A Comprehensive Guide to the Dyslexia Tests: 5 Test Types

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that primarily affects reading and language-based processing skills. It’s estimated that around 15-20% of the population has some symptoms of dyslexia, including slow reading and trouble spelling. If you suspect you or your child may have dyslexia, getting a proper diagnosis is crucial. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about dyslexia tests, including their types,  purposes, and what to expect during the testing process.

Professional adminitering a dyslexia test to a child
Photo by Mikahil Nilov

Why Testing for Dyslexia is Important

Dyslexia can impact a person’s academic performance and self-esteem. Early diagnosis and intervention are essential to provide the support and strategies needed to cope with and overcome the challenges associated with dyslexia. Testing helps in:

  1. Confirming the presence of dyslexia: A proper assessment can confirm whether the difficulties experienced are due to dyslexia or another issue.
  2. Identifying strengths and weaknesses: Testing helps in understanding the specific areas of difficulty and strength, which is essential for creating an effective support plan.
  3. Accessing support and accommodations: A formal diagnosis can provide access to specialized educational programs, resources, and accommodations in academic and work environments.

Types of Dyslexia Tests

Dyslexia testing and assessment is typically divided into several key areas to provide a comprehensive understanding of an child’s reading and language processing skills. Here is a quick overview of the 5 main types of dyslexia tests – scroll down to the next session for a deeper dive into each test type:

1. Phonological Awareness Tests

In a nutshell:

  • Purpose: To assess the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in words.
  • Common Tests: The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP) and the Phonological Awareness Test (PAT).
  • What to Expect: Tasks might include identifying rhymes, breaking words into sounds, or blending sounds into words. Read more.

2. Word Reading and Decoding Tests

In a nutshell:

  • Purpose: To evaluate the ability to read words accurately and fluently.
  • Common Tests: The Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement and the Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT).
  • What to Expect: Reading lists of real and nonsense words to test decoding skills without relying on vocabulary knowledge. Read more.

3. Reading Comprehension Tests

In a nutshell:

  • Purpose: To measure the ability to understand and interpret what is read.
  • Common Tests: The Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI) and the Gray Silent Reading Tests (GSRT).
  • What to Expect: Reading passages followed by questions about the content, main ideas, and inferences. Read more.

4. Spelling and Writing Tests

In a nutshell:

  • Purpose: To assess spelling and written language skills.
  • Common Tests: The Test of Written Spelling (TWS) and the Test of Written Language (TOWL).
  • What to Expect: Tasks may include spelling words, writing sentences, and composing short essays. Read more.

5. Memory and Processing Speed Tests

In a nutshell:

  • Purpose: To evaluate cognitive functions related to dyslexia, such as working memory and processing speed.
  • Common Tests: The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning (WRAML).
  • What to Expect: Activities might involve recalling sequences of numbers, repeating sentences, or quickly naming colors or objects. Read more.

Deep dive: The 5 dyslexia test types, what they mean, how to interpret results

1. Phonological Awareness Tests

Content of the Test: Phonological awareness tests assess an individual’s ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in spoken language, independent of meaning. These tests include activities like rhyming, segmenting words into individual sounds (phonemes), blending sounds to form words, and identifying the initial or final sounds in words. For example, a child might be asked to break down the word “cat” into its component sounds /k/, /æ/, and /t/, or to blend the sounds /b/, /a/, and /t/ to form the word “bat.”

Relevance for Dyslexia: Phonological awareness is a fundamental skill for reading development, as it involves the ability to understand that words are composed of smaller sound units. Dyslexia is often associated with difficulties in phonological processing, which can impede the ability to decode words and impact reading fluency and comprehension. By testing phonological awareness, educators and psychologists can identify children who may struggle with these critical skills, which are necessary for learning to read and spell effectively.

Expected Outcomes for a Dyslexic Child: A child with dyslexia is likely to exhibit significant difficulties on phonological awareness tests compared to their non-dyslexic peers. They might struggle to break words down into individual sounds, have trouble rhyming, or find it challenging to blend sounds to form words. These difficulties are typically more pronounced and persistent than in children without dyslexia, who generally develop these skills more easily and quickly.

2. Word Reading and Decoding Tests

Content of the Test: Word reading and decoding tests measure a child’s ability to read words accurately and fluently, both in isolation and within context. These tests often include lists of real words and non-words that the child must read aloud. Non-word reading (such as “blorp” or “smeek”) is particularly important as it tests the child’s ability to apply phonetic rules to unfamiliar words without relying on memory or context clues. The test may also involve timed reading passages to assess reading fluency and speed.

Relevance for Dyslexia: Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties in reading, particularly in decoding words—translating written language into spoken words. This stems from weaknesses in phonological processing and orthographic mapping. Assessing word reading and decoding skills helps to identify specific issues with sound-symbol correspondence and the ability to recognize and process written words quickly and accurately, which are critical skills for fluent reading.

Expected Outcomes for a Dyslexic Child: Children with dyslexia typically perform poorly on word reading and decoding tests. They may read words slowly and inaccurately, often guessing or skipping words. When encountering non-words, they struggle significantly because they cannot rely on memory and must fully utilize phonetic decoding skills, which are weak in dyslexia. Their reading is often labored and lacks the automaticity seen in their non-dyslexic peers, who can decode new words more efficiently and read familiar words quickly and correctly.

3. Reading Comprehension Tests

Content of the Test: Reading comprehension tests evaluate how well a child understands and interprets written text. These tests involve reading passages of varying lengths and complexities, followed by questions that assess the child’s ability to recall facts, infer meanings, identify main ideas, and understand the sequence of events. Questions may be multiple-choice, short answer, or require written responses. The passages can range from simple narratives to more complex informational texts.

Relevance for Dyslexia: While dyslexia primarily affects word decoding and fluency, these challenges often extend to reading comprehension. If a child has difficulty decoding words, it can impede their ability to focus on and understand the content of the text. Reading comprehension tests help to identify whether difficulties with understanding written material are related to dyslexia or other factors, such as vocabulary knowledge or general cognitive abilities.

Expected Outcomes for a Dyslexic Child: A child with dyslexia may struggle with reading comprehension tests due to the underlying challenges in word decoding and fluency. They might read slowly and inaccurately, making it difficult to grasp the meaning of the text. They often need to re-read passages multiple times and still might miss critical details or the overall gist. This contrasts with non-dyslexic children, who generally read more fluently and can comprehend text more easily and accurately after a single reading.

4. Spelling and Writing Tests

Content of the Test: Spelling and writing tests assess a child’s ability to spell words correctly and produce written text. These tests may include dictation exercises where the child writes down words spoken by the examiner, free writing tasks where the child writes sentences or short essays, and standardized spelling tests where words are spelled out in isolation. The writing tasks may also be evaluated for organization, coherence, grammar, and punctuation.

Relevance for Dyslexia: Dyslexia affects not only reading but also spelling and writing skills. Poor phonological processing and difficulties with word recognition impact a child’s ability to learn and remember correct spelling patterns. Writing, which involves encoding thoughts into written form, can be particularly challenging for dyslexic individuals, as it requires integrating spelling, grammar, and organizational skills. Testing these areas helps to identify specific difficulties and provides a basis for targeted interventions.

Expected Outcomes for a Dyslexic Child: Children with dyslexia often have inconsistent and phonetic-based spelling errors, reflecting their difficulties with sound-symbol relationships and memory for spelling patterns. Their written work might be disorganized, with frequent errors in grammar and punctuation, and they may find it challenging to express their thoughts clearly in writing. In contrast, non-dyslexic children typically exhibit more accurate and consistent spelling and better-organized writing that more effectively communicates their ideas.

5. Memory and Processing Speed Tests

Content of the Test: Memory and processing speed tests assess cognitive functions that are critical for learning and academic performance. These tests might include activities like recalling sequences of numbers or words (working memory), remembering details from a story (long-term memory), and quickly identifying and naming objects or colors (processing speed). Tests can also involve tasks that measure how quickly and accurately a child can complete simple cognitive tasks under time pressure.

Relevance for Dyslexia: Memory and processing speed are often affected in individuals with dyslexia. Difficulties with working memory can make it hard to hold and manipulate information in the mind, such as remembering instructions or the sequence of sounds in a word. Slow processing speed can affect the ability to quickly recognize and process written words, contributing to reading and writing difficulties. Assessing these areas helps to understand the broader cognitive challenges associated with dyslexia.

Expected Outcomes for a Dyslexic Child: Children with dyslexia may exhibit slower processing speeds and weaker working memory than their non-dyslexic peers. They might struggle to quickly recall and use information, leading to slower reading and writing. These children often take longer to complete tasks and may find it difficult to follow multi-step instructions or remember sequences. Non-dyslexic children typically perform these tasks more quickly and efficiently, showing stronger working memory and faster processing speeds.

Who determines which test to administer a child who struggles with reading?

Each type of dyslexia test serves a specific purpose in identifying and understanding the different aspects of reading and cognitive difficulties associated with dyslexia. The relevance of each test depends on the child’s symptoms, academic history, and specific areas of difficulty.

But who adminsters what type of dyslexia test, and who decides what test to administer?

A number of people are involved in the process that eventually leads to a test. Parents, educators and specialists all play a certain role.


  • Role: Parents who notice their child struggling with reading or writing at home, or who have concerns about their academic progress, can seek an evaluation.
  • Action: They can request a formal assessment from the school or seek help from a private specialist.

Teachers and Educators:

  • Role: Often the first to notice potential reading and learning difficulties in a child. They can recommend an assessment based on observed struggles with reading, writing, and classroom performance.
  • Action: They may refer the child to a school psychologist, reading specialist, or suggest an external evaluation.

Educational Psychologists:

  • Role: Conduct comprehensive evaluations to diagnose dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
  • Action: They select and administer specific tests based on the child’s symptoms, educational history, and any information provided by teachers or parents.

Reading Specialists:

  • Role: Specialize in identifying and addressing reading difficulties. They often conduct targeted assessments related to phonological awareness and word reading skills.
  • Action: They might administer specific tests to identify the particular areas of difficulty and to develop individualized intervention plans.


  • Role: Provide a detailed understanding of cognitive functioning and how it relates to learning difficulties, including dyslexia.
  • Action: They administer tests that assess broader cognitive skills like memory and processing speed, which can impact reading and learning.

Process: How to get tested for dyslexia?

The steps can vary but the typical journey to obtain a dyslexia test can be summarised as follows:

  1. Referral: The process usually starts with a referral from a teacher or a concern raised by a parent.
  2. Preliminary Screening: Initial screening might involve basic tests and observations to identify areas of concern.
  3. Comprehensive Evaluation: A qualified professional, such as an educational psychologist, will conduct a detailed assessment using the appropriate tests based on the child’s needs.
  4. Individualized Testing: Tests are selected based on the child’s specific symptoms, age, and areas of academic difficulty. This tailored approach ensures that the assessment accurately identifies the underlying issues related to dyslexia.

In conclusion, the selection of dyslexia tests is a collaborative process that involves teachers, parents, and specialized professionals. Each test provides valuable insights into different aspects of a child’s reading and cognitive skills, helping to develop effective support strategies and interventions.

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