SSAT Upper Level Exam: A Complete Guide

Is your child preparing for the SSAT? Here’s what you need to know about SSAT content for the upper level exam.

Test Format–Upper Level Exam

The Upper Level SSAT is a multiple-choice test for students currently in grades 8-11 that consists of verbal, quantitative (math), and reading comprehension sections, plus an unscored writing sample. Familiarity with the format of the test and review of practice questions will make your test-taking experience easier.

Section Number of Questions Duration
Writing Sample 1 (unscored)   25 minutes
Break 10 minutes
Quantitative 1 25   30 minutes
Reading 40   40 minutes
Break 10 minutes
Verbal 60   30 minutes
Quantitative 2 25   30 minutes
Experimental 16   15 minutes
Totals 167   3 hours, 5 minutes

Of the 167 items including the writing sample, only 150 questions are scored.

Writing Sample–Upper Level Exam

  • You will have a choice between two essay prompts: one personal and one general.
  • The writing sample gives admission officers a feel for how well you write and organize your ideas.
  • The writing sample is not scored, but it is included with the score reports that you send to schools.
  • Time allotted: 25 minutes

At the beginning of the test, you are given 25 minutes to write an essay. You’ll have a choice between a personal and a general essay prompt. This writing sample is sent to the admission officers at the schools to which you send score reports, to help them assess your writing skills. This section is not scored, and it is not included in the student score report unless you purchase it separately.

Quantitative (Math) Section–Upper Level Exam

  • Number of questions: 50, given in two 30-minute sections
  • What it measures: Your ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and other concepts
  • Scored section: Yes
  • Time allotted: 30 minutes for each section of 25 questions
  • The quantitative (mathematics) section of the Upper Level SSAT measures your knowledge of algebra, geometry, and other quantitative concepts. You do not require and may not use a calculator for this section.

Many of the questions that appear in the quantitative sections of the Upper Level SSAT are structured in mathematical terms that directly state the operation you need to perform; others may not. In these problems, carefully consider how the question is worded and the way the information is presented to determine the operation(s) to perform.

Reading Comprehension Section–Upper Level Exam

  • Number of questions: 40
  • What it measures: Your ability to read and comprehend what you read
  • Scored section: Yes
  • Time allotted: 40 minutes
  • Topics covered: Reading passages generally range in length from 250 to 350 words and may be taken from:

• Literary fiction
• Humanities (biography, art, poetry)
• Science (anthropology, astronomy, medicine)
• Social studies (history, sociology, economics)

Questions related to the passage may ask you to:

• Recognize the main idea

• Locate details

• Make inferences

• Derive the meaning of a word or phrase from its context

• Determine the author’s purpose

• Determine the author’s attitude and tone

• Understand and evaluate opinions/arguments

• Make predictions based on information in the passage

By presenting passages and questions about them, the reading comprehension section measures your ability to understand what you read. After you read each passage, you’ll be asked questions about its content or about the author’s style, intent, or point of view. In general, the SSAT uses two types of writing: narrative, which includes excerpts from novels, poems, short stories, or essays; and argument, which presents a definite point of view about a subject.

Verbal Section

  • Number of questions: 60; 30 synonyms and 30 analogies
  • What it measures: Vocabulary, verbal reasoning, and ability to relate ideas logically
  • Scored section: Yes
  • Time allotted: 30 minutes
  • Topics covered: This section covers word similarities and relationships through synonyms and analogies.

The verbal section of the Upper Level SSAT asks you identify synonyms and to interpret analogies. The synonym questions test the strength of your vocabulary. The analogy questions measure your ability to relate ideas to each other logically.

Synonyms are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. For example, fortunate is a synonym for lucky, tidy is a synonym for neat, and difficult is a synonym for hard. You must choose the answer word that has a meaning similar to the given word.

Analogies are comparisons between two things that are usually seen as different but have some similarities. These types of comparisons play an important role in improving problem-solving and decision-making skills, in perception and memory, in communication and reasoning skills, and in reading and building vocabulary. Analogies help you process information actively, make important decisions, and improve understanding and long-term memory. Considering these relationships stimulates critical and creative thinking.

Experimental Section

  • Number of questions: 16
  • What it measures: New questions are continuously being tested for future SSAT forms. These questions appear on the SSAT to ensure they are reliable, secure, and acceptable.
  • Scored section: No
  • Time allotted: 15 minutes
  • Topics covered: This section contains six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative questions.

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