Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review of Gifted Practice Tests

In this article, I'm going to review books on the market for the COGAT and OLSAT, with special mention for the NNAT.

The practice test is the very last step in test prep, unless you are thinking ahead, in which case you can do one 6 months before the test and the in the last few weeks leading up to the test.

A practice test is designed to familiarize the child with the format and rules of the test.  Research shows that familiarity is good for about 4 points.  With cutoff scores in many school districts at 98% and above, those are 4 important points.  I've found that really bright children can make up their own creative rules and associations during the test; I use a practice test correct this problem and potentially avert disaster.

A practice test is not a good way to increase cognitive skills, especially if you speed through it a few weeks before the test.  To teach cognitive skills to your children, see the basic curriculum on the Gifted and Talented Test Prep Curriculum page.  I don't use practice tests to build cognitive and academic skills.

There are a few subtle differences between these tests but I'm generally happy with all of them for their limited but important role.   In case you were wondering, I have no relationship with any publisher and don't get paid, and if you check the links in this blog, they are just regular old links.

Starting with the COGAT...

One of the strongest publishers on the market is Smart Cookie.   There material is slightly more creative than other test prep books that have been on the market for the last 10 years.  For grades K-2, the a great all around general purpose COGAT test prep book on the market in my opinion is their Form 7, 2 practice tests in one for $34.  Best is of course relative.  Each publisher has their differences and in diagnosing a student and their test strategy I might choose a different book for different puproses.  I also like their 3rd and 4th Grade NNAT book, again 2 tests in one.  The NNAT is a much easier test, much easier to prepare for.  It's not uncommon for Kindergartner's to work with 4th grade material (as long as it's non-verbal) because many cognitive skill are independent of age.

I had high expectations for the K-2 practice test from Big Brain Books in the "Crush The CogAT Series" but it's comparatively easy and the format isn't close enough to the test.  I'm going to do some more experimentation with this book because the price is less than $17.  The book covers K through 1, and I think it would be a good starter book (the one you use 6 months before the test) for at least K, especially at the price point.

Origin Publications has a K and 1st Grade test that is much more challenging.  Their number puzzle section (train questions) have subtraction, which is great.  This $17 book contends that it helps the child become familiar with the format and content of the test, but I think the authors are trying a little harder than that, and that is a good thing.  I'm going to start using this one.  I think it has a slight advantage.

Gateway Gifted Resources produces a test prep book for first grade that is suitable for use in a Kindergarten classroom.   The book is priced reasonably at $20 for a color book and contains the types of characters you would find in a Kindergarten text book that is not a gifted program.  I would use a book like this as early as Pre K, and my child would get most of the questions wrong, and it would take a long time, and thus it would provide some value.  Just because your child is 5 and practice test material is generally easy doesn't mean there is more value using a book for a 7 year old.  But in the case of Gateway Gifted Resources, there is value in doing their books at a very early age for the 3 verbal sections.  I like the fact that their graphics vary.  It's a small but nice touch.

The original COGAT practice test is from Mercer.  It's also the most expensive at $40.  This book is designed to look just like the test.  If you want to do a full dress rehearsal to deal with a shy child, this is a good book to use.

On now on to the OLSAT...

For many years, there was only one OLSAT test prep book on the market and it looked just like the OLSAT test and I hated it.   Way too easy.  An easy test does not give your child an experience like the test and might in fact prepare them to fail.  In 2014, 4Kids published an OLSAT Practice Test that I hate less and might use as a quick workbook before we start test prep, except that it cost $26.

For OLSAT, I prefer COGAT practice tests because both the books and the actual COGAT are harder than the OLSAT.  Practicing for the OLSAT is more about practice answering questions and I have a completely different approach.

And the NNAT...
I don't spend nearly enough time worried about the NNAT as I should.  There are 2 reasons.  Preparing for the COGAT is much closely aligned with the broad academic skill set you want your child to have, and I can't say that about the NNAT.  Secondly, the Smart Cookie NNAT book for 3rd and 4th grade is my favorite test prep book for any age.  In my opinion, test prep should be nothing more than taking time out to improve your child's cognitive and academic skills, and then blowing away the test is an after thought.  I feel pretty strongly that test prep for the NNAT should be 1 official looking test like Mercer and then heads down thinking and problem solving work, and finally back to the NNAT practice test like Smart Cookie's for the last month.

Now some parting advice...

First, if 100% of your test prep regime is just a practice test, go slowly and carefully.   Don't do more than a section a day, and I recommend 1/2 of each section first, and then go back and do the other 1/2 on the second pass.  Since the problems get harder in each section, 3 passes of 1/2, 1/4, and 1/4 might be in order if you have time.  If you are getting this book overnight because the test is in 2 days, all of these passes will be in a 24 hour period of insanity.

While the child is going through a practice test, scores of 50% or less are common.  This is not unusual.  Keep in mind you don't want to spend 2 weeks conveying your impatience and high expectations on your child.  That is not the goal.  The goal is cleaning up their confusion and reinforcing best practices going into the test.  Some of the test prep books provide some guidance on this, especially Origin Publications.

The core cognitive skill set is somewhat age independent.  There are a few questions in the kindergarten books that I found really challenging.  This means that some of the same material at the K and 1st grade level can be found in a slightly more advanced version for 2nd or 4th grade.  But the complexity, working memory demands, and tediousness of the questions will increase.

The amazon reviews for these books are not helpful at all.  5 stars from someone who bought a single practice test and their child is going to pass anyway because they've been reading 7 books a day from birth doesn't apply to the rest of us. Even worse, I've seen 1 and 2 star reviews because the questions are unclear and sloppy and poorly worded. These are the books I want to get for my own children because the last thing I want going into a really challenging thinking test is to spoon feed my kids clear problems expertly drawn.   The exception is Bright Minds publishing which appears to have been created by a non-english speaking author and which I didn't review above; I like the thought of my kids having to fix grammar to do a question or fix a question with wrong answers but I wouldn't trust other parents to be as excited as I am about the extra work, especially with the test approaching.

And what to do if your child doesn't pass...

There's been a huge shift in home education in the last 10 years.  Many come late to the game, especially with the first child.  For years schools have been measuring cognitive skills without bothering to teach them.  Then a few parents like Jessie Wise and home schoolers discovered that you can teach your child much more - way more, much earlier, and produce more capable students.  The gifted test prep industry started a rebellion against selecting a few lucky students into the gifted program, but trying to get a few extra points on the test is just the beginning.

So if things don't go well after one or two practice tests, you've got some more work to do, and that is the main focus of getyourchildrenintogat.com.


22 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. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. Any tips/test-prep material on the NYC G&T test - OLSAT and NNAT? Do you have a post that discusses the craziness of NYC's G&T (not sure how it compares to the Chicago one)? Also if you've done any research on the quality of GenEd vs. G&T in NYC (or know someone that has) can you let me know?

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    1. Other than this page and coaching right before a test, I spend the other 11 months a year answering this question: How do you increase the cognitive skills of your child to the point where the test is a foregone conclusion? So that's where I'm coming from. If you've got 3 months and a 4 to 4yr 4 mnths, Shape Size Color Count combined with Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking are the way to go.

      For a more urgent problem, the OLSAT and NNAT practice tests are lacking, but for age 4. yr 4mo to 4yr 7mo, I like the 2 books above, Gateway first and 4Kids second in usage order. I still prefer to start the NNAT prep with COGAT conducive material but the NNAT books have gotten better.

      Chicago and NY are much different in terms of attitude and behavior on GT on the north side but somewhat closer near the city center. That would be a fun article to write and I would get skewered on all sides.

      For GenEd, I defer to the experts. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1FOriBS

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