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Upper Level Test Format

The SSAT is a multiple-choice test that consists of verbal, quantitative (math), and reading comprehension sectionsplus an unscored writing sample. The Upper Level SSAT is for students currently in grades 8-11, and provides admission officers with an idea of your academic ability and "fit" in their schools. The best way to ensure that you perform as well as you possibly can on the SSAT is to familiarize yourself with the test. Familiarity with the format of the test and review of practice questions will make your test-taking experience easier. You'll feel more comfortable with the test and be able to anticipate the types of questions you'll encounter.


Number of Questions

Time Allotted To Administer Each Section 

Writing Sample


25 minutes


5 minutes

Section 1 (Quantitative)


30 minutes

Section 2 (Reading)


40 minutes


10 minutes

Section 3 (Verbal)


30 minutes

Section 4 (Quantitative)


30 minutes

Section 5 (Experimental)


15 minutes



3 hours, 5 minutes

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

Writing Sample

  • Number of questions: You will have a choice between two prompts - one creative and one traditional essay.

  • What it measures: While not scored, this gives admission officers a feel for how well you write and organize your ideas.

  • Scored section: No, but it is forwarded to the schools you have selected to receive your score reports.

  • Time allotted: 25 minutes

Topics covered: Students are given a choice between two prompts: one creative writing prompt and one essay-type prompt.

At the beginning of the test, you will be asked to write an essay/story in 25 minutes. You'll have a choice between a creative writing prompt and an essay-type prompt. Your writing sample will be sent to the admission officers at the schools to which you're applying to help them assess your writing skills. This section is not scored by SSATB, and a copy of it is not included in the scores that are sent to your family—unless you choose to purchase a copy of your writing sample to accompany your online score report.

Quantitative (Math) Section

  • Number of questions: 50, broken into two parts

  • What it measures: Your ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, elementary algebra, geometry, and other concepts

  • Scored section: Yes.

  • Time allotted: 30 minutes for the first 25 questions, and 30 minutes for the final 25 questions

  • Topics covered:

Number Concepts and Operations
• Arithmetic word problems (including percent, ratio)
• Basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
• Estimation
• Rational numbers
• Sequences and series
• Frequencies

Algebra (elementary concepts of algebra)
• Properties of exponents
• Algebraic word problems
• Equations of lines
• Patterns
• Absolute value

• Area and circumference of a circle
• Area and perimeter of a polygon
• Volume of a cube, cylinder, box
• Pythagorean theory and properties of right, isosceles, equilateral triangles
• Properties of parallel and perpendicular lines
• Coordinate geometry
• Slope

Data analysis/probability
• Interpretation (tables, graphs)
• Trends and inferences
• Probability

The two quantitative (mathematics) sections of the Upper Level SSAT measure your knowledge of algebra, geometry, and other quantitative concepts. The words used in SSAT problems refer to mathematical operations with which you are already familiar. 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 to determine the best answer choice. Other questions are structured as word problems. A word problem often does not specifically state the mathematical operation or operations that you will need to perform in order to determine the answer. In these problems, your task is to consider carefully consider how the question is worded, and the way the information is presented, to determine what operations you will need to perform.

Reading Comprehension Section

  • 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 the following:

• 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 the passages, 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. The passages are chosen from a variety of categories, including, but not limited to:

  • Humanities: art, biography, poetry, etc.
  • Social Studies: history, economics, sociology, etc.
  • Science: medicine, astronomy, zoology, etc.

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. Synonym questions on the SSAT ask you to choose a word that has a meaning similar to a given word.

Analogies are a comparison between two things that are usually seen as different from each other but have some similarities. They help us understand things by making connections and seeing relationships between them based on knowledge we already possess. 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 students to process information actively, make important decisions and improve understanding and long-term memory. Considering the relationships stimulates critical and creative thinking.

Experimental Section

  • Number of questions: 16

  • What it measures: The SSATB is continuously creating new tests to make sure the questions are reliable, secure, and acceptable for the SSAT. These questions may be used on a future SSAT.

  • Scored section: No.

  • Time allotted: 15 minutes

  • Topics covered: This section contains six verbal, five reading, and five quantitative questions for you to answer.