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Gifted Characteristics Checklist

Gifted Identification Checklists

Many teachers and schools wonder how to identify gifted and talented students. That’s understandable. Identifying gifted and talented students can be challenging. Most districts employ several methods to identify gifted students. These usually include gifted characteristics checklists and IQ testing. Gifted characteristics checklists, often referred to as gifted identification checklists, don’t work, and if you attend a gifted conference, you’ll find that many instructors and leading experts are advocating instruction that also doesn’t work, often enrichment activities that never address the need for basic knowledge. These activities vary in intensity but usually assume that the student already possesses a broad range of skills that most gifted students won’t acquire unless appropriate instruction is provided. The assumption is that these students are gifted, so they must be learning more, faster, and with greater depth. The reality is that gifted students don’t maximize their educational opportunities by focusing only on enrichment. As with gifted and talented identifying checklists, the recommended instruction is often stereotypically ineffective. Why is it wrong when we stereotype negative characteristics for a group of people yet helpful and right when we stereotype what we consider positive characteristics? Perhaps the problem lies with the inaccuracies associated with stereotyping an entire demographic.

The following IQ scores were sampled from different sites on the Internet:

Gifted Characteristics and IQ

 Site 1 Site 2 Site 3 Site 4 

Abraham Lincoln 





George W. Bush 





John F. Kennedy 





Richard Nixon 





Thomas Jefferson 





Gifted, Talented, and Excelling Students

IQ and Giftedness

As you can see, the differences in IQ are quite substantial. Most of the scores listed were based on gifted characteristics checklists and vocabulary usage. None of the scores are based on an actual IQ or gifted test. One could attribute the vast differences to the Internet and its inaccuracies or to the nature of politics. In reality, the problem with these scores is that each of them is fictional, calculated without any scientific basis. When gifted identification checklists are used, the results vary so widely that they are often unusable. John F. Kennedy scores a 117 on one checklist and a 174 on another, resulting in a swing from an above average rating to a high genius rating. George W. Bush is either low average or potentially highly gifted? Can we really rely on that kind of accuracy to identify students for testing? Can we rely on checklists to identify students for gifted programs? The worst scenario is when districts select students for their gifted programs based on gifted characteristics checklists. There’s simply no doubt that this is a largely ineffective technique to identify gifted and talented students.


Testing for Gifted and Talented Children

When people advocate the use of gifted identification checklists, they often state that IQ tests are inaccurate, vary in results, or that certain students don’t do well on tests. It is true that IQ tests do have a margin of error. It’s also true that any IQ score is based on a single score, a snapshot in time. You might have a good day, or you might not be performing at your ability level at that given moment. It’s also true that some students’ test scores do not reflect their ability. Tests might also have a bias for one gender, race, or culture. These are all inherent problems with any testing. Test results, however, continue to be the most accurate means of determining giftedness. Though flawed, test results are largely unbiased, accurate, and scientific. Gifted checklists are unscientific, biased, and consequently inaccurate. This is equally true about other “alternate pathways” and “nominations” that so many districts use to identify gifted and talented students. If you’re wondering how to identify gifted and talented students, the answer is simple. Test them, and they will come! Rely on an IQ test and accept no “alternate pathways” into what should be an IQ-based program.

IQ Ratings and Categories

Intelligence Interval Cognitive Designation Common Accomplishment Capabilities 

Below 20 

Profound Mental Retardation 



Severe Mental Retardation 



Moderate Mental Retardation 



Mild Mental Retardation 



Borderline Intellectual Functioning 






Above Average 

University Graduates 



University Graduates 


Highly Gifted 







Nobel Prize Winners 


High Genius 

Nobel Prize Winners 


Highest Genius 

Nobel Prize Winners 


"Unmeasurable" Genius 

Nobel Prize Winners  

Testing for Gifted and Talented Children

Gifted students are both similar and very different from other students. Most teachers believe that teaching gifted children is easy or easier. They seem to believe that all gifted students have a never-ending thirst for knowledge and that they’re all candidates for the citizenship award. There’s also the misconception about standardized tests. Most teachers believe, in varying degrees, that gifted students inherently do well on standardized testing, and with merit pay becoming a bigger issue, the divide between regular and gifted teachers is widening. Why do so many motivational speakers and so many people in the movie industry consider classroom success as beating the gifted class’s test scores? Competition is so often discouraged, but it seems to be condoned when it comes to beating the gifted kids. For me, this is evident each year when test results are released. When my students’ standardized testing scores are released each year, I inevitably hear, “Of course those students did well.” Sometimes, I hear, “Gifted students always do well on testing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like any other teacher, I have to work hard to make sure my students achieve. Gifted students aren’t born with knowledge and skills. They have to pay their dues just like any other student.


Why Do Gifted Children Need Special Education?

One needs to emphasize that these are merely accomplishment capabilities. They do not necessarily reflect actual realities. Intellect can be utilized, squandered, or used for the wrong purpose. The following graph certainly illustrates this. Note that most of these scores are actual IQ scores. They are not the result of a gifted and talented identification checklist.


Gifted Criminals


Adolph Hitler 


Charles Manson 


Ted Kaczynski 


Why Do Gifted Children Need Special Education?

I often hear teachers ask, “Why do gifted students need special education?” Do you think that gifted children need special education directed at meeting their needs? Gifted children can be leaders, for good or bad, and just like other children, they can be successful or unsuccessful. In a world of No Child Left Behind, gifted children are being left behind. We, as a nation, are worried about making sure all children can read, write and do basic math. Does this really benefit gifted children? Are we providing adequate challenges and support for gifted students? Further, do we really believe that a simple pull-out program or differentiated education is enough? Remarkably, the answers are simple. As a nation, we spend a disproportionate amount of money and time on struggling students. Gifted programs are contained within special education, but funding is overwhelmingly minimal. Support is inconsistent and largely based on local districts. No, we, as a nation, are not doing much for gifted children. No, most gifted programs are not effective. Numerous studies have shown that self-contained programs result in the highest levels of achievement for gifted students. They also result in the highest graduation rates.


False Beliefs about Gifted Students: Gifted Checklists

The gifted student:

  • applies creativity
  • asks many probing questions
  • concentrates with ease
  • does well on standardized testing
  • doesn’t need special educational opportunites
  • earns good grades
  • enjoys school
  • graduates with honors
  • has a high level of interest for new concepts
  • has a large vocabulary
  • is benefited by tutoring other students in class
  • is emotionally confident
  • knows more and answers more questions
  • learns faster than other students
  • likes complexity
  • reads a lot
  • shows self discipline
  • solves problems in different ways
  • will always succeed

This gifted and talented checklist continues and continues. In the interest of brevity, it has been shortened to these characteristics. Did you notice that most of these characteristics, the characteristics that I’m listing as false beliefs, are found on checklists intended to identify gifted children? These, along with other identifiers, are the characteristics we tell teachers to look for when identifying gifted children in their classrooms. Instead of identifying gifted children, we end up identifying nice students, teacher-pleasing students, hard-working students, and students with greater support at home. Occasionally, we also identify a gifted student. That’s the problem. Teachers have been conditioned to look for high achievers and teacher-pleasing students when identifying gifted students. Because of this, many gifted students are falling between the cracks and ultimately wasting their talents.


Truths about Gifted Students

The gifted student:

  • can learn faster than most students if interested in the topic and gifted in that area. As with any student, academic performance is truly linked to student interest, effort, and quality of instruction. Giftedness doesn’t magically equate to higher learning results.
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  • does not benefit from tutoring other students in a non-stop manner. Many teachers say that gifted students learn as they teach. That’s true to a certain point, but is that really the best use of time for gifted students? Is constant tutoring beneficial? It may help the teacher, and it may help other students in the class. It certainly doesn’t help gifted students though.
  • does not necessarily have a large vocabulary but might. Our vocabularies are developed based on what we hear and what we see. Poor parental involvement, the absence of relevant and challenging reading material, and reading apathy often result in retarded vocabulary development. Not all gifted students will have a high vocabulary. Some are actually below average in this area.
  • does not necessarily concentrate with ease. As with most people, gifted students concentrate on things that interest them. Many Gifted students often get distracted and find it difficult to concentrate on new tasks. Gifted students can have ADD too.
  • do not necessarily read a lot. Gifted students may read a lot if they like reading. I’m pretty good at landscaping, but that doesn’t mean I do it often. One has to enjoy an activity in order to be interested in doing it a lot. Many gifted students dislike reading, so they don’t do it often. Other gifted students show high ability in other areas, and because of this, they don’t necessarily read that well. One has to ask why this is an indicator of giftedness. Could it be that it’s an indicator, because that’s what so many teachers expect their gifted students to do? Instead of providing challenging work for gifted students, many teachers merely have them do the same work and then read when they’re finished. Maybe this is more of an indicator for something else, ineffective gifted instruction.
  • may or may not apply creativity. Some gifted students are very analytical and lack creativity.
  • may or may not do well on standardized testing. Achievement is not directly linked to success, but effort is. Gifted students only do well when they have an interest in doing well. Isn’t this true about all students?
  • may or may not earn good grades. The drop-out rate in my school district is higher for gifted students than it is for regular students. This is true in many, many other districts. When we assume that gifted students do well in school, we regrettably turn our backs on an entire demographic. Remember that there are many gifted criminals, many gifted yet homeless people, and many gifted students who never achieve what they are capable of doing.
  • may or may not like complexity. I’ve found that many gifted students do not like complexity. They’re often not used to being intellectually challenged. Giving complex tasks to gifted students often results in the same frustrations you might see in any classroom.
  • may or may not show self discipline. Gifted students are often able to complete work quickly. This can result in idle time. Idle time often results in misbehavior. Some gifted students are well behaved and show significant restraint. Others have little self discipline. Typically, some of the students with the most challenging behavior end up testing gifted. Unfortunately, they’re often overlooked, because they aren’t the teacher-pleasing students that so many people picture gifted students to be.
  • needs to be ability grouped. The IQ difference between a gifted student and an average student can be significant, usually at least 20-30 points. This difference in IQ often exceeds the difference between an average student and one who has been diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded. We almost always provide services or accommodations for students with a lower IQ or students with a learning disability. Why wouldn’t we provide significant services or accommodations for gifted students too? Does society just assume that gifted students don’t need help or that some pitiful, pull-out program is sufficient? Should we just accept less for gifted students? If a teacher’s instruction is not challenging, are they effective? Gifted students often have a dumbed-down learning experience, one that’s simply not a maximization of their talents.
  • often does not have emotional security. The checklists really miss the boat on this one. Gifted students are often highly emotional and focused on fairness. The gifted mind often tries to find logic in human interactions, something that isn’t always present when emotion takes hold of people. Gifted students can be very emotional but are not necessarily so.
  • often does not ask probing questions. Just like other students, some gifted students ask questions, and some don’t ask any questions at all. Many gifted students are independent thinkers and don’t like to ask questions.


How to Identify Gifted and Talented Students

It’s always easy to lump people into nice little groups that seem to summarize their characteristics. When it comes to identifying gifted students, and so many other things in life, this just simply doesn’t work. Gifted students can’t be identified by a gifted child checklist, because the checklist makes gross generalizations that tend to disadvantage certain students, typically those kind that aren’t teacher-pleasing students.

When I say this, people usually ask, “How do you identify gifted students?” There’s no way to answer this quickly. I wish I could give one answer, but the truth is that people are complex, and they don’t just fit into little cookie-cutter molds. Identifying gifted and talented students is a process. Typically, I recommend the following:

BEST TESTING OPTION: Test everybody if possible. Each state requires the use of different tests, and testing for gifted and talented children must comply with those requirements. This ends up causing a lot of problems, because a gifted-qualified student from one state is not necessarily a gifted-qualified student in another state. Yes, I know that their intelligence didn’t drop when they crossed the border! Their test results are not necessarily acceptable in another state though. Because of this inconsistency, make sure you are using a state-approved test to qualify gifted students. The NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) is a good place to begin researching state testing requirements. Another great gifted-testing resource is Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.

SECOND BEST TESTING OPTION: Test an entire group if possible. Few schools test everybody because of time and budgetary constraints. The next best technique is to test an entire grade level each year. By doing this, you’ll be testing students that would have never been recommended for testing. I’ve identified three students in special education that actually qualified gifted too. Remember that special-education students don’t necessarily have a low IQ. They simply learn below their ability. Students can be considered a dual-qualified student, one that qualifies for gifted and special-education services.

With this option, additional students in different grade levels need to be selected for testing. Students should be selected based on teacher recommendations and standardized-test performance. Both administration and teachers need to be in involved in this process. Many administrators become quite accomplished at identifying gifted students with behavioral issues. Gifted identification checklists should not be used, because they tend to bias teachers into thinking that teacher-pleasing students are the only gifted students.

Teachers often like to ask parents if their children meet gifted guidelines and characteristics. I’ve seen teachers send gifted identification checklists home. This doesn’t work. Too many parents tend to think their children are gifted. That’s inherently part of being a parent. In addition, parents often have no reference point for comparison. For this and many more reasons, it is seldom advisable to include parents in the decision process. This tends to run contrary to what teachers have been taught, but it’s for the best. Selecting students for gifted testing should be based on criteria that can best be evaluated by the teachers and administrators, the professionals. Allowing parents access to the process is like allowing parents the opportunity to pick their child’s grade in math. Some parents would be very accurate, and others would not.

THIRD BEST OPTION: Test only a few students, the students recommended by teachers and administrators. As in the second best option, don’t use a gifted checklist for this process.

It seems inherently wrong to say that gifted students do not necessarily do well on standardized testing, but you should use standardized testing to identify possible gifted students for testing. It must sound even more paradoxical when gifted testing is then advocated as the sole identifier for giftedness. Gifted testing is the sole indicator, because that’s what most states require by law. Each state is different though, and yours might allow greater latitude in identifying gifted students. In many cases though, gifted students are liberally identified when test results are not necessary. This has often resulted in misidentified students who are not able to succeed when more challenging instruction is introduced. In addition, there is a growing trend to identify giftedness within numerous different areas. One could ultimately say that most students would qualify gifted if the parameters are broadened to include different identifiers such as gifted interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, and existential intelligence. I know there are many coherent and logical arguments to suggest that these are legitimate measures of intelligence, and I certainly advocate the thought that just about everybody has an academic strength. The reality, however, is that these multiple intelligences are largely ineffective in identifying the students that will benefit from the kinds of instruction that we have the money and time to provide. Consequently, one would be wise to constrain gifted identifiers into academic measures such as quantitative, verbal, and nonverbal. By doing this, you’ll avoid the slippery slope that often is gifted identification. Consequently, though gifted testing might be inherently limited, its benefit is that it limits. Other systems tend to identify too many students with teachers feeling that everybody is special. While most teachers like to thing that everybody is special, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are gifted. Gifted services should be based on a high IQ, not good behavior, strong effort, or likability.

Teachers often like to ask parents if their children meet gifted guidelines and characteristics. I’ve seen teachers send gifted identification checklists home. This doesn’t work. Too many parents tend to think their children are gifted. That’s inherently part of being a parent. In addition, parents often have no reference point for comparison. For this and many more reasons, it is seldom advisable to include parents in the decision process. This tends to run contrary to what teachers have been taught, but it’s for the best. Selecting students for gifted testing should be based on criteria that can best be evaluated by the teachers and administrators, the professionals. Allowing parents access to the process is like allowing parents the opportunity to pick their child’s grade in math. Some parents would be very accurate, and others would not.

What's the Difference between Gifted and Talented?

One of the common misconceptions about gifted students is that they are all capable of outdoing Albert Einstein. When you say you are teaching a self-contained gifted class, people tend to think that your class is developing a cure for cancer or perhaps working on a superconductor. People tend to think of the highest levels of genius when one mentions gifted and talented classrooms. The truth is actually quite sobering. Gifted students generally do not fall into the genius category. With a gifted IQ beginning around 125, one can see that these students tend to have high abilities, but they are not necessarily at the top of the IQ spectrum. Within any self-contained gifted classroom, however, you may find some students with an IQ that does reach genius levels. Seldom do we see student prodigies that are so advanced that they do not succeed within a self-contained gifted classroom. Gifted students are often depicted as degree-yielding third graders. This is inherently untrue and largely reserved for the brightest learners of all, prodigies.


How to Teach Gifted and Talented Children

This brings us to the final point. How should you teach gifted children once they are identified? Every study suggests that self-contained, all-day gifted programs are the best. These programs consistently result in the highest level of academic achievement and result in higher graduation rates. See Gifted Education and Higher Student Achievement.

The problem with gifted seminars is that the materials are largely developed for highly gifted children, children with a clear understanding of the basic material necessary to succeed within their grade. These materials are often geared towards enrichment or critical thinking. This sounds great until you try putting it to use. Most gifted students have to work just to learn the regular material. Just because a student is gifted doesn’t mean that he/she is born with knowledge. Effective teachers can’t just skip over material and then begin enrichment. Yes, gifted students have the capacity to learn quicker, but that doesn’t always equate to additional enrichment opportunities. Gifted instruction often means accelerated instruction. This acceleration allows these students the opportunity to actually finish studying the standards that have been set by the state for their grade. This may sound odd, but teachers are increasingly finding that they aren’t able to cover all of the material in one year. With increased teacher accountability, teachers are finding that there is no state accountability. States are piling on lists and lists of standards, standards that can never be taught within one year in most classes. This material, the uncovered and often forgotten curriculum in most classrooms, should be of great interest in most self-contained gifted classrooms. Why would you spend time with enrichment in one area when you won’t even finish the standards in another?

In short, the best instruction for gifted students tends to be a back-to-basics instruction that focuses on covering all standards. Once this has been covered and mastered, then enrichment activities are beneficial. Critical thinking activities should be incorporated throughout all instruction and shouldn’t be a separate part of instruction.

Gifted Checklist Comments?

Billy Jay Burton from Earth on May 26, 2020:

Good article.

I believe a checklist of gifted characteristics is also a good way to recognize gifted students.

As you said, some gifted individuals underperform when tested.

I, for one, can usually tell if someone is gifted during a simple conversation, I look for complexity in reasoning and the ability to handle difficult concepts.

Thank you for your involvement in gifted education.

Oldtimer on May 01, 2011:

Interesting article. Our state requires us to use a checklist, but the problem I have with that is that it focuses not just on gifted ability but on creative and leadership abilities. I have no idea why. If we are testing for intellectual giftedness, what does leadership have to do with it? I have taught many children who are incredibly intellectually gifted, but they were NOT leaders. In one example, the student is fairly shy and keeps to herself. She is also a top scorer, quick thinker, creative, and reads on a 12th grade level. While we have worked on her leadership skills over the years and I have seen her come out more with peers she feels comfortable with, I do not ever anticipate that she will be in a leadership position. It would not suit her. Does that mean she shouldn't receive gifted services?

So it is very frustrating to me that this is one of the "required" checklists. Honestly, our teachers just check whatever they think will move that student onto the next level of testing, rendering the checklist completely useless.

I have to operate with a pull-out program and only get one hour each day with my students. It's never enough time. We have advocated for grouping our gifted students into one classroom, but our principal seems reluctant. I am not sure why. By 7th and 8th grade, these students (not all but most) are able to take pre-AP classes, which is in effect, the same concept.

I am going to keep advocating for combining the students into one group. They would still be part of a larger group of students, but the research shows that this would be more effective.

Grouping gifted children together will give you a wider view for identification. You can do this on a very informal basis within a regular classroom.

There are more ways to identify however there is no need to go on. One of the important things to remember is something I snatched of the list:

"The difficulty is that many gifted children are not fortunate enough to have a specialized teacher to work directly with them, and a vast majority of gifted students spend most of their day in a regular classroom"

Most parents and teachers of gifted do what we all have done for decades. We do our research, and we study hard, sometimes staying up all night to obtain the knowledge we need. We also work in the field while doing the research. It's very challenging sometimes as many of you know. We become good at identifying gifted children, because now we have gained knowledge and experience.

Have we made progress in these past decades? That is always a topic for debate. The internet has certainly been a great tool. My experience with the wonderful teachers here has been a very bright ray indeed. I so admire your resolve to keep advocating for

grouping your students. You would be one of the special teachers mentioned above.

Leadership is an identifying quality in gifted children and in some can and does show up very early . Sometimes it would be frowned upon and called "bossiness" and could be squelched before it even gets nurtured.

Intensity, sensitivity, and persistance are other "signs" to be on the look out for. Persistance can be seen as stuborness/obsession in some of our gifted.

CJamesIII from Minneapolis, MN on April 25, 2011:

Amazing hub! I was fortunate to be placed in a gifted program in Minneapolis Public Schools when I was 6 or 7. The program lasted through the 8th grade. Gifted students do need special education because of the boredom issue and creating appropriate challenges. I'm not sure I would have earned great grades if I had not been in those gifted programs. I believe it is important to remember (and remind the children) that even though gifted, they often want to "just be a part of the class or activity." I know I often felt seperated or isolated or even punished. I had to study while my friend's played outside, so at the time it SEEMED like punishment, though it was not. It is also crucial to note that IQ is not just book smarts, it is also having a working "street" knowledge, being more towards well-rounded if you will. With that in mind, very few people are true geniuses.

arizonataylor (author) from Arizona on April 24, 2011:

Thank you. This article probably should have been three separate articles:

Why Gifted Characteristics Checklists Don’t Work

How to Identify Gifted Students

How to Teach Gifted Students

Instead, I decided to combine all three and make a one-stop shopping experience.

I haven’t published this information in any other format, but I am quite pleased with the immediate and positive feedback I’ve received here on HubPages.

Woody142 on April 24, 2011:

Massivve hub but interesting :)

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on April 23, 2011:

Excellent! This is more like a Masters or Ph.D. dissertation. Have you published it in an educational journal?

Tamila Roberts from Canada on April 23, 2011:

Wow, I'm speechless that hub is huge.

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