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About the OLSAT

The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), published by Pearson NNC, is a multiple choice test commonly used in the U.S. to identify gifted children. Schools often use the OLSAT as a tool for admission into schools and programs for gifted and talented children or to measure scholastic achievement across all ages. Learn more about gifted testing in your city or school district.

The OLSAT is comprised of both verbal and nonverbal questions, measuring a student's ability to cope with school learning tasks. In all, there are 21 different question types on the OLSAT. On the test, students will need to:

  • Follow directions
  • Detect likenesses and differences
  • Recall words and numbers
  • Classify items
  • Establish sequences
  • Solve arithmetic problems
  • Complete analogies

The OLSAT is used specifically to measure abilities related to success in school, testing critical thinking and reasoning skills. The OLSAT is intended to test memory, speed of thought and ability to see relationships and patterns. Arthur Sinton Otis, Ph.D and publishing executive and editor, Roger Thomas Lennon, Ph.D designed the OLSAT based off of two theories: Vernon’s hierarchical theory of intelligence and Guilford’s structure of intelligence. Hierarchical theories of intelligence describe intelligence as composed of different levels arranged by hierarchies or domains. The OLSAT was designed to measure a student’s verbal-academic domain, rather than other more practical and mechanical domains. Guilford’s structure of intellect is also reflected in the OLSAT. Questions on the OLSAT were selected to reflect the intellectual operations of cognition, convergent thinking and evaluation, as discussed in Guilford’s model of intelligence.

OLSAT Levels

The OLSAT test is administered at seven levels, depending on the student's age: OLSAT Level A, OLSAT Level B, OLSAT Level C, OLSAT Level D, OLSAT Level E, OLSAT Level F, and OLSAT Level G. The table below shows what grades each level corresponds with:

Level Grade
A Pre-K and K
B 1st Grade
C 2nd Grade
D 3rd Grade
E 4th-5th Grade
F 6th-8th Grade
G 9th-12th Grade

The student will have between 60-80 minutes to complete a 40-70 question test, depending on the OLSAT test level. The test is administered to younger children in a one-on-one setting, while older children take the test in a group setting. Test questions are arranged so that questions do not become more difficult as the test progresses. In other words, difficult items are sometimes followed by easy questions so that students are not discouraged when facing increasingly difficult questions. Students are not deducted points for answering a question incorrectly.

The OLSAT Test is notoriously difficult (even for adults) and in order to gain admission into elite programs orexclusive schools for gifted and talented children, students need to achieve high OLSAT scores.

The OLSAT-8

The OLSAT is currently in its 8th edition, with the 9th edition soon to be released. The OLSAT 8 is more kid-friendly than previous editions. Additionally, the OLSAT 8 includes online results and data qualification for easier, customized reporting.

History of previous OLSAT editions:

OLSAT Edition Date Published
1st ed. August 13, 1979
2nd ed. September 10, 1982
6th ed. November 15, 1988
7th ed. October 23, 1995
8th ed. Currently in use

OLSAT-8 Question Types

Verbal Nonverbal
Verbal Comprehension Pictorial Reasoning
Following Directions Picture Classification
Antonyms Picture Analogies
Sentence Completion Picture Series
Sentence Arrangement Figural Reasoning
Verbal Reasoning Figural Classification
Aural Reasoning Figural Analogies
Arithmetic Reasoning Pattern Matrix
Logical Selection Figural Series
Word/Letter Matrix Quantitative Reasoning
Verbal Analogies Number Series
Verbal Classification Numeric Inference
Inference Number Matrix

Find out more about OLSAT verbal and nonverbal testing.

How Is the OLSAT Scored?

Students earn points for each question they answer correctly, but do not lose points for skipping or incorrectly answering a question. When the test is graded, a child is first given a raw score, which provides the number of questions answered correctly out of the total number of questions (e.g., 46/60). Once the raw score is calculated, it is then converted to a School Ability Index (SAI) score. The SAI score is determined by comparing the raw scores of other children in the same age group. It is a normalized score, with an average of 100, a standard deviation of 16, and a maximum score of 150. This SAI score is then used to find which percentile a student falls into. Students who score about two standard deviations above the mean (a score of 132) generally fall into the top 2-3%, or the 97th-98th percentile. 

Why the OLSAT?

There are several reasons why the OLSAT 8 is a popular tool used in the educational system to test giftedness in children. Firstly, the OLSAT has a reputation for being a reliable test. Studies show that a child’s score on the OLSAT will not change significantly over time. Secondly, the OLSAT is considered a valid test, as studies show that the OLSAT successfully measures the aspects of intelligence it seeks to measure. Practically speaking, the OLSAT 8 is a simple, economic way for schools to test many students. Lastly, the OLSAT 8 has been peer revised by a panel of minority-group educators to help minimize ethnic gender, cultural, or regional biases.

History of the OLSAT

The OLSAT was developed by Dr. Arthur Sinton Otis and publishing executive and editor, Dr. Roger Thomas Lennon. Arthur Sinton Otis is best known for developing an army test called the Army Alpha. Otis administered the Army Alpha to 1.7 million World War I army recruits and was the first psychologist to administer a multiple choice test on such a large scale. The OLMAT (Otis-Lennon Mental Ability Test), developed in 1969 by Otis and Lennon, was a precursor to the OLSAT and interestingly reflected many characteristics of the Army Alpha. The OLMAT is important when discussing the rich and fascinating history of the development of the OLSAT.

Is My Child Gifted?

You may be asking,"Is my child gifted? Should I prepare my child for the OLSAT?" Knowing if your child is gifted can be difficult, so it is important to be able to identify the signs of gifted children. Differentiating a gifted child from a bright child may be difficult as well. Learn more about these differences. Additionally, if your child is gifted, it is important to know if you should enroll them in a gifted program or school.

Preparing for the OLSAT

The OLSAT is a difficult test, and with competition for gifted programs at an all-time high, it is important for your child to be prepared for test day. At TestPrep-Online, we offer grade-specific, child-friendly practice packs for your child, which include realistic practice tests, helpful study guides, and hundreds of additional sample questions. Get started by trying our free OLSAT practice tests.

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