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

by Jennifer Cutler, studioD

The Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) measures a child's ability to apply learned reasoning abilities to verbal, quantitative and nonverbal tasks in order to predict future academic success and to identify areas where the student could use extra learning support, according to Heather Pillman, an assessment consultant for Riverside Publishing, the publisher of the test. Understanding these test scores can provide valuable information into learning styles and it can help teachers and parents better meet the needs of students, including identifying those who may require academic support and those who may be gifted or talented.

Abilities Measured

The CogAT measures students' abilities in several different categories. The verbal section explores how well the child can remember, comprehend and evaluate sequences of words and phrases. Quantitative concepts and relationships are covered in the quantitative section, and the non-verbal section tests understanding using shapes and pictures. A composite score gives a total of all three sections.

Stanine Score

There are nine levels of scores, or stanines. These are used to broadly describe student levels. Students' abilities are comparable to those in the same stanine. A stanine includes a range of percentile rankings, so this number is not an exact score. A higher number equates to a higher level of cognitive development, explains a parent's guide to the test put out by the Hillsborough Township Public Schools in New Jersey.


The percentile shows a student's rank compared to others in the same grade rather than the percentage of correct answers. The score shows how many students the student scored higher than. A percentile of 85 percent would mean that the student scored higher than 85 percent of his peers who took the test. This percentile is not compared to others in the same class or school, but to students across the nation in the same age and grade level that took the test.


The profile section shows the student's abilities in the different sections comparatively. It shows whether the student scored about the same in each section, with deviations or with extremes between sections. This can provide valuable academic information concerning learning styles. It highlights students' strengths and weaknesses in reasoning, which can give insight into their academic achievement. For example, according to Riverside Publishing, which publishes the test, an "A" profile means that each score "band" overlaps, indicating that the student has similar scores across each test section. A "C" profile would indicate that two scores contrast, which would highlight what the student's strengths and weaknesses are. The score often includes letters in parentheses after the profile letter. These indicate the areas in which the student is relatively strong and relatively weak, indicated by a letter and a plus or minus sign. So, if a child is stronger in verbal skills and relatively weaker in nonverbal reasoning skills, the test score may include the following, after the profile letter: (V+N-)

About the Author

Jennifer Cutler is a licensed educator in Virginia and has experience in both private and public schools. She has a Masters degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with concentrations in early childhood, teaching English as a second language and anthropology.

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