By Korinne Algie
This is a question many parents ask themselves at one point or another. For my husband and I, it was the day our daughter – just turned five – used the word “gregarious” in perfect context.
We were stunned. After shooting some looks back and forth, I asked her if she knew what she had said. Again, she repeated “gregarious”.
More stunned looks.
I asked her if she knew what it meant. She nodded and responded that it was someone who likes talking to and playing with lots of friends. Which is basically the dictionary definition translated to five-year-old speak.
Were we raising a genius?
It wasn’t the sort of word my husband and I bandy around. We both have great vocabularies, but neither of us could remember using gregarious ever, let alone in earshot of our child.
Our daughter goes to a German speaking kindergarten, so it wasn’t picked up there. There was only one explanation for it: Our little princess was some kind of literary prodigy.
The flood gates opened as we asked ourselves if we were supporting her superior intellect? Was she being challenged enough at kindergarten? Was it just words, or was she an all-round phenomenon? So many questions and so much responsibility.
But then, what if it was a fluke? What if she just has a great memory? How would we know?
Turns out there are a large number of checklists and tests that you can give your child to establish if they are gifted. Reviewing resources on the internet my husband and I found them to be broad-sweeping and potentially applicable to all children: “An insatiable curiosity, as demonstrated by endless questions and inquiries”. I shudder as I remember surviving through months of the “why” phase. Admittedly, most checklists do have more specific and ‘advanced’ criteria but by and large, they did not bring us any closer to knowing.
Children are all different. So are gifted children. It is almost impossible to apply the same set of markers to all of them, talented or otherwise. However, if you really need to know, testing may provide some answers for you.
Depending on where you live, gifted education – a broad group of special practices, procedures, and theories used in the education of gifted and/or talented children – can be very different; from official programmes to special classes, to very little differentiation from other students. What are your expectations for gifted education? Do they line up with your school district or state?
Before we take a deeper dive into the various tests available, let’s establish that they (ironically) are not foolproof. There is an episode of The Simpsons where students at Springfield Elementary are tested. Lisa – the brains of the family, tests as advanced but not exceptional. Bart on the other hand – who fudged his way through the multiple choice test – returns a score tantamount to genius. Although this example is overly simplified and pokes fun at gifted testing, it is a good reminder that no one test can be considered definitive. For this reason, a professional assessment may be more useful in judging whether your child is gifted.
Gifted Testing and Assessment
Gifted testing (or assessment) is often conducted – and considered most accurate – between the ages of six and nine. There are tests for children as young as two, however these are not regarded to be particularly reliable or even necessary.
Gifted tests can largely be separated into two categories: Achievement tests and Abilities tests. Achievement tests look for a child’s knowledge in a subject area. Examples of an Achievement based test might be an SAT or ACT test. They are often standardised, and the results are given as a numerical score. Achievement tests can also be administered individually and are in most cases part of a larger assessment, used to screen students for particular areas of academic strength.
The second category, Abilities tests, evaluate a child’s cognitive ability or intelligence quotient (IQ). The results take a more rounded view of the child and in addition to a numerical score, also provide recommendations. Common Abilities tests include:
- Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (CTONI-2)
- Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Scale (UNIT-2)
- Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ-IV Cog)
- Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT 8)
- Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT)
- Differential Ability Scales (DAS-2)
What is a Gifted Assessment?
Often the terms ‘gifted test’ and ‘gifted assessment’ are used interchangeably. The reality is that they are quite different with an assessment providing a much broader and deeper picture of your child’s giftedness. Because of its greater scope, it is usually the more costly option to take.
In an assessment, a trained professional uses their expertise and experience to work out the best test for your child. The results of this test, combined with a classroom observation and interview, provide the basis for your child’s educational profile.
This profile includes detailed information on the child’s strengths, challenges, learning style, needs, and individual characteristics, as well as making recommendations for your child’s learning.
How to get your child tested
Getting a test might sound straightforward but unless they are offered by your child’s school or kindergarten, they can be difficult to arrange. Even then, getting the right kind of gifted evaluation can be quite tricky. If your school’s gifted policy isn’t available on their website, make enquiries. It could be that your school doesn’t offer much in the way of such testing. In this case, reaching out to your local education board, teachers association or similar should point you in the right direction.
Alternatively, you can look for a person qualified to administer the test/assessment nearby. Psychologists are sometimes trained to do these tests.
Since the pandemic many online tests have appeared. If you were to select online testing for your child, make sure you check the validity of the results (eg. Will they be accepted at your target school) before starting.
What to do if your child IS gifted?
So, your child has completed the test and the results are in. They are, in fact, gifted. What now?
You have a number of options. You have a number of options with the three most common being:
- Do nothing. Keep an eye on your child’s progress, grades, and general happiness. If these things are tracking well, it is completely fine to maintain the status quo. Just do so in the knowledge that at some point your child might need an extension – whether this takes the form of a challenging hobby, academically rigorous extra-curricular activities like debating or chess, etc or a new class or school, is entirely up to you and your child.
- Talk to the teacher and/school and let them know. Ask them to push your child whenever they can. You may even ask for your child to be skipped a year. Monitor the situation to make sure your child remains happy and motivated.
- Move your child to a gifted programme where they will be challenged, stretched, and developed.
What did we do with our little genius?
Nothing. At five our daughter is far too young for us to read too much into this. We want her to play and learn about the world around her. We are happy that she has an inquisitive mind and an interest in words. Whether or not her moment of prodigal glory was a fluke remains to be seen. For the meantime, we are happy to let our little person be.
Davidson Institute., (unknown). Gifted Testing and Assessment https://www.davidsongifted.org/prospective-families/gifted-testing-and-assessment/
Davidson Institute., (unknown). How to get your child tested for giftedness. https://www.davidsongifted.org/prospective-families/gifted-testing-and-assessment/how-to-get-your-child-tested/
Davidson Institute., (unknown). Is my child gifted? https://www.davidsongifted.org/prospective-families/is-my-child-gifted/#:~:text=Signs%20of%20Giftedness%20in%20Children%20Include%3A&text=an%20ability%20to%20learn%20and,levels%20above%20their%20age%20peers
Kumar, M., (2021, June 22). Is your kid gifted? CNBC,
Bainbridge, C., (2020, July 15). How Parents Can Know If Their Child Is Gifted. Very Well Family,