Saturday, June 10, 2017

COGAT Test Prep Books

The most common question I get is "what test prep book should I get?"  The second most common question I get is "how do I get my child to 98% in the shortest possible time with the least amount of effort?"

The answers to these questions are the reason I started this blog in the first place.   In 2011, there was no list, no one thought you could take a child from 50% to 99%, and for certain age groups, there was very little material available.

Almost all of material on the market targets K and 1st Grade.   A link on the upper right of my website lists these books.  This is where the majority of testing happens in the US.  What does a parent do for other age groups, like older or younger children?

The easiest, best, most thorough way to create a long term gifted child is simply to start in Pre K, and for those who think ahead, there's Shape Size Color Count and Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking.   I'm fascinated to read the single 3 star review on Shape Size Color Count.   I read the reviewers other book reviews and her children moving to third grade material after age 5.   My kids didn't start 3rd grade material until 1st grade, because they went into a 3rd grade program at this time, and we bought a fewer books than she did.   In fact, we used just these 2 until we got to the K and 1st Grade COGAT test prep material.

After 1st grade, it gets progressively more challenging to find test prep material, and this week I got questions about 5th through 9th grade.  Finding material is a real challenge, especially the visual-spatial variety that is the subject of the tests like the COGAT, NNAT, and Raven.  For these age groups, the second above question is much more important.

Take a step back and think about these tests.  They are used to identify students with strong academic skills, students who are self-learners, students who will do well in a program that is a year or two ahead.  Do these students have some innate visual spatial skill that gives them an advantage in literature and science?  Of course not.  These students have an advantage in solving problems they've never seen before.

There's only one way to teach a child to solve new problems they've never seen before.  Give them new problems that they've never seen before that require concentration, rereading, mistakes, fumbling, do-overs, and, in short, learning skills.  This is the approach of Test Prep Math in a nutshell, but since it only covers grades 2-4, after that we turn to advanced topics.   I've tried quite a bit after this age: advanced science, SAT test prep books, pre-algebra through 8th grade math.  I've settled on things that work for us and put the rest on the shelf for later.

In my experience, the difference between a gifted student who gets past the score cutoff and a student who falls short is a parent who lets their child learn versus a parent who doesn't think progress is happening because their child is struggling and intervenes to explain things.

I like material when I observe that the student has to struggle over a long period of time to figure it out and doesn't quite get it while it's being solved.  This is where skills grow.  My job as a parent or academic coach is to watch it all unfold and assure the student that this is all totally OK.  I've written about this extensively in articles on this website.

The biggest challenge I face is when we get stuck on a term or concept that the material expects the child to know and he doesn't know it.  This will happen at all ages, but gets more challenging with age.  The fact that this setback stretches out the learning experience is a bonus, but it's still a challenge.   Depending on whether this is math or not dictates the approach.
  • We solve an easier version of the problem first and then make it slightly harder on each iteration until we're back to the problem at hand.  I have, on occasion, gone back to 1 + 2 and worked my way back to something really complicated.
  • For something like parenthesis or fractions or or cosine, we take a break to find something that covers the topic, like IXL or Khan academy.
  • For vocabulary, science or otherwise, we take time off to explore the word, its origin and uses, and the word is posted on the refrigerator.  For simple vocabulary, I just explain the word, but it still goes on the Word Board.
  • It the word is technical concept outside of math, we start a quick research project.   99% of the time, the internet gets the job done.  Sometimes we have to mix vinegar and baking soda.
I call this backtracking and we do it a lot.  If the child actually knew the material before hand, it wouldn't be "learning how to learn" training in the first place.  I think this is the second most common place where most parents get stuck.  The first most common place is doing a problem that should take a 5th grader 30 seconds, but doing it with a 3rd grader who needs 40 minutes.

We never call a problem "solved" without spending some time analyzing it to see what other gems it holds.  What is odd or unusual about the question?  Why is it tricky?   Is there something fundamental or are their wide applications of what we just did?  What lesson did we learn that can help with the next problem.  (This is a very long list that includes non technical things like check your work, read the question carefully, don't be fooled by double meaning, it's OK to be clueless, and many other things.)

Our approach to the COGAT or MAP or anything else is to do a few hard problems instead of a lot of problems.  If there are 40 questions following a chapter of something, I'll go for the last 2 usually. I'm looking for quantity - as in quantity of time spent on a single problem, and not quality, as in the ability to answer a whole bunch of problems quickly and accurately.

We never really master material, instead we master the ability to navigate and figure out the material. Based on the results, you think my kids know things thoroughly, but they usually don't pick up solidified knowledge until much later.  The only thing I'm concerned with is mastering how to learn. Actual knowledge is not my goal, and it's not the goal of the COGAT.


  1. I bought both of your test prep books when my child was younger. At that time she was too young to do any of these questions. Now she is 7 and we've started test prep 2 book not too long ago and she really enjoys test prep 2 questions. She thinks the lady cat named Fur Blob is funny...etc. and each question has different characters and funny stories in them. I see that her brain is stimulated when she does these questions. She is having a much more fun doing your questions than regular math workbooks or simple word problems.

    Fur Blob

    1. correct: lazy not lady :)

    2. Thanks, I hear this a lot from girls. What I get from boys is more like 'your questions aren't lame like school math'. As the book goes on, the questions are going to get a bit longer and a bit trickier. She won't see anything in school that challenging for a long time.

  2. I do not find the links to the books in the upper right side of this blog. Can you point to the exact page where I can find the material for COGAT preparation. I am looking for 2nd grade and 4th grade.
    Appreciated for all your efforts in putting this information together. Right now this is my guide. :)


  3. It's the second link on the upper right of the blog. The heading of this section is 'The Book' and the link is called 'Gifted and Talented Test Prep Curriculum'. I can't paste links into comments. There are very few 2nd to 4th grade books on the market, and this is where I've spent most of my efforts. Building Thinking Skills Grade 4 to 6 is a pretty good starter book, but many people use it in early grades so that should tell you something. If you should end up using Test Prep Math Level 3 for your 4th grader, you'll find a new section in the 3rd edition. To say this is challenging is an understatement so I recommend you contact me as needed. If you don't go this route, take an hour and read How to Create a Gifted Mathematician (Chapter 4 in these links) where I explain how to hammer away at the skills that the cogat is looking for in a strictly math context.