Your child is struggling with a maths problem again. And, you ask yourself – Is she above or below average? Will she be able to cope with her studies? Is she ‘intelligent’ enough?
But, what is intelligence? And, can it be measured quantitatively? If so, can a mere number determine if a child is ‘intelligent’ or not? And, what do intelligence tests entail and what do their scores represent?
Intelligence can be broadly defined as one’s capacity to acquire knowledge and learn things. An individual’s intelligence quotient or IQ indicates one’s inherent mental aptitudes and intellectual potential to learn.
The concept of IQ tests was initially devised to ascertain a child’s aptitude and readiness for school. However, over the years, educators and psychologists have come to realise that IQ tests can measure only some forms of intelligence and that test scores are largely influenced by cultural environments, learning and an individual’s inherent knowledge.
A test measuring a child’s IQ assesses different aspects by focussing on criteria like:
- verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and visual-spatial abilities
- factual knowledge
- abstract reasoning
- problem-solving and
- creative thinking skills
If a child has difficulties in certain areas of learning, then an IQ test might be recommended to identify the specific area of disability. “As long as a child can manage socially, academically, emotionally or cognitively, there is no need for any intervention”, says *Dr Keerthi Pai, a Chennai-based Clinical Psychologist. “Usually an IQ test is included in an assessment to determine if a problem is due to an intellectual deficit or if it falls within the Asperger spectrum,” she adds. She also explains that the IQ test will help confirm a learning difficulty by validating a child’s intelligence as ‘average’ or ‘dull-normal’.
IQ tests in particular can be administered to children over two years and fixed parameters at every developmental stage are considered to determine a child’s abilities. The tests should have standardised norms and must be administered and interpreted by a trained and licensed psychologist using reliable tools. Online tests are aplenty but are not validated for the Indian population. The assessment report may not be true or reliable. Parents must be cautious to avoid the chances of incurring false-positive or false-negative results. In fact, both the CBSE and CISCE boards insist that IQ tests must be administered only by certified clinical psychologists.
Test methods standardised for Indian norms:
1. Binet–Kamat Intelligence Test:
This test is a revised version of the standard Simon–Binet intelligence test. It can be used for a child who is three years or older as it has been developed based on the age norm. It evaluates the child’s scholastic ability using both verbal and performance tests. The assessment begins with tests corresponding to the chronological age of the child and then moves upwards.
2. Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children:
This evaluation was developed by American psychologist David Wechsler who believed that intelligence is reflected in a variety of measurable skills. It is administered individually from pre-primary children to adults. This test evaluates a child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses and helps us understand his general cognitive abilities and potential by assessing his capacity to learn. This method includes both verbal and non-verbal tests that generate five primary index scores. The non-verbal tests are designed so that even children who are speech or visually impaired can be assessed.
3. Bhatia Performance Test of Intelligence
This test was developed specifically for the Indian population. It includes five time-based sub-tests that measure the different dimensions of intelligence and cognitive capabilities. The age of the individual is also taken into consideration accordingly.
4. Raven’s Progressive Matrices:
This method was developed to determine intelligence levels regardless of social and cultural characteristics, education and language spoken. Children above the age of five can take this test. The questions measure one’s reasoning ability by asking individuals to choose a missing element, in a visual-geometric design, which completes a given pattern. The patterns are presented in the form of various sized matrices. Owing to its simplicity and practicality, the test is used widely to test general intelligence and is also a screening tool for learning disabilities.
Interpretation of test scores:
Testing methods 1, 2 and 3 include various sub-tests. Since one’s intelligence levels cannot be validated by only a number, sub-tests help ascertain all aspects to understand a child’s cognitive abilities in totality. “For instance,” explains Dr Keerthi, “a child may not score well in verbal memory but might have excellent visual memory skills. This may affect his overall score; but, this does not necessarily mean he has low IQ. Rather, it can be suggested that he be given pictorial or visual aids as learning tools, which he might find easier than just memorising a paragraph.”
Also, scoring ‘low’ on an IQ test does not substantiate one’s intellectual capabilities as there are various parameters for low scores. “Although a score of over 90 means a child is of average intelligence, a score of 85 does not imply that the child has below-average intelligence,” explains Dr Keerthi. “The scores of the sub-tests matter, as a specialist looks at these scores qualitatively rather than just as mere numbers, and explains the same to parents,” she adds. It is important to determine the area of deficit so that proper and timely intervention can help the child overcome difficulties that might be limited to certain subjects. “Various therapies like remedial training, behavioural training or occupational therapy can even help improve certain areas of weakness,” says Dr Keerthi.
IQ tests are, however, known to have some limitations. Although the widely used forms of evaluation do take factors like language and environment into consideration, the psychologist conducting the test must be efficient enough to avoid subjective variances. Also, group tests are not known to be entirely fool-proof as sometimes some children might fail to perform to the best of their ability in a group or stereotyped classroom setting.
Don’t let IQ test scores influence your impression of your child’s intellect. Remember, they are most often only markers that help determine subject-specific learning difficulties and that the right aids can even better minor disabilities.
“Testing a child’s IQ is not merely testing his intelligence levels to measure his academic performances. It is an assessment that will primarily enable you to understand a child’s natural abilities It is more a collaboration and understanding of the child’s involvement in his academic performance.” — Ms Shalini Prakash, Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, Pune
*Dr Keerthi Pai is Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Hospitals and Partner, Element H Psychological Support Services, Chennai
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