Cognitive Ability vs. Basic Skills Tests

Understand the differences between cognitive ability and skills tests and how to use the results of each to benefit your students

"Cognitive ability" refers to a person's ability to learn new skills, adapt to changes, solve problems and follow instructions.

Often referred to as general intelligence, or “g”, cognitive ability describes the level at which an individual learns, understands instructions and solves problems. Assessments of cognitive ability are frequently referred to as “intelligence” tests.

Cognitive ability tests measure a person’s ability to learn, adapt, solve problems, and follow instructions, but do not measure specific verbal or mathematical skill levels. Of course, a person must be able to read and complete basic math computations to complete these tests, but cognitive ability tests are not designed to measure a person’s skill in these areas.

Individuals who score highly on cognitive ability can gain more from formal education. They are also more likely to learn effectively from practical experience. Lower scoring individuals require more detailed instruction and hands-on practice when learning new skills. They also need more time to learn, more repetition and closer supervision.

Wonderlic’s Scholastic Level Exams (SLE and SLE-Q) are short-form tests of general cognitive ability. The SLE is used primarily by postsecondary colleges and schools to evaluate student applicants and to advise students about curriculum or program placement options.

"Skills" refer to the necessary, teachable verbal and math skills required to succeed in career training programs or entry-level jobs.

Basic or advanced skills refer to the fundamental verbal and math knowledge necessary for placement in career training or technical programs or in entry-level jobs. Teaching of these skills begins in elementary school, and instruction continues into high school.

Unlike cognitive ability assessments, skills tests measure a person’s degree of existing skills. The results of these tests are used to determine if individuals have the necessary verbal and math skills to succeed in specific educational programs and jobs.

The results of skills tests can be used to determine what, if any, remediation is necessary for students. Results can also be used to place students in courses appropriate for their skill level – to increase their chances of success. Wonderlic offers both basic and advanced skills tests.

Wonderlic’s Basic Skills Test (WBST), Ability-to-Benefit Test (ATB), and General Assessment of Instructional Needs (GAIN) are basic skills tests used to assess if someone has skills above or below the high school graduate level. These tests are widely used by post-secondary institutions, career colleges, technical programs, workforce development agencies, and adult education programs. The Wonderlic Advanced Skills Test (WAST) measures higher-level skills to determine if someone is college ready.

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To begin a conversation with a Wonderlic Education Solutions Specialist, email us, or call 800.549.5448.