The OLSAT: About the Test & How to Prepare
Learn everything you need to know about the OLSAT, including the test’s format, question types, and scoring. Try out a few free sample questions and see how Elm Academy can ensure that your child is ready for test day.
What is the OLSAT?
The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, also known as the OLSAT, is a nationally standardized multiple choice test that is frequently used to assess students for gifted and talented programs. The test was developed by Arthur Sinton Otis and Roger Thomas Lennon and was first published in 1979 by Harcourt Assessment (now known as Pearson Education). It has gone through some revisions over the years, and is currently in its eighth version. This is why it is often referred to as the OLSAT 8.
The OLSAT assesses abstract reasoning and critical thinking skills that are strongly correlated with a student’s ability to learn in school. It contains both verbal and nonverbal questions. In total, there are 21 question types, though not all of them appear on every level of the test (see the tables below for a detailed breakdown of question types per grade level). Still, the wide variety of question types assesses a broad range of abilities, such as detecting patterns, spotting differences, understanding sequences, and following directions.
What are the Different OLSAT Levels?
The OLSAT is divided by grade into a total of 7 levels. While Kindergarten through 3rd grade each correspond with an individual test level, older grades are combined. For example the OLSAT Level E is administered to students in both 4th and 5th grade.
The OLSAT is timed, and the time limit and number of questions vary slightly between the levels. Every level has an equal number of verbal and nonverbal questions. Levels A-C (grades K-2) do not test a child’s ability to read, and will have questions read aloud to them by the teacher administering the test.
View the table below for a full breakdown of the questions and time limit for each level:
|Grade||Level||Verbal Questions||Nonverbal Questions||Total Questions||Time Limit|
|Kindergarten||Level A||30||30||60||75 min.|
|1st Grade||Level B||30||30||60||75 min.|
|2nd Grade||Level C||30||30||60||72 min.|
|3rd Grade||Level D||32||32||64||60 min.|
|4th-5th Grade||Level E||36||36||72||60 min.|
|6th-8th Grade||Level F||36||36||72||60 min.|
|9th-12th Grade||Level G||36||36||72||60 min.|
What Questions are on the OLSAT?
There are a total of 21 questions types that are included on the OLSAT, though not all appear on every level. For example, the OLSAT Level A (Kindergarten) contains only 10 question types. Levels D-G contain the most question types with 15.
The 21 question types are organized into the Verbal and Nonverbal sections of the test. Each section of the test contains subcategories, and within each subcategory are the individual question types. For example, the Verbal section of the test contains two subcategories: Verbal Comprehension and Verbal Reasoning. The Verbal Comprehension subcategory includes four question types: Following Directions, Antonyms, Sentence Completion, and Sentence Arrangement.
See the table below for a more detailed and organized description of each section, subcategory, and question type, and which levels each appears on. The free sample questions below the table will help you better understand what each question type looks like.
|Section||Subcategory||Question Type||Kindergarten (A)||1st (B)||2nd (C)||3rd (D)||4th-5th (E)||6th-8th (F)||9th-12th (G)|
|Verbal||Verbal Comprehension||Following Directions||✅||✅||✅|
|Verbal Reasoning||Aural Reasoning||✅||✅||✅|
|Nonverbal||Pictorial Reasoning||Picture Classification||✅||✅||✅|
|Figural Reasoning||Figural Classification||✅||✅||✅||✅|
OLSAT Question Types & Free Sample Questions
The Verbal Section of the OLSAT contains two subcategories: Verbal Comprehension and Verbal Reasoning.
- Following Directions (Levels A-C): Following Directions questions test a child’s listening and comprehension abilities. Directions are read aloud by the instructor, and the student will have to be able to follow the directions and choose the correct answer choice. These questions assess specific relational concepts like “next to”, “above” and “below”. Note that the instructions are read aloud only once, and cannot be repeated. It’s important for your child to learn to listen carefully the first time the question is read.
- Antonyms (Levels D-G): Antonyms questions assess a child’s vocabulary and their ability to understand words in context. Questions will simply present a vocabulary word and ask the student to choose the word that has the opposite meaning.
- Sentence Completion (Levels D-G): Sentence Completion questions are basic fill-in-the-blank questions. A sentence will be given with a word or two missing, and your child will have to choose the best word(s) to complete the sentence. These questions assess vocabulary skills as well as reading comprehension.
- Sentence Arrangement (Levels D-G): Sentence Arrangement questions will present a series of jumbled words. The objective is to be able to unscramble them and create a coherent sentence. The questions will ask you to identify what the first or last letter of the sentence would be when arranged correctly.
Verbal Comprehension Sample Question: Sentence Completion
Amanda finally found a _____ to the problem that would make everyone happy.
Answer: The correct answer is solution. By reading through the sentence, it is clear that Amanda was able to find something that would help solve the problem for everyone. The word solution means a way of solving a problem, making it the correct answer.
- Aural Reasoning (Levels A-C): These questions are similar to Following Directions questions, as they will also test your child’s ability to listen to and follow directions. However, these questions focus more on reasoning abilities. For example, while a Following Directions questions may simply ask your child to mark a picture where one object is next to another, these questions may tell a more abstract story that requires your child to infer something before finding the answer. Note that the instructions are read aloud only once, and cannot be repeated. It’s important for your child to learn to listen carefully the first time the question is read.
- Arithmetic Reasoning (Levels A-G): Arithmetic Reasoning questions are basic numerical problem solving questions. They focus less on computational abilities and more on reasoning abilities.
- Logical Selection (Levels D-G): Logical Selection questions test a child’s logical reasoning skills. Questions may present them with a series of statements or facts, from which they will have to infer which statement from the answer choices is true. They may also be asked to complete basic sentences using logical reasoning.
- Word/Letter Matrix (Levels D-G): These questions will provide children with a matrix made up of either words or letters, with one spot in the matrix left blank. Students will have to determine what the pattern is in the matrix and fill in the blank.
- Verbal Analogies (Levels D-G): These questions are standard analogies that assess a student’s ability to recognize relationships between pairs of words.
- Verbal Classification (Levels D-G): Verbal Classification questions are essentially odd-one-out questions. They will present your child with a list of words, from which they will have to choose which one does not belong.
- Inference (Levels E-G): These questions will present your child with statements and ask you to infer the correct conclusion based on those statements. These questions are also called syllogisms, and are built around being able to understand logical arguments.
Verbal Reasoning Sample Question: Verbal Analogies
Decrease → Increase : Shallow →
Answer: The correct answer is deep. The first pair of words, decrease and increase, are opposites. The word decrease means to make something smaller, and the word increase means to make something larger.
The second pair of words should follow the same pattern. The first word is shallow, meaning the next word must have the opposite meaning, making deep the correct answer.
The Nonverbal Section of the OLSAT contains three subcategories: Pictorial Reasoning, Figural Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.
- Picture Classification (Levels A-C): These are odd-one-out questions, similar to Verbal Classification, except with pictures. Students will be presented with a series of images and will have to choose which one doesn’t belong with the rest.
- Picture Analogies (Levels A-C): These questions are similar to Verbal Analogies questions, except with pictures. Your child will be presented with a pair of images that go together in a certain way, followed by a single image. They will need to determine the relationship and figure out what image is missing.
- Picture Series (Level A): This question type assesses your child’s ability to understand patterns. More specifically, it assesses their ability to understand progressions. The question will present a series of questions that progresses in some way from left to right, and your child will need to figure out what comes next in the series.
Pictorial Reasoning Sample Question: Picture Analogies
The correct answer is the chicken. In the top row, the first picture is an apple. The second picture is a tree, which is where the apple comes from, since apples grow on trees.
The bottom row should follow the same pattern. In the first box, there is a picture of an egg. The next picture will be a picture of where eggs come from, making the chicken the correct answer.
- Figural Classification (Levels A-D): This is another odd-one-out question type. Questions will present five images, and your child will have to determine which one does not belong with the others.
- Figural Analogies (Levels A-G): Similar to Verbal Analogies and Picture Analogies, these questions will present you with a pair of shapes, followed by a single shape. Your child will need to determine the relationship between the first two shapes and figure out what shape is missing.
- Pattern Matrix (Levels A-G): These questions will present a 3×3 matrix with one empty box. The other 8 boxes will contain various shapes and figures, presenting patterns both horizontally across the matrix and vertically down the matrix. Your child will have to determine what belongs in the empty box.
- Figural Series (Levels A-G): These questions present a sequential series of four shapes and will ask your child to determine what shape comes next in the sequence.
Figural Reasoning Sample Question: Figural Analogies
The correct answer is the grey octagon. In the top row, the first shape is a white trapezoid. The second shape is also a trapezoid, but it is larger and grey. From the first frame to the second, the shape stays the same, but gets larger and changes from white to grey.
The bottom row should have the same pattern. The first shape in the bottom row is a white octagon. This means the correct answer will be a larger, grey octagon.
- Number Series (Levels D-G): Number Series questions will present a sequence of numbers, and your child will have to determine the next number in the series.
- Numeric Inference (Levels D-G): These questions will present groups of numbers, and your child will have to infer how the groups of numbers go together.
- Number Matrix (Levels D-G): These questions will present a 3×3 matrix made up of numbers that has patterns going both horizontally across each row and vertical down each column. Your child will have to determine what the pattern is and fill in the blank square in the matrix.
Quantitative Reasoning Sample Question: Number Series
5 12 9 16 13 ?
Answer: The correct answer is 20. The first number in the series is 5. The next number is 12, meaning that 7 was added. The next number is 9, meaning that 3 was subtracted. The next number is 16, meaning that 7 was added again. This means the pattern in this series is +7, – 3. Following this pattern, we should add 7 to 13, giving us 20 as the correct answer.
How is the OLSAT Scored?
Your child’s score is broken down in a few ways:
- Raw Scores: A raw score is simply the number of questions answered correctly. For example, if your child answers 40 out of 60 questions correctly, their raw score will be 40. One point is earned for every correct answer, and there is no negative scoring, meaning they do not lose points for answering a question incorrectly.
- School Ability Index (SAI) Score: The raw score is compared against the scores of other children in the same age group and converted to the School Ability Index score, referred to as an SAI score. The average SAI score is 100, and the maximum score is 150.
- Percentile Score: The SAI score is then converted to a percentile score, which simply tells you how your child performed retlative to other children in their age group. For example, a percentile score of 90% would indicate that your child performed better than 90% of children their age who took the OLSAT.
Your child will also receive separate scores for the Verbal and Nonverbal sections of the test, so you and their school will be able to more clearly see their strengths and weaknesses. Still, the overall score remains the most important one and the one that will likely determine whether your child will be accepted into a gifted program.
What is a Good OLSAT Score?
The definition of “good” may vary, depending on who is asking. In general, a gifted score would be around the 97th-98th percentile or higher, which usually equates to an SAI score of 132. If your child scores in this range, they are in a good position to be selected for a gifted program. It is advised that you find out from your child’s school what score range they accept.
How to Prepare for the OLSAT
The OLSAT is a unique and difficult test that can have a major effect on your child’s academic career. It is important for your child to be as prepared as possible for the test. Elm Academy has developed comprehensive courses to make sure your child is fully prepared for the OLSAT.
Minimize stress – Standardized testing can be a stressful experience for children, especially younger students who aren’t familiar with tests of this type. OLSAT preparation can help lessen the amount of stress your child feels, and in turn maximize their test performance.
Become familiar with unique question types – The types of questions on the OLSAT are unique and unlikely to look like anything your child has encountered before. By preparing with practice questions designed to look like real OLSAT questions, your child will become familiar with the style of the question and can focus on reasoning out the correct answer, rather than getting stumped trying to understand what’s being asked. Our OLSAT courses include lessons and quizzes that focus on all of the question types.
Simulate a test-taking experience – Completing such a long test with the pressure of a time limit can be difficult for anyone. By having previous experience with a timed, full-length test that mimics the OLSAT’s testing environment, your child will be in a familiar place when they encounter the real test.
Read more about how to prepare for gifted tests.
Frequently Asked Questions About the OLSAT
Is the OLSAT an IQ test?
The OLSAT is not an IQ test. While it tests some abilities similar to how an IQ test might, it does not test the full range of abilities in the same way. The OLSAT only focuses on reasoning abilities that would align with academic success. Additionally, it is only normed against other students who take the OLSAT, and not against the full population, as IQ tests generally are. Do not confuse the OLSAT for an IQ test. It is simply a tool used to assess reasoning abilities for academic reasons.
What OLSAT score is considered gifted?
There is no set answer to this question, as it can vary from one school or program to another. Generally, schools will set the cutoff at around the 98th percentile, but this number is not set in stone. More competitive programs may have that number at the 99th percentile, while others may have it in the mid-90s. In terms of an SAI score, this usually translates to a 132, which is 2 standard deviations above the average of 100. Keep in mind that the OLSAT isn’t a perfect tool; a test on its own cannot tell you everything about a child, which is why most gifted programs will use additional methods when assessing students for their gifted programs.
Is the OLSAT timed?
Yes, though this may be flexible in some cases, usually for younger students. In general, students are given 60-75 minutes to complete the test. These times can be a bit flexible and may depend on how your school chooses to administer the test. We recommend speaking with your school to find out how the test will be administered. When preparing with our OLSAT courses, our practice tests are timed to help create a more realistic testing environment.
On the OLSAT, should my child guess if they don’t know the correct answer?
Yes. There is no penalty for getting questions wrong on the OLSAT. Guessing gives your child a chance at getting the question right, while skipping it is the same as guessing incorrectly.
How is the OLSAT administered?
This is up to whoever is administering the test. It may be given to an individual child, in a small group setting, or even to an entire grade. For example, the OLSAT is taken by all 2nd and 3rd grade students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Elm Academy's OLSAT Courses
Elm Academy offers practice resources for the OLSAT which include a realistic full-length practice test, detailed lessons and quizzes for each question type, and a study guide for parents that includes recommended study schedules and tips. Elm Academy’s courses offer the structure and detail to help your child prepare for the OLSAT and perform to the best of their abilities. Our courses are entirely online, and can be accessed immediately upon purchase via desktop, tablet, or smartphone.
You can also try our free sample courses to get a glimpse of what our full courses offer.