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Verbal and Nonverbal Gap on the OLSAT

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: We just received the OLSAT scores for my 7yo son and I am trying to understand why his verbal & nonverbal are have such a large discrepancy. The other interesting thing is the similarity AND difference from previous year's scores. For the record; we have never done anything to 'prep' him for these tests. The school just automatically tests all kids.

His scores are 136 NV & 113 V(with 123 overall). Last year's was same for verbal (113) but nonveral was 122.

Is it a matter of a learning disability? Would love to know what it COULD be an indication of and what my next step should be. I'm afraid his teachers have been of zero help over the years. Sadly, his interest in school has really dropped in the past 12 months. His reading NWEA went up slightly to 97th percentile but math has dropped from 96th percentile to 87th percentile.

A: The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) is a multiple-choice test commonly used to identify gifted children. Schools often use the OLSAT as a tool for admission into schools and programmes for gifted and talented children or to measure scholastic achievement across all ages. Generally, this is a test that measures an individual's ability to reason logically and think abstractly. More specifically, it tests a variety of skills and abilities in students aged 4-18, including verbal and quantitative skills and spatial reasoning ability.

The OLSAT is not an “IQ” test but an achievement test, or better described as an ‘aptitude' test, since the test focuses on measuring how students perform tasks specifically related to potential for success and achievement in school. Perhaps due to this, his nonverbal scores are higher (better reasoning ability). The test is also used to help identify strengths and weaknesses of students, which in turn can help inform decisions about which student might benefit from placement in advanced or remedial classes. In this case, the school should pay attention to the differences in his verbal and nonverbal skills.

Children with high non-verbal scores can often be expected to do well with logic, models, creative thinking, constructions or building, technology, or other non-language based activities. Because the problem solving skills on the non-verbal subtest have little direct correlation to most reading, writing, and math instruction, students with high non-verbal scores who have strong aptitudes in this area may not be easily recognized in the classroom, which could be the case with your son. Children with lower verbal scores may struggle with reading, writing, and other language-based activities. They may need supplemental instruction in vocabulary as well as in basic literacy skills.

In general, wide discrepancies between the subtest scores may be caused by various conditions for instance lack of English language skills, lack of certain numeracy skills, simple fatigue or hunger on test day, possible learning disabilities, lack of understanding of how to solve analogies, or even just errors in marking the test documents. Having said that, in many cases these discrepancies may also help to identify a student with very strong abilities who is just not performing well with traditional instruction. Since this test is not diagnostic, it is not possible to tell for sure if he has any learning disability but a red flag is up for further attention. Nevertheless, it could point to some sort of language-based disorder. The large gap should be looked into perhaps with further evaluation.

Speak to the school regarding a possible learning concern. At the same time, his nonverbal scores are very high and this needs attention as well to strengthen this area. Focus should be on both his verbal and nonverbal skills. On why he dislikes school and is experiencing score drop, would be something you may need to find out from his school and perhaps the school counsellor may be able to help. Best wishes!


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