7 Tips for Mastering SSAT Vocabulary

Bonus Material: The Top 100 SSAT Vocabulary Words You Need to Know

The SSAT Verbal section can be one of the most challenging sections for test-takers.

This is because the section’s Synonym and Analogy questions require students to have strong working knowledge of advanced vocabulary.

This can be tricky and overwhelming for test-takers. Vocabulary isn’t always a part of middle school curriculum. Plus, it can be difficult to build vocabulary in a short amount of time.

In this post, we offer our expert tips for mastering SSAT vocabulary. 

Plus, we give you access to the top 100 SSAT Vocabulary Words you need to know (with definitions). Grab this valuable resource below before we get started.

Here’s what we cover in this post: 

The SSAT Verbal Section: A Recap

We outline the specifics of the SSAT Verbal section in a separate post

In the meantime, here’s a recap of the essentials:

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

The Upper-Level SSAT will test higher-level vocabulary than the Middle-Level SSAT. While both Verbal sections test students’ vocabulary range, the Analogy section has an extra element of identifying relationships between words.

Synonym Questions

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

Analogy Questions

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.

7 Tips for Mastering SSAT Vocabulary

Success on the SSAT Verbal section does have a lot to do with strategy. So, if you haven’t done so already, check out our SSAT Verbal Section Strategies post.

But one skill will definitely prove valuable on this section: a strong working vocabulary. At the end of the day, the more words you know, the greater your odds are of succeeding on this challenging section.

How do you master SSAT vocabulary? Follow these tips.

1. Give yourself a generous timeline

Students may be tempted to try to learn 500 new vocabulary words a week as they prepare for the SSAT. This is ambitious and understandable, but we strongly encourage test-takers to allocate as much time as possible to build their SSAT vocabulary bank.

This is because it takes time to acquire new words and recognize them accurately in a variety of contexts.

Set aside a generous timeline for SSAT vocabulary prep–at least three months (during which students should also be preparing for the test’s other sections, too). If you don’t have three months, check out these hacks for building SSAT Vocabulary quickly.

2. Sign up for a word of the day service

Exposure to new terminology is essential when it comes to building SSAT vocabulary. Sign up for a free word-of-the-day service to ensure you’re digesting new words on a daily basis. 

Just make sure to add these to your vocabulary bank (instead of just reading through the email and then forgetting about it)!

Try out Merriam Webster’s word of the day email service or the Word of the Day app.

3. Use the words you learn

We can’t emphasize this tip enough! Simply memorizing a word is unlikely to prove useful come test time. 

As you build your vocabulary, integrate the terms you use in daily conversation and writing. Practice crafting sentences of your own that utilize new terms accurately, for example, or consciously using a new word during a dinner table discussion.

Be consistent in this practice, and don’t be shy when it comes to creativity. We’ve had our SSAT students, for example, integrate new terms in songs, poetry, art, screenplays, and more. You can also try integrating SSAT vocabulary terms into your SSAT Writing Sample practice responses. 

In our Top 100 SSAT Vocab Words You Should Know download, you’ll have an opportunity to create your own unique sentences utilizing each word.

4. Read regularly

Reading offers students another channel for vocabulary exposure. It also enables test-takers to boost recognition of terms that they’ve already learned in various contexts.

In fact, that’s the great value of reading when it comes to vocabulary building–it trains your brain to infer meaning based off of context. And putting words in context is essential to success on the SSAT verbal section.

What should you be reading? We encourage students to consider advanced materials, such as journals, newspapers, editorials, nonfiction, and literature. 

The New York Times has an excellent learning section that also includes weekly reading challenges, an excellent opportunity to improve your fluency in current events and vocabulary.

5. Learn and recognize word parts

This is one of the hacks we discuss in our guide to learning SSAT vocabulary with a limited test prep timeline.

Learning and recognizing common word parts–suffixes, prefixes, and roots–can give you the capacity to infer general meaning of a new term (even if you’ve never seen it before).

For example, the prefix “ambi-” means “both.” Thus, “ambidextrous” means having the capacity to utilize both your right and left hands equally to complete a task. “Ambivalent” means having mixed feelings about a subject, i.e., being on “both sides of the fence.”

An excellent resource for learning word parts is Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder. This is a resource we always recommend our SSAT students work with when beginning their prep.

6. Categorize learned words into synonym groups

Sometimes it’s easier to memorize categories of words (as opposed to individual definitions of select terms). After you’ve acquired some new SSAT vocabulary, categorize your new words into synonym groups.

Example categories based off of common SSAT Vocab words include:

  • Positive feelings or qualities (i.e., “elated” and “benevolent”)
  • Negative feelings or qualities  (i.e., “malignant” and “virulent”)
  • Difficulty (i.e., “arduous” or “onerous”)
  • Light (i.e., “translucent” or “lucid”)
  • Dark (i.e., “obscure” or “furtive”)
  • Wordy (“verbose” or “loquacious”)

7. Use flashcards wisely 

Just knowing the definition of a word isn’t apt to get you too far on the SSAT Verbal section. You still need to understand a term’s nuance, especially within different contexts.

For this reason, use flashcards (digital or paper) wisely.

When testing your knowledge of a new term, challenge yourself to come up with a unique sentence utilizing that term before flipping that flashcard over and reading the definition.

You might also want to try adding a visual element to your flashcard game, including sketches, images, and colors. Such visual components can aid in memorization techniques.

Download the Top 100 SSAT Vocabulary Words You Need to Know

You can get started on your SSAT Vocabulary practice right now by downloading these 100 SSAT Vocab Words you should probably know.

We’ve analyzed official SSAT practice tests and materials to create this list of the most likely to be tested vocabulary terms. 

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • The top 100 SSAT vocabulary words (based on our research)
  • Precise definitions for every word
  • Opportunities to craft your own custom sentences to solidify knowledge


Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.