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Why iq test dont test intelligence


March 7,1997

Why IQ tests don't test intelligence

The task of trying to quantify a person's intelligence has been a goal of

psychologists since before the beginning of this century. The Binet-Simon scales were

first proposed in 1905 in Paris, France and various sorts of tests have been evolving ever

since. One of the important questions that always comes up regarding these tools is what

are the tests really measuring? Are they measuring a person's intelligence? Their ability

to perform well on standardized tests? Or just some arbitrary quantity of the person's IQ?

When examining the situations around which these tests are given and the content of the

tests themselves, it becomes apparent that however useful the tests may be for

standardizing a group's intellectual ability, they are not a good indicator of intelligence.

To issue a truly standardized test, the testing environment should be the same for

everyone involved. If anything has been learned from the psychology of perception, it is

clear that a person's environment has a

great deal to do with their cognitive abilities. Is the light

flickering? Is the paint on the walls an unsettling shade? Is the temperature too hot or too

cold? Is the chair uncomfortable? Or in the worst case, do they have an illness that day?

To test a person's mind, it is necessary to utilize their body in the process. If everyone's

body is placed in different conditions during the testing, how is it

expected to get standardized results across all the subjects? Because of this assumption

that everyone will perform equally independent of their environment, intelligence test

scores are skewed and cannot be viewed as standardized, and definitely not as an example

of a person's intelligence.

It is obvious that a person's intelligence stems from a variety of traits. A few of

these that are often tested are reading comprehension, vocabulary, and spatial relations.

But this is not all that goes into it. What about physical intelligence, conversational

intelligence, social intel-ligence, survival intelligence, and the slew of others that

go into everyday life? Why are these important traits not figured into intelligence tests?

Granted, normal standardized tests certainly get predictable results where academics are

concerned, but they should not be con-sidered good indicators of general intelligence

because of the glaring omissions they make in the testing process. To really gauge a

person's intelligence, it would be necessary to put them through a rigorous set of real-life

trials and document their performance. Otherwise the standardized IQ tests of today are

testing an extremely limited quality of a person's character that can hardly be referred to

as intelligence.

For the sake of brevity, I will quickly mention a few other common criticisms of

modern IQ tests. They have no way to compensate for cultural differences. People use

different methods to solve problems. People's reading strategies differ. Speed is not

always the best way to

tackle a problem. There is often too much emphasis placed on vocabulary. Each of these

points warrants individual treatment, and for more information refer to The Triarchic Mind

by RJ Sternberg (Penguin Books, 1988, p18-36).

It is possible to classify all the reasons that IQ tests fail at their task into two main groups.

The first grouping is where the tests assume too much. Examples of this flaw are the

assumption that speed is always good, vocabulary is a good indicator of intelligence, and

that different test taking environments won't affect the outcome. The second grouping

comes because the tests gauge the wrong items. Examples of this are different culture

groups being asked to take the same tests as everyone else, and the fact that the tests

ignore so many types of intelligence (like physical, social, etc). These two groupings

illustrate where the major failings of popular IQ tests occur and can be used as tools for

judging others.

IQ tests are not good indicators for a person's overall intelligence, but as their use

has shown, they are extremely helpful in making predictions about how a person will

perform in an academic setting. Perhaps the problem comes in the name intelligence tests

when it is obvious this is not what they really are. The modern IQ test definitely

has its applications in today's society but should be be used to quantify a person's overall

intelligence by any means.

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