What is the Ceiling Effect in Tests?

Is there a point at which students are too advanced for testing?

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A test ceiling is the upper limit of an intelligence or achievement test. It is the top score a test-taker can attain on a test regardless of ability or depth of knowledge. When one hits the ceiling of a test, it means that the questions on the test were insufficiently difficult to measure true ability or knowledge. Testing is concluded when a child misses a specific number of consecutive questions.

Examples of Test Ceilings

For example, a child might have to miss three questions in a row before the tester quits asking questions. However, the tester runs out of questions before the child can miss three in a row. This does not mean that the child hasn’t missed any questions. He or she may have missed one, answered a couple more, missed two, answered more, and so on until no more questions are available.

IQ scores for children who hit the ceiling of an IQ test may not be accurate; that is, they may be too low because the children were unable to continue answering questions until the questions became too difficult for them to answer. Of course, the score could also be correct, but when children hit the ceiling of a test, all we can know is that the score they received is their lowest possible score. Their actual score could be a little or a lot higher, but it is impossible to know by using testing as the only means of measurement.


Are Advanced Students at a Disadvantage With Test Ceilings?

The National Association for Gifted Children suggests that standardized tests which have built-in ceilings actually put advanced students at a disadvantage, especially if English is their second language, or they have a learning disability.

While tests can be used as effective benchmarks for student performance, it's advisable that other assessments be taken as well, in order to determine a student's giftedness

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