Your Introduction to the SSAT Verbal Section

The SSAT contains one Verbal section.

In this section, students must complete Synonyms and Analogies questions.

The most daunting aspect of the SSAT Verbal section is the sheer number of words that can appear on it. After all, there are 171,476 words in current use in the English language!

But with some smart strategies and an effective vocabulary-building plan, you can put yourself in a much more advantageous position for test day. 

In this post, we discuss:

SSAT Verbal: The Basics

The SSAT Verbal section is often the lowest-scoring section for students beginning their SSAT prep. 

Schools simply don’t spend a lot of time teaching vocabulary to students–especially vocabulary at the level of the test’s questions. The good news is that the Verbal section is also one of the easiest sections to improve!

Before we get into some study tips, let’s recall the breakdown of the Verbal section that we introduced in our “What’s on the SSAT?” article:

  • 30 minutes /  60 multiple choice questions
  • 2 sections: Synonyms and Analogies

The Upper-Level SSAT will, of course, test higher-level vocabulary than the Middle-Level SSAT tests.

While both Verbal sections test students’ vocabulary range, the Analogy section has an extra element of identifying relationships between words.

Let’s look more closely at each section.

SSAT Verbal: Synonyms

In the Synonyms section, students are given a word in CAPITAL LETTERS and asked to find a word or phrase with the closest meaning.

Here’s a sample Synonyms question:

A) angry
B) nervous
C) elated
D) shy
E) thoughtful

Correct Answer: A

There is no finite list of words from which the SSAT draws. So, the most surefire plan for preparing for the Synonyms section is simply to have a big vocabulary! 

Most SSAT students, however, do not have the luxury of time, especially the time it takes to build a substantial vocabulary. 

For this reason, we recommend using the following strategies to quickly and effectively develop an understanding of advanced terms:

Learn word roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

The English language is made up of lots of little building blocks, many derived from Latin and Greek words. If you learn just one of these building blocks, you might be able to identify it in 10+ words! 

You can find many lists (some SSAT-focused) of these word roots, prefixes, and suffixes online or in books that focus on vocabulary building.

Searching Quizlet for online SSAT vocabulary lists or investing in a Merriam-Webster Vocabulary Builder book are good places to start. 

o   Roots are a portion of a word from which other words grow. 

For example, “bene” comes from the Latin word meaning “well.” Bene can be found in English words including benefactor, benefit, benediction, beneficiary, benevolent…You can see how it works!

o   Prefixes are groups of letters placed at the beginning of a word. 

For example, “anti-“ is a Greek prefix meaning “against” or “opposite.” Anti can be found as a prefix in English words such as antihero, antibiotic, antiseptic, etc.

o   Suffixes are groups of letters placed at the end of a word. 

For example, “-logy” is the Greek word meaning “science or study of,” which we see in biology, astrology, cosmology, etc.

Use SSAT vocabulary hit lists to study.

As stated above, you can find many vocab lists in practice books or through online vocab sets. These are good places to start because they offer grade-appropriate words to learn. 

However, there is no guarantee that any of them will be on the SSAT.

Make flashcards.

Flashcards can be an excellent tool for solidifying new word knowledge. 

Quizlet is a favorite online flashcard site for many students. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned notecards!

Guess appropriately.

The general wisdom on guessing states that if you can narrow down your choices down to two answers, you have a 50% chance of getting the question correct.

Of course, always keep in mind the 1/4 point penalty per wrong answer rule of SSAT scoring. 

SSAT Verbal: Analogies

In the Analogy section, students are given two words that demonstrate a certain relationship.

They are then asked to select the choice that best completes the meaning of the sentence.

Here’s a sample Analogies question:

Gargantuan is to big as:
A) hot is to steamy
B) thirsty is to dry
C) pleasant is to melody
D) clumsy is to coordinated
E) ecstatic is to happy

Correct Answer: E

Explanation: Just as gargantuan means very big, ecstatic means very happy. Their relationship is one of degree. 

Because it involves identifying relationships, the Analogy section is more skill-based than the Synonym section. But that also means that students can make use of plenty of strategies for succeeding in this section!

Here are our favorites:

Start noticing Analogy “categories.”

In the previous question, we saw how the relationship between two words is one of “degree.” This means that the first word is a more extreme version of the second word (or vice versa).

This is an example of just one “category” of relationships you will start to see in the Analogy section. Just as there isn’t a finite list of words on the Synonyms section, there is no complete list of categories for the Analogy section. 

However, the list below gives some common relationship categories:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Size
  • Material
  • Part and Whole
  • Example and General Category
  • Cause and Effect
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Degrees
  • Actor and Action
  • Product and Producer
  • Tool and User
  • Tool and Use

Create a specific relationship sentence for the question words.

Use this sentence to plug in the answer choices

Using the example from the sample question, a relationship sentence like, “If you’re gargantuan, you’re big” is too broad – if you plug in the answer choices, they might all sound right. 

“Gargantuan is a stronger version of big” is more specific and will lead you to the correct answer!

Eliminate answer choices that have no relationship.

The right answer to an Analogy question will demonstrate the specific relationship of the question words. If you can’t establish a relationship between two words, that answer choice is automatically wrong!

Here’s an example question that proves this point:

Insult is to offense as:
A) laugh is to joy
B) fabricate is to falsehood
C) injure is to prepare
D) innocent is to child
E) forge is to creation

In choice C, “injure” and “prepare” have no relationship, so you can eliminate C immediately. 

SSAT Verbal Tips & Tricks

Here are a few other tips and tricks for finding success on SSAT Verbal (Upper or Middle Level).

1. Use context and connotation.

If you don’t know a word, use context (where you may have heard the word before) or connotation (positive or negative charge).

If you see the word “jubilation,” you might remember that you have seen it in the context of the name of a celebratory Fortnite dance. You may also reason that it has something to do with feeling happy and triumphant.

Or if you see the word “miserly,” it might remind you of something miserable, leading you to pick an answer choice with a negative meaning (miserly means a person who is ungenerous with his/her money).

2. Watch out for homonyms.

Homonyms are words with the same spelling but different meanings. If you see “foil,” it could mean a “thin sheet of metal” or “to prevent,” for example.

Always ask yourself: which meaning makes the most sense based on the answer choices?

3. Sometimes, you have to pick the best of the “bad” options. 

The correct answer choice might not reflect the direct way you would define the word, which can confuse some students. 

In these situations, imagine your task is to pick the best of the “bad” options.

Here is a sample question:

A) approve
B) facilitate
C) confuse
D) conceal
E) forgive

Correct Answer: C

You may feel pretty confident that “thwart” means preventing something from happening, but that choice doesn’t seem to be listed here.

However, if you go with the word that most closely expresses this idea – “confuse” – you would choose the correct answer.

4. Think of all possible relationships.

You may find that some questions have multiple reasonable answers. If this is the case, try to think of additional possible relationships between the question words.

Here is a sample question that demonstrates this:

Carousel is to horse as:
A) hospital is to waiting room
B) anthology is to story
C) sun is to planet
D) bike is to wheel
E) fleet is to ship

Correct Answer: C

At first glance, you might feel stuck with this question. A “horse” is a “part” of a “carousel.” With this relationship in mind, don’t multiple answer choices here fit the “whole and part” category?

However, if you think of additional ways to specify the relationship, you could reach the correct answer by reasoning that the horses revolve around a carousel just as a planet orbits the sun.

How Should I Start?

What’s the best way to begin your SSAT Verbal prep? Here are our recommendations.

Begin your vocab test prep early

As we’ve said many times before, it takes time to build these skills. The more words you know, the better chance you will have at answering a question correctly.

 The more time you spend studying vocab, the more words you will know!

Don’t try and memorize 500 words at once

You won’t remember them! It is better to focus on 5-10 words at a time, and keep coming back to vocab sets for review. More importantly, be sure you are also using those words that you’re learning.

Integrate new words into school assignments and personal practice to make them a concrete part of your vocabulary. 

Read widely

Understanding the deeper context of the words can allow them to lodge more firmly in your memory. 

Reading can also introduce you to a wide variety of new words to supplement your vocabulary building. Aim to digest advanced reading materials, such as higher-level nonfiction texts, editorials and articles, and journal pieces.

More than any other section, the SSAT Verbal section depends on you slowly but surely improving your vocabulary in a consistent fashion.

In this way, studying for the SSAT Verbal section is like putting money in a piggy bank: it might feel like you’re getting nowhere with the little contributions you make each day, but as long as you keep putting in time, you’ll see a big reward in your score going up after a few months.

One of the best ways to jumpstart your SSAT test prep is to work with a professional tutor. Schedule your free consultation now!

Jess Welsh

Jess is a Princeton graduate who majored in English and minored in Visual Arts (Film). She has worked as an SAT/ACT/AP/SSAT/ISEE/HSPT tutor as well as a college counselor and loves getting to know students through her work. When not tutoring, she enjoys reading, writing, running, adding to her classic rock music collection, and exploring the West!