Identifying Gifted students

"All individuals have strengths relative to their other capabilities; some individuals have exceptional abilities relative to most other people..." Working Party Report, Nov 2001

Particular talents and social environments will affect how a childs personality and achievement patterns form. Like everyone else, each gifted child is unique; each has their own strengths and weaknesses. The gifted mathematician may be an average reader, and the early reader may lack the ability to organise her time or class materials. In general, the gifted student can be identified by professional evaluations, academic performance or by certain observed behaviours.

Professional evaluations:

Parents can pay to have their child assessed by an educational psychologist. Look in your phone book or ask your school for the nearest professional in your region.

Modern norms for IQ tests are biased against gifted children. Because of their low ceilings, none of the current tests provides valid IQ scores for highly gifted children.

Gifted children's IQ scores become depressed at approximately 9 years of age due to ceiling effects of the test. The ideal age for testing is between 4 and 8. There has been a trend away from defining the gifted and talented in terms of a single category (for example, high IQ) towards a multicategory approach, which acknowledges a diverse range of special abilities.

Academic performance:

Some schools consider the top 15%, 10% or 5% of their students to be gifted or talented.

BUT this definition does not pick up those under-achieving students who are bored by a subject or do not see it as important and can pass with very little effort.


As a parent you will know there is something different about this child. He can speak as an adult one minute, discussing how the brain works using electrical impulses and in the next minute throw a tantrum because he can't find the crayon he needs right now. She can have you in awe of her theories on Black Holes and the fate of the Universe, or completely frustrated because she can't seem to remember that her "lost" school bag is always kept by the front door.

As a teacher there are many forms of giftedness and they will show for some children in science, for some in art, while for others in leadership or social sensitivity. Some children are terrible introverts, misunderstood by peers and teachers, at risk of their undiscovered exceptionality leading to a dead end.

There are qualities and characteristics that are frequently found among gifted children, although no child will possess them all. By themselves, they are not proof of giftedness but may bring the student to your attention for further investigation.



  • Responds well to the company of older people.  May require emotionally stable and secure adults around him/her.
  • Is very compassionate and has many fears such as death and loss of loved ones.
  • Has an unusual sensitivity to the feelings and expectations of others.
  • Has a realistic idea of their own abilities and a feeling of being “different”
  • Is a perfectionist and has high self-expectations. 
  • May become easily frustrated because of his/her big ideas and not being able to carry out these tasks to fruition.
  • If he/she experiences failure early, may give up and develop permanent learning blocks.
  • Has a highly developed moral and ethical sense.
  • Will resist authority if it not democratically oriented.
  • Displays persistent goal-directed behaviour.
  • Can spot inconsistencies.
  • Has a highly developed sense of humour.
  • Likes routines and rules, can be upset by changes to routines.
  • Has a high level of verbal ability.
  • Has a variety of interests and high level of curiosity.
  • Learns to read earlier than average.
  • Reads widely, quickly and intensely.
  • Often remembers large volumes of information.
  • Has a longer attention and concentration span.
  • Bores easily and may appear to have a short attention span.
  • Exhibits day-dreaming behaviour. 
  • learns basic skills faster, better and with less practice.
  • A good guesser and asks ‘what if’ questions. 
  • Asks interesting/difficult/ unexpected questions. 
  • Has the ability to see unusual and diverse relationships.
  • Has keen powers of observation with an eye for important details.
  • Has the ability to generate original ideas and solutions.
  • Handles complex problems well. 
  • Enjoys intellectual activity.


Preschool children may

  • Need little sleep. 
  • Reach physical milestones early.
  • Talk a great deal and very fluently. 
  • Like books and being read to.
  • Become quickly bored with easy games. 
  • Become easily frustrated.
  • Prefer company of older people. 
  • Be exceptionally alert. 
  • Show early evidence of reasoning. 
  • Have advanced thinking skills. 
  • Have a sophisticated vocabulary. 
  • Learn to read early.
  • Be very curious. 


From the Ministry:

According to one New Zealand publication*, behavioural characteristics such as advanced reading and language skills, early abstract thinking, and exceptional levels of knowledge, curiosity, and motivation are helpful in identifying gifted and talented students.

* Ministry of Education. (2000). Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools. Wellington: Learning Media Ltd. Printed copies of this publication can be purchased from the publisher, Learning Media Limited, Box 3293, Wellington.



How they select:

The Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC) uses these guidelines to identify children for entry into one of its groups...

  1. Some formalised testing that indicates the child is working or able to work at or above the 95th percentile; e.g. school reports or tests, extra-curricular activities, etc.
  2. Specific information about the child's learning, social behaviour or development indicating ability in the gifted category, e.g. reading well at three years of age.
  3. Examples of the child's work, e.g. writing, art, maths.
  4. The ability to competently handle cirricula standards set for an age two years or more above the child's age.


Where to next?

These children cannot just be given more work to do in class because they have finished the task before everyone else. On the other hand, a gifted child may not bother to complete a task he/she thinks is too easy.

So what does the parent or teacher have to face as a consequence of living and working with these extraordinary individuals?

New Zealand's history of neglecting gifted children... Working Party report summary

What does it mean to be called "gifted"... definitions of "Giftedness"

How to identify gifted children... some common features to look for

Consequences for parents and teacher... practical suggestions

What can Primary and Secondary teacher do? Giftedness in school

Real examples for Primary schools and Secondary schools. Acceleration, dual enrolment, and the conflicting needs of the school versus the student. Case studies

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