Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Keys To The Death Star

When my 2nd child and I sat down to begin test prep in Pre-K, he was totally baffled by practice test questions.  Apparently, he didn't have the skills that these tests were measuring.  The test given in Pre-K was the OLSAT, and the test given in K and after is the COGAT.  The COGAT practice tests are decent as a last step in preparation, but the OLSAT practice tests are useless. The skill set is very similar but the format varies between tests.  We were facing both tests because our program starts in 1st grade, but we needed to look at the Kindergarten programs as a back up plan.

Nothing on the market for a child in the vicinity of the 4th birthday is even remotely close to cognitive skills training for quantitative and visual perception skills at the level of a passing score on the test, especially for a child starting from level zero.   What we really needed was non-verbal phonics.  Why is there a phonics course for reading that imparts a powerful verbal skill set but we just teach our 4 year olds to count and expect quantitative and visual skills to magically fall out of the sky?

Problem solved.  The rest is GAT history:

Half of this book looks a little like the OLSAT, only harder, as in a few problems a day instead of 20, and half of this book looks like a warm up for the COGAT.   It's not just that the underlying skill set for both tests is very similar.  Proper reparation for the OLSAT provides a foundation in the vocabulary needed for the COGAT,  and preparation for the COGAT provides a degree of challenge that the OLSAT frankly lacks.  You may wonder why I used the term "vocabulary" in the context of math phonics.   The most important skill in math is to see the characteristics of the problem at hand, and the starting point of seeing for a child in the range of 4 years old is to name these characteristics.  If a child needs to score above 95% for GAT entry, the vocabulary can't stop at basic shapes.

The investment continued to pay off.   Combined with the phonics, Shape Size Color Count was the secret behind scores on the above 98%.   We would have been at 99% on the OLSAT, but when the test proctor asked my son if he wanted to change his answer on the last verbal question because it was wrong, a diabolical device that we didn't anticipate, he responded "No" as is in "No, I want to get the heck out of here as soon as possible" and he ended up with a 98.4%, which, believe it or not, is below the cutoff in Chicago.  The COGAT went much better.

But that was just the beginning.  In past articles, I've labelled this as the Plans To The Death Star, as in how to prepare your little rebel for taking on the big test, but it's turned out to be the Keys To The Death Star, as in moving in and wreaking havoc in the galaxy. The first graduate of Shape Size Color Count has had track record of amazing ever since.  He sees problems with visual skills that I never learned.  Some day phonics for math might be as popular as phonics for reading, but for now, because of this book, we're enjoying a permanent advantage, a head start followed by a gap that continues to grow.

It turns out that phonics for math offers more than just a solid foundation   After this course, we had a lot of fun with Kindergarten math, but it was mainly practicing holding a pencil and reading directions.  The verbal skills came from Pre-K phonics, but as you know, it wasn't regular phonics but Test Prep Phonics.  The material in SSCC, step-by-step starting at square one, which is actually one square, put us about half way through 2nd and 3rd thinking skills books for non-verbal content.

On the day of the COGAT, when parents were telling their children "Just do your best", and "Have fun with the puzzles", I turned to my little rebel and said "You need to crush this test.  If you get below 98.8%, you can't go to school with your brother."

The last thing I said was "Tell me what you're going to say when you get stuck."  He replied, "Shape Size Color Count".


  1. Hello,
    I have been reading your blog for about a year and you have some really useful information on here so thank you. I have a son you is in the 1st grade at his school they just tested him and he is gifted in math and reading. He is what you would call an accidental/ actually gifted kids. He was always interested in books so read to him ALOT he also was not allowed to watch tv, etc. The problem is the school doesn't actually offer gifted classes until 4th grade!! What am I supposed to do?! try another school (not really and option), put him in Math monkey? I am at a loss as to what to do with him to help him along until 4th grade. Once he is flagged he will always remain flagged but what if he becomes "average" after a couple of years?
    thanks for your opinion!

    1. I went to the Math Monkey website and fell over with laughter at what I saw. You may not realize this but there homepage basically says "We are the exact opposite of Kumon in every way". Very amusing to me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Math Monkey, but we got to 99% a different route that didn't involve spending money or me having to drive anywhere and took a lot less time.

      I have to think about your situation, but I need to know if your child will be tested in 3rd grade or not, because that matters, and what state you live in.

    2. Hi,
      Thanks for responding! Here is some info. He is in 1st grade took the IOWA test and scored 98% in math and 97% in reading (which I think is low based on pre test).
      Since he has taken this test he is now gifted. He will probably take it again in the 3rd grade as the entire class will but that will not change his status.
      We live in "the Land" haha Northeast Ohio.
      He does have to take the STAR test 3 times a year so I will be able to track his progress that way.
      We did do the level one Building Thinking Skills book over last summer at your suggestion and that was great. We have Level 2 but have not really gotten into yet. I was also going to get vocabulary work shop- Grade 2 or 3?
      Math is my main concern I always knew that he was ahead of the game in reading and he LOVES to do it but to be honest the Math score is a surprise to me. I don't know what makes him so ahead of the game in it or how to keep it going.
      Thanks so much for your advice!

    3. My best experience with math ever was doing Every Day Math Student Journals #1 and #2 start to finish with no skipping problems. Correct answers are optional. This was the first thing we ever did. I called it Daily Math, about one page a day once we got up to speed. We started in K.

      The down side is that being a year ahead isn't good enough for 99% for the next few years, and then after 4th grade is an entirely different dynamic. Going 2 years ahead before 5th grade isn't a good idea either. But EDM grade 2 is the next step anyway, which should buy you some time to consider options.

  2. Hi, I have a question about lesson 148 in pre-k math, second diagram. It goes from one figure to six, but +5 isn't an option. Is this a typo? Also, when there is no halving, doubling, etc. (which is often the case), should we just ignore the second pick list?

    1. This is not a typo. If this book didn't target 4 year olds, I would have lot more questions like this. I think I mention this in the introduction somewhere, but by 148 you would have forgotten this anyway. Hopefully you didn't help. I'll explain shortly elsewhere why this question is so important. There are also questions in the verbal section that are similar, where the answer is 'none'. You don't find this in normal workbooks, but normal workbooks don't produce super powers.

  3. Oh, thanks. We haven't started the book yet. I was thumbing through to familiarize myself with the material and think through how to present it without giving away too much and inadvertently signaling the answer (something I struggle with).