Our friend Karen Quinn, co-founder of www.TestingMom.com , sent us this invaluable intel for AbacusMom readers.


Recently, 27 independent schools in New York City announced that they would be giving the Thinking & Engagement Test to assess students for admissions to kindergarten for the 2020-2021 school year.   Schools participating in this exam are Allen-Stevenson, Berkeley Carroll, Birch Wathen, Brearley, Browing, Buckley, Calhoun, Cathedral School, Chapin, Columbia Grammar, Dalton, IDEAL School, Little Red, Marymount, Nightingale-Bamford, Packer Collegiate, Rodeph Sholom, Sacred Heart, St. Ann’s, Spence, St. Luke’s, St. Bernard’s, St. Hilda’s & St. Hughes, Trevor Day, and Trinity.

This assessment is a “stop-gap” solution to relieve pressure on families and provide information to schools at a time when schools are unable to meet and observe your child in person.  It will be give once (between 9.8 – 12.18.20) and results will not be shared with parents.  After you apply to a school that requires this test, you’ll receive a link to apply to take it.  The fee is $250 (financial aid is available).

This non-normed, non-standardized test will be given over Zoom.  Your child will need to wear headphones.  An adult must be in the room wearing headphones or earbuds, and the adult must sign a form promising not to share content they may see.  The test assesses for receptive and expressive language, verbal and nonverbal reasoning, problem solving, developmental areas for schools (most likely early math, pre-reading and ELA), and Engagement skills (most likely attention to instructions, on-task behavior, self-monitoring, use of strategy, persistence, enthusiasm/energy, positive or negative affect).

While this hasn’t been explicitly announced, the implication is that the Thinking and Engagement Assessment will take the place of in-person group visits and school observations of students.  If schools you are applying to are not on this list, they are likely going to come up with their own virtual assessment and process to get to know your family and your child.  In the past, almost every independent school has given their own “kindergarten readiness” evaluation during school visits to determine whether the child was a good fit for their program.  We would suggest that you contact each private school you apply to in order to learn what their admissions process will be, and what type of assessment they may give if they are not using the T&E.

While we don’t yet know exactly how this test will be structured, we do know a lot about how early childhood experts assess a child’s abilities in each of these different areas.  Here is a sample of different types of questions used to gauge these skills in early childhood testing.

T&E Verbal Reasoning Assessment

What is Verbal Reasoning – Verbal Reasoning is thinking and reasoning around representational pictures, language and words.  Here is one type of question you can expect on the T&E test that gets at a child’s verbal reasoning ability to conceptualize – that is, identify and group things together with like attributes.

Say:  Look at the pictures on top.  They belong together because they are alike in some way.  Which picture on the bottom is alike in the same way and belongs with the pictures on top?  (Answer:  cherries – also a fruit).

Picture of:  Apple    Orange    Grapes


Cheese   Bread   Milk    Cherries    Peas

T&E Nonverbal Reasoning Assessment

What is Nonverbal Reasoning – Nonverbal Reasoning is also known as Visual-Spatial or Spatial Reasoning.  It is the opposite of reasoning with words.  It is your child’s ability to reason and solve problems using pictures, shapes, figures, images, diagrams, charts, maps, and tables.

(Analogy Questions in a 4-box matrix) 

Say:  Look at the shapes on top.  They go together in a certain way.  Now look at the shapes on the bottom.  Can you find a shapes on the side that goes in the empty box so that the shapes on the bottom go together in the same way as the shapes on top?

Large triangle is to small triangle as large circle is to small circle.

T&E Receptive Language Assessment

What is Receptive Language – Receptive language is your child’s ability to tune in and understand the language she hears (and later reads) all day.  Here is one example of a question that assesses receptive language.

Say:  Point to the picture that shows “galoshes.”

Picture of:   Lightening    Raincoat   Shoes    Umbrella    Galoshes

What is Expressive Language – Expressive language is your child’s ability to use words orally (and later in writing) to express ideas and feelings in a clear, organized manner.

One method early educators use to evaluate a child’s skills in this area is to ask the child to define a word.  The more extensive the definition given, the more points the child earns!

Say:  What is a couch?

1 point: Furniture.

2 points:  Furniture that a few people can sit on.  It’s soft and comfortable.

T&E Developmental Early Academic Skills Assessment (Reading and Literacy)

 Questions in this category would be asked to give schools an idea of where your child is with their academic development, and whether or not there is a fit between your child and the difficulty level of their program.  Schools do not expect your child to be able to read before starting school.  If they can read or add numbers (for example), that’s great.  However, if they cannot, the school knows that your child will master these skills later.  Here are two examples of the kinds of questions that may be asked.

Say:  Listen to the word I am going to say:  DISH.  If you change the beginning sound of DISH to the sound “F” – as in f/f/f – which of these would be a picture of the new word? (Answer: fish).

Picture of:    Fish     Snake     Bird     Dolphin

Say:  Which shape is not divided in half?

Picture of 4 shapes.  Three are divided in half and one is divided into thirds.

Engagement Assessment

Engagement refers to observable actions that indicate active participation and focused involvement in a learning activity.  Research has shown that the following qualities comprise “engagement” and altogether create a picture that can inform educators how a child responds while taking part in new learning:

  • Attention to Instruction – How well child listens to examiner’s instructions
  • On-task Behavior – How well child stays with the task at hand
  • Persistence – How hard a child works on a task even when it is challenging
  • Monitoring and Strategy – Whether or not the child approaches and works through the challenge deliberately using active trial-and-error-exploration to find the solution
  • Enthusiasm and Energy – How eagerly the child takes on the challenge
  • Positive or Negative Affect – Does the child’s behavior indicate pleasure/excitement or indifference/frustration about taking on the learning challenge?

Level of Engagement can be assessed through observation of a child during a testing session.  The examiner would complete a checklist of behaviors that indicate the level of engagement the child demonstrated while being assessed.

For practice, on the www.TestingMom.com website, we give you 5 challenging, novel tasks to teach your child that require them to use their thinking and problem-solving skills.  You are given a 5-point scale on which to measure your child’s level of engagement against the various observable actions that indicate their level of involvement.   This will give you a sense of how engaged your child is in learning novel tasks.

To prepare for this test, we would suggest that you do the following:

  • Work with a variety of practice questions that build abilities and assess for each of these skills. At Testingmom.com, we have put up a variety of over 1,500 practice questions that you can do with your child to practice.  When you work with your child, keep it fun and playful!
  • If you can, have your child work with a tutor who has experience administering assessments and teaching young children over zoom. At Testingmom.com we offer tutoring with teachers who have been preparing 4- and 5-year-olds for the NYC tests for years.  Since March, they have been teaching children over Zoom and are now trained to assess students for the T&E.  They are able to effectively work with very young children to build the skills needed for this and any NYC assessment.  It is important to be sure that your child is able to participate, engage and answer questions from a teacher effectively over Zoom before your child is assessed with the T&E.

Karen Quinn is the co-founder of www.TestingMom.com.  If you are interested in tutoring or doing a practice Thinking & Engagement Assessment over Zoom, contact them at 813-544-3833 or Tutoring@testingmom.com.