Saturday, May 7, 2016

Crush The COGAT Part 2

I've been getting a lot of feedback from parents waking up to the demands of the GAT tests.   I'm especially interested with parents who are just finding out what this is all about and parents of older children who might be taking this test again.  But before I get to the older children, let me ramble on as usual off topic about little kids and phonics.

Lately I've been hard at work on my latest super secret project involving phonics.   The only reason why I ever did phonics in the first place was because I was shocked to find that kids in GAT programs read 3 or 4 years ahead and I was sending to this classroom - think a den of lions - a child who was just beginning to read.   I knew that the test doesn't involve reading, but I also knew that a big vocabulary is key to the test, and reading helps.  I was complaining to a friend at work who introduced me to the GAT concept, and she responded by giving me a very old hooked on phonics set.  I think she paid $250.

We didn't use most of the material that justified the $250 cost because I also was bringing home 20 to 30 books a week from the library, sorting and cataloging them, and using whichever ones best met the need for that week.   The phonics set wasn't my child's introduction to the wonder of reading, it was the introduction to the sounds on the word lists.  I started to expand it and created my own approach specifically designed to get the child ready to begin test prep.  The fact that he emerged a strong reader was a big bonus, and in the end, his reading skills continue to accelerate.

To determine whether there is an approach to phonics similar to mine, I've been buying phonics books.  It appears that phonics books target the 50 percentile and lower.   One book in particular stands out.  It is "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" by Siegfried Englemann.  This book is specifically designed for kids who are behind, and in my opinion, parents who are behind as well.  I really like the approach, because it's similar to the approach I put in my math books, which is to coach the parents.  Unfortunately, we're on different ends of the academic spectrum, and his market is much bigger than mine.

In addition to phonics, we tackled figure matrices with a vengeance.    I never met one I considered hard enough, and if we had to sit there for 45 minutes doing a single problem, getting it wrong 15 times, it didn't put me off in the slightest.  As we plodded through Building Thinking skills volume 1 through 3, we would get to the verbal sections - actual words and sentences - and we would stop because I determined it was too hard and not worth it.   Our target test, after all, was nonverbal.  But we plodded along with enough of it, apparently.

This brings me to older kids.  I've talked about an approach that is heavy on the quantitate section to gain a competitive advantage.  In retrospect, you can't go light on any parts of the test and get above 95%.  You can really gain a big competitive advantage on the verbal section.  I'm not sure how to phrase this without being overly technical, but I'm speculating that a competitive advantage on the verbal section might outweigh a competitive advantage on the quantitate section.

The test is a year away.   This is the time for Building Thinking Skills - with an emphasis on the verbal section.  Maybe you still have these lying around and you skipped most of it like I did.   I'm shocked to find readers who haven't heard of Vocabulary Workshop - my secret weapon which I've written on extensively and shouldn't be a secret anymore.   We only did 2 pages of Vocabulary Workshop each Saturday, and posted tricky words to the refrigerator.  

The next thing you need is a strong reading list and a daily minimum of 30 minutes of reading. Until the child reads for 30 minutes (and possible a page of Building Thinking Skills), no TV, computers, fun, desert or anything else. The right reading list will make this minimum irrelevant to your child. I'm more than happy to recommend a list of books depending on reading level, but two identical children will have completely different preferences for reading material.   We can all agree that boys should all read the youth series-es by James Patterson.  This will be critical for material non-readers and reading junk food for advanced readers.  This should be followed by everything from Roald Dahl and Kate Dicamillo for both boys and girls.  Everything else is a matter of taste.

To summarize, you need four things:
#1  Building Thinking Skills
#2  Vocabulary Workshop
#3  A reading list
#4  A determined parent with the right approach

The fourth thing is the most critical, and this is a parent willing to turn her house into a GAT house, with lots of books and conversation, but no TV, computers, phones, or video games.  The kids aren't buried in a workbook or book all day, but when they're not studying, the kids are doing something that is not passive.   The pace of work also changes, from lots of easy problems and disappointment with wrong answers, to more complicated work that takes longer to do a single problem, where wrong answers happen more often than correct answers and the parent really doesn't care.  I'm doing well at the "doesn't care" part, which doesn't come naturally to me, but not so good on the "no video games" part because the kids' work is phenomenal if it is a prerequisite of video game time.

I am frequently asked to prescribe the right workbook, and given enough information, I am more than happy to do so.  I'm like a librarian and I often go to my bookshelf and page through books to verify my initial reaction.   But I often worry that a workbook in the hands of an impatient parent with expectations for accuracy is going to be a disaster.   While your children are working on becoming GAT kids, you can work on becoming a GAT parent.


  1. Very informative...any place I can find a reading list of books for grade 3 and 5? thank you

    1. I've seen lots of lists and none of them work for us. But if you want, you can google these lists and look for the award winners. I've had the best luck with books that are on a list and have a study guide available on Amazon.

  2. Unrelated question but want to pick your brain. This summer will be a little bit for my kids because we will have to spend 1/2 of the summer overseas visiting a family and coming back right before school starts. I am a little worried about they will lose what they have learned over the first half of summer and not ready for school year. Whats our priority? Bring lots of books (not sure how much we can carry), bring workbooks and have a daily routine there (not sure if it's daily is even possible because we'll be quite busy with family events and all)?

    1. We always bring a big book and at least one workbook when we travel. There's always down time. What language will they be speaking when their over there? What are the ages? Do they have cousins overseas? You've got a lot of great opportunities depending where you go. Also, your priorities change as your kids grow. If we're talking about ages 4 or 5, you can't afford to lose the summer.

  3. Missed adding in my previous comment, we are currently located in Austin, Texas

    1. Looks like my previous comment did not make it though. Attempting again.
      This is an absolutely fantastic blog! I started reading last week and have been hooked ever since, coming back everyday to read more and checking for new updates.
      I am mom to 2 boys, 1st grade and 2nd grade, going to 3rd and 4th grade in the fall. We did take the TAG testing this year and did not make it. From reading your blog, it is quite apparent we were not prepared. So now next steps - restart, prepare and go back in 2 years. Unfortunately they allow kids to test only every 2 years in this school district.
      Based on your latest entry, here is how we have kick started -
      1. Got Spectrum workbooks in Math, Language Arts and Science for Grades 3 and 4 (2 grades ahead for each kid). Started work on Math, progressing slowly but keeping at it. It is hard!
      - Ordered the Building think Skills - Level 1 and 2
      - Vocabulary - I got the sylvan Vocabulary flashcards for 4th grade. However you do recommend Vocabulary workshop for comprehension. I am looking into it.
      - Reading list for the summer: My 2nd grader is currently reading Harry Potter and loves it. He seems to comprehend it well too.
      My 1st grader is on the magic tree and Boxcar series. (Not a very enthusiastic reader). Can you please recommend any good reading lists for both?
      In addition to the Gifted test, I also want to ensure they are well prepared for the achievement tests that will start in 3rd grade. Will using the above listed prep work assist with these achievement tests as well?
      Please do let me know if you think any additional adjustments need to be made. We are currently in Austin Texas.
      Again, thank you so much for sharing all this information, it changed my perspective completely! Also since we moved recently to the US and completely new to the system, this certainly helps a lot.

    2. Well, now I'm totally confused. I 'm going to post the catch up comment, but I totally lost Austin TX from a post probably on another page. Austin should just email me to sort that out.

    3. I am unable to find your email address. Can you share please?

  4. Thank you very much for all the information. I'm in Australia and we do have Aussie equivalent GT program called Opportunity Classes for Year 4 kids for Year 5 intake. I just checked Vocabulary Workshop and Building Thinking Skills you recommended and they will be much help for my daughter's test prep.(She is in year 2 now so still have 2 years to go). I've been using Wordly Wise 3000 but don't quite like them. Where do you buy vocab workshop on line? I'll have to get the book delivered to Australia.

    1. You can find Vocabulary Workshop at It's also at, but I'm not sure Amazon is in Australia. If it is, Amazon is probably names something different because it seems everything else is. Depending on your after school assignment demands (called homework in the US), you might only have time on the days your daughter is not in school (Saturday and Sunday over here) or during her extended time off (we call it "Summer"). I'm trying to read but I don't understand any of it. I think I'll do a post.