Welcome back to the next part of deep dive into what IQ is and how it is comprised.  The last post looked at Verbal Comprehension and its various aspects.  In today’s post we will examine the second component of the overall IQ:  Visual Spatial.

As a reminder, I am using the WISC-V as my guide since it is the main cognitive assessment I use in my evaluations.  The WISC-V is intended for children ages 6-16.  The WAIS-IV, which is used when assessing adults, contains a component called Perceptual Reasoning, which is similar to Visual Spatial.

What is Visual Spatial?

In my neuropsychological reports, I describe Visual Spatial as: “Visual Spatial measures the individual’s ability to evaluate details and understand and manipulate visual/spatial relationships.”  When considering this description, three words really stand out:

  • Evaluate
  • Understand
  • Manipulate

Visual Spatial skills typically involve the use of recognizing shapes and patterns (evaluate and understand) AND physically or mentally arranging those shapes and patterns into certain orders (manipulate).  Individuals with strong Visual Spatial skills often enjoy and thrive at tasks that involve building, designing, and replicating two and three dimensional objects.  Relevant career interests that take advantage of strong Visual Spatial skills include architecture, engineering, visual arts, forensics and construction.

How is It Calculated?

The Visual Spatial index score is comprised of two main subtests:  Block Design and Visual Puzzles.  However, only one of these subtests is actually used in the computation of the overall IQ.  Typically the Block Design subtest is used in this computation, but Visual Puzzles can be used if the Block Design index score is unavailable for any reason.

The Block Design subtest provides the examinee with a certain amount of blocks that he or she must arrange to match the design the examiner provides.  Depending on the age of the examinee, he or she may start out with two or four blocks and a time limit of one minute.  As the testing progresses, eventually the examinee will manipulate nine blocks with a time limit of two minutes.  Generally, the quicker the examinee is able to arrange the blocks, the better his or her score will be.

The Visual Puzzles subtest asks the examinee to select three two-dimensional figures from a group of six that can be arranged in order to match a figure presented by the examiner.  The shapes can be flipped and rotated as necessary, but the subtest does not provide any actual hand-on objects with which to work.  Rather, the examinee must evaluate the shapes visually and determine their arrangement without the use of physical manipulation.  As the subtest progresses, the figures and shapes become more complex and angled.  There is a 30 second time limit on each one.

It is important to note that due to use of blocks, the Block Design subtest is very difficult, if not impossible, to administer in a virtual setting.  In this case, a Visual Spatial index score is unable to be calculated, and the Visual Puzzles subtest is substituted in the computation of the overall IQ.  I have run into this issue during the past several months as I have conducted many virtual evaluations due to COVID-19.  Although in these instances a Visual Spatial index score cannot be obtained, it is still possible to make inferences regarding an individual’s visual spatial abilities.

Similar to the other index scores, the Visual Spatial index score provides a summed score that is converted into a standard score with the following descriptions:

  • 130 or above: Very Superior
  • 120-129: Superior
  • 110-119: High Average
  • 90-109: Average
  • 80-89: Low Average
  • 70-79: Borderline
  • Below 70: Extremely Low

Most students fall in the 80-120 range.

What Does the Score Tell Us?

The Visual Spatial score gives us some good insight into how an individual is able to see and manipulate objects, shapes and designs.  These skills are actually on display at quite an early age.  My four year old is obsessed with Legos right now.  Not only are Legos a parent’s best friend, but they give kids an opportunity to test their visual spatial skills by building both from the directions and simply by their own creative minds.  As kids age, their natural proclivity for tasks involving visual spatial skills may increase or decrease as well.  Determining if this is a strength for your child may help direct your decisions into which schools, camps, and extracurricular activities he may enjoy.

Not surprisingly, many students who struggle in Algebra do very well in Geometry.  This is usually due to a strong Visual Spatial ability in relation to their other cognitive skills.  Additionally, I have evaluated many students who may experience reading and writing challenges but thrive in tasks involving visual spatial skills.  Typically visual spatial involves a different part of the brain that many other cognitive skills, so it is good to identify these strengths and weaknesses.  Understanding one’s cognitive ability can really help shape his or her future.  As mentioned above, students with strong visual spatial skills may tend towards architecture, design, construction, forensics and visual arts.

In the next post we will continue our look at the IQ, focusing on Fluid Reasoning.