Saturday, November 7, 2015

Coaching the NNAT

I've been slowly working may up to an article roughly entitled "How to Crush the COGAT Without Really Trying".  Unfortunately, "Not Really Trying" is going to be a lot of work for a lot of parents. It's all in this blog somewhere but it's really going to be fun synthesizing it in a ground breaking article. .

As a warm up exercise, it's time to crush the NNAT, specifically the puzzle question where there is a puzzle piece missing.  This is the easiest of all question types and I never gave it much thought.  I don't spend much time thinking about the Weschler, IQ tests, or tests for older kids.  Nonetheless, readers ask anyway because if you want a website written by researcher dedicated to getting every child into a GAT program, I'm the only game in town.

NNAT puzzles, IQ tests, and tests for older kids.  What do these 3 things have in common? The answer is algorithms.

The difference between thinking through a never-before-seen tough problem and zipping through way harder versions of the same problem is the algorithm.  This can be a mental construct or predefined approach to a class of problems, and it can be multi-demensional like a decision tree.

The difference between cognitive abilities tests and IQ tests is the need for algorithms on the IQ tests. That's why my IQ is never going to be great across the board.  I simply don't care that much about creating an algorithm to unscramble words and I'm not drawn to activities that really "smart" people are drawn to that would require this algorithm.  I'm not even that great at number patterns.  When I have to do things like number patterns, I quickly build an algorithm and its usually just trying out every type of operation sequentially to see which one works.

When I was pairing cognitive skills to problem solving skills, an exercise really designed to pair how I think to approach the test versus what the tests own definition of itself, I came across "algorithms" on the cognitive skills list.  Of course, kids develop algorithms when they are first learning how to read but I doubt any children can verbally describe the ones they use.   Algorithms come into play at much later ages.  In the problem solving literature, "trying each operation to see which one works" is a solution strategy that corresponds to the cognitive skill of using algorithms.  The higher order skill is patience derived from having nothing better to do because your loser parents make you do test prep instead of soccer.  But it's given a fancy sounding name, and terms like "number fluency" kept me off the right track for 4 years.

I tried to teach solution algorithms for the COGAT (eg shape, size, color, count) but these were never adopted.  Instead, my children developed their own approaches and I think this is a much better policy for young children when preparing for the COGAT.

Algorithms come from repetitive problem solving.  That's how an IQ test can accurately identify truly bright individuals, by defining true intelligence as "sitting around doing jumbles and cross word puzzles all day".  That's why people think the contrived definition of "high intelligence" is suspect and one of the primary problems motivating Gartner et ilk to pull things like the theory of multiple intelligences out of his back pocket.

Synonyms for the word "algorithm" are "short cut" and "trick".  I don't like these terms because they imply that thinking is not involved.

Back to the NNAT puzzle question.  The algorithms jump right off the page when you see the problems.  Take this example.  What is the missing piece going to look like?

Keep in mind Step #1 in my article on coaching when you do this problem because it points the way.
Here is my algorithm.
1.  Notice that there is a line touching the corner, two corners have a single line in this case.  Eliminate all solution options that don't have 2 corners with a line nearby.  I call this the "corner check".  This could be a line or other type of shape, and it may or may not involve a color adjective.  It could be top/bottom/middle, it could be wide, thin, and many other adjectives.  Coaching sessions would be heavy on the vocabulary.  Hopefully, the pieces in the answer set aren't rotated.  Since girls are deficient in rotating at young ages (because Lego Friends hasn't caught on yet) I think rotation is not used on tests before 2nd grade.

I'm sure the test makers are smarter than this so this would probably not be enough.  The child might look to the interior next.

2a. Look for crossing lines in the middle.  In this case there is one.
Eliminate all answer choices that don't have 2 lines crossing in the middle.  There would be a longer list of terms beside "crossing".

Did you notice the "a" next to the "2"?  Test makers want to find thinkers, so 2a is not complete.
2b.  Imagine that the lines (or shapes of some kind) move in an unexpected direction, like looping.  Uncross out the answers that could have unexpected twists and turns.

Obviously, 2b undoes 2a, unless the picture has a strong pattern, in which case it holds.  A strong pattern is something like a checkerboard.  So 2a/2b is part of the algorithm with strong patterns, but then if you are looking at a strong pattern, you are probably just back to the corner algorithm as well.

Questions that can't be solved by corner or edge checks can result from proportion aspects of splitting shapes.  This is just a starter suggestion.

If you are coaching your child on the NNAT, look for algorithms while you are spending lots of time investigating the picture.  While I'm confident of the corner check, I haven't looked much deeper.

1. Great post! I am not too familiar with COGAT or NNAT but my child needs to prepare for both tests (NNAT first and then COGAT). How do you begin to prep for these at the same time?

1. I recommend focusing on the COGAT because it appears to be more involved to me. I'm not an expert on the NNAT, but I think the consensus is that there is more practice material for the NNAT, the practice material is more useful for the NNAT, and it's an easier test to study for directly. This blog has plenty of COGAT suggestions and not as much for the NNAT and now you know why.

2. Thank you!! I know COGAT is a paper & pencil test. But does anyone know if NNAT is online? Wondering if we should practice for these two tests differently.

1. Do an internet search on free online Raven matrix questions. They are there, they are not bad, and they are free. There's your online practice. Problem solved.

3. Hello - Thanks for your excellent website. Our daughter just got recommended by her teacher to take the CogAT. She is 6 years old in first grade and we are in Minnesota. I was looking for her to get some practice and found testingmom online. Do you recommend her content. I looked up a few practice questions and my daughter really enjoyed doing the non-verbal questions. Aside from CogAT are there any other resources where she can do more of these type of puzzles - she just enjoyed them so much. Thanks.

1. First, read the comments on my article about testingmom.com: http://www.getyourchildintogat.com/2014/05/review-of-testing-mom.html. We used testingmom.com for the OLSAT but not the COGAT. I highly recommend the NNAT Grade 3-4 by Smart Cookie Inc. It looks like great practice for the COGAT. I didn't discover it until recently. Try this book first.

2. Thanks this is very helpful. I also read elsewhere you recommend the building thinking skills series. Do you think I should get the level 1 or level 2 of that?

3. Start with the one for Grade 2-3. The verbal section might be a struggle. Do what your child can and come back to the rest as time permits.

4. This comment has been removed by the author.

5. I am looking into Mind Benders level 3 - seems much harder than level 2. Do you think it's worthwhile to have my soon to be first grader to try as we prepare for COGAT?

1. I'm going to say yes, but you'll have to help with some of the reading, mature topics like gender clues occasionally. If you do help, be prepared to go slow and have fun. I just ordered this and should have it on Saturday, thanks to Amazon prime. I have lots of workbooks like this from COGAT test prep. Some we used, some we didn't. I'm going to speculate that if my 2nd grader is not bored with this book, he'll move through it more quickly than your soon to be 1st grader. Kids of different ages all learn from the same material, but they learn different things.

6. Which COGAT test prep books used when you prep with your boys? We're only doing building thinking skills and vocabulary workshop and math book and then smart cookie/mercer stuff sometimes. Anything else we should throw in a page a day? We have several months to go and we can add in a couple of more books if we want to and have time.

1. I tried a bunch of books I haven't mentioned in my blog and was not happy with any of them. We did building thinking skills through the 4-6 grade book, minus most of the writing material. We did a lot of Origami. I put math on hold for 6 months before the test, but we were solidly 12 months ahead in math. We gravitated toward material that would take 30 minutes to do a few questions on a single page, and this turns out to be the best approach. Anything that went fast for a lot of problems we avoided. We also did any project the boys dreamed up. And lots and lots of reading from all types of books, especially Caldecott medal winners (illustration). I bought an electric piano and Piano Adventures and told my son to teach himself. He's in his 3rd year of piano and is nothin' but bad habits but his grades are really good.