The SSAT: Analogies

Analogies may seem frightening because they look pretty weird at first glance. You’ll feel better about them as soon as you realize that you speak and think in analogies all the time. Anytime you say, “My sister is like a slug,” you’re drawing an analogy between your sister and slugs—perhaps your sister is as gross as a slug, or maybe she’s as slow as a slug getting out of bed in the morning. That may not be the kind of relationship that will appear on your test, but the thinking is the same.
Once you become familiar with their format, you’ll find that Analogy questions are pretty straightforward and very predictable. In fact, prepping often gains you more points on Analogies than on any other Verbal question type. With practice, you can learn to get them right even when you don’t know all of the vocabulary words involved.

The Format

The instructions will tell you to select the pair of words that is related in the same way as the two words in the beginning of the question. Those two words are called the stem words. SSAT Analogies test your ability to determine relationships between words. These relationships are called bridges. The SSAT tests certain specific relationships time and time again. These are called classic bridges.
Consider the following example:
Instrumentalist is to orchestra as singer is to chorus.
How are these things similar? How would you describe the relationship between the words in each pair?
One classic bridge is group: One word is a part or element of the other word. Try to use this classic bridge on a test like question.

Flake is to snow as
(A) storm is to hail
(B) drop is to rain
(C) field is to wheat
(D) stack is to hay
(E) cloud is to fog

In this example, the answer is (B). A flake is a small unit of snow, just as a drop is a small unit of rain.
Another classic bridge is characteristic: One word describes what the other word is, has, uses, causes, or does. Let’s look at an example of this:
Kite is to glide as raft is to float.
Let’s look at one final relationship using another example:
Novice is to experience as braggart is to modesty.
In this example, the classic bridge is lack: One word describes what the other word lacks, cannot be, or does not do.
On Test Day, you can find the correct answer by putting relationships, like these classic ones, in your own words. This crucial skill is the first step in the Kaplan 3-Step Method, which will help you handle Analogy questions, even the toughest ones. This way, you can approach every question systematically rather than just using instinct. Let’s see how it works.

The Kaplan 3-Step Method for Analogies

  • Step 1: Build a Bridge

    In every Analogy question, there’s a strong, definite connection between the two stem words. Your task is to identify this relationship and then look for a similar relationship among the answer pairs.
    What’s a strong, definite relationship?

    • The words library and book have a strong, definite connection. A library is defined as a place where books are kept. Library is to book as could be a question stem.
    • The words library and child do not have a strong, definite connection. A child may or may not have anything to do with a library, and vice versa. Library is to child would never be a question stem.

    A bridge is a short sentence that relates the two words in the stem, and every pair of stem words will have a strong bridge that links them.

  • Step 2: Plug In the Answer Choices

    You figured out how the words flake and snow are related. Now you need to determine which answer choice relates words in the same way. Don’t just rely on your feeling about the words unless you don’t know the vocabulary (more on that later). Go through the choices systematically, building bridges between each word pair as you go. Here’s how it would work:
    If a flake is a small unit of snow, then . . .
    (A) a storm is a small unit of hail
    (B) a drop is a small unit of rain
    (C) a field is a small unit of wheat
    (D) a stack is a small unit of hay
    (E) a cloud is a small unit of fog
    Going through the choices, you can see that only one of them makes sense, (B). At this point, you would be done.

  • Step 3: Adjust Your Bridge if Necessary

    If your bridge is very specific, you won’t need to go to step 3, but sometimes you will. For example, if you had the question:
    Fish is to gill as
    (A) oyster is to shell
    (B) penguin is to wing
    (C) whale is to flipper
    (D) mammal is to lung
    (E) dolphin is to flipper
    Let’s say you made the bridge “A fish has a gill.”
    Then you went to the choices and plugged in that bridge:
    (A) An oyster has a shell.
    (B) A penguin has a wing.
    (C) A whale has a tail.
    (D) A mammal has a lung.
    (E) A dolphin has a flipper.
    Every choice fits! In this case, the bridge was too general, so you’ll need to adjust your bridge.
    What would a good adjustment be? Try to articulate to yourself the most specific relationship between the words, because the more specific your bridge is, the fewer choices will match it. A good bridge for this pair might be: “A fish uses a gill to breathe.” Now try plugging the bridge into the answer choices.
    (A) An oyster uses a shell to breathe.
    (B) A penguin uses a wing to breathe.
    (C) A whale uses a tail to breathe.
    (D) A mammal uses a lung to breathe.
    (E) A dolphin uses a flipper to breathe.
    It should now be easier to see the correct answer, (D), a mammal uses a lung to breathe.

Six Classic Bridges

There are six classic bridges that appear on the SSAT over and over again. By getting to know these bridges, you’ll be able to identify them quickly, saving yourself a lot of time as you go through Analogy questions.
Bridge Type 1: CHARACTER

One word characterizes the other. 
Quarrelsome is to argue (Someone quarrelsome tends to argue.)
Bridge Type 2: LACK

One word describes what someone or something is not.
Coward is to bravery (A coward lacks bravery.)
Bridge Type 3: FUNCTION

One word names an object; the other word defines its function.
Scissors is to cut (Scissors are used to cut.)
Bridge Type 4: DEGREE

One word is a greater or lesser degree of the other word.
Deafening is to loud (Something deafening is extremely loud.)
Bridge Type 5: EXAMPLE

One word is an example of the other word.
Measles is to disease (Measles is a type of disease.)
Bridge Type 6: GROUP

One word is made up of several of the other word.
Forest is to trees (A forest is made up of many trees.)

Predicting on Three-Term Analogies

Some Analogies will have three terms in the stem and only one word in each answer choice. For example:
Delight is to grin as dismay is to
(A) frown
(B) smile
(C) shrug
(D) stare
(E) giggle
Three-term Analogies aren’t very different from two-term Analogies. The key difference is that you need to predict your answer before you look at the answer choices. Otherwise, the choices won’t make much sense to you! Here’s how it works.
First, make your bridge:
A grin shows delight and a _____ shows dismay.
Now predict your answer. What might show dismay? Tears, perhaps, or a frown. Look at the answer choices. At this point, the question should be easier than a two-term Analogy, because you already have one of the two words in the answer.
Does a frown show dismay?
Does a smile show dismay?
Does a shrug show dismay?
Does a stare show dismay?
Does a giggle show dismay?
As you’ll see, (A) is the answer: A frown shows dismay. That makes a lot of sense. Can you see how much harder this would have been if you hadn’t gone through the steps of building a bridge and predicting the answer? You would likely be staring blankly at five words. Always predict your answer on three-term Analogies, and you’ll whiz through them in no time.


What is Backsolving? It may sound like an obscure form of chiropractic medicine, but it’s actually just a nifty way of approaching Analogies when you can’t answer them directly. So how does it work?
Basically, you skip right past the question stem and head straight for the answer choices. You may be wondering, “How can you figure out the answer without knowing what the question is asking?” Well, you can’t necessarily figure out the answer right away, but you can start to eliminate clearly wrong answer choices, leaving fewer options. When you rule out choices that you know can’t be right, the odds are better that you’ll pick the right choice from what’s left.

Screwdriver is to tool as
(A) animal is to plant
(B) garden is to bed
(C) banana is to bread
(D) tree is to leaf
(E) rose is to flower

Even if you didn’t know that a screwdriver is a type of tool, what could you rule out? Well, in (A), there’s no logical connection between animal and plant, except that they’re both living things. Choice (B), garden is to bed, also sounds somewhat off. You could make the argument that a garden has a bed, but does it have to? What about a hanging garden or a rock garden? You could rule out (B) since it has a weak bridge.
By eliminating even one illogical answer choice, you’ll narrow down your choices and have a better chance of getting the question right. Always keep your eye out for Both Are traps and Weak Bridges as you work through the Analogy section, and you’ll rack up lots of points on even the toughest questions.
Now that you’ve learned some strategies for acing the analogy section of the SSAT, check out some analogy practice questions!