Saturday, October 15, 2016

Emergency Advice for Second Grade Test Prep

I've gotten about a dozen requests in the last week for advice on second grade cognitive skills tests.   In Chicago, this means taking a shot at a few slots in gifted programs that may or may not be available next year in any one of the GAT programs.  In some school districts, this is the official GAT entry year and may include the standardized test scores as well.

Competition is less fierce after Kindergarten.  Many more parents are working with their oldest child during pre school or Kindergarten because their schedules haven't been swamped by sports and other activities.   The entry scores get lower every grade in Chicago.  There is a 5 foot high stack of test prep material for the Kindergartners.  By second grade, this stack is about 5 inches high. To make matters worse, some Kindergartners have already used the second grade stack; this should let you know how challenging it is.

There is no evidence that it is harder to get a 2nd grader from 55% to 95% than it is to get a Kindergartner from 55% to 95%.  There is a lot of evidence that it feels to be or appears to be harder.

In this article, I'm going to summarize the basics with an emphasis on 2nd grade.  I'm going to assume that the test is in 4 months.  4 months is plenty of time of concerted, hard core, over the top test prep.  If third grade is "the year", then you can stretch this out or focus on the off season material. In this article, I'm describing "Test Prep Season", which is about 4 months each year.

Step 1
Get some books.

  • Building Thinking Skills grades 2-3, and don't short change the 2nd half of the book like you would have 2 years ago.  Think about following this up with the grade 4-6 book and working mostly in the first half of the book.
  • Vocabulary Workshop, which you can start at grade level or one level up.   These can be done all year, 20 to 30 minutes each Saturday morning.  This book didn't set out to teach testing skills, but I have found that it actually does.
  • Test Prep Math Level 2 - grades 2 and 3.   Since this is already test prep season, you have to do a problem from Section 2 each day in addition to a problem from Section 1, instead of waiting until you're finished with half of Section 1 like the introduction recommends.   Your child won't actually be competent in Section 2 for at least a month.  The extra "hell" will help accelerate the process, but I'm not exaggerating when I use the term "hell".  These may seem like simple addition and subtraction problems, and they are, but not when combined into a format that I designed to be twice as hard as the GAT test.
  • At least one practice test for the test you are going to take, at the level that you will take it. This test will help your child understand the format and will avoid disaster, like your child making up the wrong rules to answer the questions on the day of the test.  You can go through this slowly over the next few months and then repeat the process leading up to the test.  I recommend the practice test from Smart Cookie which has 2 practice tests in one book.
  • If you want more material, I recommend NNAT practice grades 3 and 4 from Smart Cookie, and then after that, a Mind Benders book.
Step 2
Get organized.  Carve out at least 30 minutes to 45 minutes each day for work on the above material at least 3 days during the week, Saturday morning (for double work), and perhaps a time period on Sunday.  You can dig through my blog for suggestions on posting a schedule to keep track of progress in each of the books.

Step 3
Get prepared.  I'm right in the middle of my series on GAT Parenting skills.  These can be paired with the testing skills for your child which I've written on extensively and summarized in a series of articles within the last few years.  You should read as many articles as you can.   If there was a book or another website that covered these at all, I would simply have recommended it and spent my time doing something else.

Step 4
Be prepared for the worst.  I have received 1,000's of emails and comments about how hard this can be.   Most describe the experience I had with my reluctant children who ended up "gifted and talented", despite their proclivity toward average behavior.  Maybe "gifted and challenged" is a better term for my blog.   I will happily respond to all requests, even if you describe a child with special needs or on some spectrum, which I am perfectly unqualified to comment on.  But I am perfectly qualified to say it will work out in the end, and it works out wonderfully in many other areas besides academic performance when a parent and child go through this process together.

In addition to the normal process where your child starts out doing half a page of work in 2 days as they build their cognitive skill set (on the way to 2 or more pages a day), you may have to deal with behavior modification like sitting still, concentrating, not crying, etc.   You may have to sit there the whole time "helping" (which is not helping at all, really, because you're not allowed to).  It takes about 6 weeks to modify behavior, and not just the child's.

There's a lot more that can go into this process, but this will get you started today.

Step 5
You need to read with, to, or next to your child (each with a different book) for at least 30 minutes a night.  This is what GAT kids do.  Get used to it.  I would recommend more reading, but you're already doing a lot of special work for your child.

Also, you might think about getting a Reading Comprehension book (Level C from Continental Press) and doing one problem every other week.  This is good test prep from the stand point of the experience of jumping into something new and climbing your way out, which is what the test is all about. 


  1. Hi:

    Thanks for an excellent post! I am hoping for some advice for my 3rd grader in CA who is taking the GATE in January, so we have 3 months.
    I have bought the Building Thinking Skills, and Think Analogies next level, and we have worked through the 1st 3 chapters, and completed Think Analogies. I have also subscribed to Testing Mom - we have completed Grade 4 and are on to Grade 5 (we skipped Grade 3).
    My daughter is making about 3-4 mistakes in Verbal section, none in quantitative (she is pretty strong in Math), but about 8-10 mistakes in Nonverbal.
    I am contemplating if we should delay the testing and take it next year (our district allows us that option). She is quite good about sitting for 2-3 hours each evening and usually finishes about 100 questions. But here, the requirement is 98 percentile overall, and 99 percentile in one segment.

    Do you think (based on your experience), if you finish the Building Thinking Skills, Testing Moms Grade 4-6, we would be ready? Or should we defer one more year for more practice?

    Any suggestion would be really appreciated!

    Thanks so much!

    1. It seems that this comment was posted to two of my articles. I posted my response on the other article.

  2. Hi there,
    Really nice article. I bookmarked this link to curriculum -

    but i can not find it anymore.. Can you please help finding it?


    1. All of my permanent pages are on the list in the top right of my blog under the words "The Book". I have been belatedly revising the content.

  3. Hello! Does CPS allow preschool test-takers to use a pencil during the test? I'd like to teach my son active reading/listening techniques, but I'll go a different route if pencils are not permitted. Thanks so much!!

    1. The preschool test takers are taken into a room one-on-one with a test proctor. The cognitive skills test is point only. I'm not sure about the test for the classical program because we never applied, but it's in the same room after the cognitive skills test. I'm assuming no pencils for either test. The best way to prepare to practice for the test situation is to read your child a question from a reading comprehension book 2nd grade, and read the answers, inviting your child to point at the correct answer. Well, maybe not "best", but certainly "used by insane and desperate parents", like me.