My Child Needs a Cognitive Test


Many parents may have questions about cognitive tests, whether for admissions into a private school or to determine eligibility for special education services. Below are answers to common questions that parents may ask.  


What Does The Test Measure?

Cognitive Tests, also known as Intelligence Tests, typically measures the way an individual learns. The test examines concepts such as memory, reasoning skills, processing speed, comprehension, and visual spatial skills among other cognitions. Cognitive tests typically provide information on an individual’s Crystalized (ability to use facts and skills acquired through learning and life experience) and Fluid knowledge (innate ability to reason and problem solve unique situations).  Intelligence tests are good predictors of future learning and academic success. The tests are developed, administered, and scored in a standard manner. In other words, there is a standard set of guidelines that each clinician must follow when administering and scoring the test. Moreover, the tests are based on a national Normative Sample (test-takers who are representative of the population for whom the test is intended) that yield standard scores that are comparable to other individuals around the nation that are the same age as your child. 


What Should I Tell My Child About The Test? 

Parents should explain cognitive testing to their child as an activity or task that will provide information about their strengthens and weaknesses. Parents can describe some of the activities their child will complete by saying “Today you will complete puzzles, work with blocks, and answer questions so your school can understand how you learn”. Parents, particularly of younger children, should avoid using the terms “games” or “test” as it may create unrealistic expectations and/or anxiety. Parents should instead emphasize their child’s effort and offer encouragement. For example, parents can say: “There are no right or wrong answers, just try your best and you’ll do great!” 


How Do I Prepare My Child? 

There is no cheat code or list of guidelines that will help prepare your child for the cognitive test. Like most exams, make sure your child receives plenty of sleep the night before and a hearty breakfast the morning of the test. Also, make sure your child comes equipped with any aids that will help them perform at their full potential such as eyeglasses or hearing aids. A snack maybe permitted for younger children if needed. The testing usually takes approximately 60 minutes, but can take more or less time, depending on the individual’s age, ability, and type of test administered. 


What Is The Experience Like For My Child? 

The experience may vary depending on the type of test administered and age of the child; however, there are common steps that are taken when administering cognitive tests. First, the child is escorted to the testing room by the psychologist. The child typically goes alone but if the child has difficulty separating from the parent, the parent may accompany the child to the room. Rapport is established through conversation such as talking about the child’s favorite game, friends, school, family life, hobbies, etc. Rapport may also be established by playing a brief game or engaging in free play. Once the child is comfortable, the parent will leave to wait until the testing is complete.  Next, the testing begins. The psychologist engages the child in multiple activities including puzzles, pictures, manipulatives, audio prompts, and questions. Appointments are typically scheduled for a least two hours to prepare for any unexpected events that may prolong testing. Psychologists may use stickers, task trackers, prizes, movement breaks, and other incentives to maintain a child’s motivation and persistence throughout testing.   


What Do The Scores Mean and How Do Schools Use Them? 

 Similar to what we tell children, the scores provide a snapshot of one’s cognitive development by measuring individual strengthens and weaknesses. For instance, the results may reveal that a child’s verbal reasoning abilities are better developed than their nonverbal reasoning abilities. The test will give an overall measure of intelligence known as the General Intelligence Assessment (GIA) or Full-Scale IQ (FSIQ). The school can use the overall and/or individual scores on each domain (e.g. memory, reasoning, etc.) for educational planning, class placement, as well as eligibility for special education services. Knowing a child’s cognitive profile can allow educators to implement specific strategies for learning, accommodations to compensate for limitations, and/or interventions to improve academic areas that maybe impacted by cognitive processes. Take the above example regarding verbal and non-verbal reasoning abilities, this child may depend on listening and speaking as a way of learning but have difficulty with retaining information that is not accompanied by audio such as interpreting math diagrams. Results for cognitive testing can help educators become proactive in guiding students through the academic curriculum.  


Where Can I get My Child Tested?  

In most cases, public schools will provide cognitive testing if they have reason to believe a student is not able to access the curriculum with typical support. In other cases, parents can contact clinics within the local area such as Behavioral and Educational Solutions, that provide mental health and behavioral services to children and family across the DC Maryland and Virginia Metropolitain area. 


What Else Should I Know?  

Cognitive exams do not show a complete picture, as they are only a snapshot of an individual’s cognitive functioning. A child’s scores can be influenced by motivation, attention, interests, and opportunities for learning. All scores may be slightly higher or lower if the child were tested again on a different day. Although intellectual abilities are mostly stable overtime, they can possibly change over the course of childhood. These fluctuations are captured within Confidence Intervals or a range of values where the true score lies within. Therefore, important to view these test scores as a snapshot of current level of intellectual functioning. Most psychologist use cognitive tests in combination with other tools such as classroom/clinical observations, parent reports, and other tests (e.g. achievement, memory, attention) to form a comprehensive interpretation. When these scores are used as part of a comprehensive evaluation, they contribute to an understanding of current strengths and any needs that can be addressed. 


By: Teneisha McIntyre, PhD 

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