Demystifying the OLSAT

The OLSAT may seem like just another in a long list of acronyms that pop up as you and your children continue on the path to college, but there can be tremendous value in those five letters. Here’s a brief primer to help demystify the OLSAT.

What Is It?

The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) is a nationally-normed standardized test designed to measure your child’s achievement against the achievement of all other children of the same age. Generally administered in elementary grades, the OLSAT can be one tool used to identify gifted students. While it is technically an achievement test, the OLSAT measures important critical thinking skills, such as higher-order thinking and the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information.

The OLSAT is a multiple choice test. Students will listen to directions and shade the correct answer under each picture. Because there is no reading, pre-literate students can be tested using the OLSAT, and students who struggle with reading but are intellectually very capable may still do well.

Maximum length: 75 mins.

Who Takes the Test?

All second graders in the LA Unified School District are administered the OLSAT in just one day. There are three exemptions if needed:

  1. Students who are already identified as gifted
  2. Students who instead take the CAPA (CA Alternate Performance Assessment)
  3. Students whose parents opt out

For English learners, the test is administered in their primary language.

What Areas Are Measured?

  1. Verbal Comprehension: understanding of language; similarities and differences among words
  2. Verbal Reasoning: using language to infer, apply, and classify
  3. Pictorial Reasoning: inferring from and evaluating pictures
  4. Figural Reasoning: reasoning involving geometric shapes

What Do the Scores Mean?

The OLSAT reports scores in two categories: the SAI score and a percentile ranking.

  • SAI: The School Ability Score (SAI) is often referred to by gifted coordinators when discussing a child’s entrance to a gifted program. This score measures a child’s standing in relation to his or her peers. The highest score possible in this category is 150, with 100 being the average. Many gifted programs look for a score of 132 and higher; the LA Unified School District uses the OLSAT to determine whether or not a student meets the “intellectual” requirements for a gifted program (see more on gifted program requirements at their website).
  • Percentile ranking: Percentile ranking scores correspond to the SAI. A student with an SAI of 100 would have a percentile ranking of 50%, which means that they did better than 50% of their peers across the country.

This being said, the OLSAT is just one of several ways to identify students who may benefit from gifted student services.

Why Does it Exist?

The OLSAT works to potentially identify gifted students in minority or low-socioeconomic status groups. Because the OLSAT requires no reading, students who are pre-literate and students who speak English as a second language also have a level playing field as far as the opportunity for success goes.

Why Should You Consider It?

If you have missed the testing window for your child, or he or she is younger than the school district’s administration age but you feel he or she may be eligible for gifted services, consider meeting with your school’s gifted services coordinator for a private administration of the test. The earlier a student can be placed into programs that best serve their needs, the better!

For a hands-on look at the OLSAT, visit The Testing Mom for 100 free practice questions. Let us know how it goes!