Deciding whether to prepare
My son hasn't taken the Raven yet, but I know he is highly gifted. Do we really need this?
Some parents have a survival-of-the-fittest viewpoint: "If my daughter really is gifted, she should be able to walk into the test cold and still ace it." You hear this from parents whose kids have already qualified as gifted: "My daughter didn't prepare. She just took the test and got a 90th percentile. She's a 'real' gifted kid."
My answer to "Do we really need this?" is: If your child is unusually calm, then no, you don't need to practice. If he is so poised that his performance won't be affected by the possibility of failure, the fear of disappointing parents, and the discomfort of being placed in a tough situation, then no, you don't need this. In my experience, though, most children aren't wired this way.
(An aside: In the rest of my writing, both here and in the Guide, I'll generally use male pronouns when referring to a child, just so I don't have to "his or her" my way through the whole thing. Political correctness makes for awkward sentences. And no, I don't think that boys are smarter than girls. If you invert the question, I plead the fifth.)
Poise is a personality trait, not a factor of intelligence. So if you shouldn't prepare, the only children who will qualify as gifted are those who are both poised and intelligent, and we are missing out on a whole lot of talent.
Let me illustrate with a story. A woman from the Bay area of California bought our course for her 5 1/2 year old son who planned to take the Raven as soon as he turned six. A few days later, she sent an email telling me how disappointed she was in her son's performance. On his first try, he had scored at the 70th percentile on the 39-question sample test. She asked me outright: "Is he gifted?" She also said that he'd done the sample test in 13 minutes and thought that she needed to find a way to slow him down.
I wrote back and said that it wasn't at all unusual for very bright children to score low on their first try, and that she was absolutely right about slowing her son down. The best way to do this was to follow the recommendations in the course outline.
In reply, she told me how brilliant her son was. He was a chess player, already winning tournaments against much older children. He played the piano well. His teachers thought he was just as amazing as his parents did. She also mentioned that she hadn't really done the course - she had just let her son take the sample test on his own. I encouraged her to do the course. If she trusted us to buy the course, she needed to trust that we knew what we were talking about.
She wrote back a few days later that the technique of getting her son to say his explanations out loud really worked. And five weeks later, she told me that her son got 56 right on the 60-question Raven test and was admitted to the Highly Gifted program in their school district. That's an amazing performance for a 6-year-old - in the 99.99 percentile range.
Did we raise her son's IQ from the 70th to the 99.99th percentile? No. He was already at the 99.99th percentile and his mother knew it, despite her momentary doubt. But if she had let him take the Raven test cold, this amazing child might not have qualified and could have ended up stuck in a classroom full of unmotivated kids.
Her son makes connections very quickly. At first, he dealt with the stress of testing by blazing his way through, which served him well on the easier questions but not on the harder ones. All we did was to provide a method and environment that enabled him to become comfortable with the test.
I think my child might be gifted but I'm not sure. Can your course help?
Yes, the course can serve as a diagnostic to help you find out how well your child is likely to score and whether his initial score can be improved through practice and analysis improvement techniques. What you want to avoid is having your child's first exposure to the Raven be the actual test.
The problem with taking the Raven cold is that most school districts will give your child only one shot at the test. I've received several emails from parents whose children have missed qualifying for gifted or highly gifted status by one percentile point - even half a percentile point. They want to know what can be done. My answer is that nothing can be done about the Raven score after the fact. The only option is to pursue any alternative method of qualifying that the school district provides, such as scoring well on the state test for two consecutive years.
Some parents take a fatalistic approach: "Well, if my child really is gifted, then he'll score well on the test. If he doesn't qualify, then he must not be gifted." This gives entirely too much credit to the test and the district's method of interpreting the scores.
For example, in our children's district, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the Raven scores required to qualify as gifted are:
LAUSD made these changes to try to save money by reducing the number of children entering the gifted program. The kids who qualified under the old rules are still considered gifted. But now, even the girl whose mother bragged about how she got a 90th percentile score without preparing would not qualify.
In my years of talking with parents and helping children prepare for the Raven, I've found that parents are pretty accurate in assessing their child's intelligence. If anything, parents tend to slightly underestimate the score their child is capable of achieving. So if you think your child may be gifted, it is worth the effort to prepare.
My recommendation is to do our preparation course before scheduling the test, perhaps over the summer, so your child isn't subject to the stress of last-minute preparation. If you do the full course over a one or two month period, you'll have time to see how your child responds to our preparation techniques. You can do the practice tests several times to help your child become more comfortable and improve both speed and accuracy. Then, after scheduling the test, you can do one more practice test a week or so before the Raven test date as a refresher.
Some parents fear that preparing will cause a child to qualify as gifted who really isn't, and who will then have trouble competing against other gifted children later on. See more about this issue in the "Advantages and Disadvantages" section below. For now, let me repeat that preparation does not raise IQ, it merely helps prevent the loss of IQ points that can arise from anxiety, lack of familiarity, and lack of focus. Preparation cannot put in ability that is not there. If your child doesn't have the brainpower to figure out the Raven puzzles, all the practice in the world won't give it to him.
Do you offer preparation packages for other intelligence tests?
Sorry, no. We specialize in the Raven test. Preparation materials for some of the other IQ tests used to evaluate giftedness are available from other vendors. The vendors can be located with an Internet search using the test name and "preparation" as keywords. I have not evaluated these materials and cannot make recommendations regarding their effectiveness.
Please do not order MatrixPrep to prepare for tests other than the Raven. MatrixPrep is designed specifically for Raven test preparation. Other IQ tests are sufficiently different that there are not likely to be any benefits carried over from preparing for the Raven.
There are two other IQ tests that use progressive matrices, the NNAT and TONI tests. As far as I know, no preparation materials exist for these tests. If your district uses either test as their primary means of evaluation, I would appreciate hearing from you at Support@GiftedTestPrep.com. If there is sufficient interest in these tests, we will consider developing a preparation package.
When is the best time to do your preparation course?
The best time is two months before you plan to have your child take the Raven test. If you can arrange to have the test administered at the beginning of the school year, the last few weeks of summer are ideal. You can schedule preparation sessions once a week for the five to seven 60-minute sessions it takes to complete the program.
MatrixPrep also works well for last-minute preparation. If you just received a letter saying that your child's test date is a week away, you can schedule one 60-minute session a day until the test. What should be avoided is squeezing five or six hours of preparation into one day. If you start preparing that late, it's best to ask for a postponement.
Also avoid starting the preparation course too far ahead of time. I've seen anxious parents intensively preparing their five-year-old for a test that the child will not take until he is 6 1/2. Starting too early, before the skills develop, can lead to frustration and avoidance.
My children are younger than six. Is there anything I can do to start preparing them?
I have two recommendations from personal experience. For children ages 1 to 3, the Sky Shapers game in Reader Rabbit Toddler is a great way to begin developing spatial recognition skills. The game teaches children to fit various geometric shapes into slots by rotating the figures. When a pattern is completed, the program displays an animal and plays a song. Children find the game rewarding and will play it over and over for fun.
The only improvement we developed in actual use is to ask the children to call out the name and color of the shape they need to fill a slot: Red circle! Green triangle! This develops the habit of associating a name with a shape, a skill that is particularly useful in analyzing the Raven puzzles.
The second recommendation is to introduce children to jigsaw puzzles at an early age, gradually working up to 100 and 300-piece puzzles. We found the Milton Bradley EZ-Grasp series, available in WalMart and Target, to be well suited for bright kids ages 4 and up, even though the puzzles bear a recommendation for age 10-plus.
Taking the Raven test
What is the Raven test?
The Raven is a standardized intelligence test that produces a percentile score. There are several different forms, but form SPM (Standard Progressive Matrices), most commonly used by schools to evaluate giftedness, is normed for ages 6 though 16 and above. The 60 questions are grouped in 5 sets of 12 questions called "series". In each series, the questions are easy at the beginning and become progressively harder.
The instructions for form SPM specify no time limit and an administration time of about 45 minutes. Some parents have reported that their school district enforces a 45-minute time limit in violation of the instructions. Please check with your school district whether a time limit is enforced.
A few school districts use form CPM (Coloured Progressive Matrices) to test younger children. CPM is normed for ages 5 through 11, has 36 questions in three progressively difficult series of 12 questions, and the administration time is 30 to 45 minutes.
In all versions, each question is a puzzle, a set of shapes presented in a 2-by-2 or 3-by-3 matrix. For example, in the 3-by-3 matrix (like a tic-tac-toe format), the question consists of 8 figures that form a sequence. The trick is to figure out what shape fits into the last box on the last row. Each multiple-choice answer shows from 4 to 8 figures as choices, only one of which completes the sequence accurately.
The questions have no words, just shapes. Words are used only in the brief instructions at the start of the test. The Raven is a test that can be readily understood regardless of the language the test taker speaks. Therefore, it is considered free of cultural bias.
When is the best time to take the Raven test?
Earlier is better for two reasons: (1) the younger the child, the fewer correct answers are needed to qualify, and (2) the sooner a child is identified as gifted, the easier it is to gain access to special programs. For example, it is generally easier to get into a gifted magnet school in the lowest grade offered. Please note that MatrixPrep is customized to your child's age, so it will work well for students of all grades.
Why do you recommend guessing during the Raven test? Isn't it better to prepare so that you can answer all the questions correctly?
Great question! Preparing for the Raven is different than preparing for regular tests in school. For a regular test, let's say of 20 questions, it's smart to prepare to try to get all the answers right. That way, even if you miss one or two, you'll still get an A.
The reason the Raven is different is that it uses the same test for a wide range of ages. Form SPM can be used to measure IQ for anyone from age 6 to adult. Sometimes people ask us about the "Raven for the second grade" or the "Raven for six-year-olds". There is no such thing. The same test is given to all takers, regardless of age.
So Form SPM of the Raven has to have some questions that are so tough that they can distinguish between an adult with a 160 IQ and another with a 170 IQ. These questions are so difficult that a 6-year-old, or even a 10-year old, probably won't be able to answer them.
An important part of preparing children for the Raven is making them aware that there will be questions that are too hard for them to answer. For children (and even parents!) who are so smart that they are used to having all the right answers, finding questions that are too tough to answer can be terribly discouraging.
This is why we recommend having a guessing strategy and setting a target. Our material will help you set an accurate target for the Raven, so that your child knows, based on his age, how many questions he needs to get right in order to qualify as gifted or highly gifted.
Why do school districts use the Raven test?
Over the years, advocates have noted the low percentage of representation of certain minority groups in gifted programs and concluded that traditional verbally-oriented IQ tests unfairly exclude minorities. School districts and state governments have responded to these concerns by mandating tests free of cultural bias, and the Raven is the most established and best known among the "bias-free" tests.
Interestingly, the Raven seems to have done its job too well. Minority representation has increased and majority representation decreased. In some areas, a political backlash has ensued because majority students with superior language skills were felt to be unfairly excluded. Where this has happened, a widely adopted combination is the CogAt as the primary test with the Raven reserved for those with limited English skills.
Another reason is that the Raven test is easy to administer in a group setting, while the older, traditional IQ tests such as the Wechsler and Stanford-Binet generally require individual administration. Schools use the Raven because it is cost effective.
If we have a choice, should our child take the Raven test?
If on standardized tests your child scores at a higher percentile in math than in language skills, you should consider the Raven test. The Raven is good for children with strong abstract reasoning ability and spatial-relationship sequencing skills. The characteristics of such children are that they like or are good at: drawing, video games, chess, checkers, card games, Lego-type toys, jigsaw and find-the-hidden-picture puzzles, and taking machines apart and putting them back together (or at least trying). These children are also better visual and tactile rather than auditory learners.
A common problem is that bright children are often good at both verbal and spatial skills. If the scales are tipped strongly toward verbal skills, then the CogAt, Wechsler or Stanford-Binet may be better choices. But if the abilities are about even, we believe that the Raven is easier to prepare for. If children understand how to sequence figures, they will do well on the Raven and other non-verbal intelligence tests. But for the verbally-based tests, you can study vocabulary and analogies for weeks and still be tripped up by a word the child doesn't know.
Cultural background plays a much greater role in the verbal tests. For example, in an early version of the WISC, a Wechsler test, children were asked to look at a picture and tell what was wrong with it. The test items in this section were intended to measure visual skills, reasoning ability, and communication skills. The problem was that most of the pictures were farm scenes. Farm kids could see what was wrong in a few seconds, but city kids were lost.
Obtaining an evaluation of giftedness
What does "gifted" and "highly gifted" mean?
The terms are used to describe students with high ability, but the exact definitions vary. In the United States, some states use the same method of deciding who qualifies as gifted statewide. In other states, like California, each school district has its own definition. Some school districts are too small to have separate programs for gifted and highly gifted students, so they only define the gifted category.
If your school uses the Raven test to qualify students as gifted, our MatrixPrep course will help prepare your child to take the test. To use our course effectively, you should know the minimum percentile scores on the Raven test needed to qualify as gifted and highly gifted. To find this information, call your school or visit your school district’s website.
For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) defines three categories:
Here is a handy conversion chart:
IQ Percentile First standard
deviation 115 84.1 1.5 x standard
deviation 122 93.3 Second standard
deviation 130 97.7 2.5 x standard
deviation 137 99.4 Third standard
deviation 145 99.9
1.5 x standard
2.5 x standard
Can my child qualify as gifted without taking an IQ test?
For most school districts in the United States, the answer is yes. By state regulation or school district policy, multiple avenues for establishing giftedness are available. Often, students can qualify as gifted by achieving scores above a designated percentile on the state tests all students take. Gifted or talented status can also be established by consistently high grades or superior achievement in a specific subject area such as art or music.
However, it is important to understand the implications of the various avenues fully. Students are generally categorized as:
Also, qualifying by taking an IQ test usually is the best way to establish giftedness at the earliest point in time. This matters because admission to the desirable schools is easiest if you can can apply for the lowest grade offered.
Parents often fear the IQ test. They'll settle on a strategy like: "Let's try grades and state tests first, and if that doesn't work, we'll try the Raven." There is some reason to worry, since most districts allow an IQ test to be taken only once.
For parents who worry about whether their child will be able to score high enough on the Raven test, our MatrixPrep course can serve as a kind of diagnostic. If your child scores in the gifted or highly gifted ranges on our practice tests with a moderate amount of effort invested in preparation, then taking the Raven early is a worthwhile risk. If your child finds it difficult to solve the Raven's puzzles but has strong abilities in other areas, then another test or avenue may be the best choice.
Here's another scenario where MatrixPrep can serve as a useful diagnostic. Let's say you have a child who is six years old, highly intelligent, with a strong visual and spatial orientation. He has to score at or above the 95th percentile to qualify as gifted, and has only one chance to take the Raven test. The problem is that the Raven is a hard test, requiring 45 to 60 minutes of intense concentration, and you are not sure if your child has the maturity to stay focused for that length of time. By doing the MatrixPrep course together, seeing the practice test results, and observing how well your child maintains concentration, you will know whether he is ready. If the obstacle is lack of intelligence, time will not help. But if the problem is lack of maturity, waiting a few months can result in a significant improvement.
How old does my child have to be for an evaluation of giftedness?
If your district uses the most common form of the Raven, your child must be at least six years old. Most districts offer the Raven only to second graders and above. A few do not offer the test until third grade.
If your district allows the use of tests administered by private psychologists (expect to pay about $400 per child), some of the Wechsler versions can be administered as young as 4, but results for 4-year-olds are notoriously unreliable. Since most specialized gifted programs don't start until second or third grade, there is no pressing need to test a child at 4. We recommend waiting until age 5 at least.
In some school districts, a teacher can do a full evaluation of giftedness without an IQ test. These full evaluations of giftedness require serious paperwork, but are essential only if there is a desirable gifted program that starts in the first grade. Most kindergarden teachers are willing to do the work only for children that are obviously ahead of the rest.
How do I find out which test our district uses to evaluate giftedness?
The best way is to check your district's website to see if it has a section on Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). Some websites provide detailed information on the process for evaluating giftedness. We also a maintain a list of school districts using the Raven test.
If the website doesn't have enough information, call your local school and ask for the person who coordinates the gifted program. Some schools have a local teacher or counselor assigned as GATE coordinator. In other cases, you may be referred to the school district's main office or a local division office.
For some strange reason, there are gifted program staffers who like to cloak the process in mystery. If you encounter one of these, try to find someone else to answer your questions - the district coordinator or another local coordinator from a school in the same district. If there is no way around the staffers who are reluctant to answer questions, find out if they conduct a parent information meeting sometime during the school year. The bureaucratic types will often answer questions in a public setting that they brush off in individual conversations.
The questions to ask are:
How do I arrange for my child to take the school district's IQ test?
Students are commonly referred for testing by a teacher's recommendation. So, talk to your child's teacher early in the school year. Tell him briefly why you think your child might be gifted and ask him to observe and recommend for testing if appropriate. I advise not pushing or demanding a commitment, because there are some teachers who will then start looking for any sign that your child is not gifted.
If the teacher does not recommend testing, or if you do not feel comfortable talking with the teacher, write a letter to the principal or the school gifted program coordinator requesting testing and describing the reasons why you think your child is gifted. Here is a sample -- the letter I wrote for our daughter.
Schools usually honor written parental requests. If you do not receive a response within three weeks, follow up with the GATE coordinator if your school has one, or the principal if not. This is the time to push. Keep copies of your letters and records of conversations.
If the school does not cooperate, call the gifted coordinator in your school district office, explain your efforts and ask for help in arranging the test. For LAUSD, the person to contact is the GATE Instructional Support Specialist in the local district office - the telephone numbers are available in the Local District section of LAUSD's website.
In 23 states, giftedness programs are governed by the same state regulations as special education and disabled student programs. These regulations provide for an appeals process if students are denied services. Needless to say, the schools seldom advertise the availability of the appeals process, but the denial of an opportunity to compete for gifted status is a valid basis for appeal. A good place to start researching the availability of an appeals process is your state department of education website.
For those states that do not manage giftedness programs under the same umbrella as disabled student programs, there are often district grievance procedures available. Check the school district website or the Parent Handbook. If a local school is being uncooperative in arranging testing, a parent's awareness of the appeals or grievance process will often help secure a favorable outcome.
In the last few years, some districts have run out of funds for testing before the end of the school year, and the situation is likely to worsen as funding cutbacks increase. I advise requesting a testing date as early in the school year as possible. This fits well with our preparation program as you can start MatrixPrep during the summer.
My daughter is entering high school. Is it too late for her to qualify?
No. While older children need a higher score on the Raven to qualify as gifted, their age and experience help prepare them to resolve problems of greater complexity. Some children are late bloomers, especially if there is a language or learning problem to overcome. If your daughter's percentile scores on standardized tests were in the 40's and 50's in elementary school, but started climbing into the 80's and 90's by the end of middle school, you should definitely consider pursuing an evaluation of giftedness.
Some students do not behave in the confident and assertive manner that is characteristic of many gifted children. They just quietly get good grades and do well on tests. Often language difficulties or cultural influences play a part. Teachers sometimes fail to notice the ability level.
I was one of those quiet children. I was not identified as gifted until the 9th grade, and then only because the school adminstration was trying to prove that I had cheated on a test. You may find my story interesting. It explains my sympathy for children who have to undergo a giftedness evaluation without preparation and under daunting conditions.
Advantages and disadvantages of gifted status
What is the main advantage of pursuing gifted status?
For most of us parents, seeking gifted status for our children is not about proving how smart they are. It's about securing the best possible education. Compared to paying $30,000 a year per child for a top private school, or buying an overpriced house in an area with highly rated public schools, obtaining gifted status may be the easiest route to a quality education.
Doesn't being gifted mean getting stuck in a class with a bunch of nerds?
This is a frequent worry, particularly among the kids. But being identified as gifted does not limit options. Instead, it opens doors. You don't have to send your children to a gifted magnet. You can still choose the school that suits them best.
If you choose to attend a specialized program for the gifted, some districts offer a variety of choices. In addition to gifted and highly gifted magnets, LAUSD offers Schools for Advanced Studies and Individualized Honor Programs. Being gifted makes it easier to gain access to quality programs outside your normal attendance area.
Even if you decide to attend your local school, being gifted means that your child will get enriched instruction and more attention. It's called "differentiated curriculum" or "differentiated instruction" and schools must offer it to gifted students. Teachers are required to have special training to handle a differentiated curriculum, and the ones with this training are often the best.
In addition, identification as gifted activates a well-known and potent factor, the Pygmalion effect. Gifted children do better because their teachers expect them to do better. There is a reverse Pygmalion effect as well. If smart children are not identified as gifted, they lose the benefit of the higher expectations. It becomes easier to get lost in the crowd and lose confidence - "I must not be as smart as I thought".
Can't I hurt my child by pushing him into competition with smart kids?
Of course. This is a favorite topic of websites for the parents of gifted children. "Competition with smart kids" is a common fear of both parents and students. Our son got right to the heart of the matter in fourth grade: "Dad, it'll be easier for me to get A's if I'm in with dumb kids instead of smart ones."
If you are a parent, you are here because you know that your child has above-average intellectual abilities. You are in the best position to evaluate whether your child has the tools for academic success. These tools encompass a wide range of abilities and personality traits -- learning ability, memory, social intelligence, confidence, energy, persistence, competitiveness -- only a small sliver of which are measured in IQ tests.
If your child has the willingness and ability to compete, you can also hurt him by holding him back. In general, but even more so in times of limited resources, public schools spend their college-preparation energies on the students most likely to benefit from them.
The key to receiving an education that does an excellent job of preparing your child for college is to get on the college-prep track as early as possible. Qualifying for gifted status is one of the best ways to do this. The track will be harder to run, but your child will learn more as he overcomes the obstacles.
Obtaining gifted status opens additional opportunities, which you can evaluate and employ based on your knowledge of your child. For example, our son developed ability early and confidence late. When he brought home his first grade report card with straight A's, he said: "Don't expect this every time. By 5th grade I'll be getting F's." I said, "How do you figure that?" He said, "Well, 2nd grade is harder than 1st grade, so I'll get B's, and 3rd grade is harder than 2nd grade, so I'll get C's...." Even then he was sequencing.
He is in tenth grade now and still has his 4.0 GPA. But he had to see for himself that he could succeed in different settings. In elementary school, he didn't want to attend a gifted magnet, much less a highly gifted one. So he attended a strong non-gifted elementary with a good differentiated instruction program. By middle school, he had gained the confidence to try an all-gifted program and did well. He started eighth grade at a really tough school that will take him through 12th grade.
By contrast, our daughter is a fearless, bring-it-on type. She is in sixth grade at the same really tough school our son attends. She gets A's and B's, and sometime she struggles. In an easier school, she would be a straight-A student, but in the long run she will be better off for having risen to the challenge.