Monday, June 22, 2015

The COGAT Verbal Section

The COGAT verbal section has Verbal Analogies, Sentence Completion, and a Vocabulary section.

I didn't think I had much to report on these sections until I started getting questions from readers.

Here is my strategy for these questions.

Vocabulary Workshop
This workbook series is a staple of my At Home Schooling study program, and I first introduced it specifically for test prep.   This is not a vocabulary builder, although it helps a lot with vocabulary and over the years I've seen it pay off just for vocabulary.   For the test, however, there are  too many words to learn (somewhere around 65,000) so it is unlikely to provide an edge unless the COGAT has one of these words, which is extremely unlikely for a variety of reasons. 

I chose Vocabulary Workshop because it is newer and less boring than Wordly Wise, and my kids use Wordly Wise in school anyway.  I haven't tried Vocabulary Connections because Vocabulary Workshop worked so well.

The reason I use Vocabulary Workshop is for my kids to be exposed to the nuances of meanings, alternative meanings, and the concept of word choice.   These skills don't necessarily come from just reading.  

The other purpose of Vocabulary Workshop is to be a centerpiece in Test Taking Strategies, which is going to be a separate article.  Hopefully, no one is taking the test in the next few months since it is summer so I'll hold off on that article.

We do about 2 pages a week, and this pace will get them to the point in a year where they are facing vocabulary way beyond their level, and then I slow down.

The centerpiece of preparing for any test, including the COGAT and OLSAT is reading.  It is not clear from all of my articles that this is my main focus of not only test prep, but keeping up with school and life in general.  Reading is way more important than math.   I tend to post mostly about math and logic because this is my competitive advantage and there is way more to discuss.   Once you read what I have to say about reading below, I don't have more to say except about every 3 months when we get in trouble with reading and I have to take corrective action.

Step 1 - Build A Chart
The first thing I do is make a list of all of the books that I want my child to read and all of the books that I'm going to read to my child.   Both Reading and Read To are really important activities, and they can take up an hour of each day or more.   Everyone knows that they have to read every day.  The Read To takes care of itself because that is what bedtime is for.

To build the Reading List, depending on where the kids are academically, I will go to the web and get lists of every series that has "Beginning Reader", "Early Reader", etc from all major publishers.  Then I'll look up these books on the library website and delete the ones that the library doesn't have.

For kids that are actually learning how to read, I make some recommendations on my page on reading (on the right of this blog) that you might find helpful.  There are some great series out there, but most of them are not leveled well.

For the Read To list, I search for Illustrator awards, and write down all of these books, crossing out the ones that the library doesn't have.   Once you find an award winning illustrator, you can query the books that this person has illustrated, and many of these can go on the reading list as well, especially for older kids. 

Step 2 - Place Holds and Check Out Books
With these lists in mind, each week I check out and place holds on a dozen books.  Once I get the books, I return the ones that are too hard and put the book titles at the end of the list for later.  Eventually they won't be too hard.

Step 3 - Read, Read, Read
With a stack of books, I'm ready to assign reading and have my Read To books for each night.  Maybe I have 6 that are appropriate for the week, and that is what we do.   With little kids learning to ready, their reading probably involves the parent.  Maybe they can only read one word or one sentence in the whole book.   Maybe we read them over and over throughout the week.  Certainly the Read To books - the good ones - get read over and over and over.

A Note On Phonics for Test Prep
A good phonics series is great for Test Prep, because it will expose your child to lots of vocabulary very early.  You may have to provide the definitions.  Plus, it will help them learn to read, and then they'll read more earlier, and early reading is probably the single biggest factor in passing the test and doing well in school forever.

A Note For Older Children
Here we are with the older child in the summer after 4th grade.   I am putting together a special reading list.  I start with award winning books for older kids (typically 6th grade) - I think the Newberry is perfect - and then I search Amazon for these books to make sure they have teacher guides.  If there are lots of teacher guides and study guides, then I have my book.

When I assign these, I'm specifically asking my child to report to me what is interesting, tricky, surprising, foreboding, confusing.  I'm treating these books in the same way I treat a good test question.   Don't just read it.  Find the mystery.  What, it's not a mystery you say?  Every well written book is a mystery to be solved.  It's time to read slower and think more.

Can Your Child Pass The Test With No Reading?
The answer is yes, it is possible.  The test is trying to find the kids with advanced critical thinking skills who might not even speak English well, let alone read.  It turns out that lots of reading is the safest and easiest way to get a high score on the test, but there are alternative paths.   If your child only needs to score in the 90% to 95% to get in a GAT program, and you only have 2 months to prepare, you can bypass reading if you work really really hard in the other areas.


  1. Thank you so much ! We will be taking the test within the next 3 months and hence the stress. Being on a Summer break does help but there is so much to work on. I have targeted revisiting Magic Tree House (complete set) but do not think we will be able to touch the research books. We are doing Vocabulary Workshop and I thoroughly enjoy the books just as much as my son does.
    I think I understand what you mean by -
    "The other purpose of Vocabulary Workshop is to be a centerpiece in Test Taking Strategies, which is going to be a separate article."

    1. A couple of comments. Knowing how to read isn't help for the test, but knowing how to think while reading is. That is why Read To is great - most of the books are very thought provoking. Knowing how to read for 4 and 5 year olds is really great at this age because it exercises working memory a lot, but at older ages, a wide variety of books is better, and not just chapter books. I strongly recommend that you use Building Thinking skils (go quickly) and get a practice test.

  2. Thanks so much. Building Thinking Skills 2 and the practice tests are there in the curriculum that I have. I will pull a Read To book as well since these days the 'Read To' time had been replaced by Encyclopedia Brown because he had been missing out on the small details.

  3. I read your posts daily and I am following your program, but lately I am losing my motivation as summer has begun and I really need someone to remind me "why" I need to put my kids into GAT. Do I just want more expensive public education for my kids for free? Do I want my kids to be around kids at the similar level with parents who are more interested in their kids education? Do I want them to make it to an Ivy school? What are my short term and long term goals? Also is it accurate to say that to get into a top college, getting all As (but not in GAT) is probably not good enough? (I am not familiar with U.S. college admission process).

    1. My only goal is for my kids to do some hard work every day at their level, whatever that is, but the level is certainly way ahead of where most schools are. Part work ethic, part academic growth. Having them in a GAT program helps in that is narrows down what I have to concentrate on at home as a parent. The first few months (year?) of this approach were really painful until they internalized this all and learned to do the work on their own. It was a huge investment of my time and patience as a parent and it paid off. I discuss this frustration and pain in earlier posts. Go back a few years and start reading.

    2. Thank you!!! It really helped me rethink about my goals as a parent.