Tips From The Teacher: 5 Ways to Help Your Child Prepare for the G&T Test on a Daily Basis
1) Make following directions a game.
If there is one section of the OLSAT that consistently gives preschoolers trouble, much to the dismay of their parents, it’s the following directions section. On the surface, it doesn’t get any easier – they literally need to do what the question says. That’s it. But the hard part is that they need to do exactly what the question says, which means that they need to remember the question. And for a preschooler, whose working memory capacity has not yet fully developed, holding on to multi-step directions long enough to complete them can be a tall order.
So why not make it into a game? When I come across a child who seems baffled by the following directions questions, I play something that I (very creatively) call the “directions game”. I give simple instructions that get the child out of their seat and moving around the room. Start with something simple, such as “walk to the window” and work up to 3-part directions, such as “walk to the window, touch the chair then point to the ceiling”. I admit it’s not the most thrilling activity for the adult but its always a hit with the kids – you’ll get bored before your child will.
2) Use words like “neither” and “nor”, “both”, and different preopsitions.
Be careful with this one – randomly inserting these words into every other sentence to the point where they are noticeably extraneous will be awkward. For you, for your child, and for anyone listening to you at the time. And while I’ve seen this go awry more than once, I’m recommending it here because kids are best able understand words that are woven into the fabric of their everyday. It’s how we learn to talk in the first place.
So work them in, if it fits naturally, and discuss their meanings using models. I once had an adorable 4-year-old student who didn’t speak English natively and refused to talk to me out of shyness. The only time I had heard her speak was during our assessment session when I made her identify objects, and even then it was like squeezing water out of a stone. A few nearly silent sessions later, she’d become more comfortable and I asked her a pretty standard test question from the OLSAT. For the first time ever, she spoke to me voluntarily and asked “what is ‘both’?” I knew from teaching English overseas that conceptual language is best taught “in action”, so I took her around the room and showed her things that were both something: both red, both chairs, both circles, and we repeated this activity for every other conceptual word we came across, along with regular “reviews” of words we had already learned. She went on to score in the 99th percentile.
3) Encourage puzzle playtime.
When the NNAT 2 first joined the OLSAT as the entrance exams for passing through the G&T gates of NYC, people were shaking in their boots. “How,” parents cried in distress, “can a small child be expected to answer questions like this?! These are too hard for ME!” It was nearly a given that only a tiny Stephen Hawking would be able to understand this part of the test and therefore have a chance at securing one of those highly-valued slots. And of course, everyone was beyond shocked when the amount of kids who qualified for entrance was revealed. Why did this happen?
The reason is two-fold: 1) the questions on these tests are very manageable for preschoolers if they have the right guidance, and 2) the bulk of the NNAT 2 is made up of Pattern Completion questions, which are already familiar to many preschoolers, they’re just known by a different name: puzzles.
That’s not to say that the two exercises are identical. Physical puzzles are much easier than ones on paper which require kids to mentally “try out” the pieces, but the broader skill is the same. Try and work in a small puzzle every day or so. It will make the transition to paper puzzles that much easier.
4) Count, count, count.
I can’t stress this enough, and it’s something that has to be addressed in about half the kids I’ve worked with. When asked if their child can count, just about every parent who has considered prepping their 3 or 4-year-old will say “yes” but, more accurately, the question they are really responding to is “does your child know how to recite the order of numbers?”. Most kids more or less have that down by the time they reach preschool, but while rote counting is important in its own right, memorizing the order of numbers and understanding their relationship to actual objects are two entirely different things. What the question really intends to ask is “does your child show 1-1 correspondence when he or she counts?”, meaning do they understand that, when counting, each number corresponds to an item? What tends to happen is that the child will move their finger along at the same rhythm with which they say the numbers, so landing on the right number becomes a happy (and very unreliable) accident.
They can fool you, if you don’t look closely. I’ve met at least 1 one little boy who was so good at timing this form of “rhythmic counting” that I didn’t become suspicious until our second session. Sure enough, when I casually stopped his hand mid-air as he was counting, he continued saying the numbers even though he wasn’t touching the items, and picked up the movement right where he left off when I released it.
As long as the child is developmentally ready, it’s a fairly easy issue to fix. The key is to identify it early. So practice counting things – anything you wish! Practice touching each item and pausing after counting it to reinforce the concept that you are looking at each thing individually and not simply reciting numbers.
5)Ask at least 1 math question every day.
I don’t mean “what does 2+2 equal?”I mean something like “If you already have 2 crackers, and I give you 2 more, how many crackers do you have altogether?” Mathematical reasoning is one of the hardest sections on the test to teach IF a child has not yet been exposed to this way of thinking. Of the 20-something preschoolers I’ve worked with, I can definitively put kids into two categories after the first session: the “Attends a school that works with numbers or number games” category and the “Does not” category. Those who belonged to the second category had a harder time and, though ultimately they were just as prepared as the rest by test time, the road was longer.
So give your little one a mathematical reasoning question whenever the opportunity to count things presents itself – you’ll find that while explicit skills may very well be over your preschooler’s head, understanding reasoning is not. And in the greater scheme, developing comfort with reasoning with numbers sets kids up for success with the explicit math skills so that when the time comes to learn what 2+2 is, they’ll be ready!
And finally, keep in mind that prepping doesn’t have to be a chore. You can do “brain games” using fun, colorful materials that develop the skills necessary for success and make the transition to more structured preparation go smoothly. Getting ready for the G&T exam is an adventure – you might as well have fun!