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Aptitude, Cognitive Ability, and IQ Tests

Aptitude, Cognitive Ability, and IQ Tests
Aptitude tests are very different from achievement tests. Aptitude tests are used to determine the student's ability to learn a particular skill. There are many types of aptitude tests, meant to measure everything from intelligence quotient (IQ), to ability to learn in school, to likelihood of success in a given occupation.

As with any test, be careful not to put too much weight on their interpretation. They are useful as general guides, but they hardly ever offer a complete picture of abilities. For instance, an aptitude test may be able to indicate if a student is under-achieving (high aptitude scores, low achievement scores). However, a low aptitude score may simply indicate the child had a bad day. We recommend using those tests that are normed with an achievement test for the best correlating information.

Laurie focused on music in high school and intended to pursue a degree in teaching music until a test in high school revealed she had especially high mechanical aptitude. At the prompting of her guidance counselor, she applied to MIT and other technical institutions for their program in mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, though she had high mechanical aptitude, she hated the ME program and ended up switching to a biology major at another school. In retrospect, she wishes she had stuck with the music program, since that represented her real interest.

The Otis Lennon School Ability Tests (OLSAT) specifically measure skills that students need to succeed in school; it is meant to give a measure for determining if students are working up to their potential in school. The OLSAT seeks to provide an understanding of students' strengths and weaknesses in performing reasoning tasks. OLSAT assesses reasoning ability: verbal comprehension, verbal reasoning, pictorial reasoning, figural reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. This test is published by the Psychological Corporation and can be given in conjunction with the SAT achievement tests (see SAT for suppliers at www.collegeboard.com).

The Cognitive Abilities Test (COGAT) assesses reasoning and problem-solving skills and is normed and given in conjunction with IOWA tests. Results include scores for verbal, quantitative and nonverbal reasoning abilities, as well as a composite score. Scores reveal an individual's ability to discover relationships and show flexibility in thinking. Available for grades K-12 from suppliers of IOWA tests.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) exams were all the rage in the 1950's and 60's, but have currently lost favor with many educators. It is unlikely that your home-school student has ever had an IQ test. Actually, there are self-scoring (parent-scored) IQ tests available quite inexpensively from most bookstores (especially easy to find online). If you are interested in your child's IQ, you can obtain and give these tests yourself. Just beware that IQ is by no means a final analysis of intelligence. IQ tests do not measure creativity or divergent thinking skills (finding unusual means for solving problems). They may also be very inconsistent, producing a wide variance of scores depending on when the test is given. IQ is also not necessarily a limitation of ability. It is possible to enhance the thinking skills tested by practice and exposure to new ideas. A low IQ score may indicate a learning disability and the need for special learning aids, but again, IQ scores alone should not be considered conclusive. Testing the IQ of your child may be harmful if it produces a label (even in your mind) that is limiting to the child. Remember, some of the most advanced thinkers and creative individuals in history (including Beethoven, Einstein, Edison). were categorized by teachers as stupid, incapable of learning or producing anything of value to society. Always be careful not to limit your child by any type of labeling.

Aptitude tests are given by employers to determine specific skills of applicants. The ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Abilities Battery) is an aptitude test used by the U.S. military to assess the technical and vocational aptitudes of those who apply for military service. The fact that this battery is used by the military does not mean it is not used by non-military groups. On the contrary, a number of companies and schools use this test as well. The ASVAB consists of a battery of 10 tests that measure knowledge and skill in the following areas:
  • general science
  • arithmetic reasoning
  • word knowledge
  • paragraph comprehension
  • numerical operations
  • coding speed
  • auto and shop information
  • mathematics knowledge
  • mechanical comprehension
  • electronics information

You can find some sample tests for the ASVAB and other aptitude tests online by doing an Internet search.

Once again, we urge you to keep testing in its proper perspective. We are very concerned about the overemphasis on testing as the end-all measurement of student performance. It is just one tool that assesses a student's capabilities. We fear that it is being given too much weight in determining whether our children are being prepared for life and future usefulness. All parents must make up their own minds about whether testing should be made the ultimate measuring tool. With the federal government's current emphasis on increasing academic testing as the means of measuring student performance, it might be a good time to tell your congressman and senator what you think about national testing as the means to determine whether a student is succeeding or not. Let your voice be heard.

How can you create a good learning environment for your students? Author Debra Bell offers tips.