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The Best Way to Study SSAT Vocabulary


If you’re taking the SSAT, you’ll need to have a good vocabulary in order to do well on the test. It can be difficult to find good SSAT vocab resources, but we’re here to help! In this guide, we explain the three main ways vocab is tested on the SSAT (with sample questions), go over the top resources to help you find SSAT vocab words, and give you advice on the best way to study those vocab words.


How Important Is Vocabulary for the SSAT?

Vocabulary is a key part of the SSAT and one of the main areas it tests. There are three levels of the SSAT depending on the grade you’re in. (Students take the test based on their current grade, not the grade they’ll be entering next year.)

  • Elementary for students in grades 3 and 4
  • Middle for students in grades 5 through 7
  • Upper for students in grades 8 through 11

Each version of the SSAT includes questions on vocabulary. The SSAT has three main sections: verbal, quantitative, and reading comprehension. Vocabulary questions will primarily appear in the verbal section of the test, with some more indirect vocab questions in the reading comprehension section.

There are three types of vocab questions on the SSAT. We explain each of them below and include a practice question so you can get a better idea of the types of vocab questions to expect on the test.



Synonym questions test vocab by giving a word and asking you to choose its synonym from five options. The questions feature words from various subjects including science, technology, and social studies.

Here’s a sample synonym question from an Elementary-level SSAT.


  1. amuse
  2. support
  3. bother
  4. complete
  5. Declare

The correct answer is C.



For analogy questions, you’ll need to make comparisons between two words or phrases. The relationship might be that of synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, or part to whole, to give a few examples. The words may also fall into similar categories or share certain characteristics. Here’s a sample Middle-level analogy question.

Translucent is to opaque as light is to

(A) sun
(B) dull
(C) lamp
(D) candle
(E) darkness

The correct answer is E.


Reading Comprehension Questions

You also need a strong vocabulary to do well on certain reading comprehension questions. These questions won’t directly ask you about vocab, but you’ll need to know the definitions of the words they mention in order to understand the question and answer it correctly.

Directions: Read the passage carefully and then answer the questions about it. For each question, decide on the basis of the passage which one of the choices best answers the question.

We had a consuming desire to see a pony rider, but somehow or other all that passed us streaked by in the night, and so we heard only a whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom was gone. But now the driver exclaims: "Here he comes!" Every neck is stretched and every eye strained. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears.Soon it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, sweeping nearer and nearer, and the flutter of hoofs comes faintly to the ear. Another instant a whoop and hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider's hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!

  1. At the driver’s call, the people became more
  1. eager
  2. puzzled
  3. hysterical
  4. frightened
  5. disappointed

The correct answer is A. In this question, you aren’t directly asked for the definition of the word, but you’d need to know what all five of the answer choices mean in order to get the question right.




Where Can You Find SSAT Vocabulary Practice?

Even though vocabulary is an important part of the SSAT, the makers of the test don’t produce any official vocab lists you can study from. However, there are still plenty of resources you can use to study SSAT vocab. In this section we discuss both official and unofficial sources.


Official Sources

Even though there aren't many official SSAT vocab resources, the vocab materials they do provide can be helpful to use. You can purchase official study materials on the SSAT website, and you’ll also be given the option of buying these materials when you register for the test.

Official SSAT vocab practice materials include sample questions for each of the three question types we discussed above, as well as videos you can watch that explain the different question types and how to answer them.

For Middle and Upper-Level SSAT students, you can purchase the official prep book for $37 or an online version of the official prep book along with the online videos for $69.95. The Elementary-Level SSAT prep materials can be downloaded for free but don’t include any videos.

These resources don’t include word lists, but you can use the practice questions to get a better idea of the types of words the SSAT will test you on and what the vocab questions are like.


Unofficial Prep Books

There are also plenty of helpful unofficial sources to help you study for SSAT vocab. Here are some of the top SSAT prep books.


Ivy Global

Ivy Global sells three vocab books, each containing over 100 words useful to know for the Middle and Upper-Level SSAT. While high-quality, these books aren’t cheap. Each book costs about $27, which is quite a bit for what is basically a vocab list with definitions.



Kaplan’s SSAT prep book costs about $15, and it contains a vocab list for each of the three SSAT levels. If you’re trying to save money, you can often find older versions of the prep book that cost less, and they’ll still have the same SSAT words in their vocab lists.


Princeton Review

Similar to Kaplan, Princeton Review’s Cracking the SSAT and ISEE is also about $15 and contains vocab lists for the different SSAT levels.


Unofficial Online Lists

There are also lots of websites and online lists with SSAT vocab resources. These can be a great resource and many of them, including the three below, are free, but make sure the resource seems high quality or you could end up wasting time studying unhelpful words. Use other resources first so you can get a sense of what kinds of vocab words you should be studying before you use these resources.


Ivy Global

In addition to their prep books, Ivy Global also offers a free SSAT vocabulary PDF of 75 words for Middle and Upper-SSAT students. This is a great free resource that you should definitely make use of if you’ll be taking the Middle or Upper SSAT.


Varsity Tutors

Varsity Tutors has flashcards to help students study verbal questions for each of the three SSAT levels. These are mostly sample questions, not vocab word lists, but they can still be a useful resource.



Quizlet has a set of nearly 500 SSAT vocab flashcards. These can be a useful resource, but remember that they’re user created so they may not be as accurate as other resources, and the words aren’t organized based on SSAT level.




How to Make and Use SSAT Vocabulary Flashcards

Once you have your SSAT vocabulary list, you can start studying with them. You can make physical flashcards with note cards (our recommendation) or use a website like Quizlet to create a deck online. We recommend using the waterfall method to study your flashcards. If you’re not sure what the waterfall method is, we break it down for you below.

Once you have your SSAT words, go through the complete  flashcard deck. For each card whose definition you know easily, you’ll put it in a “Know It” pile. If you don’t know the definition of a particular SSAT vocab word, put it in a “Struggled” pile.







After you’ve gone through each of the cards once, pick up your “Struggled” pile. You’ll now go through this pile again. For words where you know the definition, place them in a second “Know It” pile next to (but not combined with) the first “Know It” pile.







For words you don’t know, make a new “Struggled” pile. Repeat this process, placing new “Know It” piles in a row from left to right. This creates your waterfall. Repeat this process until the “Struggled” pile has only a few words left.


Now, you’ll move back up the waterfall. Starting with the most recent “Struggled” pile, go through the flashcards until you know all the words in the pile. Then, add the most recent (the rightmost) “Know It” pile. Go through those words. If you miss any, go through the entire pile again until you get all of them right.


Go through those words. If you miss any words, go through the entire pile you currently have again until you get all of the words right. It may take awhile to get through the entire pile, but this method will guarantee that you learn those SSAT words! Continue this process until you get all the way back up the waterfall. 


This is the best method to study vocab flashcards because you’ll spend the majority of your time reviewing the words you struggle the most with, as opposed to just studying the entire stack over and over.


Summary: SSAT Vocabulary Practice

Vocabulary is an important part of the SSAT, and you’ll see several types of vocab questions in the Verbal and Reading sections of the exam. It can be difficult to find a high-quality SSAT vocabulary list though, but we’ve compiled several resources you can use, including official study materials, unofficial prep books, and websites.

Flashcards are the best way to study SSAT vocabulary words, and we recommend using the waterfall method when studying to memorize the words more quickly.


What's Next?

Want to learn more about what's covered on the Elementary, Middle, and Upper-level tests? Then be sure to read our complete guide to the SSAT.

Looking for free materials to use for SSAT practice? We've gathered links to the best free SSAT practice tests here.

How do you register for the SSAT? Learn all the info you need to know in our step-by-step guide to SSAT registration.



These recommendations are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links, PrepScholar may receive a commission.


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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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