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Maybe you took one online (like the free one above), or maybe you took one in school. Intelligence quotient tests are widely used throughout schools - more than a million school children are given an IQ test each year. But they’re not limited to testing children in an education setting. The justice system, NFL, and the military all use IQ tests.
Does that mean IQ tests are important to determining your success? Not always. Before we talk about the results of the test, I want to tell you about where IQ tests came from, what they actually measure, and what factors may change your IQ. (And yes, IQ can change!)
What is an IQ Test?
An IQ Test, or Intelligence test is a series of questions and problems that seek to find the general intelligence of the participant. In general, the score depends on the test-takers age. There are many different formats of the quiz, from identifying similar images to predicting sequences.
History of the IQ Test
Let’s start by talking about the history of the IQ test. The first version of the IQ test was created in the early 1900s by Alfred Binet, a French psychologist. At the time, France had just mandated that every child had to attend school. Not all children had entered school at the same time, so educators would need a way to determine which kids would need special attention or who was falling behind. The purpose of the IQ test hasn’t changed much - schools in the US still use it to determine which children are suitable for the gifted program and which ones may need interventions (like a special education class.)
But the original IQ test was not meant to measure reading and writing comprehension.
Binet and his partner created questions that would measure problem-solving skills, attention, and memory.They wanted to measure the child’s potential to succeed in school rather than measure what the child had already learned.
With these intentions, Alfred Binet created the first versions of the IQ test and the current way in which most IQ tests are scored.
Controversy Within the IQ Test
There has been a lot of controversy over whether IQ tests should be used.
A lot of this controversy has to do with the tests themselves and how the tests have been used (or not used) to determine someone’s intelligence.
Take, for example, Ellis Island. In the early 20th century, the U.S. Public Health Service administered IQ tests to immigrants coming into the United States. If they were deemed “mentally unfit,” they were possibly sent back to their home country. But the use of IQ testing ultimately failed. The IQ tests contained cultural knowledge or questions about the English language that weren’t yet known by immigrants who had grown up on the other side of the world. Even though they were perfectly intelligent, they were labeled as “imbeciles.”
So the IQ tests were replaced with another type of test that would determine whether the immigrants coming to Ellis Island were “mentally fit” to be an American.
This argument regarding cultural bias did not go away after the 1920s. Even though IQ tests went under several revisions to more accurately assess intelligence, they have gone under scrutiny throughout the entire 20th century. In Larry P. v. Riles, a judge determined that IQ tests used in California schools were culturally biased and unfairly labeled many black students as having learning disabilities.
Socioeconomic status can also play a role in IQ scores. Studies show that when a child from a low-income background is adopted into a middle-class family, their IQ could increase by up to 20 points.
New versions of the most famous IQ tests have come out since these biases have been brought to light.
More tests that you find in schools or large organizations take cultural biases and family background into account.But this history is a reminder that these scores are not an exact measurement of how “smart” you are.In fact, your IQ score is measured based on your age and the scores of other test takers with the same age.
How is an IQ score measured
There isn’t just one form of the IQ test. In general, however, all IQ tests measure IQ in a similar way. The test contains a series of subtests that may ask someone to define a word, complete an analogy, or answer an open-ended question.
The amount of questions that you “get right” determines your mental age. The person administering the test then divides your mental age by your chronological age and multiplies that number by 100.That score is your IQ score.
It’s important to note here that IQ scores are not fixed. If you got the same amount of questions right at age 6 and age 7, your IQ score would decrease from year to year. This is possible, and it’s also possible to increase your IQ score over time.
What does an IQ test measure?
In 1983, long after IQ tests were developed, American psychologist Howard Gardener described nine different types of intelligence:
- Naturalist intelligence
- Musical intelligence
- Logical-mathematical intelligence
- Existential intelligence
- Interpersonal intelligence
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
- Linguistic-verbal intelligence
- Intrapersonal intelligence
- Spatial-visual intelligence
You wouldn’t expect to see a school administrator asking a student how well they socialize or how well they know themselves as part of an IQ test. There’s not a lot of existentialism on these tests, either. So it’s safe to say that not all types of intelligence show up on IQ tests.
However, some tests also measure cognitive skills and working memory. These can demonstrate some types of intelligence.
For example, good problem-solving skills can help you solve a math equation, but it can also help you figure out the definition of a word that you don’t know.
In general, IQ tests assess the following types of intelligence:
Of course, there isn’t just one type of IQ test. Different tests have been created to include other types of intelligence that could predict a child’s success in school or an adult’s success in a particular job position.
The G Factor
One common thing that all IQ tests attempt to find is the g score. It stands for general intelligence, which is a measure of the mental capacity and ability that a person holds. In psychometrics, the "general intelligence factor" is used to predict someone's success in life by assessing their ability to solve problems.
When it comes to intelligence, psychologists classify IQ into 2 categories: fluid and crystallized. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve multiple problems that are unrelated in nature. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to solve similar problems quickly.
For example, you may be able to solve a puzzle quickly, but very slow at predicting a sequence of numbers. This means you have a high crystallized intelligence. If you were quicker than an average person at both, you would have a high fluid intelligence. Put both of these together, and you have "The g Factor". Note that the g is lowercase when written.
Types of IQ tests (and most popular)
While there isn’t just one IQ test used in schools or larger organizations, there are a handful that are considered to be the most popular.These tests may also give you a different score if you take them one after the other online.
Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale is derived from Alfred Binet’s original IQ tests from the 1900s. Of course, the test has been translated from French and altered to more accurately reflect cognitive abilities.
The test focuses on five cognitive abilities in particular:
- fluid reasoning
- quantitative reasoning
- visual-spatial processing
- working memory
Test questions may include simple math problems or determining the next letter or number in a pattern. One test question offers a series of words (duct, fuse, etc.) and asks what three-letter word would make all of these words a new word. (The answer is “pro.”)
Stanford-Binet tests are also timed, which can have a serious impact on the number of questions that you are able to complete.
Wechsler Tests (Individual Achievement Test and Adult Intelligence Scale)
IQ tests have been critiqued for as long as they have been around. One major critique of the Stanford-Binet test is that it delivers just one number as a result. How can we measure intelligence, all the different types of intelligence, by just one number?
That is the question that led David Wechsler to start developing his own tests. His first intelligence test, the Wechsler–Bellevue Intelligence Scale, was released in 1939. He revised the test and renamed it the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. This test, now on its fourth version (WAIS-IV,) is the most popular intelligence test in the world.
The WAIS is meant for adults (although the recommended age starts at 16.) It consists of 10 core subtests and 5 supplemental subtests that put together a series of different scores. The scores include “index scores” representing different components of intelligence or more “general scores.”
The four index scores measure:
- Verbal Comprehension
- Perceptual Reasoning
- Working Memory
- Processing Speed
Scores from the verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning subtests make up the General Ability Index. Scores from all 10 core subtests make up the test’s Full Scale IQ score.
For both the Wechsler Tests and the Stanford-Binet scale, scores between 90 and 109 are considered “average.”
Universal Nonverbal Intelligence
Another critique of the IQ test is that it doesn’t take cultural background or English proficiency into account.If a child enters an English-speaking school, but speaks predominantly Spanish at home, English verbal tests may not accurately reflect the child’s intelligence or potential to succeed.
That’s why the Universal Nonverball Intelligence (UNIT) test was created. It aims to offer a more unbiased version of the IQ test that can be used to measure a child’s intelligence.
The six subtests of the UNIT test include:
- Symbolic Memory
- Object Memory
- Analogic Reasoning
- Spatial Memory
- Cube Design
Differential Ability Scales
This is another alternative form of the IQ test that is administered to children to predict their academic success. The Differential Ability Scales test doesn’t aim to discover a child’s IQ.Instead, they use a series of 20 subset tests to determine their cognitive abilities and potential weaknesses.
These subtests include:
- Picture Similarities
- Digit Recall
- Object Recall
Like the more standard IQ tests, the DAS also tests working memory, verbal and logical comprehension, and the ability to reason.
Cattell Culture Fair Test
I mentioned earlier that cultural bias is the center of most critiques of the IQ test. In 1930, Raymond B. Cattell developed an intelligence test that aimed to be free of cultural bias.The Cattell Culture Fair Test has undergone multiple rounds of revisions, but is still used to determine whether a person qualifies to be in Mensa.
Cattell based his test off of two types of intelligence: “crystallized intelligence” and “fluid intelligence.” Crystallized intelligence is gained throughout a child’s education. The definition of words you learn in school may fall under the category of crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence, however, is more abstract. It’s the ability to solve problems and process knowledge. Inductive reasoning skills falls under the category of fluid intelligence.
Are IQ Tests Accurate?
With so many approaches to IQ tests, you may find that your answer varies slightly from test to test. Different test creators and their perspectives may also affect the questions (and therefore, your results.) Take this test for fun; and remember, your success is not determined by a number!
How Important is IQ?
IQ tests measure cognitive abilities, but they don’t measure all abilities. There isn’t an IQ test that tells you how creative you are, or how curious you are to understand the world around you. Remember, Alfred Binet did not believe that his test was a final number for measuring intelligence.
IQ tests also don’t predict how your intelligence may change in the future. Changing schools or putting yourself in a less stressful home environment could potentially change IQ test scores. Just because you get a “lower” score on an IQ test does not mean that you are going to fail in life.
Perseverance, discipline, and social connections are just as important as the ability to add, subtract, and multiply.
This doesn’t mean that IQ tests are a wash.They do test cognitive abilities and can be a fun insight into your working memory.If you’re out of school, you might find yourself using skills that you had put away years ago.(There are calculators allowed for multiplication and long division questions!)If you’re still in school, IQ tests can help you study for tests like the SATs or ACTs.These tests study similar skills, including verbal comprehension and the ability to solve mathematical equations.
So why not give an IQ test a try? Most online tests don’t take more than half an hour to complete. Getting your results can be a fun way of seeing where you stand compared to other people who take the test. But don’t mull over your results for too long. They can always change, and one number that you get online doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to achieve your goals this year. And who knows? Maybe you’ll score higher on the next version of the IQ test that comes out!