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Gap between Verbal and Nonverbal IQ Scores

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is 6 and a half years old and is in 1st grade in the U.S. We just received his IQ group test scores:

Verbal: 109, Quantative: 129, and NonVerbal: 150.

It was a group test and we don't know the exact testing method. A letter from school implies that he might have maxed out highest possible NonVerbal score.

I have a couple of questions:

  1. There is a 41-point gap between nonVerbal (150) and verbal (109) scores. The gap is big. Some say that a gap like this can indicate learning disabilities. Also, he should be tested individually with caution in case of learning disabilities. What's your thoughts on this?

  2. My son's reading level is one year above his grade level (currently at DRA 20-24). But his verbal score is average. How should we explain this?

Thank you and I am looking forward to your reply.

A: For the first question, yes the gap is huge between verbal and nonverbal scores. If it is the WISC-IV, such a gap would allow for a General Ability Index (GAI) which is derived from the core Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning subtests. The GAI provides an estimate of general intellectual ability, with reduced emphasis on working memory and processing speed relative to the Full Scale IQ (FSIQ). It taps on working memory and processing speed, but to a lesser degree than FSIQ. This allows for some degree of fairness for those with some learning difficulties.

To determine if it is indeed a learning disability, the breakdown of the scores need to be seen. You need to speak to the tester to find out. I would think that there is a concern here especially with such a huge gap. It can indicate some kind of language-based disorder. It also could mean your son is a strong visual/spatial learner. As it is a group test, it is harder to tell compared to individual tests - which are also more detailed and specific. I would think that he should be tested individually after consulting with the school on the rather large discrepancy. If there were a learning concern, it would help him get the necessary intervention and learn better, which is only fair.

Verbal intelligence includes the ability to listen to, analyze, remember, and understand information that is communicated either verbally or in written form. It includes skills such as reasoning and the grasp of both abstract and concrete ideas as they relate to language. This also includes their overall understanding of concepts, comparisons, and other similar characteristics of language. In your son's case, he appears to have average verbal intelligence (scores may be lower for a non native English speaker as most of these tests are in English). For both your questions, it does point to a possible concern with learning that may be causing a lower score in comparison with the non-verbal score.

The best thing to do is to speak to someone in the school who could suggest further testing which I believe is required to determine the cause of such a gap in the scores. The earlier there is intervention, the easier learning would be for him. Wishing you all the best..


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