How to Understand Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) Scores in Elementary Schools

By Lori Garrett-Hatfield; Updated April 25, 2017
The CogAT is used to determine placement in gifted programs.

The Cognitive Abilities Test, or CogAT, is used in elementary schools to measure students' verbal and reasoning skills. Many students across the nation take the CogAT each year, and because the test is nationally normed, students are compared with national percentile levels. Parents need to learn about the CogAT to understand how it is being used in their child's school.

The CogAT

The CogAT is a test that measures reasoning and problem-solving ability related to a child's verbal and nonverbal intelligence. According to the creators of the test, Riverside Publishing, the CogAT can also be used to predict a student's success in school, although the company cautions against using the CogAT as the only predictor of a student's potential for academic success. The CogAT includes three sections -- a verbal battery, a nonverbal battery and a quantitative battery. Each battery in the CogAT takes between 45 and 60 minutes. In some cases, the CogAT is used to determine strengths and weaknesses; in others, the CogAT is used to determine a child's placement in gifted and talented programs.

The Verbal Battery

According to Riverside's CogAT website, the verbal battery measures verbal reasoning and word memory. There are three types of tests on the verbal battery. First, a student is tested on the ability to use age-appropriate and above age-appropriate words to complete a series of sentences. In verbal classification, the student must use vocabulary to describe and classify pictures. Students also have to solve verbal analogies in which three words are given in the context of a sentence and then determine the fourth word that fits the sentence. In the lower elementary school version, the verbal classification and verbal analogies are shown with pictures rather than words. The score on the verbal battery test is given as a percentile rank, as well as a standard age score, which is shown as a number from 72-150 and is based on the child's performance relative to his or her chronological age, not grade level.

The Quantitative Battery

On the CogAT quantitative battery, students use quantitative reasoning skills to solve complex problems. According to Riverside, this battery also includes quantitative concepts, quantitative relations, equation building and relational concepts. In order to do well on this section of the CogAT, students must show an open mind and an ability to be flexible. The problems on the CogAT depend upon age, but all students will use both numbers and figures to solve and order problems and to explain concepts, mostly mathematical concepts. According to Riverside, this type of reasoning ability is related to problem-solving skills in mathematics but may be used in other disciplines as well. As on the verbal battery, scores on the quantitative battery are given as an standard age score, a stanine score (a method of scaling scores from 1 to 9), and a percentile rank.

The Nonverbal Battery

The nonverbal battery is, according to Riverside, the most challenging of the three batteries. This section contains illustrations and geometric shapes used to measure classification, analysis and matrices. To be successful on the first section of the nonverbal CogAT, students must choose shapes that match each other. The students will also fold paper and predict how the paper will look after it's folded. The average test score on the CogAT nonverbal battery, like all the other batteries, is set at the 50th percentile rank. This corresponds to the 5th stanine as well.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.