[June 2014] The COGAT test prep books are reviewed in June 2014 in more detail after I used them again. These comments from 2 years before still hold true.
[Jan 2012] Note to reader: I get so many hits on this post that I just moved my list of test prep curriculum to one of the permanent pages on the right called Gifted and Talented Test Prep curriculum. This post was simply asking whether the high price of test prep books is worth it, not a prescription for test prep. I think my final conclusion is yes at age 4, and then after then it gets much harder to find good material.
Well, I've had a bias against spending money. I feel bad giving advice about this without more research. So I went out and bought a stack of practice tests for OLSAT and COGAT.
I was horribly disappointed, although they might be appropriate for you as I point out below.
The problem with these books is that they must meet the ethical guidelines for the industry: To not help your student "cheat" the test by performing above ability and to not show you any actual content from the test. Therefore, they are easier than the test and are not training material.
Nonetheless, I learned 3 important things. The biggest thing I learned is that other parents are right - if you have an hour to spend, spend it on general abilities training (aka workbooks on math, shapes, vocabulary) or read to your child to improve their vocabulary. So any of the recommendations you see on workbooks will probably fit. I've plodded through some of these and they are consistent with the skills needed to take these tests.
OK, now the practice tests themselves. These are in the format of the test. They are pretty easy. And the material I saw is similar to that you can download for free. The OLSAT from the nyc school site and the cogat from their site. The additional practice tests are more of the same.
Let's talk about reasons why you might buy these:
1. To see where your kid is strong or weak and focus on what is needed from that point on. If this were your goal, I'm not sure you need a practice test to do this but it can't hurt. But the normal activities you are doing should uncover this anyway.
2. To find out which type of questions are on the test and see if your child understands them. Here, I learned a lot.
a) If a banana shows up on a classification question (which one doesn't belong?) my son always picks it because you can't peel the other ones. Well, it took a while, but I got him to understand that the rules don't work that way. You have to find 3 items that all have something in common and pick the odd one out. If 3 items are yellow, including the banana, then it's the apple.
b) If Billy has 2 fish and you give him 2 more, how many does he have? I hated these problems in high school and I was on a math competition team. I found out we have a little work to do, even though Kindergartners will only see a few of these.
c) A is to B as C is to D. The little guy came up with all sorts of ways to answer this problem, including making up his own analogies instead of answering the question.
3. To make sure you kid doesn't have the jitters. Ok, this is valid. See the nyc school page for gifted and download the practice tests. It doesn't matter that this is the OLSAT.
4. How to get your child with innate ability of say, 130, to score 150 so he can get into a options school in round 1 of the selection process so you don't have to drive to 2 different schools to drop your kids off? OK, this is the bottom line here. I'm willing to bet that almost all of the parents looking at the practice tests are asking a question like this. Here, the practice test approach fails miserably. They are designed specifically not to help you do this, and if they did, they would be whacked with Copyright and Ethics violations by the test makers.
To accomplish #4 with practice tests, I'm guessing you need some sort of a test prep course that starts out with really easy questions "Billy has one fish. How many does he have?" "What happens if he gets another one?" and continues through each permutation of answer and question and skill level until you child has memorized 1000's of question types and answers - none of which may actually be on the test.
And, in conclusion, I'd say all of the stress and arguments on sites like cpsobsessed.com about how unfair it is that some parents spend lots of money prepping their children is completely unfounded. I don't think it works. I'll start my next post with that.