What Do IQ Tests Really Measure? Maybe Not What You Think


IQ tests are the classic measure of intelligence. We talk about “genius IQ” all the time. A high IQ score is sometimes treated like the definition of genius, as if intelligence were a fixed quality that we all possess in a certain quantifiable amount. Want to know how much intelligence you have? Just take an IQ test and it will give you a number.

But does that test really measure your – or your child’s – intelligence? Other factors are at work, too. Turns out, having a high intelligence isn’t the only thing you need to excel on an IQ test. Motivation helps, too.

Researchers in Pennsylvania have conducted a series of studies to show that being motivated to do well on an IQ test improves your score. This seems like common sense, but it means that IQ scores don’t just reflect intellectual ability. They also reflect how motivated a kid is to apply that ability to excelling at the test. A low score on an IQ test can signal either low intelligence or a lack of motivation.

This suggests you really can prepare your kids for an IQ test, just like you can for the SAT or any other exam. It immediately brought to my mind all those competitive parents trying to get their preschoolers into the best schools by proving the little ones are gifted. Maybe all that coaching makes a real difference. If it can motivate a child to want to do well on an IQ test, it can really boost their scores.

Personally, I’m anti-test and have kept both my kids far away from IQ testing. That might change if they one day need access to gifted programs in public schools, though.

Would you coach your child for an IQ test? Do you think IQ scores are valuable?

Photo: Caitlinator

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