Tests & Assessments

Tests are common assessment tools for identification, but should not serve as the sole source of identification. Tests often exclude underserved gifted students who are English Language Learners (ELLs), disabled, or from minority or low-income backgrounds.  An identification strategy that includes multiple assessments—both objective and subjective—is the best way to ensure no gifted learner is overlooked.

Why Test?

Testing provides an objective and systematic way for identifying gifted children.   Ability and achievement tests provide numbers or scores to describe a student's performance in relation to others. Tests are often used as benchmark requirements for entrance into specific programs or if a discrepancy in learning is suspected.  However, formal assessments are only one tool in determining giftedness.  Tests should be used in conjuction with subjective assessment tools.

Types of Tests

Tests should be aligned within the characteristics of gifted and talented students within a specific domain area.  The variety of characteristics within the federal definition—intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, and specific academic fields—require more than one assessment to identify.  Quantitative instruments such as those listed below use scores to describe the student's performance in relation to others or the degree to which a student possesses a particular characteristic in relation to a standard level of performance.

Achievement Tests

Achievement tests determine what the students already have learned and if they are more advanced than their grade level peers.   They may be academic specific (i.e. Math or Language Arts) or standardized tests (such as SATs, ITBS, SRA, and MATs). These assessments should not have a ceiling so students are able to show all of what they know.   Tests specifically designed for the gifted population include Test of Mathematical Abilities for Gifted Students or Screening Assessment for Gifted Elementary Students (SAGES).

Ability Tests

Intelligence quotient (IQ) or cognitive abilities test scores are also used to identify gifted and talented students. While these tests provide information for the intellectual domain, these tests are not as helpful in identifying someone with creative, leadership, or other abilities.  Typical ability tests include:


Nonverbal tests, such as the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test or the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, may be more effective for students from culturally and linguistically different or low-income backgrounds to eliminate barriers.


  • CogAT
  • Otis-Lennon
  • Hemmon-Nelson
  • Ravens Progressive Matrices
  • Matrix Analogies Test

Who Should Test

Testing is often used as a measurement tool to qualify for a specific program or when it is suspected that a student's gifts and talents are not being recognized. School-age children are typically tested using group testing methods through their school's gifted and talented screening program. It is rare that any individual test of ability or achievement will be offered to gifted students by their school or district. Tests should always be administered by trained professionals.

When to Test

While experts have differing opinions on whether to test young children, researchers generally agree that it is difficult to make accurate IQ determinations at an early age (under 6).  For younger children, alternative measures of giftedness include characteristic checklists, parent/teacher surveys and interviews, observations, and portfolios. (Read more on young gifted children)

How to Interpret Test Scores

Tests provide a variety of scores, including raw scores, percentile ranks, grade-equivalent scores, and standard scores. Assessments should be current (recent norms) and non-biased.   They should relate to the area of giftedness, a specific program option, or the identification of gifted and talented students. Test norms should reflect the local demographic, not only national norms (important for districts with a greater number of individuals from minority or ethnic groups).  In some cases, it is important to review subscores, as twice-exceptional students can be overlooked if only using a general score. (Learn more on twice-exceptional students)

Results: Now What?

Assessments provide data points, but do not automatically guarantee placement in gifted programs. The majority of states do not require local education agencies to follow the same identification process, so program criteria is left to the district or individual school.  Parents and administrators should work together in a positive and collaborative spirit to use test data as one of several measures for develop an appropriate educational strategy for gifted students.

Read NAGC's Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Education Programming Standards on Identification.

Read the Parent TIP Sheet on Assessments.