Ssat Upper Level Essay


In this SSAT prep series, we have already covered tips for preparing for the reading and verbal section, as well as the math and quantitative reasoning section. In today’s final blog of the prep series, we offer strategies to help you prepare for the SSAT writing sample.

Understand the essay and choose the right topic

You will be given two options for your essay topic; one is typically a creative approach and one is more of a traditional essay topic. You get to choose. Don’t choose what you think you should write, choose the one that interests you most. The purpose of this section is to showcase your writing abilities and how you think. The writing sample is not scored, but it is shared with the schools you’re applying to as a demonstration of your true abilities.  

Practice writing

Seems simple enough. Part of your SSAT experience is a written essay, so practice writing. Know how to properly structure an essay, and practice writing a variety of essay topics. The Test-Prep section of the SSAT website offers sample SSAT essay topics to try. Practice writing essays on each topic and become familiar with what you might want to say for each. Check out this blog on writing your boarding school essay for more tips on essay writing.

Related content: How can I improve my SSAT score?

Practice writing an essay in 25 minutes

If you’re someone who takes a long time to write, then you need to practice writing on a strict deadline. Remember that you only have 25 minutes for this exercise, so set a timer on your phone or ask a parent to time you when you practice. Get into a rhythm of outlining, writing, and editing/proofreading within the allotted time. Using your time wisely will help you write a well structured and complete essay. You definitely don’t want to get caught with five minutes to go, and only an introductory paragraph completed.

Review grammar and spelling

Knowing basic grammar and spelling is important so that you can write a strong essay that reads well to the reviewer. Don’t use abbreviations; this is a formal writing assignment and should be written using proper grammar and spelling. Remember, this is not a text message to friends. This is your chance to showcase your more formal writing skills and your ability to think creatively and thoughtfully on a given assignment. Make sure you use full and proper words, and write in a grammatically correct format.

Related content: 5 tips to write a great boarding school essay

Get feedback

Get friends, teachers, and parents to read your practice essays and give you feedback. Ask them to be critical and give you advice on how you can improve your writing.

Proofread your work

You’re on your own in the test, so practice proofreading your work. Get into the habit of reading materials closely and pay attention to any areas of your essays that you have to read more than once to understand. That’s a clue to possibly rewrite that portion of the SSAT writing sample. After you proofread your own work, ask someone else to read to see what you missed so you can learn more about how to improve your own proofreading skills.

Related content: 5 things you need to know about the SSAT

Visit the SSAT Help Center

Here you’ll find webinars, tutorials, potential SSAT writing sample topics, and format outlines for each level of the test. Reviewing these resources should be a top priority.

Looking for the full SSAT Study Series?

  1. Reading & Verbal
  2. Quantitative/Math
  3. Writing Sample

Stacy Jagodowski

Ms. Jago joined the Cheshire Academy community in August 2013 as the director of strategic marketing and communications. Prior to coming to Cheshire Academy, she spent six years working in communications offices at both colleges and private school, as well as five years in admission at both boarding schools and day schools.

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Upper Level Essay

The SSAT Upper Level Essay requires students to write either a short story or an essay in twenty-five minutes. The essay topics tend to be broad and varied. In some cases, you will be asked to take a side on an issue (in other words, you will be asked to write a persuasive essay). In some cases, you will be asked to offer a description or show cause and effect (in other words, you will be asked to write an expository essay). Two sentences will be provided, and students are asked to select the sentence they find most interesting and use it as the basis for an essay or a story. 

General Tips

  • Make sure your writing appropriately responds to the topic. Does the essay topic require you to take a position on an issue (persuasive essay)? Does it ask you to show cause and effect (expository essay)? Does the topic ask you describe or characterize some subject or topic (expository essay)? Are you being asked to tell a story (creative writing)?
  • If you are writing an essay, make sure you have a clear introductory paragraph, two or three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. If you are writing a story, make sure your short story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. 
  • Budget your time! Make sure to save time at the end to edit for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. 

Creative Writing Tips

  • Decide what point of view you will use and stick to it! Sometimes the point of view is established by the sentence provided:
             - First person uses “I”: “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
             - Third person uses “he”, “she”, “it”, “they”: “He couldn’t believe his eyes.”
  • Decide what tense you will use for your story and stick to it! Sometimes the tense is established by the sentence provided:
              - Past tense: I saw, I went, I did.
              - Present tense (rarer and more difficult to maintain): I see, I go, I do.
  • Establish the setting of your story using vivid description involving sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.
  • In your first paragraph, establish the conflict.
              - Conflict is the problem, difficulty, or challenge facing the main character. 
  • Every story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end (in other words, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion). 

Persuasive Essay Tips:

  • Persuasive writing requires you to argue for or against an idea; to take a side on an issue; to urge the reader to behave a certain way; or to urge the reader to agree to a certain position on an issue.
  • Take a side. Don’t sit on the fence. 
  • Use concrete examples from history, literature, current events, or personal experience to support your position. 

Right before you conclude your essay, consider writing a counterargument: 
          - In a counterargument, you present an opposing view and then show why it is not as strong as the view you have been presenting.
          - Imagine an intelligent skeptic reading your essay.

Expository Writing

  • If you are asked to define something, provide your definition or explanation and then support your definition or explanation with details or examples from history, literature, current events, or personal experience.
  • If you are asked to offer a description, think of two or three important qualities that you would like to discuss. 
              - Make sure you choose a subject about which you are familiar.
              - Be as detailed as possible.
  • When writing to establish cause and effect, establish the cause, define the effects, and offer solutions or explanations for why this is so. 

You have twenty-five minutes to complete each writing sample. Here's a list of essay topics with which to practice: 

Schools would like to get to know you better through an essay or story using one of the two topics below. Please select a topic you find most interesting and fill in the circle next to the topic you choose.

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