Gifted and Talented Programs: How To Find Them and How To Get In!

Gifted Admission Tests and Eligibility

many benefits to gifted and talented programs

many benefits to gifted and talented programs

Gifted programs vary throughout the country by each state, and further by each school district. Many states include gifted education as a requirement for public schools, and as with special education, gifted and talented programs require students to take entry exams prior to admittance.

This post provides an overview of how to find various States and school districts’ gifted and talented programs and specifically the tests they administer and how to prepare for them. The tests are used for all grade levels, but this article focuses on elementary level students. Researching Gifted Program Information

The first step in preparation is researching your child’s gifted program by state, then by school. Start by going directly to your state’s department of education website. For example, if you are looking in NYC in NY, go to the Department of Education (DOE) NYC website. From there, simply search for keywords such as gifted and talented, and the first couple search results should contain most of the information needed. After that, perform the same search on your local school website.

Aside from state education department and school district websites, we recommend you look at the website of the Davidson Institute.

The Davidson Institute website is an excellent resource for looking up gifted programs across the U.S. It organizes states both by name and type of funding, and the easy-to-navigate pages provide a short synopsis of state gifted programs, but key details will either be found on the education department websites mentioned above or links to documents or sites found on Davidson Institute. If your student is already involved in a gifted program, Davidson Institute is also a source for scholarships, learning tips, and articles that have anything to do with gifted and talented students.

Regardless of what method you use to research your child’s specific gifted program, be sure to take note of any tests listed under gifted and talented. The following sections deal with the various tests used by schools to identify gifted and talented students.

Understanding Gifted and Talented Tests

The next step is learning about the tests. There are several tests used to identify gifted and talented students, and again these are different within each state and school district. Each test is designed to be age-appropriate.

This article’s focus is on elementary level tests, not secondary. However, some of the tests are used for the middle and high school levels too.

So what are the main tests? The majority of public schools use the OLSAT, NNAT, or the CogAT, or a combination of tests.

The OLSAT, or Otis-Lennon School Abilities Test, is a multiple choice test and is often used as part of another standardized test (for example, in NYC, the OLSAT is used with the NNAT to create the NYC Gifted and Talented Test). The OLSAT specifically measures gifted abilities and can be taken either one-on-one or in a group setting. Lasting around 50-60 minutes, the OLSAT assesses verbal and nonverbal skills in the following subcategories:

  • Verbal comprehension
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Pictorial reasoning
  • Figural reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning

Each grade level receives different emphases and different forms of questions based the expected knowledge base. Grades K-2, for example, are tested on following directions in one section, while upper grades are instead tested on (among other skills) antonyms, sentence completion, and sentence arrangement. Learn more about the OLSAT’s 17 question types.

The NNAT (Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test) was created to be both cultural and language-neutral. This test uses shapes and symbols to identify gifted students who would otherwise be missed because of language or cultural barriers. It includes the following four types of questions:

Be aware that not every grade will be tested in all four sections (only grades 2-6). The NNAT2 is the second edition of the test, and has 48 questions (versus 38 in the first edition) and is available online as well as by pen and paper. Learn more about the NNAT.

The COGAT (Cognitive Abilities Test) measures learned reasoning abilities in these 3 key areas: verbal, quantitative, and nonverbal. The test is further broken down into the following six components:

  • Oral vocabulary
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Relational concepts
  • Quantitative concepts
  • Figure classification
  • Matrices

The COGAT is designed to both measure cognitive ability and assist teachers in understanding why students may not be performing as well as they could be. For more information, visit

Which Test Will YOur Child Take?

most gifted programs require testing

most gifted programs require testing

Now that you are at least acquainted with the tests and their vocabulary, we hope you have a rough understanding of what to expect for your child. However, you may still be confused about which test your child needs to take. Unfortunately, not all school district or state department websites are as explicit and clear as they should be. Some school districts require one test while others may require two or more before admittance into a gifted program. Find out more information on some of the main school districts which have gifted and talented programs by visiting the following links:

  • Virginia Beach- NNAT, OLSAT
  • NYC- OLSAT, NNAT (sections pulled from each)
  • Los Angeles- OLSAT
  • Houston- CogAT
  • Chicago- OLSAT-type test for Regional Gifted Centers, and traditional achievement test based on tests such as Illinois Standards Achievement Test, Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement and the ITBS or Iowa Test of Basic Skills for the Classical Schools.

Some schools offer both gifted and magnet programs to students identified as gifted and talented. Gifted programs take place in public schools, providing enrichment services to gifted students who share most classes with non-gifted students. In other words, programs are supplemental to the regular curriculum your child will experience in public school. Magnet programs, on the other hand, are often run in separate buildings and often focus on a specific field of study. You will most often see these schools in urban areas and include schools that specialize in art, technology, or vocation.

Gifted and Talented Test Prep Tips

test prep should be fun and engaging

test prep should be fun and engaging

The final step in preparation, after having done enough research, is to get your child ready for taking the tests. One of the best approaches in preparing for the tests is to give your child practice questions. Sample questions based on the main gifted tests discussed can be accessed by clicking the button below.

In addition to practicing with sample questions, your child needs to build the stamina to take a fairly long test. Fortunately, most of these tests accommodate students’ attention spans by being broken into shorter (approximately 20 minute) sections for younger students and gradually increases in time for older grades. However, if your child is not accustomed to sitting still and testing for at least 20 minutes at a time, you may want to consider practicing and preparing your child by taking an entire test over the course of an hour (with breaks in between, according to test instructions). This will help your child know what to expect on test day and to not get too frustrated and impatient with the process.

There are also other ways to prepare for gifted and talented programs that you may not know about. Read about our top test prep tips for Pre-k and Kindergarten Gifted and Talented tests and for 4th and 5th grade Gifted and Talented tests.