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Testing for Cognitive Ability

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son that will be 5 in October was given a cognitive ability test and did not qualified for a gifted program. Now, my question is that he has a lot of the characteristics of a gifted child. For example:

  • Identified letters by 18-20 months.

  • Could count to ten before 2.

  • Knew basic shapes plus trapezoid before 2.

  • Looked at a box with 5 pictures and he knew it was 5. 

  • Could finish 25 piece puzzles by 21 months. 

  • Walked at early age. 

  • Has good sense of direction by 2 years old. 

  • Good at memory games by 2 years old. 

  • Learned to write letters on his own by 3 years old.

  • Learned to write his name by 3 years old. 

  • Has been playing chess since 3.5 years old.

  • Can count pass 100 and in 100's to 1000 writes big numbers 100, 1000, 5000.

  • Can add and subtract simple digits.

  • Learned to play poker. 

  • Is trying to learn to read.

  • Knows his sounds.

  • Has a good memory for numbers, loves numbers. 

  • Bilingual.

These are just a few characteristics that we have noticed. I don't sit down to teach him, I just provide him with an environment with this stuff. My question is how accurate is this test and should I have waited? He scored 69th percentile in verbal, 50th in quantitative and 36th in non-verbal. To us we just tested out of curiosity, but now I regret doing so. Thanks.

A: The Cognitive Abilities Test is an assessment of a range of reasoning skills. The test looks at reasoning with three types of symbols that is verbal (words, numbers and shapes or figures) quantitative and non-verbal reasoning.

The verbal reasoning assesses reasoning processes using the medium of words (e.g., opposites, relationships, deduction, and categorization). It is not an assessment of reasoning with words, nor wider language skills such as speaking, listening or writing.

The quantitative tests use numbers as the symbols process is the same as for verbal reasoning). The non-verbal tests looks at reasoning processes but use shapes and figures.

From your description, it appears that your son is rather bright; hence I understand your dissatisfaction with the test results. However, depending on the test results alone is not advisable to label a child, especially when expectations are not met and parental disappointment is apparent to the child. Scores can be influenced by extrinsic factors such as tiredness, distraction, lack of motivation, incorrect administration, etc.

Test scores are only a small part of the picture. To be fair on the child, one needs to know the child well in order to interpret the results in an appropriate context. Test scores should feed into a broader assessment, bringing to bear knowledge of the child's achievements in other areas, their personal background and attitudes, motivation and behavior. If your child is pre-school, you may want to speak to his teachers to look into factors that lead to the unsatisfactory scores. With your feedback, teachers may be in a better position to interpret the scores. It is also suggested that you see the administrators of the test to clarify further the scores.

Whatever the results, you should always believe in your child's abilities regardless of any test scores and try your best to focus on his strengths and improve on his weak areas.


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