Intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a marker used to measure the level a child’s intelligence or mental comprehension. There are many different methods to evaluate a child's IQ, and most standardized tests will focus on verbal, quantitative and nonverbal skills and ability to solve problems. While they can be helpful in determining a child’s mental agility, IQ tests are limited in scope and do not reflect the multitudes of ways children learn. IQ, therefore, should be considered only a part of a child’s overall ability and penchant for learning.

The Origins of IQ

Alfred Binet created the first IQ test in 1905 as a way to determine a child’s readiness for schooling. The test, known as the Binet-Simon Scale, featured 30 tasks of increasing complexity, the easiest of which could be completed even by children with severe mental retardation. Like most modern IQ tests, Binet’s test could be used as part of an overall evaluation to help identify children who fall outside of the “standard” range of intelligence and, therefore, were in need of special or gifted education.

Where to Start

As a parent of preschool or school-age children, the best place to start is with your child’s teacher. According to psychologist Dr. Sylvia Rimm, waiting to test your child until his fourth birthday is optimal. Even though children who are younger than four can be tested, the results are not quite as reliable when given to preschoolers. Talk to your child’s teacher or school counselor for testing recommendations. If your child is not yet enrolled in school, ask his pediatrician to recommend a qualified psychologist who is skilled at interpreting the results of an IQ test.

Testing Options

When it comes to IQ tests, there are several that dominate the field. According to the American Psychological Association, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale For Children is among the tests most frequently administered by school districts. There are two versions of this test; one for children aged 4 through 6-and-a-half, and another for children age 6 through 16. The test measures verbal comprehension, working memory and functional skills. Other tests commonly used to evaluate children include the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, which evolved from Binet’s original test and measures a child’s reasoning skills, visual-spatial processing and working memory, and the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities, which measures working memory, general intellectual ability and functional skills.

A Less Formal Approach

If you want to evaluate your child's IQ without the added stress of a formal test, options exist. For instance, Mensa, the high-IQ society, offers a 30-minute "Mensa Workout" test that can give you an idea of the types of questions the actual test contains. Also, celebrity psychologist Dr. Phil offers a downloadable and printable IQ test for children aged 5 through 16 that was developed by a licensed psychologist. Keep in mind, however, that these Internet-based tests in no way meet the criteria of a standardized IQ test and are not used for professional assessment.

Limitations of Testing

Although IQ tests can help you determine whether your child may be gifted or need special services, they are not foolproof. Cultural and language differences, motivation and environmental influences can all impact the way a child performs on a test. According to the American Psychological Association, a child’s IQ can fluctuate over time based on the limitations of the test, so be sure that you are working with a licensed, trained expert who understands that an IQ test represents only a portion of your child’s overall abilities.