Essay Prompts to Practice for the Upper Level SSAT

Although the essay for the Upper Level SSAT is not scored, it is still important to do your very best, as it will be sent to the admissions officer of the schools to which you are applying. Practicing ahead of time with some essay prompts is a good idea.

The SSAT includes a 25-minute Writing Sample of one to two pages in length. Upper Level SSAT students will be asked to choose between writing a story and writing an essay in response to a question. 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 informative essay).

Although the Writing Sample will not affect your SSAT score, admissions officers consider your Writing Sample an important component of your application. They will look for a strong writing style free from spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes. They will also try to get a sense of who you are as a person. With this in mind, choose subjects you would be comfortable talking about during an interview with a principal or admissions officer. Avoid overly dark, violent, or inappropriate subject matter.

The Upper Level SSAT 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).

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.

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.

Essay Prompts

You have twenty-five minutes to complete each writing sample. Here’s a list of essay prompts 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.

Short Essay Topics:
Topic: He would have to try again.
Topic: It was the biggest challenge she would have to face.

Expository Essay Topics
Topic: What three qualities define a good student?
Topic: What is the most important issue facing the world today and what would you do to contribute to solving this issue?

Persuasive Essay Topics:
Topic: Is it more important to learn from mistakes or successes?
Topic: Which are more important, arts and music or sports and athletics?

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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