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How to Showcase Your Writing Skills on The SSAT Creative Essay Prompt

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.

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4. Use effective imagery and vocabulary.
5. Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
6. Read.

BONUS TIP: Do NOT underestimate the power of your writing sample.

Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Hi. I’m Terri, with Prepped & Polished, in South Natick, Massachusetts.
Today, I’m going to share some tips with you on how to showcase your
writing skills by crafting a superior response to the SSAT creative prompt.
Starting last testing year, a new structure was introduced for the middle
and upper-level SSAT writing prompts. For the middle level, a student has a
choice of two creative prompts from which he’ll select one and answer one.Here are two samples: ‘I looked into its eyes and suddenly . . .’ or, ‘The
classroom was empty.’ The upper level has a choice of two prompts, one
creative and one essay. Here’s a sample creative prompt: He couldn’t
believe they wanted his help. Using these sentences as your first line,
your task is to write a story, real or imagined, using these sentences as
your first line in 25 minutes. Students now have the ability to write two
pages rather than just one.Tip Number 1: Pre-write your response. Practice writing a creative essay in
advance that could be adapted to a variety of prompts. A lot of students
ask me, “Can I prepare for a creative prompt?” and you can. Think of a
story that you’ve been itching to write or an accomplishment that you’d
like an admissions officer to know about you. Research a favorite subject.
For example, ‘. . . and then she came in the door.’ That prompt could
enable you to write a variety of stories about almost anything you choose.
It could be about a teacher, a friend, a sibling, a principal, a detective,
a mother or a father. Here are some other examples of creative prompts: ‘He
was sure there was an exit somewhere.’ ‘I knew it was dangerous, but . . .’
‘It all started off Friday.’ ‘The silence was deafening.’ ‘He was hanging
by a thread.’ The possibilities are endless.Tip Number 2: Use a clear structure. Plots of stories can be divided into 5
basic parts. First, you have the exposition; this is the background, and
the setting and situation of the story. Then there’s the rising action
where characters try to solve a problem or conflict. That leads to the
climax; that’s the critical point where the tension of the story reaches a
peak. Then there’s the falling action where the tension decreases and the
conflict begins to be settled. Finally the resolution, where the conflict
is resolved and there’s a solution to the problem. In 25 minutes, it might
be difficult to wrap up the story in a neat package and have a final,
complete resolution. You can show that the characters are beginning to
change, that they’re beginning to see things differently.Tip Number 3: Decide what point of view and tense that you will use. The
first person uses ‘I’. The third person uses ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, or ‘they’.
Decide what tense, past, present, or future, you will use for your story,
and be consistent. Writing in the present, ‘I see’, ‘I do’, ‘I go’ can be a
bit awkward, but sometimes, it’s an effective way of presenting the story.

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
language.

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
luck.

Are you getting ready for the SSAT? Which of Terri’s creative prompt tips did you find most helpful?

Post your tips/comments below.

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November 20th, 2013
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Power Strategies to Master Synonyms for ISEE and SSAT

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.

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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.

Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Hi. I’m Terri, with Prepped & Polished in South Natick, Massachusetts.
Today, I’m going to share some power strategies with you to help you master
synonyms on the ISEE and the SSAT. Synonym questions make up 50% of the
verbal reasoning portion on both tests. It’s to your advantage to
assimilate these power strategies and make them work for you.Let’s talk a little bit about format. All synonym questions have a stem
word in capital letters, followed by 4 answer choices on the ISEE and 5
answer choices on the SSAT. Your task is to select the answer choice that
is closest in meaning to the stem word. Let’s try that out with Power
Strategy #1.When you know the stem word, cover the answer choices, and then think of a
word, phrase or definition closest in meaning to the stem word. Then look
for that word among the answer choices. For ‘bizarre’, you think to
yourself, “Strange is close in meaning,” then you’re going to uncover the
answer choices. ‘Only’ doesn’t work, ‘unable’, ‘found’. The closest in
meaning to ‘strange’ is ‘odd’; there’s your answer.Power Strategy #2: If you don’t know the stem word, try to think of a
context that you know. Have you heard the word before? Have you read the
word before? Let’s try two examples. ‘Abate’: Maybe you’ve heard a weather
person say, “The storm will abate by midnight,” and you took that to mean
‘reduce in intensity’ or ‘lessen’. Let’s see if any of the choices match
that. Not ‘pretend’, not ‘finalize’, not ‘endanger’, or ‘oppose’.
‘Decrease’ would be the right answer. How about ‘surrogate’? Perhaps you’ve
heard of a surrogate mother, a substitute mother, and we actually see that
word for Choice E. We know right away, right off the bat, that that’s the
correct answer. Done.Power Strategy #3: Positive/Negative. If a stem word is positive, then the
answer choice must be positive. If a stem word is negative, the answer
choice must be negative. Let’s look at an example: ‘Belligerent’, is a
negative word. I don’t know if you’re familiar with ‘bell-‘, a word part,
but that means war-like. Belligerent is a negative word. It helps if you
put + and – signs next to the words to see which are positive and negative.
We can get rid of A, C, and E right off the bat, and we’re less with
‘messy’ and ‘antagonistic’. Belligerent is closest in meaning to
antagonistic, so D is the correct answer.Power Strategy #4: Word Parts. Word parts can give you powerful clues to
figure out the meaning of words. Prefixes come at the beginning of words,
suffixes are at the end, and a root can be in any part of the word. Let’s
look at a few examples. Apathy: The prefix ‘A’ means without, ‘-pathy’
means feelings or emotions, so ‘without feelings or emotions’. Let’s look
at the choices: Sorrow, ability, sickness, inconvenience; indifference is
the closest in meaning to ‘without feelings’, so E would be the correct
answer.How about monotonous? ‘Mono’ means one and ‘tone’ has to do with sound. If
you heard one sound over and over, it would be annoying and it would also
be repetitious. We know that D, ‘repetitious’, would be the correct answer,
and that’s how word parts can help you.

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?

Post your tips/comments below.

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November 6th, 2013
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SSAT/ISEE Reading Comprehension: A 4 Step Strategy for Success

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.
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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)

Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Hi. I’m Terri from Prepped and Polished in South Natick, Massachusetts.
Today I’m going to share some tips with you on how to improve your reading
comprehension score on the ISEE and the SSAT. Although both tests are very
similar, there are some key differences on the reading comprehension
component that could impact your score and perhaps influence which test you
decide is best for you.Let’s talk about guessing. The ISEE has no penalty for guessing, which
means that omitted questions and wrong answers are weighed the same. The
number of correct answers becomes your raw score, and that’s converted to
your scaled score. So if a student has a strong inclination toward a
certain answer, he or she can guess without fear. By contrast, the SSAT
subtracts a quarter point for each incorrect answer. So a student has to be
much more strategic about guessing.Let’s talk about the passages. The SSAT utilizes various passages from
fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, whereas the ISEE, the reading’s comprised
of nonfiction only. So now I’m going to talk to you about your reading
comprehension four-step strategy for success for either the ISEE or the
SSAT. Step number one: Skim the questions first to focus on the information
that you’ll need. Step number two: Read the passages quickly to get the big
picture. Why did the author write the passage? Be an active reader, and
that means marking up the passage, making notes in the margin as you read,
underlining main ideas, supporting ideas, word choices that are special,
etc.

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?

Post your tips/comments below.

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October 16th, 2013
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Ten Upper Level SSAT Essay Writing Tips

Prepped & Polished History Tutor and SSAT Instructor 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:

ESSAY:
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.

SSAT Writing Tips from Online SSAT Prep and Online SSAT Tips

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.

CREATIVE:
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?

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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>

July 23rd, 2013
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Parent (Brookline, MA)

Transcript (PDF)

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Hi, we first met Alexis in 2002 when we approached him to help our son
study for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth exam. Alexis is
above all, an educator. That’s the defining characteristic that sets him
apart, I think, from others in the test prep business. He truly
understands the needs of children, how to work with them, and how to work
in partnership with the student and the family to achieve their common
goals. He has an unusual gift for motivating children and helping them
understand how they need to work to succeed.Alexis has helped us tremendously in terms of the results our children have
achieved. Part of this is because he spends a lot of time with analyzing
the results of tests; figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and what
gaps need to be filled. Alexis is methodical, organized, and has built a
successful tutoring company, Prepped and Polished, that provides high
quality academic coaching services. I have no hesitation at all. In fact,
it’s my pleasure to recommend Alexis. I’m very grateful to him for all the
help he’s provided our family over the years, and I wish him all the best
with Prepped and Polished in the years to come.
April 10th, 2013
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Janice T. (Braintree, MA)

“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.”

February 1st, 2013
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