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What Is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale?

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We often throw around compliments about intelligence, especially when it comes to high-performing colleagues or friends who always seem to win on game night. Perhaps these people are among the 50 people with the highest IQs in the world, and they outscore everyone on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales. However, there’s more to intelligence than IQ tests, like the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales.


Consistently performing well at work could result from exceptional organizational skills or a stellar work ethic. Likewise, winning game nights could be luck and a specific skill set. Intelligence doesn’t always mean a high IQ; you also have to consider emotional intelligence, personality, and other factors. 


How can you possibly know how intelligent somebody truly is? The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) aims to solve that riddle. It is an IQ test that provides more insight into our overall cognitive abilities. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, how we use it, and why it matters.

Table of Contents

  • What Is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale? 
  • Who Should Use the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale? 
  • Why Is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Important? 
  • How Does the Wechsler Intelligence Scale Measure Intelligence?
  • What Is the Highest IQ Score on Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale?
  • What Is the Average Score on the Wechsler IQ Test?
  • Things To Note About the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale

What Is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale?

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, or WAIS, is an assessment completed by trained mental health professionals. It measures intelligence and overall cognitive ability in older adolescents (minimum age of 16) and adults.


David Wechsler created the intelligence scales while working with schizophrenic patients at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He believed that understanding a patient’s intelligence was critical in determining their level of achievement during treatment.


Before the WAIS, professionals relied on the Stanford-Binet test to assess intelligence. Wechsler found fault with the Stanford-Binet and sought to remedy the shortcomings. Primarily, he felt intelligence involves several mental factors working together instead of a single ability. The Stanford-Binet also focuses on children and involves timed tests. 


The WAIS, initially known as the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Test, yields several different scores to gauge an individual’s abilities. It also puts less emphasis on timed tests and assesses an older population than the Stanford-Binet. 


Professionals routinely revise and update the WAIS. The current version is the WAIS-IV, which features four separate domains that contribute to a full-scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ). Each domain focuses on a separate part of intelligence and the brain. 

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How can you possibly know how intelligent somebody truly is? The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) aims to solve that riddle.

Who Should Use the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale?

People between the ages of 16 and 90 can take the WAIS-IV to measure their intellectual abilities. It’s often used to help professionals diagnose learning disabilities, significant cognitive impairment, and even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Professionals also use the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale to assess an individual’s cognitive function after a brain injury or in cases of psychiatric illness. For example, people who have notable differences in their verbal and non-verbal scores may have suffered a brain injury. Treating sources can use the test results to adapt treatment plans to better serve the individuals.


Another common use for the WAIS-IV is to establish a high IQ. People need to certify an extraordinary IQ to enter special societies, like Mensa.


Related: What Is a Mensa IQ Test?

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Why Is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Important?

The WAIS represents a more comprehensive assessment of human intelligence because it addresses various factors. An individual may score high in some categories and struggle a bit more with others or achieve similar scores across the board. 

This test is well-known and frequently used because it has proven reliable as an accurate measure of cognitive function. It’s widely viewed as a useful tool for a range of applications, including assessing brain function after a traumatic injury. 

How Does the Wechsler Scale Measure Intelligence?

The WAIS-IV consists of the four sections noted above, but each index consists of subtests that evaluate different aspects of cognitive function. There are ten core and five supplemental subtests across the four sections.

Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI) 

This section features four subtests, including one of the supplemental options. 

  • Similarities: identify the common denominator between two words.
  • Vocabulary: define the given word or phrase.
  • General Information: answer common questions about things you should learn in your environment.


Comprehension is the supplemental test for this index. It includes questions about abstract concepts related to social conventions and common expressions.

Perceptual Reasoning Index (PRI) 

Five tests comprise the PRI, including two supplemental subtests. 


  • Matrix Reasoning: identify patterns by pointing out what should come next in a sequence.
  • Visual Puzzles: view an image and then identify the steps to reconstruct it from pieces.
  • Block Design: use blocks to replicate two-dimensional designs.


Picture completion and figure weights are the two supplemental options that address visual details and quantitative reasoning.

Working Memory Index (WMI) 

The WMI features two core subtests and one supplemental. The arithmetic portion tests your ability to perform basic mental math and the digits span asks you to repeat number sequences. The supplemental test is a letter-number sequencing test.

Processing Speed Index (PSI) 

The three PSI subtests are timed and include symbol search and coding as core components. Symbol search is timed and requires you to scan a group and identify whether an object fits or not. Coding requires you to make associations between numbers and symbols The cancellation subtest provides insight into visual-perceptual speed.

Full-Scale IQ and General Ability Index

Most people worry about their full-scale IQ after taking the WAIS-IV, however, that’s only one calculation. The FSIQ comes from a combination of the four subsections noted above, PSI, WMI, VCI, and PRI. Evaluators can also combine the six subtests from the VCI and PRI to arrive at a General Ability Index (GAI).


The GAI places less focus on the processing speed and working memory sections to estimate overall cognitive ability. It’s typically used to get a clearer picture of intellectual functioning in people with substantial disparities between two domains, like VCI and WMI or WMI and PSI.

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What Is the Average Score on the Wechsler IQ Test?

The average FSIQ on the Wechsler IQ test is 100. Scores between 90 and 109 fall in the average range.

Related: IQ Scale Explained

Things To Note About the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale

Despite being considered a generally reliable test, there are some limitations to the WAIS-IV. 

  • It is an expensive test that can only be administered and interpreted by a licensed professional. 
  • Individuals are more than a sum of these tests that cannot assess or quantify extraneous factors, like creativity, social skills, emotional intelligence, or motivation.
  • The test is meant for English-speaking individuals, meaning a language barrier could alter the findings. 

Additionally, the WAIS does not offer accommodations for the test. For example, people with visual impairments cannot get the test in large print or braille to accommodate their physical limitations.

Main Takeaways

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is a relatively reliable tool for assessing human intelligence and cognitive functioning. Despite its limitations, the WAIS-IV can help identify and develop treatment plans for various psychological conditions, including traumatic brain injury and learning disabilities.

If you’re interested in learning more or having your IQ assessed, find a professional near you.

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