NYC Gifted and Talented Program and Testing

Preparing for the OLSAT test
June 20, 2017, 2:09 pm
Filed under: tests | Tags: ,

A story of properly preparing for the OLSAT test

I first met Sally a few years ago, when she was getting ready to apply her child to their local Gifted and Talented program. Sally wanted her son Brett to make it into the program, not only because he’s naturally bright and curious, but because her default school isn’t anything to write home about. Don’t get me wrong: Brett’s school was better than most, but Sally could tell that he wasn’t engaged by the material, and many days he came home with a bored, apathetic look on his face.

Sally knew the gifted program was competitive, so she began preparing about six months out since she heard that the OLSAT test was being given. Based upon her research she knew this wasn’t about ABC’s and 123’s. I know what you’re thinking: six months isn’t a whole lot of time. That’s true, and many parents do start preparing their child for the OLSAT much sooner. That said, six months is plenty of time to get your child ready for the OLSAT test if you develop a schedule and take the right actions.

That’s where Sally fell short.

It isn’t that Sally failed to develop a plan to practice and prep on a daily basis. On that front, she had it down: she decided early on that she would practice every weekday with Brett, and that she would work not only on his test-taking skills but also his attention span. This was especially important given that Brett was a mere six years old and the OLSAT test would require him to sit still for at least half an hour. Sally decided to start by practicing for five minutes a day, then move up to 10, and eventually get Brett to focus on test prep materials for a full 45 minutes.

It isn’t that Sally was opposed to the idea of preparing for the test. That’s an objection I get from parents a lot, whether it’s because they’re afraid their child will be “caught” preparing for the test, or because they think the whole concept of getting your child ready for one of the most important tests of their life is “cheating.” Of course, your personal views on the merit of test prep or even of testing in general are essentially irrelevant: standardized testing isn’t going away – if anything, it’s becoming more common. Your choice is either to work within the system to make sure your child gains every possible advantage, or risk having them left behind in favor of kids whose parents were more proactive. It’s up to you.

No, Sally’s problem is that she spent the entire time she worked with Brett using a single workbook consisting of about 100 questions. Don’t get me wrong: this was a top-flight workbook with a good variety of questions, and would make a great addition to any parent’s preparation package. The problem is that, within a week of getting started, Brett had practically memorized not only the questions but the order in which they appeared. That meant that, as the weeks went by and Brett got “better” at answering the questions, he was actually just robotically spouting the answers in exactly the order he’d seen them before.

As a result, Brett never really developed the skills he needed to ace the test. When test day rolled around, Brett was presented with questions he’d never seen before – and he didn’t know how to work through them to reach the right answer.

Because Brett had at least been exposed to the concepts tested on the exam, he did better than most kids, earning a score in the 96th percentile. But this wasn’t enough to get him a spot in the gifted program, and he was sent back to general education for another year. Sally was devastated, and didn’t know what to do. In her mind, she had done everything possible to prepare Brett for the test, and it still hadn’t been enough. She quickly became convinced that Brett was doomed to spend the rest of his life in his average school, receiving a middling education and losing the opportunities that a top-notch program would have afforded him.

Fortunately, Sally ended up emailing me, and I pointed out the central mistake of her OLSAT test-prep strategy – and how to fix it. You see, Sally was fortunate in that she had the opportunity to have Brett tested again the following year (some schools and school districts only offer your child one real shot to get into an advanced program, so you have to get it right the first time). I told Sally to imagine the difference that she could make if she exposed Brett not to 100 questions, presented in the same order every time, but thousands of different questions in a number of different formats: worksheets, online games, and a mobile app. Being exposed to so many different materials would give Brett the ability to develop the skills he needed to get a top score, and would have the added benefit of helping his grades in school!

Sally vowed that she would never again confine Brett to a strategy consisting solely of workbooks. She took my advice and signed-up for Testing Mom. She worked with Brett again, this time using Testing Mom practice questions, online games, and partner programs to get him ready for test day.

I’m happy to report that Sally and Brett’s story has a happy ending: on his second try, Brett scored in the 99th percentile on the test, and is now thriving in the NEST+M city wide gifted and talented program since Sally helped him prepare with OLSAT sample questions and practice tests. The best part of all? You don’t have to make the same mistake Sally did. Get your child off on the right foot the first time around. It’s quite possibly the best decision you’ll ever make as a parent.

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