How IQ Tests Convinced a Generation That They Weren’t Smart


As a student, you might have undergone special tests, be it a standardized test for all schools in your area, or a psychological test given by your school counselor. In that case, you may have undergone something called an IQ Test. This is your average sit-down pen-and-paper examination that tests your logic, linguistics, reasoning, and ability to think critically.

If you scored around 85 to 115, you have the average IQ score as most people who have taken an IQ test. Having an above average IQ score means that you’re more likely to be an overachiever and succeed in academics. They may also be considered gifted and more likely to succeed in their chosen career path. However, for those who fall below a score of 70, your school may believe you have a developmental or learning disability, and even mental retardation.

However, trying to measure intelligence and categorizing people into clear cuts of how intelligent they are has always been a controversial topic in psychology. And recently, many psychologists have found that measuring a person’s mental capabilities through IQ tests has been inaccurate. So, many who have received low IQ scores might have been led to believe that they weren’t intelligent.


IQ Tests: Definition and Purpose

The term “IQ” stands for “intelligence quotient,” which is the total score taken from the results of an IQ test. The total score of the exam taker is divided by the average score for that taker’s age range. A score of 100 means that their intelligence is average and on the right track. The average score between 85 to 115 suggests a person is within range of what their intelligence is supposed to be, but is at a low-average or high-average.

Your IQ determines how efficiently your brain functions and processes information. In regular tests in school, you could easily study days before the test and expect a high grade. But in IQ tests, the point is not to study how much you’ve learned in school, but how fast you can learn just by being given clues.


IQ and Success

In the past, psychologists believed that your IQ could determine how successful you could be later in life. For example, you only had a 50 percent chance of reaching high school if you had an IQ of 75 and below. If you had an IQ of 100 to 90, it was believed you would only reach until a high school diploma and settle for a blue-collared or low white-collared job. People who would graduate college needed an IQ of around 115, while those who sought further education and were successful needed an IQ of 125.

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It’s not that people with high IQs are successful because they have high IQs. Rather, they’re successful because they have the IQs to help them perform efficiently. A person can still have a high IQ and be an underachiever in the same way someone with an average IQ can strive to get high grades. Because someone with a high IQ has an efficient brain, it is easier for them to excel, but it is still possible for someone with an average IQ to perform just as well in school.


History of IQ Tests

Even before IQ tests were developed, psychologists and schools were already trying to classify people based on their intelligence. In some schools (like the school I grew up in, for example), all the academic achievers were sorted into one class and given the same subjects as the rest of their year level, but taught at a more advanced rate because it was assumed we would pick up faster. The rest of the students were placed in ordinary classes and taught the same lessons at a regular pace.

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Several statisticians and psychologists tried to create standardized tests that could rate a person’s intelligence, including Francis Galton (who believed intelligence had something to do with one’s head size, among other physical traits), Alfred Binet (who, together with Victor Henri and Theodore Simon, created a test that could measure if children were mentally retarded and should be put into asylum care), and Charles Spearman (who believed there was a general factor that affected children’s mental ability of a certain age).

It wasn’t until the German psychologist William Stern did the term “IQ” – from the German word intelligenzquotient – exist in 1912.


Factors That Affect and Are Affected By IQ

As I mentioned earlier, having a high IQ does not automatically guarantee academic success and success later on in life. However, some studies have shown that IQ scores have a relation to some factors such as mortality.

Factors such as age, health, genetics, and one’s environment can have an effect on how IQ. Children exposed to classical music at a young age may improve their brain function – this is called the “Mozart effect.”

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Developed nations with established health policies are more likely to produce citizens with high IQ. Initiatives such as fortifying food with more nutrients and avoiding pollutants that disrupt cognitive function are more likely to help children retain a high IQ at a young age.


The Bias with IQ Scores

Despite the gray area where intelligence is concerned, some organizations take IQ scores seriously and how it affects their members. Some schools that focus on gifted students do not admit applicants whose IQ level falls below the above average minimum. At the workplace, when a fresh graduate does not have prior experience on their resume, employers look at their IQ levels as a way to determine whether or not they would make a good employee.

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Because of this bias, having a low IQ score can determine what kind of job and income you’ll receive later in life. And it’s unfair because IQ tests and other measurements of intelligence are not totally accurate.

In truth, the brain is much more complex than IQ tests would make you believe. A person can have good memory but poor reasoning, or good sense of language but poor critical thinking. The IQ test does not completely capture that and inaccurately classifies people as smart or mentally retarded when there are so many forms of intelligences that one number is not enough to classify how smart a person is.


Multiple Intelligences

Because of the inaccuracy of IQ tests alone, more psychologists are turning to the theory of multiple intelligences (MI). Rather than looking at intelligence as a singular thing, Howard Gardner proposed in his 1983 book that there were eight kinds of intelligences:

  1. Musical-rhythmic – singing, playing instruments, composing music, sensitivity to rhythm, tone, pitch, etc. (musicians, singers)
  2. Visual-spatial – spatial intelligence (painters, artists, architects, interior designers)
  3. Verbal-linguistic – intelligence in words and languages (writers, story-tellers, translators)
  4. Logical-mathematical – reasoning, numbers, critical thinking (mathematicians, lawyers)
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic – high control of one’s physical capabilities (athletes, dancers, builders)
  6. Interpersonal – sensitivity to other people (politicians, managers, social workers)
  7. Intrapersonal – self-reflective capacities (philosophers, counselors)
  8. Naturalistic – easily recognizes flora and fauna (gardeners, farmers, botanists, chefs)

His method of classifying intelligences was not so that someone could focus on whichever form of intelligence was their strongest. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book Divergent, Gardner opposed this idea of separating people based on one of their strengths alone. Rather, the idea Gardner wanted to uphold was that everyone had a certain level in each of these strengths, and instead of focusing on whichever was strongest, people had to hone all of their intelligences.

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A person who is good at logic and critical thinking may be terrible at socializing with others. Or a person with high intelligence in art may also do well when it comes to self-knowledge. While not all psychologists accept this theory, it’s arguably more flexible than IQ tests which only focus on one aspect of intelligence.


The IQ test had been used for almost a hundred years. Because of its limited scope, it may have led some people to think that they had below-average cognitive abilities when, in reality, they may have been intelligent in a different form outside of logic and critical thinking. If you’re interested in finding out where you fall on the multiple intelligences, check out this MI test and let us know if you agree with these results.


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