March 7,1997

Why IQ tests don\'t test intelligence

The task of trying to quantify a personís 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 personís intelligence? Their ability
to perform well on standardized tests? Or just some arbitrary quantity of the personís 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 groupís 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 personís 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 personís mind, it is necessary to utilize their body in the process. If everyoneís
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 personís intelligence.
It is obvious that a personís 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
personís 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 personís 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. Peopleís 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 wonít 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 personís 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 todayís society but should be be used to quantify a personís overall
intelligence by any means.