Thursday, November 23, 2017


It's time to take a closer look at the WISC V.

I haven't looked at this test since I began my early research.  It is a combination of the Word Board, the COGAT, and an IQ test.   I studied the concept of IQ extensively, and once I realized it was a myth I turned my attention to cognitive skills.  IQ is not just a dumb concept, it is detrimental to cognitive growth.  I believe that studying for the COGAT when done properly has an immediate impact on the child's academic, problem solving, and cognitive abilities.  If the WISC preparation is done properly, growth will occur in the parts that are not designed like an IQ test.  The IQ part should be learned elsewhere.  It takes a bit more time, but it's doable.

Some school districts include the  WISC in their GAT screening, and a seat in a gifted and talented program can is worth it so let's beat the WISC IV and V.  The WISC is often paired with the MAP and the COGAT, and these 3 tests have some overlap, not to mention the fundamentals of thinking skills.

If you want to know what is on the WISC, take a look at critical thinking's page.  I like some of the material, but it's way too easy to get to the cutoff scores in almost all school districts.  Even worse, there is a chart showing indicating how fast a pace you would keep to get through BTS Level 1 for a first grader.  Working slowly through this book in K develops deep skills.  Going through this whole book quickly leads to what I don't know.  Nonetheless, I noticed their "Suggested Test Prep Plan" is chock full of best practices, as is the concept of a timing chart, but this content could use about 50 pages of explanation.  I'm a big fan of their website and how they've improved it over the years and if you're really facing 4 weeks to the test, get a practice test and do what they say.  (Someone once accused me of making money off my recommendations but it should be pretty obvious that companies wouldn't pay for this type of analysis.)

My starting point for a WISC refresh was the authors' books on comparing the WISC 4 to the WISC 5 and the new practitioner's guides.  Then I looked at adult level IQ tests and asked how I could present permutations of fundamental concepts to little kids so that they could understand the question but not get it right, apply the underlying skills, and thereby learn something.

The list of question types doesn't hint at the grilling your child is going to get on the verbal section of the WISC.  It's all Word Board.  Get a vocabulary workshop book, post the words on the fridge, and ask your child about similarities, synonyms, used by, part of and the rest.  If you have a 4 year old, get Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking and then you won't have to worry about vocabulary, reading, or grilling until the 7th grade MAP.  

Matrix reasoning, picture concepts, symbol search, perceptual reasoning and arithmetic are question types that would benefit from COGAT practice.

That leaves the IQ portion.  Sequencing, Cancellation and Symbol Search stand out as blatant attempts to measure IQ, but elements of IQ skills can be found in other question types as well by design when this test is properly administered.

The difference between measuring cognitive skills (COGAT) and IQ (WISC) is the difference between measuring the student's ability to solve a novel problem given enough time, and the student's ability to quickly solve a novel problem because they have had so much practice doing it in the past.  Some school districts want to find children that have the potential for a strong academic performance and use the COGAT.  Others want to see evidence that the child loves school so they add the MAP.  The most short sighted school districts only want kids who's parents have PhD's so they add the WISC.

The student develop the additional IQ related skills from an early age because they love to read and solve puzzles and do crafts and play with Legos and other activities that would give school districts confidence that this student lives in a primarily academic household and will perform in an accelerated program in the long term because the parent is actively involved in making the house a learning environment with no TV or screens.

School districts that use the WISC wasting a lot of academic potential in their student population.  They are also avoiding the problem of program full of kids who prepped for the test and then ended up with a subpar academic record by middle school.  The latter case can be solved with a better program.  The former case is called a city where you don't want to raise your children.

There are 2 challenges with teaching IQ skills.  First, turning your house into a top notch learning environment requires a lot of time and effort on the part of the parent.  You have to do it, but it takes time to make up for 20,000 hours that you spent with your child not acting like you have a joint PhD in literature and biology.  The second challenge is that training your child on sequencing and memory skills is counter-productive.  You are taking the thinking out of thinking, and giving your child a time limit on anything also takes learning out of learning.

The solution is working memory, as in working + memory.  In Test Prep Math, the word problems, quantitative and visual spatial sections all have multiple problems superimposed.  The original intent was to slow the child down to the pace of learning by replacing one-step problems with multi-step problems, and cheat the cognitive skills tests by getting the child used to something 2 or 3 times as comlicated.  The magic number for working memory is 3 but substeps tend to push the ceiling.  For the word problems, I add confusion to the question (why ask how many they have altogether when you can ask it in 100 other ways?) and the result is that work to identify the equations to be solved, putting them in memory while uncovering the rest, and then keep them in memory while being doing the work.  Kids who have had Level One or Mathasium are forbidden from using a pencil because they've already had training in problem solving (instead of learning) and lose the 'working' part of working memory.

The result is the natural tendency of children to form their own algorithms and techniques to manage this process and not have to sit their for 25 minutes solving a problem 5 times to get the correct answer.  Those internal algorithms evolve naturally on the student's own terms, and once they are there, we step beyond solving novel problems to applying solution techniques.  When a child takes less time and makes less mistakes on a series of problems that continues to grow in complexity, we've stepped from cognitive skills into the realm of IQ skills.  What I don't like about after school math programs is that they skip the internal process and explicitly the methods to the child.  We get a child who appears to be great at math, but didn't make the internal effort and is not going to gain the long term benefit.  It's like a performance enhancing drug instead of a fundamental long term improvement; long term research is ongoing.

But Test Prep Math is for 2nd and 3rd grade.  I've gotten complaints from the very beginning that there is no Test Prep Math for 1st grade.  Almost there.  In the mean time, with what ever material you use, give your child space to grow their working memory.  If you don't help, at least for the first 10 minutes, or help by just asking the child to walk you through each micro bit of the problem in excruciating detail, you're letting memory work, as in holding things longer and letting those little analysis and problem solving skills develop on their own. 



  1. My child will need to take WISC-V and the price ranges from $250-$500 for a workbook or bundle. What's the best way to know about the test format. Any particular brand you recommend?

    1. To clarify, the workbook or bundle that I meant was e.g., bright kids or aristotle, test tutor...etc. most of them seem to target NYC tests tho.

    2. For the format, I would recommend looking at a COGAT practice test and looking at a WISC IV. There isn't much between WISC IV and WISC V, mostly norming. I could be totally wrong here but that was my impression; and I noted the WISC IV books are cheapter. The bundles are super expensive and the specific books they recommend work/don't work depending on the level of a variety of skills. You would be throwing a lot of money and time at the problem and still have to deal with the pieces. Find out what problems you have with the practice tests and target those. I'd need an age, time frame,and past scores to say anymore.