One of the most widely used intelligence tests is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children® or WISC®. The current version of the test, WISC®–IV, is often used as an entrance exam for gifted and talented programs; it can also be used as part of the entrance process at private schools. The WISC®-IV assessment was written by David Wechsler and is published by NCS Pearson, Inc. (previously Harcourt Assessment, Inc./The Psychological Corporation, the original publisher of the test).
Like other indexes, the WISC® assessment assesses skills and abilities, rather than grade-level knowledge. The test’s propensity toward skills and abilities make for a test-taking experience that is unlike the statewide exams and nationally normed tests (ITBS®, Stanford 10, etc.) that are familiar to most students. Thus, preparing for the types of items encountered on the WISC® assessment is essential. There are some subtests that do assess prior knowledge, and those are outlined below.
There are 16 subtests on the WISC®-IV assessment. Here’s a look at what the subtests assess:
Block Design measures an individual’s ability to analyze and synthesize an abstract design and reproduce that design from colored plastic blocks. Spatial visualization and analysis, simultaneous processing, visual-motor coordination, dexterity, and nonverbal concept formation are involved. The students use logic and reasoning to successfully complete the items.
Similarities measures logical thinking, verbal concept formation and verbal abstract reasoning. Two similar but different objects or concepts are presented, and the student is asked to tell how they are alike or different.
Digit Span measures short-term auditory memory and attention. The digits have no logical relationship to each other and are presented in random order by the examiner. The student must then recite the digits correctly by recalling them in the same order. On the second part of this subtest the student must remember the order in which digits are presented, but recite them in reverse order.
Picture Concepts measures categorical, abstract reasoning, and the items here increase in difficulty. Students are asked to look at two (or three) rows of pictured objects and indicate (by pointing) the single picture from each row that shares a characteristic in common with the single picture(s) from the other row(s).
Coding measures visual-motor dexterity, associative nonverbal learning, and nonverbal short-term memory. Fine-motor dexterity, speed, accuracy and ability to manipulate a pencil contribute to task success; perceptual organization is also important.
Vocabulary measures the students’ verbal fluency and concept formation, word knowledge, and word usage. Here’s one subtest in which prior knowledge does play a role.
Letter-Number Sequencing measures attention span, short-term auditory recall, processing speed and sequencing abilities. The task involves listening to and remembering a string of digits and letters read aloud at a speed of one per second, then recalling the information by repeating the numbers in chronological order, followed by the letters in alphabetical order.
Matrix Reasoning measures visual processing and abstract, spatial perception and may be influenced by concentration, attention, and persistence.
Comprehension is not just ordinary reading comprehension; this subtest measures the students’ common-sense social knowledge, practical judgment in social situations, and level of social maturation, along with the extent of development of their moral conscience.
Symbol Search requires the student to determine whether a target symbol appears among the symbols shown in a search group. Memory is not a primary requirement for success on this task; perception and recognition are the two prime requirements, in addition to speed, accuracy, attention, and concentration. The symbols are geometric forms, rather than familiar letters or numbers.
Picture Completion measures a student's ability to recognize familiar items and to identify missing parts. The student's task is to separate essential and nonessential parts from the whole. It is necessary to observe each item closely and concentrate on picture detail. Students must name or indicate the missing part by saying the name of the part or by pointing to it.
Cancellation measures visual vigilance/neglect, selective attention, and speed in processing visual information in accordance with previous attempts along the same line.
Information measures general cultural knowledge, long-term memory, and acquired facts. Here’s another subtest that challenges students to remember what has been taught previously in school.
Arithmetic measures numerical accuracy, reasoning and mental arithmetic ability. Mental arithmetic and story problems play an important part in the student’s success.
Word Reasoning measures verbal abstract reasoning requiring analogical and categorical thinking, as well as verbal concept formation and expression.
Perceptual Reasoning Index measures perceptual and organizational skills, reflecting ability to interpret reason with, and/or organize visually perceived material.
Test Prep Bundles and Suggested Test Prep Plan for WISC®
As you can see, the subtests of the WISC®-IV cover a large amount of verbal and non-verbal skill areas. For grades K-1, we recommend working with the bundles over at least one month, but we also recognize parents often receive a testing date with less than 30-days’ notice.
If you are really pressed for time, and you see the student has mastery in a section, you may skip ahead. You may also bookmark and return to activities that are more challenging.
One way to measure the mastery is to use the first few items in each activity as a pre-test. If you see that your child answers quickly and correctly, you may want to consider moving on. If they struggle, go through the activities as best you can, but bookmark them and consider going back over them.
Using the pre-test technique will give you a good idea of where the child’s strengths and weaknesses are across the skills and abilities covered in the material.
The bundles offer a lot of material, but if you make working with the books part of the daily routine, you’ll be surprised how fast things will move. Remember, the youngest students have shorter attention spans, so 15 minutes a session is fine.
It is also important to point out that all the titles have value well beyond the testing window. Each title will help enhance your child’s ability to reason and analyze, skills that are essential for success in many arenas.
Looking for Wechsler test preparation for younger children? Visit our Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI™-III) Prep Guide and Bundle page.
The contents of these bundles were determined by The Critical Thinking Co.™ and have not been reviewed by, nor are they endorsed, sponsored or approved by either the author or publisher of the tests. While the contents of these bundles will help prepare students to master most of the skills tested, they do not reflect the actual test items on any given test.
Otis-Lennon School Ability Test®,OLSAT®, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children®, WISC®, and WPPSI™ are trademarks, in the US and /or other countries, of Pearson Education, Inc. or its affiliate(s), or their licensors, which do not endorse these products.