Why use standardized tests and what information will we get from them anyway?!

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

There are hundreds of standardized tests. So, why are they called standardized? To be considered a standardized test, it must be given to each examinee exactly the same way. Students who take a standardized test tomorrow will be presented the same material exactly the same way as someone who took the test 2 weeks ago in a different state. There are specific guidelines the person giving the test must follow when administering it to an individual or individuals. Depending on the type of standardized test, they can be administered to a group of people or individually. For example, the Otis Lennon, CogAt, or State Standardized Tests are administered to several students at the same time. Individual standardized tests, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-V, Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement-IV, etc., are given to one individual at a given time. It is a one-to-one testing situation. Though the same terminology is used with group and individualized standardized tests, I will be referring specifically to individualized tests today.

Standardized tests can assess the following about an individual:

  • Intellectual ability

  • Academic skills

  • Behavioral concerns

  • Emotional concerns

  • School readiness

  • Daily living skills.

The information gathered from these tests allows a comparison to be made of an individual’s skills to the skills of others their same age or grade level. This information gives you an idea of how well an individual is making progress or how they are maintaining in their daily environment whether in a school/academic, job, or day-to-day setting. Some personality or behavioral/emotional scales actually compare the examinee’s ratings to other individuals who have already been identified as having a specific diagnosis. These measures answer the question – Are you demonstrating the same symptoms as someone already identified with this diagnosis?

Scores often seen on standardized tests:

  • Raw scores –The actual points that an individual scores on a subtest. These scores are used to calculate the standard scores.

  • Scaled Scores – Raw scores converted to a “common score” with a mean of 10 and standard deviation of 3 that allow the individual’s performance to be compared to others their age or grade level. If a child scores 8 on a subtest of the WISC-V, they scored in the average range compared to their same age peers. Average range is 7 to 13.

  • Standard Scores – Scores converted to “common scores” with a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15. Many times IQ scores or overall achievement scores are presented as Standard Scores. For example, an adolescent obtains a Full Scale IQ of 105 on the WAIS-IV, he/she scored in the average range compared to his/her same age peers. Average range is considered 90 to 110.

  • Percentile Ranks – Ranks that indicate an individual’s standing relative to others his/her same age in the normative sample (those who were tested when the norms/standards for the test were obtained). If an examinee obtains a standard score that falls at the 68th percentile, the examinee performed as well as or better than 68% of the children his age. (If 100 students stood in a line, the student would be number 68 in line.) A standard score of 100 is equal to a percentile rank of 50.

  • Age/Grade Equivalents – Always be cautious when interpreting these scores. These scores are obtained by comparing the examinee’s score to the average score of those at the same age in the norming sample. A child can miss easier questions on a test while correctly answering more difficult questions. The student does not get extra credit for answering the more difficult questions. It is based on the total number of correct responses.

There are many other scores that may be obtained on various standardized tests. These may include z-scores, t-scores, school aptitude, etc. The above scores are the main scores noted on intellectual and academic individually administered tests. If you have questions about these scores or other scores obtained on tests, please feel free to contact me with your questions.


Mather, Nancy., Wending, Barbara J. (2014). Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Achievement. Rolling Meadows, Illinois: Riverside Publishing.

Wechsler, David. (2014). Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fifth Edition. Bloomington, MN: PsychCorp.


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