How to assess reading prerequisite visual discrimination skills, click here for instructions and free printable, learn with emily dot com

How to Assess Visual Discrimination Skills

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Visual discrimination is the ability to distinguish the similarities and differences in the detail of visual input. Visual discrimination is a prerequisite skill for learning to read printed text. There are many layers of visual discrimination, progressing from objects to combinations of letters. This article provides the information you need to evaluate if a child has the prerequisite visual discrimination skills for learning to read.

Note: The methods described in this article are for assessment purposes only. A different procedure is used to teach matching skills.


The materials needed for all assessment levels are listed first. Then additional materials are listed based on which level of assessment you are completing.

All assessments require:

  • A data sheet for recording results. Download for free here: FreeVDAssessTable
  • A set of 3 identical neutrally colored lids, plates, or a 1/2 sheet of paper. Feel free to use whatever you have available.

Level 1: Match object to identical object

  • Find a set of 10 identical objects to use for matching. For example, 2 pencils, 2 erasers, 2 spoons, 2 blocks, etc. These can be any toy or household item.

Level 2: Match sets of identical photos

  • photo of a free matching photo to photo visual discrimination assessment activityA set of 10 identical photos to use for matching. The photographs should only depict single items. You may take or find your own photographs or you may download mine for free. I have 2 versions. The smaller version has 10 photos on 1 page here: FreeVDphotosSmall. The larger version has the same photos on two pages here: FreeVDphotosLrg. If you download mine, they are available for personal use only. Please refer anyone who wants a copy back to my website.

Level 3: Match identical sets of simple line drawings

  • A set of 10 identical drawings. Here is a free download that can be used for this purpose: FreeVDdrawingMatch

Level 4: Match identical printed letters

Level 5: Match identical pairs of letters

Level 6: Match identical groups of 3 letters

Level 7: Match word to word

Notes about materials:
  • If you prefer smaller cards, reduce the size when printing.
  • The materials selected are dissimilar. When teaching matching skills, the challenge can be increased by making the selected practice items more similar.

Set up:

In this section, I describe the initial set up for Level 1: matching objects. The other levels are set up in exactly the same way, except instead of objects, use the materials described for that level (e.g., words).

One set of objects will be used in the array of choices for matching. For assessment purposes, arrange the choices in an array of 3. The neutrally colored lid, plate, or paper is used to provide a matching boundary for the set of objects. During the directions, I will refer to the lids I used, but you can use whatever you have available. The image below is an example of how to set up the array of 3 for this matching assessment.

Three circular lids placed on a denim quilt background. Each lid has a different object on it. A block, a red cylinder magnet toy, and a pink megablock.


For each object selected, arrange 3 choices (one matching and two that will not match). Place one of the three objects choices for this array on each lid.

Model a correct response to demonstrate the activity:

If the child has not completed a similar task and/or does not have strong receptive language skills, you can model the procedure a few times. To model, show the child one object in your hand (it should match an object on one of the lids) and say, “Find same.”* Then place the object on the lid with the match. The photo below shows a correctly matched set. Each time you model, change the array.

3 circular lids placed on a denim quilt background. Each lid has a different object on it. A pink mega block, a small wood cube block, and a blue duple block. The lid with duplo blocks has two identical blocks on it.

Assess the child’s matching skills:

  1. Set up a new array of objects different from your modeled set. You can use the same objects, just change the placement order (for example, put the pink block in the middle, put a blue duplo on the left, etc.).
  2. Hand the child one object and say, “Find same.”
  3. If there is no response, you can gently move the child’s hand that is holding the object towards the choices (but not towards any particular choice) or model the correct response again. If you model the response again, do not score this trial on the assessment.
  4. Do not provide feedback on whether or not the match was correct. Record a “+” on the data sheet for a correct response and a “-” for an incorrect response. Repeat steps 1-2 until you have completed 10 trials or until you reach 3 incorrect responses.

*If the child is more familiar with the term, “match,” you can use that instruction instead of “find same.”

Important assessment tips:

  • When you change the array for each trial, vary the position of the correct match. Be careful to not fall into a pattern of the position of the correct match (e.g., right, middle, left, or right , left, middle, etc.).


The passing criteria is set at 80% accuracy for each test. If the child gets 80% or 8/10 trials correct, move on to the next level (e.g., level 2). If not, stop the assessment. You will need to address skills that have not met the 80% passing criteria. If the child can pass Level 7, matching word to word, he is ready to learn to read using whole word methods.

Visual discrimination assessment sample data with the object matching column filled out.

Visual Discrimination Assessment Summary

Visual discrimination is a prerequisite skill for learning to read. Once a child can match word to word, they are ready to learn to read through whole word methods. Edmark is a prepackaged curriculum that teaches children to read whole words. If a child cannot match word to word, this assessment will provide you information about their current matching abilities. You can work on matching skills at the highest level that did not meet mastery.


This picture language set can be used for photo to photo matching assessments and activities.

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4 Replies to “How to Assess Visual Discrimination Skills”

    1. This assessment is designed to determine if a child has the pre-requisite skills for reading, so the appropriate age range would be for children who are either pre-readers (4-5 years old) or for any age child who is not learning to read within the expected age range.

      1. Thank you Dr. Redhair 🙂
        I would like to ask question again, if ever the child stop from the level 4, i should address skill that have not met 80%? What specific i should do?

        Sorry for the wrong grammar.

        1. Yes, teach and practice the skills that are not yet mastered. So, at level 4, you would get sets of letters. Pick 3-5 to work on at a time. Practice matching the letters. I can write a blog post on errorless learning strategies that will show you how. I won’t have time to create this post for at least a month as I am in the middle of a move. In the meantime, you can search errorless learning on the internet or just practice matching using teaching strategies that have worked for you in the past.

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