• Bright Kids

How to Succeed on the OLSAT - Tackling the Format

Updated: Nov 13

It’s been a couple of months of informal practice, and your child has settled into their household sous chef role, mastered Simon Says, and plays daily clean up games. What’s the next step to help your child tackle the formal Following Directions and Aural Reasoning questions on the OLSAT section of the New York City Gifted and Talented exam? Glad you asked! Now, we’re going to dive into how the questions are formatted and presented to your child on the actual day.


Each of the thirty OLSAT questions is structured with a verbal prompt and four picture-based answer choices; there are four questions per page. Occasionally, there is an additional fifth picture, shown at the beginning of the row. This initial picture acts as a reference for the prompt--your child may need to determine what the new picture will look like if the original shapes switch places, or it is used as part of an Arithmetic Reasoning question (more information about Arithmetic Reasoning is coming in future blog posts!).


But what do you do when your child is finally faced with all of these pictures on one page? Let’s break the learning process down into a couple of different steps to make the transition easier for everyone involved.


Use a piece of paper to cover up the other questions’ answers.

When your child is first working through formal practice questions, eliminate some of the potential distraction and challenge by covering up the other questions. What child wouldn’t rather focus on pictures of a dog or a toy than on the vegetables for the actual question? Using some extra paper to cover up those distractors will help your child more easily practice the expectations of focusing and processing the details from the prompts. Over time, you can start to remove the extra papers, but don’t underestimate their usefulness at the beginning of the learning process!


#3: Monica wants to go outside to play in the snow. Point to the picture of what Monica should wear to keep her hands warm.


Repeat the questions detail by detail. For now.

Now that you and your child have spent all that time listening to, retaining, and processing aural details, they should be able to answer every question perfectly the first time around, right? Not quite. The informal practice you did together was necessary so that your child wouldn’t be as overwhelmed with now seeing questions, details, and answer choices all at once. Don’t be discouraged if you need to repeat questions once your child is also looking at answer choices, especially if there is more than one detail to process in order to find the correct answer. In this case, read the question detail by detail, and have your child repeat back what you just said each time. And then have them repeat back to you as many details as possible after you finish reading the question. Building this habit of verbal repetition will help terms and details stick a bit more easily for your child, especially if they are learning some new words and meanings. Don’t you retain information a bit more easily when you repeat something aloud to yourself? The same logic stands with children!


Point to the picture that shows an arrow pointing at a 3 and towards a 5.


Utilize the process of elimination with answer choices.

After your child repeats the question’s details back to you, go through the answer choices together and have your child say if they match the details or not. If your child says that the details don’t match, practice covering up those answer choices with a hand or finger so that they don’t go back to that choice again, especially if you’re trying to match another detail in a second pass.


Here, you see some letters in a box at the beginning of the row. Point to the picture where the letters A and F switch places and everything else stays the same.


Explain why the incorrect answer choices are incorrect.

How many times have you asked your child why an answer is correct, and they say, “Because it is,” or some version of that phrase, as an explanation. The vague responses stop here! Each time you and your child look at an answer choice, be precise about what does not match the details that should be in the correct answer. If you’re looking for a circle on top of a square, and an answer choice presents a square on top of a circle, make sure you and your child describe that incorrect answer choice as exactly that. Use exact position/direct terms, sizes, names, etc each and every time to build fluency so that these terms will become second nature to your child.


We hope you are able to utilize these tips for how to approach formal OLSAT Following Directions and Aural Reasoning practice questions with your child! Even though you and your child have now transitioned to actual questions, you should continue to incorporate informal practice in your day to day lives by reading new stories, providing exact descriptions about what you see around you, and following multi-step instructions for tasks. In following these tips, not only will your child be ready for the New York City Gifted & Talented exam, but they will be a step ahead of their peers when they enter school!


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