At a glance
Tests for dyscalculia look at a variety of math skills.
These include skills like mental math and quantitative reasoning.
Testing for dyscalculia can also shed light on issues with attention or working memory, which can also cause trouble with math.
If your child is having trouble with math, you may be wondering what’s causing it. Is it because of dyscalculia, or is something else causing the difficulty? There’s only one way to know for sure. You’ll need to have your child tested for dyscalculia (which is now diagnosed as “specific learning disorder,” with the areas of math weaknesses listed).
A full evaluation can show the exact areas where your child is struggling. Evaluators look at how well a child can do basic calculations, recall math facts, and solve problems quickly. Each test for dyscalculia looks at different skills. Specific tests may assess:
- Computation skills
- Math fluency
- Mental computation
- Quantitative reasoning
Here are four types of tests that are given when evaluating for dyscalculia, and examples of each type of test.
Tests that assess computation skills
Example: Woodcock-Johnson IV (WJ IV) Calculation subtest
Similar tests include: Wechsler Individual Achievement Test IV (WIAT-III) Numerical Operations, Mathematical Fluency and Calculations Tests (MFaCTs), certain subtests of the Comprehensive Mathematical Abilities Test (CMAT)
What it measures: The child’s ability to do math operations efficiently and accurately.
Why it’s important: These are the skills that allow kids to make correct math calculations. They’re involved in all math operations, from addition to trigonometry.
How it works: The child is given a series of basic math problems to do with pencil and paper. The type of problems will depend on the child’s age or grade. Younger kids will get addition and subtraction problems. Older kids will get problems that involve multiplication, division, decimals, and fractions. High-schoolers may get some basic algebra questions, as well.
These tests aren’t timed. If your child gets a low score, the evaluator will assess the types of errors. When kids make an error like 38 − 29 = 19, they may not understand a math concept, like borrowing.
But some kids make mistakes even when they understand the math concepts they’re working with. For instance, after doing two addition problems, a child may do a third problem as an addition problem, too — even though it’s a division problem. This can point to attention issues.
Tests that assess math fluency
Example: WJ IV Math Fluency subtest
Similar tests include: WIAT-III Math Fluency subtest, MFaCTs Fluency Test
What it measures: The child’s ability to call up math facts, like 3 × 3 = 9, quickly and accurately.
Why it’s important: Having basic math facts at their fingertips frees up kids to spend more energy on learning new concepts and skills. It can really slow them down if they have to count on their fingers or struggle through basic calculations. They’re also more likely to be confused and get lost in the problem.
Having to do problems quickly requires kids to stay focused. So a low score could point to attention issues in addition to math difficulties.
How it works: The child is given written tests of math computation problems. (These are similar to the problems in the computation test, but easier.) The child must complete as many problems as possible within a certain time frame. The amount of time varies by age, but it’s generally between three and five minutes.
Tests that assess mental computation
Example: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V) Arithmetic subtest
Similar tests include: Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), Test of Mental Computation
What it measures: Kids’ ability to do math problems in their head. This is also known as mental math.
Why it’s important: Mental math requires kids to do a few things. They need to remember the information they’ve heard, retrieve math facts, and then make calculations. A low score can mean they haven’t mastered basic math strategies. It can also mean they struggle with or anxiety.
How it works: The test can be given in two ways — orally or visually, on a computer. In the oral version, the child listens to a series of problems. An example is 9 minus 3 plus 6. In the visual one, numbers flash on the screen. There might be a 3, followed by another 3, which the child adds together to get 6. Then there might be a 2 on the screen, so the child has to add 6 + 2, and so on.
Tests that assess quantitative reasoning
Example: WIAT-III Math Problem Solving subtest
Similar tests include: WJ IV Applied Problems, CMAT Problem Solving
What it measures: The child’s math problem-solving skills. Specifically, the ability to understand quantitative relationships and set up a computation to solve a word problem.
Why it’s important: Kids need to use reasoning to solve math word problems. That requires being able to understand numerical concepts. A low score on this test can signal an issue with math, language, or higher order skills, so more testing may be needed to tell what’s behind it.
How it works: This test uses both verbal and visual prompts. The evaluator gives the child a series of word problems orally. Or the child might read the problem. A pencil and paper can be used to help calculate, and there’s a written version to refer to.
A typical problem may be: John walked to the store. The store was 10 miles away. He bumped into Alice at the store. They both walked back to John’s house. What was the total number of miles walked by both children? (The answer is 30.)
What happens after dyscalculia testing
The evaluator will look at the results of all the testing together. The evaluator should also look at it along with other types of tests, such as intelligence tests.
It may take a few weeks to get the results. The evaluator will put all the information together and write a report.
Tests for dyscalculia look at various skills, including computation and problem-solving skills.
They can help determine whether your child’s main issue is with math or something else.
If testing shows dyscalculia, your child may be eligible for dyscalculia accommodations.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Nelson Dorta, PhD is a pediatric neuropsychologist and an assistant professor of medical psychology in child psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.