Saturday, December 3, 2016

Last Minute ISAT Cramming

A reader asks what can be done in the last 10 days going into the ITBS.  Most school districts use standardize test scores like the ITBS and ISAT in addition to a cognitive test like the COGAT, NNAT, OLSAT, or Raven.

Since I'm late in answering this question and the clock is ticking, I'm going to forego my amusing and touching antidote that will inspire you to go on to great things with your own slightly above average child.  In the case above, if the child passes the COGAT, the next step is the ITBS, so the issue is passing the ITBS after already passing the COGAT, an important context which impacts my recommendations.

At first pass, this question is ridiculous.  The ITBS is standardized test.  It measures how much you know, as in how much you've learned in the past year.  If you posted this question on the dcurbanmoms forum you would be slayed*.  (There motto is "A dcurbanmom can't be too arrogant or too clueless about GAT).

*Technically, the past tense of slay is slew, but the word is archaic so as I reintroduce it I'm fixing the spelling.

But I've got a bit more to say than to have a good night sleep.  

First of all, I'm going to break down the score on the test for anyone who wants there 55% child to score above 90%:
1.  50% Stuff you know
2.  30% COGAT tricks
3.  15% Checking your answer
4.  5% Having a good day

Assuming your child isn't sick, hungry, or sleep deprived, having a good day means that they sit down, look at the test, are totally comfortable and ready to do it.  It turns out that even on this point, there is more involved than getting a good night sleep and this little 5% drives the 15% and the 30%.

Get a practice test, immediately, overnight shipping, and start doing it.  Standardized test practice tests are typically the easiest and most lame of all tests, so get one a year ahead (for math) and 2 years ahead (for reading).  The practice test helps with #4, and the advanced practice test helps with #3 and part of #2.

Checking your answer is really the key.  My son and I were surveying the new girls Lego sets, and I was thinking about my other son's group projects this year on a team that is usually 2 girls and 2 boys when it dawned on me that #3 should be "Work very carefully and diligently" for girls, and "Rush through the test as fast as possible like you normally do because you don't give a stuff, but do every problem a minimum of 2 times" for boys.  GAT programs are filled with kids who aren't that much smarter than anyone else, but they either don't make mistakes (girls) or take the time to fix them (boys).

The main reason why I stick with "Check your answer" instead of "Work Diligently" is because I work on the other end of the age spectrum, with engineers, and the ones who aren't diligent don't survive, but the ones who check their work are superstars.   In the engineering environment, there's never enough time or money to check work, so it's more rare than it should be.

#2 is really interesting.  It is faster and cheaper and more accurate for a standardized test maker to choose questions using the practices of cognitive test makers that have "tricks" than to have a long and thorough list of questions.  The test is shorter and cheaper and a better predictor of academic performance.  Somewhere in my blog, I've cataloged these tricks, probably not well.  I'll do it again in a year or two when we go through the process all over again.  Same list, different age group.  The bottom line is that the standardized tests have morphed into cognitive skills tests in the last 10 years.

In the case of people who passed the standardized test, you can give your child the same advice going into the ISAT.  Read the question, read all of the answers, pick your answer, check your work.  Don't be tricked by the tricky test makers who are trying to get you to screw up.  If your child is in K or higher, this advice will be heard and should be given.  Create a speech and repeat this every time you work on the practice test.  At the end of the practice test, ask your child if they did each of the points, and as you grade it together, point out which of the things they didn't do.  Then give the same speech right before they go into the test and they'll be in the Zone.  There is a lot of psychology behind this advice that probably requires a few articles.

This article is for readers who have already passed the COGAT, so you have a leg up on the ITBS thanks to your preparation.   My academic approach between ages 3 (Pre-K Phonics, the fast track to GAT) and age 10 is to focus on the cognitive skills and the standardized tests take care of themselves. If you are solely working on the ISAT or ITBS, then you need to catch up and this is going to include cognitive skills test prep.

For that 50% of the test score that requires knowing stuff, how much is there to know in Kindergarten?  Not much.

After Kindergarten, there is a lot to worry about.   In third grade, the bar starts to rise because of all of the kids working diligently to pass the standardized tests to get into GAT programs.   Those already in a GAT program might see a score drop.  It gets worse in 4th grade.  When I was putting together the Test Prep Math series (only non-lame math questions on the market) my GAT friends and I were baffled with the test scores our supposed geniuses (aka slightly above average but a good skill set) were getting, and I made sure that the material doesn't just teach cognitive skills to meet our local cutoff score (99.8%), but also to bullet proof the scores on the standardized tests we take, which are the PARC and the MAP tests.

After 4th grade, I am researching whether or not a child has to be 2 years ahead in math to get a decent score.  It looks like it this might be the case.

I'll say more about standardized tests in the coming month because Chicago is about to enter the first of two testing seasons, not counting the third experimental test and the forth one that my kids are subjected to.  I've got a third grader who is facing stiff competition, and a six grader who is about the midway point of a 2 year season that is going to culminate in the playoffs.  I think the book I'm going to write is going to be titled "If John Wooden Were An Academic Coach: The Norwood Story"*.

*For those of you from the dcurbanmoms group who are annoyed that you have been accused of being arrogant by a person who just compared his academic coaching stills to John Wooden, there's a big difference between a forum that consistently tells parents that giftedness is inherited and a blog that tells parents anyone can do it with a bit of work and the right approach, especially because I'm right.


  1. Hi Norwood, thanks a lot for this post. Could you please suggest any standardised kindergarten practice test books for ITBS which i am ready to order right away. Also, since it is better to be a grade ahead, would you want me to order grade 1 practice test also? I think I will be concentrating on these alone in this last week.

    1. Spectrum is the best. Steck-Vaughn used to be the best but then they dumbed it down. Scoring Higher is the easiest. Scoring Higher has a version specifically for the ITBS, but Spectrum is still better. Get a grade 1 book. Don't bother with grade K. Your child will appreciate the fact that the actual test is easier and more familiar, and learn to take more time during practice. You won't get through much of the book in the next week, and this is not important. Do a little of every section.

  2. Thank you Norwood, got the eBook of spectrum grade 1. Will get a print out and work with that. Thanks once again.

  3. Hi Norwood,
    My 3rd grader has ITBS for math and a district problem solving test in 2 weeks. I haven't done all that much to prepare him but in general he can do math workbooks 1-2 grades ahead. We have Scoring High, but I'm wondering what we should be focusing our energy on for the next 2 weeks? Problem solving or specifically fractions (where he could be stronger) or just practice from Scoring High? Any advise is truly appreciated!

    1. Sorry for the late response. Scoring Higher is an easy book made to build confidence by being easy and I hate it. Since you don't have time to teach your child a year of curriculum, and he's already ahead, focus on tricky questions that require a double take and some thought. I think you would enjoy Test Prep Math Level 3, but it's a bit late before the test for this to have a short term impact. It takes a few weeks just to get over the culture shock. Fractions are great if he has to think about them and explains them to you instead of the other way around. Look for some hard questions like word problems on Khan or IXL, and avoid the easy one step versions. What about reading comp? You might get a 4th grade reading comp book and focus on that.

  4. Thank you that's great advice! This is his first round of exams to get into an accelerated math program and then he has the joy of taking them all over again in the spring to get into the comprehensive magnet district program for next year. Hopefully I will do a better job of preparing him for the next round which will definitely include your test prep book!