Writing Strategies for the SSAT

  • Posted By: Brenna O'Neill
  • February 4, 2020
Time Management

With only 25 minutes to write, managing your limited time effectively is incredibly important. Start by spending the first 2-5 minutes outlining your ideas to clarify and structure your thoughts. After you have a plan, go ahead and get writing! This is where you will spend the bulk of your time. You’ll need to watch the clock, and save yourself 2-5 minutes at the end for review.


Editing and reviewing at the end is a crucial step in creating a polished writing sample.

Try to catch any grammar, spelling, capitalization, or punctuation mistakes, and change “weak” words to “strong” ones.

Neatness and organization matter! You want your writing to be as smooth and polished as possible. Make sure you write slowly enough that your handwriting is legible.

Creative Writing Strategies

Topic Choice

Write about something that you know a lot about and choose a problem that is relevant to your life. This will ensure you have plenty to talk about and will help your writing come alive for your reader!

Pick a setting and problem that is familiar to you. Perhaps your main character is traveling out of the country for the first time, just as you did, or perhaps he is visiting a natural landmark that you have seen yourself.

Story Planning

Before you begin writing, plan or outline your story. Identify your main character, the setting of the story (where it takes place), the problem your main character faces, and how the problem is solved. Having a game plan for your writing will help to keep your story focused.

Story Structure

For the creative sample, your goal is to tell an entire short story from beginning to end. There are three parts to a story: setup, confrontation, and resolution.

In the setup, introduce the main characters, setting, and confrontation of the story. The confrontation, or conflict, is necessary to maintain tension in the story. In the resolution, the conflict resolves, the characters grow, and the story ends.

Story Components

The Setup

The beginning of the story, “the setup,” is where you introduce your characters, setting, and conflict. Since this is such a short story, make sure to include no more than 1-2 characters and one setting. Include a sentence or two of description to make the scene come alive for the reader.

Then introduce the problem or conflict that your character is facing. This can be a challenge, difficulty, or disagreement— there are many types of conflicts!

The Confrontation

The confrontation is the main action of the story, where the problem or conflict escalates. Here, make sure that your character confronts an obstacle! Do they get in an argument? Does something go wrong as they try to solve a problem? Do they have to overcome a challenge or face a fear? This should be the most exciting part of your story.

To make it come alive, the confrontation should include dialogue.

The Resolution

The resolution, or end of the story, is where the conflict resolves and you show how the characters have changed. Often, the main character will demonstrate growth, make a decision, or come to an important realization.

It is important, also, that the conflict be fully resolved. Cliffhangers are fun when you’re reading an entire chapter book, but in this context, you should write a complete story.

Creative Writing Checklist


Organization and Structure



Essay Strategies

Topic Choice

Try to choose a topic that showcases something you care about and are familiar with. Remember to write in a way that shows you in a positive light and that highlights part of your personality. This is your chance to show the school who you are outside of school!

Make sure to pick a topic that is personally important to you! Is there a place you have visited that means a lot to you, or a place where people that you care about live? Make sure to choose something you know about, care about, and can tell stories about.

Essay Structure

For the personal essay, you should have a clear, focused topic that directly answers the given question. It should be structured much like essays you may have written in school, with an introduction, two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

In the introduction, state your topic and then introduce your two to three reasons—these will be the topics of your body paragraphs. In the body paragraphs, include specific examples from your experiences to support each reason. Then, in the conclusion, rephrase your main points and offer something new to the reader, such as describing how this topic will affect your actions in the future.

Essay Components

The Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to clearly communicate to the reader what you are going to talk about in the rest of the essay. Your introduction should generally be four to five sentences long. The first sentence is a “hook,” which is a question, description, or anecdote that captures the reader’s attention. The second sentence should restate the question and answer it. The last two to three sentences should provide an overview of your reasons.

The Body

The body paragraphs of an essay explain how your reasons support your topic, and they provide specific details and examples to make your reasons concrete. As much as possible, these reasons should come from your own life and interests.

If you are writing about a place you’d want to move, for example, tell about an important visit you had there. Describe the scenery and the sights and sounds! Use words that appeal to the reader’s senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

Make sure that your details and examples stay on topic and don’t become too long-winded. Your body paragraphs should be about 5-7 sentences long, so make sure to include only relevant information.

The Conclusion

Your last paragraph, the conclusion, wraps up everything you’ve written about in your essay. In the conclusion, restate your topic and reasons in 2-3 sentences. It is very important to use new words and phrases here, so that you don’t repeat yourself.

Lastly, give the reader a positive closing statement. This can be a description of your growth, something you have learned related to the topic, or your future plans.

Essay Writing Checklist

Topic Choice

Specific Details and Examples

Organization and Structure



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