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Social Processes: Methodology · Types of test

The Otis–Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), published by the successor of Harcourt AssessmentPearson Education, Inc., a subsidiary of Pearson PLC — is a test of abstract thinking and reasoning ability of children pre-K to 18. The Otis-Lennon is a group-administered (except preschool), multiple choice, taken with pencil and paper, measures verbal, quantitative, and spatial reasoning ability. The test yields verbal and nonverbal scores, from which a total score is derived, called a School Ability Index (SAI). The SAI is a normalized standard score with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 16. With the exception of pre-K, the test is administered in groups.

Test components Edit

The test has 21 subtests, organized into five areas, and an equal number of verbal and non-verbal items is included in each area. The five areas are verbal comprehension, verbal reasoning, pictorial reasoning, figural reasoning, and quantitative reasoning.

Uses in education Edit

There are seven different levels of the OLSAT designed for use from kindergarten to 12th grade. The OLSAT serves several purposes: it provides a marker for measuring individual year-to-year progress; some teachers may find it helpful for inferring individual educational needs; and for some school systems, it serves as an economical way to widely assess gifted and talented candidates in the early years.

The Level A OLSAT, the publisher’s lowest level, is designed to assess school abilities of kindergartners (up to a level of "above average"), but it assesses areas that are not universally taught (i.e., it does not assess reading and math abilities). Some educators use the Level A test to assess preschoolers, but, for three-year-olds, require only 40 of the 60 questions. For four-year-olds, all 60 questions are given. Scoring is measured against peers in age groups of 3-month bands. For example, children born October 4 through January 4 are compared with each other and children born January 4 through April 4 with each other and so on.

History Edit

The name Otis-Lennon reflects the surnames of two people: (i) the "pre-OLSAT" developer of the original test, Arthur Sinton Otis, Ph.D. (who died before OLSAT was published) and (ii) the test editor and publishing executive, Roger Thomas Lennon, Ph.D., who adopted and marketed Otis' concepts as a school ability test.

Otis (28 July 1886–1 January 1964) is best known for the multiple choice intelligence tests he developed for the U.S. Army. As a doctoral student under Lewis Terman in 1917 he developed the group-administered tests titled the Army Alpha (for literates) and the Army Beta (for illiterates). Otis developed it to improve cost and time efficiency as compared to one developed by Alfred Binet (1857–1911), which was individually administered. Given in multiple-choice format and administered in groups, 1.7 million World War I recruits took the Army Alpha test. The results were published in 1921 and included the relative performance of recruits of different national origins.

Many historians credit Fredrick James Kelly, Ph.D.,(1880–1959) of the University of Kansas, for inventing the multiple choice format (also known as Multiple Choice Questions or MCQ) in 1914. However, Otis was the first to use it on a large scale in the Army Alpha test.

Otis was also a major contributor as a test editor for the World Book Company, which later became part of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. World Book Company is not related to World Book, Inc., the Chicago-based publisher of encyclopedias. The OLSAT was first published by Harcourt in 1979.

Lennon (1916–1986) was an executive and head of the testing division of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich as well as a chairman of one of its subsidiaries, The Psychological Corporation. Later he became a senior vice president of the publishing house. He retired in 1981 as associate to the chairman.



The fact that the OLSAT is easier and less expensive to administer than an IQ test, such as the Stanford Binet V or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, makes it more accessible; but its accuracy at higher levels is less reliable.[1]

Test environment

Preschoolers taking the OLSAT for gifted and talented (G&T) kindergarten programs are more likely to be aware that they are taking a test. For that particular age, the test is given one-on-one. The test is presented in a multiple choice format, and either the child fills in the "bubble" or the tester does it for them. By contrast, many psychological, intelligence, and school ability tests (or assessments) are administered by psychologists who discreetly take notes while conducting introspective thinking activities. Under these conditions, the child is often unaware of being evaluated.

Test format for preschoolers

Some testing scholars have published concerns over whether the multiple-choice aspect of testing encourages guesswork over independent thinking.[2]


For the 2007–08 school-year, New York City began using the OLSAT to infer gifted pedagogical needs of public school children entering kindergarten through 3rd grade. Preschools – and a cottage industry of test-prep companies – soon thereafter began offering OLSAT test-prep. OLSAT attempts to infer "school ability" for a particular grade. In New York City, a preschooler being screened for a gifted pedagogy at the kindergarten level would simply be assessed using the OLSAT that measures kindergarten scholastic ability. OLSAT test-prep programs for preschoolers have essentially incorporated an OLSAT oriented kindergarten curriculum.[3]


1st ed. — Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (published August 13, 1979)
2nd ed. — Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (published September 10, 1982)
6th ed. — Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (published November 15, 1988)
7th ed. — Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (published October 23, 1995)
8th ed. — Otis-Lennon School Ability Test

Use in screening gifted and talented children Edit

After years of using the Stanford Binet, the New York City Department of Education in September 2006, through a competitive bidding process, awarded a five-year, $5.3 million contract to Harcourt Assessment to provide testing materials for its pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade gifted and talented admissions, to provide professional development for teachers and administrators, and to provide parent informational materials. Under the contract, Harcourt will develop and implement the scoring methodology and closely track scoring trends to ensure proper test administration.


  1. A. Lynne Beal, PhD, C.Psych (Ontario) A Comparison of WISC-III and OLSAT-6 for the Identification of Gifted Students, Canadian Journal of School Psychology, Vol. 11, No. 2, 120-129 (1996)
  2. *Michael Mark Sokal, PhD (1945- )], ed., Testing and American Society, 1890-1913, Ch 6, pg 95, (citing Franz Samelson, PhD, "Was early mental testing: (a) Racist inspired, (b) Objective science, (c) A technology for democracy, (d) The origin of the multiple-choice exams, (e) None of the above? (Mark the RIGHT answer)." pp. 113-27) Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick (1990)
  3. Sharon Otterman, Tips for the Admissions Test ... to Kindergarten, The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2009

External linksEdit

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