Why we need to ditch IQ testing

People put so much weight on IQs.  I think the IQ is probably one of the only numbers where it’s split between those who waive their number around like it’s a grand prize and others who don’t really care about it.

Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m this bitter soul who didn’t score what I wanted to on the test, so now I’m out to defame it altogether.  I’ve never taken an IQ test; sure, I took elementary school standardized tests and the SATs, but never anything that told me my intelligence in a three digit number.  (Granted, I’ll admit, I’ve also taken some of those knock off IQ tests; the ones that ask you things like, based on a president’s approval rating, what are the chances of him being elected for a third term, or whether brown sugar is considered a dry or wet ingredient when you’re baking a pie (the really important stuff).  But once they started asking for your email, I backed out—so, I guess that doesn’t count.)  However, I have done some research on IQ testing, including the methods, history, and reasoning of it, so I’ve gained a bit of an understanding on how and why it is what it is.

I remember in high school, the IQ score you got in middle school decided whether you got into certain classes and field trips. There’s also the Mensa program, an international high IQ society.  I think these programs are great, because they bring some of the world’s most intelligent people together, a lot of the times for the greater purpose of benefitting humanity.  I’ve talked about it here before, but bringing intelligent people together who come from different backgrounds, I believe, fosters the greatest potential for change.

IQ tests are good because they’re a quick way to test—and by quick, I mean it takes half an hour.  It also makes it easy to set cut offs; instead of doing holistic measurements that give a bunch of intelligence levels and other data, this gives you one number for each person, and it makes it easier to categorize.

But, here’s my problem with IQs, and thus, I suppose, a fundamental problem with defining intelligence for these programs: IQ tests, by nature, are flawed.  Just the idea of thinking that you can measure a person’s entire mental capacity based on a few questions about puzzles and spatial orientations is irrational.  How can a test determine an intelligence if it only takes 30 minutes to complete?  But, aside from this, I have a few particular issues with IQ testing.

There’s an art to taking a test.  I took a class for GRE prep, and our instructor basically said that the GRE doesn’t tell you how intelligent you are, but rather how well you can answer the questions.  What if you misinterpret the question, but you would’ve gotten it right if you didn’t?  What if you take a little longer to complete tests?  What if you have testing anxiety?

Those are all testing related issues, but let’s even go over some of the non-testing ones: what if your pet goldfish died before you took the test, and you can’t focus?  What if you fell down the stairs when you were walking to the room to take the test?  Your emotional state while you’re taking a test can affect how you do on it, too; the ability to concentrate is key.

Now, let’s talk about the actual test itself.  It’s split into four indexes that measure your total IQ: verbal comprehension (i.e. vocab and reading), working memory (i.e. arithmetic and sequencing), perceptual organization (i.e. picture completion and block design), and processing speed (i.e. patterns and sequences).  Ok, cool—sounds like we got our basic, standardized testing subjects down.

But, here’s the thing: there’re nine types of intelligence: spatial (i.e. seeing the world in 3D), naturalistic (i.e. nature and the environment), musical (i.e. pitch recognition), logical (i.e. the scientific method), existential (i.e. what is the meaning of life), interpersonal (i.e. reading people’s emotions), kinesthetic (i.e. hand-eye coordination), linguistic (i.e. your way with words), and intrapersonal (i.e. self awareness).

They don’t ask questions that would measure things like emotional maturity or interaction with others; this is a pencil and paper test, so it’s probably a good bet that it doesn’t measure any physical coordination skills either.  IQ tests don’t test for half the intelligences there are, so how is it supposed to give you and accurate estimation and account for what you excel in?  Not to mention, it doesn’t even test for creativity or work ethic, which are often regarded to as two of the most important factors in personal success.

Now, let’s cover this.  What if you didn’t try on the test, and you didn’t care about answering the questions wrong?  That doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent or incapable of answering the questions—you just don’t care.  The IQ test doesn’t take that into account (granted, that’s a difficult thing for any test to correct).  And, going solely off the number you get once or twice when you’re 12 may not apply when you’re 40.

So, how do you fix it?  How do you accurately measure someone’s intelligence?

One of the best ways I can see is to test each of the nine types of intelligences individually.  This would involve a variety of testing; i.e, you might want a discussion to test interpersonal or existential intelligences, get up and moving around for the kinesthetic intelligences.

So, even though the IQ test is an easy testing method, there are a bunch of areas where it can fail you in terms of accuracy.



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