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
intelligence, 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 considered
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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