Mastering the SSAT Fiction Story Essay

Here’s what you need to know about mastering the SSAT fiction story essay, which requires creative writing and using your imagination. If you are taking the middle level SSAT, you will be required to write a fiction story essay based on a prompt; if you are taking the upper level SSAT, you have the option of writing a standard essay or writing the fiction story essay. Either way, you won’t have much time, just 25 minutes on the middle and upper levels. 

Example Prompts:

SSAT Middle Level
Schools would like to get to know you better through a story you tell using one of the ideas below. Please choose the idea you find most interesting and write a story using the idea as your first sentence.
Sample Topics:
I looked into its eyes and suddenly…
The classroom was empty.

SSAT Upper Level
Schools would like to get to know you better through an essay or story using one of the two topics below.
Sample Topics:
If you could do something over again, what would it be and why? (essay)
He couldn’t believe they wanted his help. (story)

For these types of essays, you are told to write a story using the prompt as your first sentence. This gives you very little to go on, but you still have to try to come up with a story with a  beginning, middle, and end. Three paragraphs is enough, one for the beginning (the first sentence is the prompt), one for the middle, and one for the end. Every story should theoretically have a set-up, a climax, and a resolution. This means the characters are presented with a challenge, they experience difficulty, and have to solve it in the end. 

For example, you’ve probably seen the common plot on TV where someone is supposed to watch someone’s hamster (the set-up), then the hamster dies and the character has to solve the problem (the climax). He tries to buy another hamster, the hamster’s owner figures out what happened, but they all forgive each other in the end (the resolution). 

So for the prompt I looked into its eyes and suddenly… , you have to create some kind of set-up which can then lead to a climax and then a resolution. The set-up can be anything you want, but it has to be interesting enough that some conflict can happen that needs to be resolved. 

Example: Let’s say the its is a dog, and the narrator suddenly realizes that the dog has just eaten the narrator’s sister’s hamster. That’s the set-up, and the first paragraph: the narrator describes how he discovers that the hamster is gone and the fear of his sister finding out. The second paragraph describes the narrator going to a pet store and getting a new hamster and hoping the sister won’t figure it out (this is the climax). The third paragraph is the resolution, when the sister figures out it’s not really her hamster and is angry, but they all laugh in the end (it doesn’t have to be a realistic resolution!).

This is how you can structure a fictional story in the short amount of time you are given. 

Ways to Improve Fiction Story-Writing

  • In addition to your story having a set-up, a climax, and a resolution, you want to think about how to make the writing as strong as possible without wasting too much time on perfecting it. You only have time for a first draft, and the person reading your essay knows that, but you still want to try to be careful with spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc. This will not be a polished story, but you also want to show that you know basic writing skills. 
  • Try to vary your sentence structure as you go. This means not starting every sentence with the or he
  • Try to make the sentences interesting and complex when possible. Use different types of vocabulary that show the range of the words that you know (and all the words you have been studying over the course of your test preparation!). Don’t use big words just to show off if you’re not sure what they mean, but try to use descriptive words where you can. 
  • Stories are more engaging when you add sensory details. This means descriptions of what the characters feel, smell, taste, see, and hear. In some stories it won’t make sense to use certain types of sensory details, but if you could describe how the hamster’s fur felt when the narrator bought it, or what his dog’s breath smelled like when he got right up close, you’re bringing the reader in and making the story more interesting. 

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