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What do the results of my son's aptitude tests mean?

Q Our son is finishing Transition Year, and is finalising his choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate in two years' time. He took aptitude tests earlier this year to help him choose those subjects, but we don't understand the significance of the tests or the scores.

A His guidance counsellor will have explained their significance to him, and parents are usually invited to explanatory sessions.

A comprehensive explanation of the tests is not possible in the space of the column, so what follows is just an outline.

The Differential Aptitude tests, which students usually take during their Junior Certificate or Transition Year, examine such areas as Verbal Reasoning (the ability to reason with words); Language Usage (a measure of how well one can distinguish correct and improper grammar, punctuation and so on); Spelling; Numerical Reasoning or Ability (the ability to reason with numbers or to deal intelligently with quantitative materials and ideas); Abstract Reasoning (a non-verbal, non-numerical measure of reasoning power, the ability to see relationships among other things); Space Relations (the ability to visualise, to think in three dimensions or to picture mentally the shape, size and position of objects when shown only a picture or pattern); Perceptual Speed and Accuracy (speed and accuracy in perceiving and marking letter and number combinations); and Mechanical Reasoning (the comprehension of mechanical principles and devices and of the laws of every day physics).

The norms for the test are Irish-based and have been standardised on thousands of Irish post-primary pupils.

The results usually show a 'raw score' and a 'percentile score'. The 'raw score' reflects the number of correct answers the student gave in each category.

The percentile score tells where the student stands percentage-wise out of the population tested, in other words, what percentage of students in a particular norm group score less well than the student. So if a student's score is on the 99th percentile in a particular test, this means 99pc of the rest of the students will have done less well, so the student is in the top 1pc in that test.

If he or she scores on the 20th percentile, it suggests that 80pc of their age group are likely to do better than them in that test, and just 20pc less well.

No matter how students score in any of these categories, there are certain core subjects that they really must take for the Leaving Certificate, including English, Irish, maths, another language and a science subject. Aptitude-test results may particularly help them choose their optional subjects.

If students score very well, for example, in the verbal/language area, it may suggest that they take several languages, or a subject like history. A high score in Space Relations might suggest an aptitude for a visual subject like art or technical drawing, or for the visual components of a subject like geography (which involves ordnance survey or map interpretation), or Biology (where an ability to draw good diagrams is useful).

High Mechanical Reasoning may suggest a strong practical inclination; good Abstract Reasoning may also suggest visual ability, or some mathematical or scientific aptitude.

Open days: Today: open day in Monaghan Institute from 10am-7pm. The Institute offers more than 20 post leaving certificate (PLC) courses on its new campus. Also today, open day in Senior College, DĂșn Laoghaire, Co Dublin, from 2pm-8pm. RACE, the Racing Academy and Centre of Education, continues its May series of open days on Tuesday next, May 14, from 2pm. Also on Tuesday, Dublin Business School holds an open evening, from 5pm-7pm

Irish Independent