What Do IQ Tests measure? 

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Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to solve a math problem or name the seventh president…at least not yet. The term “IQ” has an enigma around it that is almost like folklore, with people often misusing the word, making their own statistics, and wrongly guessing others. Still, we all have a natural curiosity about our own intelligence. The purpose of this article is to give you a full view of what it all actually means and what IQ tests measure. 

What Does IQ stand for? 

Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, is the number given by an IQ test to quantify how well you can recall learned knowledge regarding problem-solving. In short, it’s how well you’re able to use what you know at a given time. Since an IQ test is made up of abstract principles, it can only account for a portion of an individual’s intelligence. 

What Does IQ measure? 

IQ tests help us measure how well our knowledge is used practically. 

Psychologist Joel Schneider states, “The value of IQ tests is determined more by what they correlate with than what they measure. Good test items have high correlations with important outcomes in every population for which the test intends to be used. Bad items correlate with nothing but other test items.” 

Different parts of an IQ test and additional tests themselves can give us insights into traditional intelligence aspects. Some areas include:

Verbal (VIQ)– A quantified result is given by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WIS) that models how well an individual can communicate and understand concepts through language. 

Numerical– This is how well someone can use the principles of mathematics and numerical symbols to interpret information and make decisions based on those calculations. 

Logical- This is the ability to reason and then using that reasoning to detect patterns and relationships. It is the ability to use the knowledge at hand to create concrete solutions based on evidence. 

Spatial– The APA defines this as “the ability to manipulate objects in space mentally and to imagine them in different locations or positions.” Think about it as the way an architect can see a building before it is created. 

How Do You Interpret an IQ score? 

It is essential to realize that intelligence is an abstract concept, which means that it lives in a world of thoughts and ideas. Since those things don’t have a concrete existence to weigh or calculate, we have to use other measures based on research and correlations. When interpreting an IQ score, please keep this in mind. An IQ score represents only a portion of what is under the broad umbrella of intelligence. Therefore, it cannot measure things like creativity, curiosity, or practical intellect. 

When interpreting your IQ score, think of the baseline as 100, which stands for the average score. Most modern tests give a range that will indicate whether you fall within a specific population. The field is to account for a natural margin of error. If you fall between a given range near the 100 mark, then you can infer that you have average intelligence compared to the population. If you fall in a range above, you can assume that you have above-average intelligence compared to the population and so on.

Maximum score

The highest IQ score possible is 200, although it is rare that someone would possess this capability. Most modern “geniuses” are thought to have a score of above 130, with only .5% of the entire human population scoring above 140. 

Popular Tests and their inventors 

The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale 

A derivative of the Binet-Simon scale, which appeared in 1905, the Stanford-Binet scale tests five factors of intelligence. Those items include fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory. This test is treated as one of the most reliable and shows good external validity. It is the most commonly taken IQ test. 

Wechsler Scale

This is the umbrella term for IQ tests that are variations of the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence scale introduced in the 1930s. The Wechsler-Bellevue scales were introduced as a way to fill in gaps from the Stanford-Binet test. It was also created first for adult use, whereas the Stanford-Binet focused on children. Today, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Quotient (WAIS) is used for various reasons and helps physicians determine what cognitive areas were exposed to trauma. 

What Does an IQ test look like? 

An IQ test looks different depending on which test you’re taking and what item is being measured. Some tests can be timed, verbal, and can have multiple answers. IQ tests which aim to measure cognitive problem-solving ability usually have a variety of questions in various formats. Common problems are mathematical, analogies, classification, and scientific reasoning. The aim is to quantify the intellect at work behind the final answer. 

What are IQ tests used for today?

IQ tests are used for a variety of reasons today for both adults and children. They are used in the medical field for their ability to measure memory and logical thinking. They are found in schools to detect and treat children who may be suffering from a learning disability. They are used by psychologists to help adults determine a career path that complements their natural gifts. It is also used for purely recreational purposes. It can be helpful in self development since your IQ can show you strengths and weaknesses you may not have been able to see closely. 

As you can see, IQ tests aren’t just about finding geniuses. They’re about measuring abilities you rely on every day. They are also about finding deficits in areas and seeing how they can be improved. Taking an IQ test also doesn’t have to be for anything other than for your own curiosity. Remember, good things happen when we decide to learn about ourselves. 

Barry Kaufman, Scott. “What Do IQ Tests Test?” Scientific American, 3 Feb. 2014, blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/what-do-iq-tests-test-interview-with-psychologist-w-joel-schneider.

Lange R.T. (2011) Verbal IQ. In: Kreutzer J.S., DeLuca J., Caplan B. (eds) Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-79948-3_1072

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