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I want to dispel some myths about IQ testing.

  • 1 August 2016
  • Emma Levy

When I was training in dyslexia assessment, I was told that there was no reason to do IQ testing as part of an assessment, because dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ. 

I disagree.  I think such testing should be part of every learning assessment including dyslexia, and I want to explain why.

First, I want to dispel some myths about IQ testing.

  1. We don’t call it IQ testing anymore.  We call it cognitive assessment because the aim is to understand how the brain is processing and working with information.
  2. Cognitive assessments are not about how much you know; they are about how you learn.
  3. The cognitive areas assessed, not the IQ score, are fundamental to understanding how you learn. 
  4. The IQ score is just an average of the cognitive areas assessed (see the list below).
  5. The IQ score is the least interesting thing about a cognitive assessment.
  6. Some psychologists don’t even report the IQ score if differences between the cognitive areas were very large.  They don’t see the point as it’s just an average of vastly different scores.
  7. The majority of a report should be spent talking about the areas that make up the IQ score, with recommendations where needed.  Most reports spend very little time on the IQ score. 

The main cognitive areas assessed are:

  • Verbal comprehension skills.
  • Fluid reasoning, or problem-solving skills.
  • Memory.
  • Speed of processing information.
  • Visual skills.

The IQ score is simply an amalgamation of the scores from these areas.  It’s not quite an average because some contribute more to it, and some less, but it’s similar. 

So what about dyslexia and IQ?  We know that dyslexia isn’t related to a person being smart.  You can be perfectly smart and have dyslexia.  But we also know that dyslexia is neurological in origin, so it has some relationship to the brain. 

Agreed, the IQ score may not be relevant to the person’s dyslexia.  But the way their brain deals with information certainly is.

Here’s an example.  Molly is 12 and her parents and teachers think she has dyslexia.  The assessment shows that her reading accuracy is very poor, her reading is slow and laborious, and her comprehension of the text is weak.   Yes, Molly has dyslexia.  If we leave the assessment at that point, and never know which cognitive factors are impacting Molly, what should her tutor do?

  • If her memory score was low, Molly may be in overload when the tutor is explaining things to her.  The tutor needs to slow down, use memory tricks such as telling stories or using pictures to help her remember.  Part of her reading difficulties may be because she has trouble holding bits of the word in mind as she reads, not because she doesn’t have the skills to decode them.
  • If her processing speed score was low, Molly is not forgetting what she has learnt, she just needs longer to work through the information.  Give her more time.  Processing speed may be influencing her fluency, so specific strategies found in the recommendations may help her fluency.
  • If her verbal comprehension score was low, Molly may need to increase her vocabulary.  This may be affecting her reading comprehension and word recognition.  Her teachers and parents can help her do this.
  • If her fluid reasoning score was low, Molly needs information to be very concrete and factual to learn it.  She needs to learn how to problem-solve and apply strategy when information isn’t factual.
  • If her visual processing score is low, she may be having trouble recognising the visual “picture” of a whole word.
  • If her auditory processing score was low, Molly is likely to have trouble discriminating sounds and this relates to her phonological awareness.  Decoding will be very difficult for her.  Molly’s tutor needs to go back to basics with phonological awareness skills.

Many factors could explain single areas of Molly’s reading. Is her reading comprehension low because her vocabulary is poor; because she can’t remember what she’s reading; because her speed is so slow that retaining meaning is difficult; because she can’t decode the words; or because she can’t remember the visual representation of a whole word?

It helps to know, and that’s why a cognitive assessment is so useful.

There is so much more to IQ testing than IQ.