Saturday, June 28, 2014

COGAT Test Prep Books

Today I'm reviewing the COGAT test prep books.  This is more like a soap opera than test prep book review, so I'll start with the bottom line.  In the upper right hand of this website, you'll see a more thorough review in the link entitled Gifted and Talented Test Prep Curriculum.

The COGAT test prep books on the market currently are from Mercer ($40 per book), Smart Cookie Inc ($20 to $35), and Bright Minds publishing ($25). Aristotle Circle deserves a special mention for a 99$ book only on verbal analogies which is an attempt for focused learning but the price is ridiculous.

Here's the bottom line:  These books are way too easy, don't teach cognitive skills, even when you buy the next year up (or next 2 like I did).   They do, however, introduce you child to the tricks of the test which are important for a few point, like 4 to 6%.  The purpose of these books is to prepare the child for sitting in the exam room and knowing what to do.  These books will not increase your child's score significantly, but they will help avoid a disaster and the familiarity of the test format is good for about 4 points.   If you need a 98, and your child is it 95, then the 4 points count.

For example, on one question my son showed me a fuzzy blob in one of the questions and asked "What's this?".   I said "Guessing what the fuzzy blob is (a bird?) is part of the test."  I'm not sure that the actual COGAT has illegible pictures, but it will have something screwy, and your child should go into the test knowing that something screwy will be on the test.

For 4 year olds, I recommend Shape Size Color Count to book to build visual spacial skills and number sense especially if your child gets many of the questions on a practice test wrong.  This book has a format that is sort of like the test, half OLSAT and half COGAT, like leading up to the test with actual skills. We used this material leading up to a practice test and the practice was a lot more more effective.  This is a cognitive skills builder that is not unlike the format of the test, but it is not a practice test.

The Mercer books seem to be the closest to the look and feel of the actual test.   The Smart Cookie books are cheaper and more slightly more creative.  Smart Cookie also has a great NNAT book for 3rd and 4th grade that I think works well for 5 and 6 year olds.

There is little difference in the books from one grade to the next except for the content changes for older children as the COGAT uses more words and numbers and less picture.  That's why these books don't work for cognitive skills building. The more advanced books aren't harder, just different, with numbers and words instead of pictures.

If you are 3 weeks before the test and have done nothing yet, go with Mercer.  If you have more time, get 2 Smart Cookie books and do one before the beginning your training work and one right before the test.  Spend you precious test prep time on something that will improve the cognitive skills of your child, like my recommendation sheet in Gifted and Talented Test Prep Curriculum. Do one test right away, slowly, and use one test near the end of preparation.

I have 2 other recommendations.   First, look for past articles on coaching.  These will come in handy when you show the first question to your child and the child is totally baffled.  Your approach to this material will have a big impact on scores. Secondly, all of this material including practice tests tends toward the 75% and not the 99% once you get it.  We did all of the curriculum before age 6 including the non-verbal sections in Building Thinking Skills grade 4-6, and it wasn't that hard because Shape Size Color Count put us about right in the middle of the Building Thinking Skills Grade 2 and 3 book. Figuring out how to get from a 50% score on easy work to 50% on really hard material is most of the battle.

The practice tests for the OLSAT are useless.  I don't recommend these at all.

The Soap Opera Part

The COGAT practice tests are more challenging, but it doesn't help if your child gets all of the questions wrong because they don't know what they are doing. The practice tests don't teach fundamentals, they teach this is what you have to expect on test day.  Once we did Shape Size Color Count, we could look at a question and have some idea of what was happening behind the scenes and know what to do.

The OLSAT and COGAT tests are measuring a closely related skill set, but the OLSAT for Pre-K is administered one-on-one so listening and pointing are required.  We took both of these tests, the OLSAT in Pre-K and the COGAT in K to get into our program.  For COGAT practice tests, do not use the electronic version.   The primary benefit to practice tests is the test simulation.  These tests are administered with pencil and paper in most but not all school districts.

As part of my research which is behind this blog, I bought all of the above and more, printed 16 inches of testingmom.com questions and evaluated a couple of shelves of early academic material. Testingmom.com was repetitive and more training than thinking.   I might have worked 10 years ago, but the bar has been raised since then.

Questions in the format of the test are useful to determine whether or not your little braniac is going to create their own goofy rules for figure matrices that you need to correct.  We had a tough time with the format of "which doesn't belong" for this reason.  You don't need to spend a lot of money to do this. Practice questions are not going to teach cognitive skills.

Mercer was sued by the publisher of the COGAT because their format is so close to the format of the test, a clear copyright violation.   The COGAT publisher only partially prevailed.  The Mercer sued Smart Cookie for the same reason and not only lost but then Smart Cookie countered sued Mercer for because Mercer sued Smart Cookie for a copyright that they didn't even had.  Nonetheless, Smart Cookie had to create questions that are a little more unusual and creative, which is why I like their books.

If you want to go overboard like I did, ask a friend to test your child with the practice test.  I also gave instructions to 'be firm, intimidating, and serious' because my son was so shy.  She was a teacher and gave the test in her classroom.  For my part, I coached her kids and assigned corrective material from my 6 foot stack of test material.

The bottom line is that a practice test is good for about 4 to 6 points, points you need.  Additional practice tests aren't going to make your child smarter.  Getting a 2nd grade practice test for a 1st grader isn't going to help because the content and level of challenge is nearly the same.

27 comments:

  1. A practice test is good for a few more points. It's a necessary step. Other than that, the material is sparse. We did all of the good books through 4th grade befoe age 6. That's the problem. What you daughter needs is a steady stream of novel and complicated problems. Is there a particular section to tackle? That would help me make a recommendation. If this were my child, and it will be in 2 years (grade 7), I would get a vocabulary book, or 2, readning comprehension this summer, and start in on 6th grade prealgebra word problems, emphasizing working the question and deenphasizing correct answers. I have to think aboutt the spacial reasoning part.

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    1. Non verbal/spacial reasoning is the one she needs the most help with....

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  2. My son's NNAT2 score is at 95% which is lower than required and he will be taking the COGAT (2nd grade) in October. Which is the best way to go about preparing for it. Thank you so much!

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    1. There are probably 30 really good pages in this blog specifically addressing your question. Some day I may condense these. Until then, start reading.

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    2. Thank you for your reply. I have been reading from the beginning. I think my concern is that we don't have much time.I am trying to see what is the best books to buy for with the time crunch in mind. I have a few books in my cart in Amazon.
      The COGAT book from smart cookie, two of your books(which unfortunately are not available at the moment?) and also the building thinking skills level 2 book.
      Is that a good place to start?
      Someone suggested testingmom but I hesitate to do that after your review and all the comments on your blog.

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    3. October is plenty of time. I checked amazon, and my books appear to be available. I only recommend level 2 if your child hasn't completed 2nd grade yet (otherwise level 3), and then only half of each section given your time constraints. I had to search "Test Prep Math Cogat" for my books to show up, but they appear to be available. You can also get them at https://www.createspace.com/6091258 and https://www.createspace.com/5734303. I would do Building Thinking Skills level 1 if you haven't done that yet, with an emphasis on the verbal. If you want more, do the 3-4 grade smart cookie NNAT book which is really good. Finally, get a good reading comprehension book a grade or 2 up. If your child is finishing 1st grade now, get the 3rd grade one. Try Level C by continental press. This is really good test prep. You only need to get 5% more in the next 4 months. Highly doable.

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  3. Thank you very much for your suggestions! I feel encouraged. He is 7. Will be 8 in October.
    On Amazon it says "free prime shipping once available", I just realized that it means they need more processing time. I will get the level 2 then since he is starting 2nd grade in September.

    I will get the other books too, thanks.

    Will I need anything for math? He is strong in language arts and I think is at grade level in math.

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    1. The COGAT is not testing math level, but math abilities. The difference is that he doesn't have to know next year's math, but have a good number sense and a good figuring out sense, plus other academic skills like concentration and trying again. Test Prep math is actually printed for each order, I think. It normally goes out quickly.

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  4. That's good to know. Thank you.

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  5. Thank you for the excellent reply/post. Thank you for the suggested materials and techniques. Regarding practice exams, do you post them? Where can I buy/find them?
    On another note, do you write tests and/or curriculum? You are wonderful, and should be.

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    1. Your welcome. Check mercer publishing.
      I published 2 math workbooks for grades 2/3 and 3/4 that are turning out to be way better than I had hoped, and I'm working on a very special Phonics book. I think that's all I'm going to do because I have found suitable material for everything else.
      Once I'm done with the phonics book, I plan to eliminate poverty among the African American community in Chicago. It will mainly be working with the parents. I think that's going to be a big, multi-year challenge.

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  6. Hello, i stumbled upon your blog today and find some posts very helpful. I am looking for help for both my kids (entering 5th grade daughter and son entering KG) for their COGAT testing. Both have gone to private schools thus far and have not been exposed to any standardized testing. I think they are both bright kids but i feel like they will lack in testing as they grow up and I am thinking to admit my daughter who is 10 in a academically gifted program at a public school. How should I get them ready and which books do you recommend ?

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    1. The blog was originally started for your son's situation. About 2/3 of my articles, maybe 300, are on this topic. You can ignore the rest. I don't have a solidified strategy for 5th graders, but I'm finding that the approach is pretty much the same and the material really similar.

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  7. Thank you for putting this blog together. My child just started Kindergarten. I see that for the logic part, Building Thinking Skills by criticalthinking is a good one. I have been lazy and not really spending much time with my kid. So, I will start with the primary level and see. If it's too easy, then I'll go to the level 1. For the practice test, what books do you recommend? Thanks. :)

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    1. This list is on a link at the right, near the bottom, called gifted and talented test preparation at the bottom of the page. I think I need to reorganize this material because it's so hard to find. And then there are about 100 articles on how to do this properly.

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    2. I've completely rewritten my list of material needed for your child. The older page didn't get the job done. Please see the 2nd link from the top right.

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  8. Hello Norwood, Thank you very much for the details review. Would you please share the exact details on which books/websites to follow for CoAgt for 1st. Our daughter started K this month and will be appearing for test (for 1st) sometime soon.

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    1. Please see the link in the upper right of my blog entitled "Gifted and Talented Test Prep Curriculum" which I revised recently.

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  9. We received a letter from our Board of Education that in 3 days our 1st grader will have CogAt test for the new year for gifted and talented program.
    This is a new program, last year Gifted and Talented program has been started from 3rd grade.
    Is it realistically enough time to even introduce
    CogAt test to 6-7 y.old? I am not happy how minimum time we were given. Anything could be done about it? What would you recommend (what material) can be used?
    Thanks in advance.

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    1. Step 1: Panic - check
      Step 2: Post a question to the only person in the US who thinks this you have a chance - check
      Step 3: Get Smart Cookie Grade 1 practice test from Amazon fedex overnight rush shipping. I recommend this one because it's shipped by Amazon and in stock. Pay whatever they ask and tip the driver.
      Step 4: Focus on how these questions work and go really slow. Sometimes you have to read all the answers before you know what is happening in the question. It's not about getting anything right or wrong. It's about learning how to do these questions. Spend 15 minutes on the first question whether it needs it or not. Just lay down the rules and the how to. Don't forget - just because a square still looks like a square doesn't mean it didn't flip.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Thank you. Great answer.

    We were told it will be CogAt 7 test, and that the results calculation will not take into consideration child's age, only grade. My daughter is one of the youngest in her class, she is 6,8 y. old while some kids are 7,6 y. old.

    What's your opinion about that?
    Thanks again.

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    1. In the broad population, cognitive skills are roughly correlated with age because kids at the same age are generally exposed to the same material and age appropriate treatment at home, where most of cognitive training takes place. The correlation stops there. For an individual child, cognitive skills have less to do with age and more to do with cognitive skills training. Behaviors like sitting still and concentrating for 60 minutes are also correlated in the population for the same reason, but kids who are read to a lot have much stronger concentration skills at very young ages than their older peers.

      It really comes down to what you have been doing for the last 12 to 24 months. That's why schools want to surprise parents. They don't want kids who put in 4 solid weeks of test prep and then go back to their old ways of sports or screens.

      In the next few days, you have the opportunity to add 4 to 8 points, or even more, maybe 15. Then you'll sit around and worry for time waiting for scores, then make a decision on what to do next.

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  11. My child took the CogAt and scored in the 69th percentile with no preparation. Is it possible to improve this score to 95+ percentile with eight months of preparation?

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    1. If you had a box of kleenex standing by, you could probably get your child to 90% in 6 weeks. 8 months is enough time to prepare for the COGAT at this level.

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    2. Thank you so much, we're going to prep with your suggestions. I'll keep you posted on the results!

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