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SSAT and ISEE Tutor Terri K. of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you six strategies and one bonus tip for the SSAT Creative Prompt in the SSAT Essay Section.
1. Prewrite your response.
2. Use a clear structure.
3. Decide what point of view and tense you will use.
4. Use effective imagery and vocabulary.
5. Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
BONUS TIP: Do NOT underestimate the power of your writing sample.
Full Word-for-Word Transcription
Tip Number 4: Your story should use effective vocabulary and good imagery.
Your goal is clear, lively writing that uses imagery, which is the 5
senses; figurative language like similes, metaphors, personification; and
well-chosen vocabulary that shows rather than tells. Use exciting verbs to
empower your writing. For example, ‘The pitiful defendant got on her knees
and asked for mercy.’ Substitute ‘asked’ for ‘pleaded for mercy’. Instead
of ‘Linda was scared’, you could write her, ‘Hands were clammy’, or ‘Her
body was quivering like a bowl of Jell-O’. Avoid ‘he said, she said’.
Reveal a character’s tone. ‘He asked contemptuously’, or you could say ‘She
snorted in amusement’. Check for overused words like ‘things’ and ‘stuff’.
Tip Number 5: Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
When you proofread, look for the two most common pitfalls which are
sentence fragments and run-on sentences. A sentence fragment is part of a
sentence that is punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. For example,
‘On that morning, I sat in my usual spot on the old wooden stool in the
corner of my mother’s kitchen.’ That fragment lacks a subject or verb. We
can correct that by saying, ‘On that morning, I sat in my usual spot, on
the old wooden stool in the corner of my mother’s kitchen.’ Run-on
sentences are two complete sentences that run together as if they are one.
If there’s two independent clauses in one sentence, you must make them into
two sentences separated with a period, joined with a comma and a
coordinating conjunction: And, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet, or connected
with a semicolon.
For example, here’s a run-on sentence: ‘Michael Jordan played for the
Chicago Bulls he was the team’s star player’; definitely a run-on sentence.
Here are 3 ways you could correct that: You could add a period and a
capital letter. You could put a comma and a coordinating conjunction ‘and’,
or a semicolon and have a lower case ‘H’. Then you would eliminate the
problem of a run-on sentence.
The best way to excel on the creative prompt is to read a wide selection of
materials to increase your vocabulary; this will enable you to select just
the right word whenever you need it. Reading your favorite authors empowers
you to improve your writing skills and develop your own writing style and
Here’s a bonus tip for you: Do not underestimate the power of your writing
sample. Schools use the writing sample as an indication of how well you
write under controlled conditions, to estimate your academic capability to
perform in an independent setting, and to compare your performance with
other applicants for admission or with your current academic record. Bottom
line, the essay is often used as the final judgment. I hope these tips
today will help you to write your best creative response on the SSAT. Good
Are you getting ready for the SSAT? Which of Terri’s creative prompt tips did you find most helpful?
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SSAT and ISEE Tutor Terri K. of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you five power strategies and one bonus tip for the SSAT and ISEE Synonym section.
1. When you know the stem word, cover the choices. Think of the word phrase or definition closest in meaning to the stem word. Then look for that word among the answer choices.
2. If you don’t know the stem word, put it in context.
3. If the stem word is positive then the answer choice must be positive. If the stem word is negative then the answer choice must be negative.
4. Use prefixes and suffixes to provide clues to figure out the meaning of words.
5. Use all the power strategies to help you eliminate. Cross out answers that are farthest from the meaning of the stem word. On the ISEE always guess. On the SSAT guess after eliminating at least two answer choices.
BONUS TIP: The best way to excel on the SSAT and ISEE synonyms is to READ and look up unfamiliar words right away to increase vocabulary knowledge.
Power Strategy #5: Eliminate. Use all of the power strategies to help you
eliminate. Cross out answers that are farthest from the meaning of the stem
word. This is a real timesaver and will keep you on track. Remember on the
ISEE, always guess. There’s no penalty for guessing so you can even take a
wild guess if you don’t know the answer. On the SSAT, guess after
eliminating at least 2 answer choices.
Here’s a bonus tip for you: Of course, the best way to excel on the SSAT
and ISEE with synonyms is to read all kinds of material, whether it be
literature, magazines, editorials, newspapers. Look up unfamiliar words
right away and add them to your growing vocabulary. You never know, you
might see one of those words on the ISEE or SSAT synonym portion. I hope
these power strategies will help you to get your best score on the synonym
section of the ISEE and the SSAT. Power-up and good luck.
Are you preparing for the SSAT or ISEE? Which of Terri’s power strategies did you find most helpful?
Terri K. ISEE/SSAT Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you a four step strategy for mastering the ISEE and SSAT Reading Comprehension section.
1. Skim the questions first to focus on info you will need.
2. Read the passages quickly to get the big picture.
3. Read the questions and answer choices.
4. Answer every reading comprehension question on the ISEE, even if you have to guess. (on the SSAT-guess if you can eliminate one or two answer choices)
Step number three: Read the questions and answer choices. Do not spend more
time on the passages than the questions. Spend about a minute per passage
and a minute to a minute and a half per question. Focus on answering the
questions, not studying or learning the text. Do not keep rereading
portions that you don’t understand.
If you don’t know the answer, go back to the passage. All the answers to
reading questions can be found in or inferred from the passages. Use line
references to help you locate information. All word-in-context questions
send you back to line reference or a paragraph indicator. Cross out all the
answers that you can eliminate. The answer choice must be both true and
must be the best answer to that particular question. Number four: Answer
every question on the ISEE, even if you have to guess. On the SSAT, guess
if you can eliminate one or two answer choices. Knowing what to expect on
the ISEE and the SSAT is half the battle to gain confidence and get your
best score possible.
One last tip: Familiarize yourself with the kind of questions that you’ll
find on either test, and it will make it much easier to handle the
questions. Is it a main idea question? Is it a supporting idea or detail
question? Is it an inference question? Is it a word context question? Does
it have to do with tone or figurative language or maybe organization and
logic? Knowing these different types of questions will help you to select
the best answer. Well, I hope this information and tips will help you to
get your best score possible. Good luck.
Are you preparing for the SSAT or ISEE? Which of Terri’s tips did you find most helpful?
By Terri K., SSAT Essay Writing Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
The SSAT includes a writing section which may be administered either before or after the multiple-choice sections of the test. Students are presented with a choice of two prompts (one essay, one creative) from which the student will choose one. You will have 25 minutes to plan and complete your writing sample which can be up to two pages.
Your essay is not scored by SSAT. Instead, a copy is sent to each of the schools that receive your score report. However, do not underestimate the power of your writing sample. Schools use your writing sample as an indication of how well you can write under controlled conditions, so approach the writing piece with this in mind. Schools use your scores to estimate your academic capability to perform in an independent school setting, to compare your performance with other applicants for admission, or with your current academic record. So, bottom line, the essay is often used as the final judgment.
Here are 10 tips to help you to be more successful on the writing portion of the SSAT:
Each essay question consists of a topic (short phrase, proverb, or question) and an assignment (usually to agree or disagree with the position taken). There is no right or wrong answer.
1) Stick to the topic: So many students go off on tangents instead of discussing the topic. Rephrase the question in your own words to make sure you understand what it is asking you. You may be creative in your approach, but you need to take a clear position and support that position with specific examples from your own experience, the experience of others, current events, literature, or history. Although you do not know the topic ahead of time, you can be prepared. Prior to the SSAT, think about meaningful personal experiences and observations, favorite literature, as well as current and historical events that interest you. Read some editorials – a great way to learn how good writers give opinions and provide examples. You will be relieved if you can apply some of this information on test day.
2) Have a plan for your essay: 25 minutes is not much time, so you need to budget your time in order to complete your essay. You will need to write more than a short paragraph. A great essay lacking a conclusion will not be viewed favorably. Contrary to what many students think, planning your essay makes the writing process easier, faster, and more organized. Allow 3-5 minutes to decide on your stance, brainstorm two to three examples that support your thesis, and make a brief outline for 3-5 paragraphs. You probably will not have time to write a 5-paragraph essay. Allow 15 minutes to write your essay as neatly and legibly as you can. Allow approximately 5 minutes to revise and proofread your essay.
3) Show – don’t tell: Rather than explaining why you believe a statement is true or not, use relevant examples that illustrate the point that you want to make. Preferably, use examples other than from your personal life. Reading the newspaper on a regular basis will give you material for good supporting examples for your essay while improving your vocabulary.
4) Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure: When you proofread, check for two of the most common errors: sentence fragments and run-on sentences.
Complete sentences have a subject and verb and make sense when standing alone. Example: On that morning I sat in my usual spot. On the old wooden stool in the corner of my grandmother’s kitchen (fragment-lacks subject and verb). Correct: On that morning I sat in my usual spot, on the old wooden stool in the corner of my grandmother’s kitchen.
When two independent clauses appear in one sentence (run-on), they must be joined with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), with a semicolon, or made into two sentences separated by a period. Avoid monotony by varying the rhythm and length of your sentences.
5) Word choice: Check for the overused words – “things” and “stuff”. Replace words that do not add quality to your essay with more detailed, advanced academic vocabulary. Use exciting verbs to empower your writing. Also, check for pronouns (him, her, they, it) that have no antecedent. This error makes an essay very confusing.
6) Legibility: Remember that people who are not familiar with your handwriting will read what you write. Try to write or print so that your writing is legible to those readers. Admissions officers read many essays, and if your writing is difficult to decipher, it may not be received as favorably. Edit carefully, just putting one line through a word or phrase that you revise.
1) Pre-write your essay: The creative essay prompt is open-ended. For example, the prompt “And then she came in the door…” could be the beginning of an essay about almost anything you choose. Your essay could be about a friend, sibling, teacher, mother, detective, etc. Other examples of creative prompts are:
– “He couldn’t believe they wanted his help…”
– “The silence was deafening…”
– “He was hanging on by a thread…”
Again, the possibilities are endless. Try writing a creative essay in advance that could be adaptable to a variety of prompts. Do some research on a favorite subject or think about an accomplishment that you would like an admissions officer to learn about you. Hopefully, you can adapt this idea to a creative prompt on test day.
2) Writing a story: If you use the creative prompt to write a story, start with some tension and immediacy (the unusual, the unexpected, an action or conflict) to grab the reader’s attention. A good story has a conflict, a climax (when the rising action of the story reaches its peak) and a resolution (conflict is resolved). In 25 minutes, it is difficult to provide a complete resolution, so you want to reveal that the characters are beginning to change or are starting to see things differently.
3) Words/Imagery: Your goal should be clear, lively writing that employs imagery and well-chosen vocabulary that shows rather than tells. For example, instead of writing that Linda was scared, you could write that her hands were clammy or that her body was quivering like a bowl of jello. Instead of writing that John asked the question nervously, you could write – “Where are you going?” John stammered, staring at his sneakers. Make it riveting! Avoid he said, she said. Reveal a character’s tone; for example, “….she snorted in amusement…” or “…he asked contemptuously…”
4) READ, READ, READ: The best way to improve writing skills for either prompt (essay, creative) is to consistently read a wide selection of materials: newspapers (especially editorials), all types of literature, magazines, etc. Reading increases your vocabulary so that you can use the right word just when you need it. Reading books by your favorite authors empowers you to improve your own writing by developing the language you need.
Is your student taking the SSAT? What was your favorite SSAT essay tip?
Terri graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Connecticut, with a dual degree in Education and English. She has 15 years of teaching and tutoring experience as a licensed teacher (Grades 5-12). Terri works with students from elementary school through college, and serves as an incredible resource when it comes to preparing for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, MCAS). em>
“I hired a tutor for my son for SSAT testing for nine weeks. My son took the test and received 54 percentile in verbal, 55 in reading and 64 in math. I was disappointed in the tutoring services. I found Alexis at Prepped and Polished on the Internet and decided to give him a call. It was the best decision I made. After only FOUR sessions my son took the test again and scored 74 percentile in verbal, 75 in reading and a whopping 86 percentile in math. Alexis is very knowledgeable in the SSAT testing. My son found it easy to learn from him. Don’t hesitate and make the call to Prepped and Polished. It was the best decision I made and I’m sure it will be the best decision you’ll make too. He is worth every penny.”
By Grant Hanada, Tutoring and Test Preparation Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
You should know the essay on the SSAT test does not count toward your score at all. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it. In fact, you should put just as much preparation and effort into your essay as you would for any of the scored sections on the test. All of the schools in which you are applying to will have access to your essay and will most likely use it towards their decision in your admittance. Here are some great tips to help you write the best possible essay:
1. Come prepared
Some people are born gifted writers and can produce masterpieces on the first try, but for the rest of us, we need to go through many drafts to get it right. In order to write a great essay on the actual test, you should practice writing great essays beforehand. So instead of writing a first draft on the test day, you are really writing a well-practiced final draft.
2. Write a great introduction
Think about anything you have ever tried reading: literature books, news articles, magazines, comic books, an e-mail, the back of a book, or even a long facebook wall post. I bet you could tell in the first 2 lines whether or not it was going to be interesting. Maybe you didn’t even finish reading it. That is the same mentality your admission readers will have. Focus on saying something interesting and unique right from the start. Don’t just repeat the question that the prompt asks you. Be creative! Introduce a quote or ask a question to entice the reader to pay attention. Writing a catchy introduction will set the tone for the rest of your essay.
3. Prepare good, flexible examples ahead of time
Almost all the essay prompts are very general and vague. They often ask you to agree or disagree with a statement. Don’t sit on the fence, pick a side! Figure out which side you can write a better argument for. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe the side that you pick. It matters how well you can convey your points to the reader. Since the prompts are general, you can actually prepare ideas ahead of time. Make a list of important people, historical events, current events, or literature books that you know about. Try to choose subjects that are flexible and can viewed as both positive and negative. For instance, the value of the internet is a great subject. It can be talked about positively for all the information we get out of it or it can be viewed negatively when used in ways to hurt people. You can also write about a personal experience (even if you make something up), which is a great way to prove a point and add a personal touch. Having a pre-planned list of subjects will be an invaluable tool on the actual test.
4. Make clear connections
Now that you have come up with a bunch of potential subjects for your essay, practice connecting them to different prompts. It is important to do some research on your subjects and show that you know facts. Use important names and dates or significant events. After writing about the facts, it is just as important to say HOW they relate to the prompt. Be very clear in tying your subject back to the essay topic. Insert the same words that are stated in the prompt into your essay at the beginning and throughout each paragraph to really prove your point.
5. Organization and Neatness count
You should have 4-5 clearly defined paragraphs. You need to have 1 paragraph for the introduction and 1 paragraph for the conclusion. The body of your essay should be 2 or 3 paragraphs depending on how many subjects you decide to write about. Make sure you indent your paragraphs or leave a blank line between paragraphs to clearly show your organization. If you need to cross out a word, draw 1 straight line through the middle of the word. Even though you can’t lose points for not writing neatly, people can get slightly irritated when they have to struggle to read your essay. You don’t want to put your reader in a bad mood, so write as neatly as you can.
Grant Hanada has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology from UCLA, and is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.
Did you find these SSAT Essay tips helpful? Which tip affected you the most?
The reading comprehension section for the SSAT tends to be one of the hardest parts of the test for most students. Very few students are actually taught in school how to prepare for these types of reading passages and even fewer are given specific advice on how to tackle this in an effective way under time pressure. Here are 5 great tips for students to have when they approach the SSAT reading comprehension section:
1. You choose which passages to read.
Before the test, you should spend some time practicing all the various types of passages (historical, story, science, etc.) and know which ones you are stronger in. During the actual test, nobody will stop you from completing the passages out of order. Quickly browse each passage as soon as time begins and start answering the easier passages first and save the hard ones until the end. It is ok if you don’t have time to completely finish the hard passages, you can still get a great score!
2. Don’t read the entire passage like a book.
It is not important to know every detail like you would when doing a book report. Start each passage by doing a quick scan of only the introduction, the topics sentences of each paragraph, and the conclusion. You should be able to do this in less than 1 minute. Just gather the overall ideas and the general tone of the passage. That is it, don’t try and read the entire passage at once. When you get to the questions you will read specific parts more closely.
3. Separate “specific” vs “general” questions.
There are always 2 types of questions—specific or general. A specific question will point you to a very specific part of the passage and often the exact line numbers. Do these types of questions first and leave the general questions for later. When you answer specific questions you should read a few lines before and after the specific area you are looking at for context, but make sure the answer you pick is directly related to the information in the specified lines from the question. General questions are much more broad and should be answered last because after you answer all the specific questions you should know the entire passage well enough to answer questions about the main purpose.
4. Be careful on “definition” questions.
Many passages will have a question that asks you to answer what a certain word means in the context of the passage. Usually the reason this word is important is because it is being used in a different manner than you are used to seeing. Be very wary of picking answers that are the typical dictionary definitions. Also, if 2 answer choices are synonyms of each other and since 2 answers can’t both be correct, most likely neither one of those answers are correct.
5. Be a skeptic.
As you look at all your answer choices you should be negative and critical toward every one. Imagine that they are all incorrect and that it would take direct evidence to convince you that an answer choice is really correct. Therefore, when deciding which answer is best, you need to find hard evidence from the passage to fully prove that an answer is the best. Also, be sure to not have any prior assumptions about topics. If you know a lot about dogs and the passage happens to be about dogs, forget everything you know. The answers must come directly from the passage alone. Remember, you are not picking a “perfectly correct” answer; you are picking the best answer.
To know more Best Tips for the SSAT Reading Section, do write to Prepped & Polished.
Did you find these SSAT Reading Comprehension tips helpful? Which tip affected you the most?