SSAT Synonym Practice: 4 Strategies & 3 Drills

Bonus Material: 3 SSAT Synonyms Practice Drills

The SSAT Verbal section has sixty total questions: 30 Synonym questions and 30 Analogy questions.

Synonym questions ask test-takers to select the answer choice closest in meaning to the question word.

These questions can be challenging for SSAT students, especially those who are still building their vocabulary. Yet with some solid strategies and practice in place, test-takers can quickly improve their accuracy on these questions.

In this post, we outline 4 expert strategies for navigating SSAT Synonyms questions. We also give readers access to some free SSAT Synonym practice, in the form of three timed drills. Grab these below.

Here’s what we cover:


4 Key Strategies for SSAT Synonym Questions

Synonym questions appear first on SSAT Verbal (questions 1-30). If you feel more confident with these questions, we recommend beginning with these.

If, however, Analogies are more your jam, we recommend starting with question 31 (the first of the Analogy questions set) and completing the Synonyms set second.

Remember: play to your strengths on SSAT Verbal, and prioritize the questions that are easiest for you first.

The key to approaching SSAT Synonym questions successfully lies in remembering that they are just that: Synonym questions.

What do we mean by this?

With Synonym questions, your task is to find the answer choice that is most similar in meaning to the question word.

It’s important to remind yourself of this simple fact on each question, as the test-makers love trapping students with answer choices that may be associated with the question word but, in fact, do not share a similar meaning. What’s more, a “synonym” is not the same as a straight-up “definition” of a word!

We’ll apply these thoughts to this sample Synonym question:

SSAT Upper Level Verbal Section_Synonyms

With this question, students must choose the answer that is most similar in meaning to the word “incognito.” This doesn’t mean that we’re looking for the definition of “incognito,” merely a term that most closely matches that definition.

The word “incognito” might suggest someone going undercover, like a ninja in a crowd. Be careful, though: answer choice (D) at first glance looks a lot like “undercover,” when, in fact, it means the opposite (uncovered). But the idea of being undercover has a connotation of being hidden from sight, which leads us to answer (C): concealed.

Be careful with answer choice (A), which might be tempting for some students. “Lost” is a good example of an answer that is an association but not necessarily a synonym of a question word. Something that is incognito may not be very visible, but this doesn’t mean it is lost.

Here are 4 other strategies for approaching SSAT Synonym questions. We follow each pointer with a guided practice question.

#1: Put the question word into a sentence of your own.

This is an excellent, tried-and-true way to situate a question word in its context, especially if you don’t know the full meaning of a term. Put that word into a sentence, even if it’s the most basic sentence you’ve ever written.

Using the sample question above, that sentence might look like this:

The ninja chose to go incognito, moving casually through the crowd without attracting attention.

In this sentence, we can gather that “incognito” is a behavior or attitude of some kind that the ninja adopts in this crowd. Would it make sense for someone to choose to be “lost”? No! “Lost” is not a behavior or attitude, and the same goes for “replaced” or “distinguished.”

Context tells us that the ninja is choosing to be somewhat invisible, so (C) is the best answer yet again.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question.

MALEVOLENT
A) uncertain
B) emphatic
C) generous
D) wanton
E) ill-intentioned

Let’s put the word “malevolent” into a sentence, keeping in mind that that sentence doesn’t have to be complex.

Take a look at the sentence you just wrote. What does it tell you about the word “malevolent”? For example, is malevolent anything of the following?

  • Behavior
  • Attitude
  • Action
  • Description
  • Belief
  • Quality/characteristic

Based on these observations, which answers can you eliminate? Now what’s the difference between the answers that remain, if any? Can you apply any of your other observations from your initial sentence?

What answer did you end up with?

Here’s how we would approach this problem. 

Example sentence: 

The malevolent queen was very jealous of Snow White’s beauty and attempted to get her to eat a poisoned apple.

We can learn from this that someone who is “malevolent” wants to do bad things to others. This eliminates every answer choice except for E, which is the correct answer.

#2: Apply your knowledge of word parts.

Remember all those word parts and roots your teacher taught last year? Those will definitely prove valuable on SSAT Verbal, particularly with those Synonym questions.

Identifying word parts in answer choices and question words can be vital. It can be a straight-up life-saver on those questions full of vocabulary students may not know.

Be on the hunt for specific prefixes, roots, and suffixes that can give at least partial meaning for a term.

For example, if you see the word “benevolent” in a Synonyms question, you might recognize the prefix ben / bene, which means well or good. This has a positive connotation or charge, which can be useful for elimination purposes.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question.

CIRCUMSPECT
A) livid
B) guarded
C) willing
D) magnanimous
E) wry

There are two word parts in “circumspect:” the prefix “circum-” and the root “spect.” 

Circum: roundabout, around, encompass

Spect: see

From these definitions, a general definition for “circumspect” might be “to see around.” What answers can we eliminate that don’t match this? 

If you have any remaining answers, try creating sentences with them to work the rest of your elimination:

Did you get B, guarded? Great job!

For the record, circumspect describes the quality of not being very willing to take risks.

Livid: extremely angry

Wry: using dry, mocking humor

Magnanimous: generous and forgiving

#3: “Plug in” your final choice.

Much like plugging the answer to a math question into the original problem to check your work, “plug in” your final choice on a Synonyms question to the sentence you’ve created.

This serves as a double-check mechanism and a means of catching careless errors. Using our first example sentence and question, this would look like the following:

The ninja chose to go concealed, moving casually through the crowd without attracting attention.

Yes, “chose to go concealed” sounds a bit awkward, but it still fits in meaning and context.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question. Try applying the strategies you’ve already learned to get your answer. Then use the lines provided to plug in your final choice.

OBSOLETE
A) defunct
B) forgotten
C) massive
D) solemn
E) confused

Did you get A, defunct? Great work!

#4: On higher-difficulty questions, the weirder the better.

Remember: the SSAT test-makers will create specific traps on each Verbal question designed to trick the predictable test-taker.

What are predictable test-takers likely to do on harder Synonym questions? They are probably not likely to choose an answer they don’t know. They will likely avoid those really weird, foreign-looking terms. However, on really tough Synonym questions, these answers can be correct.

Here’s an example of this in action, modeled after a sample SSAT.org practice question:

ZEALOUS
A) heartfelt
B) fervent
C) irritating
D) praiseworthy
E) interested

The “weirdest” answer choice here, the one many students are not likely to know, is fervent. This happens to be the correct answer choice.

We do want to offer this tip with a caveat, however: students should still adhere to their established guessing strategy, regardless of the difficulty level of the question. It may still be worth your while to leave a question blank if you generally have no clue about the question word and the answer choices.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question.

GLIB
A) determined
B) mythical
C) slimy
D) facetious
E) considerate

Looking at the answer choices, which is our “weirdest” answer choice?

Most students will zero in on “facetious,” a word that may or may not already be a part of your working vocabulary. This is, in fact, the right answer!

For the record:

Glib: fluent and voluble but insincere and shallow.

Facetious: treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant.


Download Our SSAT Synonyms Practice Questions

Now it’s your turn to apply these 4 awesome strategies to some SSAT Synonyms practice questions. You can download three free practice drills right now if you’d like.

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • 3 FREE SSAT Synonyms Practice Drills
  • Answers to all questions


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

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.