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Word Definitions

Normed for ages 5:0 to 17:11 (Usual age range is 6:0 to 17:11; Out- of-level age range is 5:0 to 5:11).

This subtest assesses acquired verbal knowledge and language comprehension and fluency.

The Word Definitions subtest contains a total of 42 words. A word is presented orally and the child is asked to define it. The child must give the meaning of the word rather than merely using it in a sentence correctly, unless the sentence would make clear the meaning of the target word, even if the word were removed. Responses are scored 1 or 0. Three different starting points are available (age 5:0 to 7:11 start at item 1; 8:0 to 10:11 start at item 4; 11:0 to 17:11 start at item 12).

Factor analytic findings

Word Definitions is considered a fair measure of g across all ages (overall r = .68). This subtest contributes substantially to the Verbal factor (loading = .79). Specificity is ample for all age groups.

Reliability and correlational highlights

Word Definitions is considered to possess medium overall reliability (r = .83), with reliability coefficients ranging from .75 to .84 across all of the 13 whole-age groups It correlates best with Similarities (r =.64) and least with Recall of Objects - Delayed (r = .13). It has a moderate correlation with the GCA (r = .74).

Gf-Gc classification

In the Broad stratum definition of abilities, Word Definitions is considered to be a strong measure of Crystallized Intelligence (Gc). In the Narrow stratum of abilities, it is considered to be a probable measure of both Lexical Knowledge (VL) and Language Development (LD) (McGrew & Flanagan, 1998, p. 120).

Administrative and interpretive considerations

The Word Definitions subtest is described on pages 194 to 206 in the DAS Administration and Scoring Manual (Elliott, 1990a) and discussed on pages 48 to 50 and 57 in the DAS Introductory and Technical Handbook (Elliott, 1990b). To aid examiners in the scoring of the subtest, examples of correct and incorrect responses are included in the same section of the Manual as the directions. These examples have been listed in alphabetical order to further aid the examiner in finding and scoring items. The DAS Word Definitions administration and scoring rules are notably different from most oral vocabulary tests and, we believe, better. Examiners familiar with other intelligence tests need to review these differences carefully. If a child has difficulty understanding the oral presentation of the target word, the examiner should repeat the word, spell the word, or write it out on paper. This procedure differs from those of the Wechsler scales. The SB: FE provides printed copies of Vocabulary words. Incorrect responses likely to be caused by mishearing are marked with asterisks in the Manual. Since several words may be considered nouns or verbs, for these words examiners are cautioned to be careful not to use the "What is a . . ." prompt. Otherwise, "to avoid a stilted presentation" (Elliott, 1990a) examiners are encouraged to present the word in any of four ways, including saying the word in isolation after the first few items. Questioning of vague or incomplete responses is required for a broader range of answers than on the Wechsler Scales. Again, examiners must be alert to this difference in administration. Examples given in the Manual are not exhaustive. Examiners should score as correct definitions that convey "Key Concepts" and definitions that are correct according to standard English dictionaries.

Word Definitions is a measure of both Language Development and Lexical Knowledge (McGrew & Flanagan, 1998, p. 120). On most items a child must verbally express him- or herself adequately in order to achieve passing scores. However, there are a number of items on which the child's demonstration of the word’s meaning is enough to obtain points. Typically, what must be demonstrated, either orally or through demonstration, is an understanding of "Key Concepts." Examiners are cautioned not to score an item as correct simply because the examiner "knows the child knows the answer." It is the child’s responsibility to communicate the concepts clearly to the examiner. If the child fails either of the first two items administered, the examiner must following the teaching instructions given with those items in the Manual. The examiner acknowledges correct responses to those two items.

One word, WICKED (item number 4, unfortunately the starting item for ages 8:0 through 10:11) has proven to be problematic for some children taking the test and for the examiner having to score the item. The word seems to have developed a colloquial or current-use definition that differs from the correct responses listed in the DAS Administration and Scoring Manual. A number of examiners have noted that some children, instead of defining the word as "bad" or "evil," responded with "good" or "awesome." This is not offered as an acceptable response in the DAS Manual. The children, when asked to elaborate the meaning, demonstrated that they were evidently associating the word with a new, current meaning, as in the sentence, "The Ninja Turtles are wicked good fighters." It appears that children are defining the word with another salient meaning. However, "good" is not an accurate synonym for the colloquial meaning of "wicked," merely an association. In the phrase "wicked good fighter" and similar expressions, "wicked" actually means "very." In such cases, examiners may wish to ask for a second meaning for the word ["Yes, but what else does . . . mean? (Terman & Merrill, 1960, p. 236)]. However, if the media and society have popularized this particular word definition, it probably should be given correct credit for this subtest, if is accurately defined as "very" or a similar intensifier, perhaps even "awesome," as in "awesome good fighter."  (To download a table that will allow you to score Word Definitions without the word WICKED included, press this link.)

Children who do poorly on this subtest may be demonstrating inadequate verbal language development. Some children have difficulty adequately expressing their knowledge verbally using "much expression." If a difficulty is suspected in expressive language, a subtest like Naming Vocabulary, which is far less open-ended and which typically requires less verbalization (one word), should be administered. Some children have specific difficulty retrieving or "finding" known words. To sort out the issues of expressive and receptive vocabulary and word-finding difficulty when a student does poorly on Word Definitions, it may be prudent to use the Expressive Vocabulary Test (EVT; Williams, 1997) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 3rd ed. (PPVT-III; Dunn & Dunn, 1997), which have the considerable virtue of contrasting the tasks of naming pictures and choosing named pictures, both normed on the same sample of children and adults.

Word Definitions Similarities Matrices Sequential & Quantitative Reasoning
Recall of Designs Pattern Construction Block Building Verbal Comprehension
Picture Similarities Early Number Concepts Naming Vocabulary Copying
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