Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How To Test Prep for the NNAT.

Here is the scenario.  Your child is in Kindergarten and you have to study for the NNAT.   You don't want to spend $500 on practice books, especially ones that don't help, and your time is limited.  Your child can concentrate on super hard material for up to 15 minutes maybe 4 times a week.  If your child can concentrate for more than 15 minutes, then you and I are probably not using the same material.

My idea strategy is to get a sixth grade practice test and spend a day or more on each question.  Maybe a week.  Of course, your child will be baffled.   So you ask him to tell you verbally what is happening in the question in terms of the big 4 - Shape, Size, Color, Count, and then describe any movement or rotation.   Movement is horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and the pattern where there are 3 items in each row or column and they switch positions.  He will describe what is happening in each and every answer choice.

If he lacks the vocabulary to describe anything or he doesn't see something you ask questions and provide the vocabulary. Give him synonyms and antonyms for everything you see.  Use big words and big sentences. His brain won't really understand a concept until it has the words to describe it.  Maybe on the first few problems, you help after 20 minutes, like a brainstorming team member.  For the first 20 minutes, I usually just say "Keep looking" while my children are subject to this exercise.

Early on, every problem will be new and baffling.  Go slow.  The 15 minutes might be 45 minutes on a bad day.  Wrong answers will be the norm, and there will be bad habits to correct.  As the test approaches, you'll wonder if the pace will pick up.  The pace will pick up as concentration skills grow and he begins to see things.  The error rate might always be high.

Next, you spend the other 10 hours of weekly At Home Enrichment on learning tasks like reading, projects, puzzles, reading, maybe some phonics, a few pages of Vocabulary Workshop once a week, and you reading to him.  There are a few families that I know in Chicago who get multiple siblings into the same GAT program (never 2 boys, however, which is an honor that belongs solely to me until proven otherwise.)  These people, as far as I can tell, without watching in through the window, simply read a lot.   Curse them.

You keep backup material handy, like an easy math book or activity book of some kind.  On bad days (40% of the time), he's sick, exhausted, sleep deprived, or generally crabby.  In order to maintain and improve the daily routine, and not waste your precious test prep material, you compromise and give him his choice.  He chooses the easy workbook.

Also, for $10, you can get a 2nd grade standardized test and just do random sections.  This prepares him for walking into a test and being surprised with new and hard material.

This may not seem like an obvious approach to test prep, and it isn't.  It's an approach to building the cognitive skills and academic skills that the test is looking for.  It's a much more sound approach.  This approach is much more similar to test conditions than doing 20 easy problems in one sitting.

My ideal workbook has 100 questions and is for the 6th grade.  $30 or $40 is a good price.  I have a problem recommending these books because we didn't buy any and no one is paying me for a recommendation, but I can offer some ideas.

Mercer did a good job with the COGAT books, and has level E.  But Mercer offers a single practice test for $30.  (Note to COGAT parents - going up levels means switching from pictures to math and words, which is a problem.   Get a NNAT book instead at higher levels.  I wish I knew this before.)

Smart Cookie does a great job, and for $36, they offer 4 practice tests. I liked their COGAT material because it was less standard fare.  The routine stuff was already taken before they entered the market.  But they only offer up to Level D for the NNAT unless you can find a used Level E.

Bright Kids is a New York company and prices for New York.  I never bought any of their material.  For $45, you can purchase a single test.  But they have level E.

My main question is whether or not the difficulty level of the Smart Cookie Level D (3rd/4th grade) is hard enough for a 5 or 6 year old and whether or not level E is overkill. Probably.  There are 4 tests, so there has to be a mix of material, including easy questions, which would be a good thing for optimal learning conditions.  I think I would go this route.  If I had a year to practice, I think I would do this a little at a time over a 6 month period, and then break down and buy the Mercer Level E a few months before the test.

And that's it.


  1. So I don't know how you typed this long and thorough post so very quickly perhaps you have magic fingers. Thanks so much for this great post!

  2. We are taking NNAT2 next year and COGAT a year after that. Do we just focus on NNAT2 for now or prep together for the both tests?

  3. Sorry, I am switching tests here. Just read your post. My son will be taking CoGAT 2nd grade and I have MERCER upto level 11 and Level C (CoGAT). I am aware the topic here is NNAT level E book, but thought I could bounce a parallel thought with you.

    I noticed that Mercer has level D for 5th grade. I have purchased Level C (form 6) and it was super easy compared to the Form 7 Level 10 & 11. Besides, there wasn't much of an increase in level between Level 10 and 11 either.. It is almost the same set of questions (vocab or figure) just moved around a little. It makes good practice material so that the kid doesn't learn an answer by heart but uses his brain (they are just a different permutation of the same set of vocabulary words or pictures). In all between the 5 books they offer plenty practice material for Figure Matrices.

    In vocabulary, only value (Level C -form 6) brought was introduce a new word 'irrigation'.... as you have pointed out in an earlier post, they do not offer the 'tough questions' scenario much. Therefore, I am using them to get him used to 'simple questions should not be overlooked, they look easy but you can get fooled'.

    So back to the question, do you think I should go ahead and click on 'buy' for Level D (mercer cogat).

    And thank you for being so thorough in your post. We are struggling with a sick child down with cold/flu just 3weeks before the test. I am not handing out material that he probably could respond to in his sleep. What does one do? Just hope for a blessing that he remembers all that we've worked on, when he gets better.

    1. sorry a correction- I am now handing out material that he probably could respond to in his sleep.

    2. Forget vocab from test prep. I used Vocabulary Workshop and my kids learned how to guess word meanings from process of elimination and context out of sheer laziness. Best workbook I ever bought. Lots of new words at the appropriate level; we zoomed through grade + 1 and went to grade + 2. It looks like the is coming too soon.

      I don't recommend more COGAT books. The only thing they were good for, from my perspective, was to identify bad test taking habits. We learned zero from them.

      I wrote 1,000's of my own questions, which were super hard, which is why I'm so excited about the grade 5/6 level of the NNAT workbooks. That is my recommendation for you. It's the same concepts, different format, and they are much harder. I'm buying one now so that I can confirm.

      The other thing you might consider is 10 bucks for a 5th or 6th grade standardized test. It's quite a shock to have to learn something on the spot that is way over their heads. It's like a practice run parachuting behind enemy lines and finding your way out with a compass and a banana while getting shot at. That's the purpose of the test, not matrices. We did this a couple of times in our run up to the test.

  4. OMG!! Thank you so much ! I had totally forgotten the magic book. I bought these VW on your recommendations. He zoomed through them because of the 100,000+ vocab lists and sentence completions that we had labored through.
    At which one should I stop? Would it be orange one? Should I sweat if he is not A+ on Orange.
    NNAT should be in today.

    1. Once my children got past grade level +2, there were too many unfamiliar vocabulary words in the questions and we stopped there. At this point, 80% is a good score on any exercise.

  5. Do you recommend COGAT books in color vs black and white? Does it make any difference?

    1. I don't think it makes a difference. Kids are smarter than that. Most of the material you should do should not be test prep books anyway.