With the January SSAT right around the corner, parents have been asking what–if anything–they can do to help their students stay up to speed and even improve their skills over the holiday break. By now, most students are well on their way to feeling ready. However, extra practice never hurts.

With long afternoons free, maybe a full, timed practice test won’t feel burdensome. Another option is completing one or two timed sections in one sitting–the quality of time invested is more important than the quantity. It definitely helps build stamina for the long test.

Free practice tests for all different levels are available online. These are great for timed work. Print them out, as the actual SSAT is in printed format; also print a bubble sheet so your child can practice filling one out. The best approach is to circle the right answer on the test and then fill out three to five bubbles at a time. That prevents “mis-bubbling,” as your child is unlikely to fill in a bubble for a skipped problem or question, and also increases speed. You can also dissect a test for daily practice, rotating from one subject to the other.

A simple reward planned for after its completion, such as a trip to the skating rink, a movie, or a favorite dinner, can also lighten the mood and add to future motivation. We recommend a fun post-test adventure on the actual test day, itself–something your child will look forward to–so you might as well introduce that notion now!

Below are suggestions for using the tests, and for online and family activities that hone skills in all subjects the test covered on the test.  



  • Mark five to ten problems that require a variety of skills: basic number skills, percentages, ratios, word problems, geometry, and algebra. Having children do problems they’re comfortable with builds confidence for exam day. Challenging problems should be done with a tutor or prior to a tutor session, when the child knows someone will explain.
  • Check out the Spiked Educational Games website. They offer an entire selection of math games that are age appropriate, including logic-building games.
  • Work together with your child on a more sophisticated number game. The New York Times Kenken is challenging and enjoyable for parent and student, as are Sudokus at all levels.
  • Play board games that use number skills. Because the SSAT does not allow calculators, any kind of games using math facts are helpful: Yahtzee, for example, or Monopoly (make your child the banker, have them calculate rent or percentages owed to the bank for mortgaged properties).



  • Work through synonyms and analogies together.
  • Make a Quizlet. Help your child create word lists on Quizlet.
  • Try out FreeRice.com, where you’ll find vocabulary practice that starts easy and quickly accelerates. As a bonus, every right answer leads to a donation to the World Food Programme: how perfect for the holiday season.
  • Play more board games! Try Scattergories, Scrabble, and Balderdash. If you don’t have the board game versions, try apps (Words with Friends), or games that require purchasing nothing, like Fictionary (the “Dictionary parlor game” that preceded and led to Balderdash, and teaches poker-face skills, too).
  • Introduce your child to the pleasure of crosswords. The New York Times publishes Crossword Puzzles for Students on a variety of subjects; these puzzles not only improve vocabulary, but are educational in additional ways. Also, building a love for word puzzles now will last life long.
  • Interject vocabulary words into everyday conversations. Converse using your child’s vocabulary flashcards–this practice can be hysterically funny. Act out scenes playing characters who speak in “$5 words.”



  • Read with your student! Go for just a passage or two at a time. The passages are often more entertaining than you’d expect.
  • Read from newspapers and magazines. If possible, read items that are in print as that’s the format of the SSAT. Discuss what you’ve read. Analyze what is and isn’t reliable news.
  • Encourage reading an actual print book. Choose one that is a level or two above your child’s typical choice. Modeling reading for fun, curled up near the fireplace, makes the experience more pleasurable for all.


Overall strategies

  • Indulge in down time. To relieve students’ increasing anxiety about the looming test, allow them to play video games that require focus and speed under stress.
  • Get your child outside, and go along. Parents get stressed at this point, too!


Finally, if you are staying home for the holidays, Open Door SSAT tutors will be available over the break. Sessions during that week can be very productive, as the students are relaxed and can focus well on the tasks at hand. We even get a little festive and find that students connect well with holiday treats or a few minutes of a board game built in at the end of the session!


For students applying to private school, Open Door teaches ISEE and SSAT test prep and helps students complete their application writing.