling a gradual and thorough understanding of the verbal content.

Tip #3: Balancing SSAT preparation with schoolwork

Balancing regular schoolwork with SSAT prep can be a challenge. To manage this, help your child integrate their SSAT study time into their daily homework routine. Remind them that their regular schoolwork also contributes to SSAT prep by improving reading, comprehension, and vocabulary skills.

Tip #4: Taking timed practice tests

Regularly taking full-length, timed practice tests will familiarize your child with the SSAT’s pace and pressure. It also helps build stamina for the actual test day. By practicing under realistic conditions, they can identify areas of struggle and improve their time management skills.

Tip #5: Encouraging and motivating your child

SSAT preparation can be stressful. As a parent, your role is to offer consistent encouragement and motivation. Celebrate their improvements, no matter how small, and remind them that persistence will pay off. Your positive reinforcement can help maintain their motivation levels throughout their preparation journey.

Closing Thoughts: The SSAT Verbal Section

And there you have it, parents – a comprehensive look at the SSAT Verbal Section. Remember, practice and perseverance are the keys to success in this area, and don’t hesitate to resort to some fun, unconventional methods for vocabulary building and understanding word relationships. Every child learns differently, and finding your child’s unique learning style might just be the trick to mastering this part of the test.

We hope this overview has eased some of your concerns and provided you with useful insights to assist your child with their preparation. But remember, even though this is a significant test, it’s not the only measure of your child’s potential. Your support, encouragement, and belief in them are what truly matters. As stressed as you might be, they are likely feeling it too – remind them to take deep breaths, do their best, and know that you’re proud of them.

Related SSAT Resources: 

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