The Ultimate Guide to the Cognitive Abilities Test (COGAT)

The Cognitive Abilities Test, or CogAT, is a multiple choice test that is frequently used as an admissions test for gifted programs across the United States, either individually or in combination with other tests. The assessment measures cognitive development, which is believed to be closely linked to high intelligence and strong academic performance. Although it is not labeled as an intelligence test, it is meant to provide an idea of a child’s potential for academic success.

We’ve compiled an expert guide of everything you need to know to help your child perform successfully on the CogAT.

What is the CogAT used for?

The CogAT is most commonly used as an entrance examination for placement in gifted programs throughout the United States.

It can also give you, as a parent, an idea of what type of curriculum would be best suited for your child’s educational abilities and needs. The test will give you information about your child’s strengths and weaknesses as well, so you will know what areas to continue nurturing and what areas to focus on improving.

What is the Cognitive Abilities Test Form 7?

The latest version of the CogAT is Form 7, published in 2011. Form 6 is still in use in some schools.

Form 7 is very similar to Form 6, although some key changes have occurred. For example, an additional figure matrices subtest has been added to the tests for grades 3-12 to better assess the abilities of the most capable students by raising the ceiling on the Nonverbal Battery.

Most importantly, Form 7 for K-2 is bilingual/ELL friendly and uses pictures in the subtests. The only words on these tests appear in the directions, which can be read in English or in Spanish.

Cognitive Abilities Test Format

The CogAT is a group-administered test for students in grades K-12. The test features three independent batteries: Verbal, Quantitative, and Nonverbal. It is designed to assess learned reasoning in these three areas, which experts believe are the areas most closely linked to academic achievement. One, two, or all three batteries may be administered based on the specific needs of the test user. Of course, the most complete picture of the student can be found using all three batteries.

Depending on your child’s level, the CogAT has between 118 and 176 questions. Students are typically allowed 30-45 minutes per battery, with the test usually requiring 2-3 hours total.

Each battery contains subtests that utilize three different test formats in an effort to increase validity and fairness.

K-2 students complete a picture-based exam, with the teacher or test administrator providing directions and pacing students through the test.

The CogAT is available in both paper and online formats. You will need to ask your child’s score which format they use.

Test Content on the CogAT

Let’s take a look at the purpose of each of the three batteries, as well as the questions used to measure cognitive development and reasoning skills in each section.

Verbal Battery

The verbal battery on the CogAT is designed to measure a student’s vocabulary, memory, ability to solve verbal problems, and ability to determine word relationships. This battery has three subtests, which vary depending on age. Lower level subtests (K-2) include Sentence Completion, Picture Classification, and Picture Analogies. Older students are tested on Sentence Completion, Verbal Classification, and Verbal Analogies.

Sentence Completion

From a list of five choices, students must select the word that most logically completes the provided sentence by filling in a blank.

For K-2 students, the teacher reads aloud a sentence with a missing word. Students select the picture that best completes the sentence.

Sample Question:

Picture/Verbal Classifications:

Students are given a list of three words that have something in common. From a list of five choices, the student must choose the word that is similar to the others in the same way.

K-2 students are given a series of three pictures that are in some way similar. The student then selects a picture from the answer choices that is like to the other three.

Sample question:

 Level 5/6 cogat picture classification question

Level 5/6 cogat picture classification question

Picture/Verbal Analogies

Students are given a pair of words that has a specific relationship, along with a third word. They must then choose the answer choice that is related to the third word in the same way that the provided word pair is related.

K-2 students are provided with two pictures that form a pair, as well as a third picture. From the answer choices, the student must select the picture that goes with the third provided image.

Sample Question:

 cogat Level 5/6  pictoral analogy question

cogat Level 5/6  pictoral analogy question

Quantitative Battery

The quantitative battery measures abstract reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and problem solving skills. The three subtests are the same for all levels: Number Series, Number Puzzles, and Number Analogies.

Number Series

Students are given a series of numbers following a pattern. They must determine what number should come next in the series.

K-2 students are given images of beads on an abacus. Based on the images, they must determine what the next abacus in the series should look like.

Sample question:

 cogat level 9 number series question

cogat level 9 number series question

Number Puzzles

This subtest requires students to solve simple mathematical equations in order to make the amounts on either side of the equal sign the same.

K-2 students are provided with pictures that represent math problems.

Sample question (Cogat Level 9 Number Puzzle Question):

2 + 10 = ? x 4

A.12

B.3

C. 2

D.8

E.5

Number Analogies

Older students must determine which number in the provided answer choices is analogous to the numbers in the question.

K-2 students are given a 2X2 matrix with one empty cell. The student must determine the relationship between the two images in the top row, and then find the picture that has the same relationship with the image on the bottom row.

Sample question

Nonverbal Battery

On the nonverbal battery, students are tested on their ability to reason using geometric shapes and figures. Students must create strategies to solve unique problems that they may never have encountered in school. This battery is especially beneficial for assessing the abilities of struggling readers, second language learners, and students who may have had limited opportunities. All ages take the same three subtests: Figure Classification, Figure Matrices, and Paper Folding.

Figure Classification

Students of all ages are provided with three figures and must select the fourth figure that completes the set.

Sample question:

Figure Matrices

Students are given a 2X2 matrix with the image missing in one cell. Students must determine the relationship between the two spatial forms in the top row and find a fourth image that has the same relationship to the spatial form in the bottom row.

Sample question:

Paper Folding

Students must determine how a hole-punched, folded paper will look once it is folded or unfolded.

Hole-punching is not included on the images provided to K-2 students.

Sample question:

Test Levels

The Cognitive Abilities Test has ten different test levels based on age:

  • Kindergarten: Level 5/6
  • 1st Grade: Level 7
  • 2nd Grade: Level 8
  • 3rd Grade: Level 9
  • 4th Grade: Level 10
  • 5th Grade: Level 11
  • 6th Grade: Level 12
  • 7th-8th Grade: Level 13/14
  • 9th-10th Grade: Level 15/16
  • 11th-12th Grade: Level 17/18
  • The test features overlapping sets of items from level to level in order to provide the user with a continuous, ascending scale of difficulty. While test complexity changes according to level, the picture based questions on the K-2 exams are the most significant difference between levels.

    Interpreting Test Scores

    On the CogAT, raw score is calculated by simply tallying the number of correct answers. Since students are not penalized for incorrect answers, you should tell your child to at least make an educated guess on every question. No answer should be left with empty bubbles.

    The raw score is then used to provide you with a variety of metrics relating to your child’s performance and the level of cognitive development this performance reflects. CogAT score summaries also provide you with the opportunity to understand your child’s areas of strength and weakness, giving you an idea of where to focus for continued improvement. Here, we’ll take a quick look at the different data provided by the Cognitive Abilities Test. If you’d like more information, check out our in-depth guide to CogAT scoring.

    Universal Scale Score

    The Universal Scale Score (USS), describes your student’s location on a continuous growth scale of cognitive development. It can be very useful for analyzing growth if your child is tested multiple times.

    Standard Age Score

    The Standard Age Score (SAS) compares your student’s rate and level of cognitive development to students of the same age and grade level.

    Your child will receive a SAS for each of the three batteries, with 100 representing a rate and level of cognitive ability that is typical for your student’s age.

    Percentile Rank

    The percentile rank represents the percentage of students in the same age/grade group who scored at or below your student’s score. For example, if your child scored in the 90th percentile, he scored equal to or better than 90% of his peers.

    50 is considered average, and students receive a percentile rank for all three batteries.

    Stanine

    The stanine is a normalized standard score ranging from 1-9, and can be interpreted as follows:

  • 9: Very High

  • 7-8: Above Average

  • 4-6 Average

  • 2-3 Below Average

  • 1: Very Low
  • Students receive a stanine score for each battery.

    Ability Profile

    Your child will also receive an ability profile that gives you three key pieces of information: your child’s median age stanine, score pattern indicator, and relative strength or weakness. This information is conveyed in the following format: 7B (V+). In this example, the 7 is the median age stanine, the B is the score pattern indicator, and (V+) reveals the student’s relative strength.

    The median age stanine is the middle stanine score that your student earned across the three batteries. For example, if your child scored a 9 Verbal, a 6 Quantitative, and a 7 Nonverbal, his median stanine will be a 7.

    The score pattern indicator is meant to give you information about the pattern of your child’s scores. The following are the four possible profiles:

  • A Profile- Indicates that your student performed at roughly the same level on all three batteries.

  • B Profile- Your student has a relative strength or weakness, meaning the score for one battery is above or below the other two. C Profile- The C is for contrast, and it means that your child shows both a relative strength and a relative weakness.

  • E Profile- The E stands for “Extreme,” meaning there are extreme score differences between your child’s battery results. An “extreme” difference is classified as a difference of 24 or more points on the Standard Age Score (SAS) scale.
  • Your child’s relative strength or weakness is indicated using plus or minus signs and letters. V stands for Verbal Battery, N stands for Nonverbal Battery, and Q stands for Quantitative Battery. A plus sign (+) following one of these letters signifies that your child demonstrated a relative strength on that battery. A minus sign (-), on the other hand, means that your child’s test showed a relative weakness in that particular area.

    For example, an N+ indicates a relative strength on the Nonverbal Battery. A Q- indicates a relative weakness on the Quantitative Battery, and an N+Q- would mean that your child demonstrated relatively strong verbal reasoning skills and relatively weak quantitative reasoning skills.

    Now that you understand the components of the ability profile, let’s take a look at a few examples.

  • 8A = Above average scores on all three batteries.

  • 8B (V-) = Generally high scores with a relative weakness on the Verbal Battery.

  • 8E (V-) = Generally high scores with an extreme weakness on the Verbal Battery.

  • 6C (N+ Q-) = Generally average scores with a relative strength on the Nonverbal Battery and a relative weakness on the Quantitative Battery.

  • 2B (Q+) = Generally below average scores, but a relative strength on the Quantitative Battery.
  • What exactly is a “good” score on the CogAT? If your child is seeking admittance to a gifted program, she will likely need an overall score in the 95th percentile, as well as a score in the 97th percentile on at least one battery. Different programs have different requirements, so it is always best to call and ask about the score requirement for admission.

    How is the CogAT different from other gifted tests?

    While much the same overall, every gifted test has its individual strengths, and this is true of the Cognitive Abilities Test as well.

    Some gifted tests, such as the NNAT, do not assess quantitative skills as thoroughly as the CogAT. This can be an advantage to taking the CogAT, as it can show a variety of abilities and intelligences that may be present in a student.

    While tests like the NNAT are sometimes criticized for seemingly favoring visual-spatial learners, the CogAT is considered to be a more reliable measurement of cognitive development and reasoning skills.

    The CogAT also offers a more detailed score report than other tests, with several pieces of information being given for each individual battery. This gives you a more targeted understanding of how your child performed in different areas of the test, and on how you can continue to enhance your child’s learning and cognitive development in the future.

    Lastly, the CogAT is the only group-administered ability test specifically designed to assist teachers in expanding educational opportunities for diverse students and learning styles. It has been proven to determine more ELL and minority students as eligible for gifted programs than other tests, marking it a more fair and unbiased exam.

    History of the CogAT

    The Cognitive Abilities Test was written by University of Iowa professor emeritus Dr. David F. Lohman, who has a doctorate in educational psychology. His research has primarily focused on the general construct of academic intelligence, including measuring intelligence and using ability profiles to adapt instruction for the individualized needs of learners.

    The test is published by Riverside Publishing, and the first version was released in 1968.

    How to Prepare for the Cognitive Abilities Test

    Although many of the reasoning skills required for the CogAT can’t be directly taught, you can teach your child test concepts and test strategies. You can also work on CogAT sample questions to help your child become comfortable and confident about the question types that will appear on the test. Research has indicated that young children especially don’t always fully understand what they are being asked to do on the test, so it’s important to provide your child with guided practice and exposure to the question types.

    As your child begins working with CogAT question types, allow as much time as needed to process and solve problems. When your child begins to consistently perform well on the questions, start occasionally timing your child to more accurately mirror testing conditions. We also recommend having your child work through at least a couple of full length practice tests to sharpen focus and concentration and to give your child an idea of how quickly she will need to work.

    Enhance your child’s skills with general ability training, including workbooks focused on vocabulary, shapes, and mathematics. Encourage your child to read a certain amount of pages or minutes daily in order to increase vocabulary. Also work with your child on focus and listening, as these skills will be vital to a successful performance on test day. Listening in particular is important to K-2 students, who will typically have test questions read aloud by the teacher or test administrator. Questions cannot be repeated once read, so practice having your child answer verbal questions beforehand.

    Work test concepts into your everyday life by, for example, coming up with word problems at the grocery store, talking to your child about how words and ideas are related, and comparing shapes and figures. Have your child construct puzzles and solve logic problems to sharpen critical thinking and reasoning as well. These tasks can seem more like fun and less like practice, making them a great way to teach your child important information.

    We also encourage you to teach your child general test-taking strategies, like process of elimination. Teach your child to cross out answer choices that are obviously wrong to work toward making a more educated guess. Your child should know that she is free to write in the test booklet as much as she desires, including mapping questions, circling key information, and crossing through incorrect choices. Also develop a strategy for questions that your child cannot answer: Either tell her to mark an answer choice and move on, or have her put an asterisk next to the question and return to it after working through easier problems. Remind your child to take a deep breath and tell herself, “I can do this,” if she begins to feel frustrated or discouraged during the test.

    If you learn that your child will be testing on the computer, do online practice tests to help her become accustomed to the lack of paper and pencil.

    Don’t try to cram in massive amounts of information right before the test; start preparing in advance. The last week before the test, don’t practice too much or try to teach new information, as this can overwhelm your child and be stressful. Instead, focus on the fact that you know your child is adequately prepared.

    Try not to overemphasize the test or make your child feel anxious as test day approaches. With younger children in particular, experts suggest not even using the word “test.” Build your child’s confidence through consistent practice and encouragement. Test anxiety can derail a child’s performance on test day, so work with your child to avoid this as much as possible. Tell her that you will still love her and be proud of her regardless of the results. Some children like to carry a “lucky” token, like a coin or a shell, in their pockets on test day. The token can serve as comfort and reassurance when you aren’t there to soothe and encourage your child.

    You’re now a Cognitive Abilities Test expert! This is a big step in the right direction, since it’s important to familiarize yourself with the test so that you can prepare your child for everything she will encounter on test day. With the information and tips we’ve provided here, you can help your child have a successful and stress-free performance on the CogAT.