In this competitive area, concerned parents are always looking for ways to give their children an advantage or a way to stand out among their peers. Many parents see gifted education as an important way to accomplish this. When schools provide the Cogat and NNAT they become highly invested in having their children perform well. This has spawned an entire industry of tutors, workbooks and websites that claim to prepare your child for the evaluation by practicing questions similar to the tests and even administering old versions of the test. This can be helpful as it provides strategies and reduces a child’s anxiety about a new format. However, are you really CHANGING your child’s intelligence?
The answer is complex. Every experience we have can be integrated into a more thorough understanding of the world, contributing to crystallized or factual intelligence. In addition, practicing certain problem-solving skills can strengthen reasoning, and certain working memory tasks can improve efficiency in that area. However, there are limits on how much progress is gained even with intense practice. Most psychologists agree that people are born with an innate span of intelligence. How high into that span your score falls relies on an interplay between innate ability (i.e. nature) and your life experiences (i.e. nurture). Children who are in impoverished or sterile environments may not develop their full potential, while children who have enrichment and life experiences may ‘max out’ their ability, reaching the top of the span. Research has repeatedly shown that playing, exploring the environment, engaging in complex social interactions and using creative skills is as important – and at some ages MORE important- than academic practice.
So, when it is IQ relevant and what is the best way to measure it? If your children are struggling in school, falling behind peers developmentally or demonstrating limited problem-solving, IQ testing may help you establish the reasons for these struggles. Alternately, if children are verbally advanced, demonstrate well-developed reasoning or are exceeding in comparison to peers, it may be helpful to determine whether they have advanced ability. This can help you make decisions about their academic placement, interventions or enrichment activities.
Typically, the group tests administered by the schools give a valid estimate of ability. However, individual testing provides more specific information about the child’s strengths and weaknesses. It includes efficiency factors, reasoning skills and knowledge. Individual testing is always recommended for children who demonstrate anxiety, attention issues and learning problems as the individual administration by a trained professional provides a greater level of comfort and structure. It also allows for close observation of children’s behavior as they complete the tasks, which provides a basis for interpreting how those behaviors impact their scores. Thus, parents and teacher gain a more complete understanding of the child’s ability.
Many parents ask how to prepare for these evaluations and are tempted to ‘prep’ kids for the test. But consider the following before practicing. IQ tests are standardized tests designed to measure a child’s response to novel stimuli and questions. Their scores are compared to their peers using carefully collected norms and statistical analyses. IQ scores can be impacted by many factors including education, physical states (hunger, fatigue), and other factors. One factor that significantly reduces the validity of IQ tests is practice effects. When children have taken an IQ test previously, been exposed to the test materials in a non-standardized manner, or practiced the IQ tests, their scores are less reflective of their true intellectual ability and more reflective of their coaching. Decisions made based on these scores may not be in your child’s best interest if scores under or overestimate their IQ. So remember, the best way to prepare is a good night’s sleep, a nutritious breakfast and a big hug!
Erika Madison, PhD