Why CogAt is the ideal magnet admissions test


Photo Courtesy of Bluestocking

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Athira Nair, Opinions Writer

The magnet test. A Montgomery County wide test that causes both parents and students to sweat. Similar to an aptitude test, the high school magnet test is a three-hour test with about 120 multiple choice questions and one essay.

According to Poolesville High School’s Q&A page, the magnet program has been around for well over a decade, However, the high school magnet test has experienced some drastic and very sudden modifications. The change was announced October 8, 2018 with the test scheduled for December 1, 2018 and result being released this February. This left students with two months to prepare.

The test’s formatting was completely rewired. In the last few years, the test was a 120 question two hour section split into math and reading and an on-site essay with no time restrictions. Now, the entire test is Cognitive Abilities (CogAt) based with three 30 minute long sections and 30-minute essay according to Poolesville HS. CogAt questions use reasoning and analytical thinking rather than math and grammar questions.

It was inconsiderate of MCPS to implement changes so abruptly and an easier transition could have occurred if the changes were announced to the current seventh graders in late spring or early summer of 2019. Even so, providing the chance for current eighth graders to take the new format is actually very beneficial to all.

Eighth grader Saaya Nair from Hallie Wells Middle School took the test last December. She said, “The format changes will increase my chance of getting into the magnet program. The new test format provides equal opportunity for everybody and encourages out of the box thinking.” The test no longer measures a student’s intellect purely through what level math they may be in or if their reading comprehension skills are on par with others. Even though basic math or writing is no longer included, elements of both are still integrated into the test.

Many of the new test questions use abstract thinking that still requires some knowledge of arithmetic and language. They challenge students in a different way than your average math class. Nair said, “The new format focuses on one’s ability to solve problems and reasoning skills.” This kind of thinking provides equal opportunity for success amongst all students. Previously, many students had access to prep courses that others may not be able to afford, creating an achievement gap.

This is a major problem and also why MCPS is trying so hard to diversify schools. Lower income families cannot afford the luxuries of tutors, and when the schools in their area aren’t exactly ideal, it leaves them with very few options to choose from.  

Magnet coordinator Joseph Jelen said, “CogAt does a better job of making it difficult to study for…the result is always the same, which is trying to identify students whose local programs may not be sufficient.” The CogAt test does this better than the old magnet test because it is not material that is taught in schools. It tests a student’s natural intellect regardless of their schooling, which also helps diversify magnet program schools, something MCPS had been trying to do for years.

The CogAt test meets the key points Montgomery County wants to achieve with its magnet programs: diversification, equal opportunity, and identification of future scholars, making it the ideal aptitude exam to test a student’s intelligence and cognitive ability.