“IQ only measures the ability to take IQ tests” - What?

It seems that whenever the idea of IQ comes up someone says the following: “Everyone knows that IQ results only measure the ability to take IQ tests”. While I’ve heard this statement freely passed around, I’ve never seen anything that supports the statement — that IQ measures nothing but IQ test taking abilities. Is there support for this conclusion? From what I’ve learned there is quite a bit of evidence that IQ tests aren’t simply measurements of how well one takes IQ tests but, instead, IQ has correlations with real life achievements and activities. That it is a good predictor of certain types of achievement. Does anyone have a source from an .edu site (or other source generally thought of as ‘credible’) that indicates that IQ tests measure nothing OR that IQ has no correlation with school, job performance, years of education and a variety of other life achievements. As this paper from the American Psychological Association


…and this article from Scientific American indicates, there are many sources that indicate otherwise.


Hmm, I have an IQ of 158 and am a total failure at life. I don’t think IQ tests mean much.

I suppose that this would depend on how the test is administered. There are literally hundreds of IQ tests online, or being faxed around, printed in magazines etc… most of them so erronious that they can only be judged to be ‘practice’ for the real thing. An IQ test takes place between two people…the tester and the testee. It’s timed, there’s more to it than just multiple-choice, yes/no and some history questions/problem solving. The test will give you three scores and the average is meant to be your “IQ”.

Most people have not had real IQ tests…most never will.

If the researchers are talking about online-IQ tests, then I couldn’t agree with them more…the results are a lark meant to boost ego. If they’re talking about IQ tests within a controlled environment…mos tpeople would only do the test once…so what would they be practicing for? Their next horribly expensive test?

GGW Abu Ghraib - thanks for your reply but I’m not looking for the experience of one person nor am I saying that the only factor that predicts ‘success’ in life is IQ. Certainly, a variety of factors go into determining whether a person succeeds at whatever they’re applying themselves - personality and motivation being two. What I am looking for is a credible source that indicates that IQ measures little but the ability to take the test - since this is common and seems contrary to what apprears to be the evidence.

Common sense tells me that if one is good at the types of questions in those tests, they will do well, whether or not those skills transfer to real-life activities.

I was looking at an IQ test a few weeks ago, and it had questions that were sequences of numbers, and you were to figure out the number that was next. I’m having a hard time thinking of how that skill would help someone in life, unless their job was making IQ tests.

I think the idea is to test your ability to see “patterns” - which occur in real life.

If IQ tests (or the SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.) were objective measures of intelligence, aptitude, or what have you, preparation for the test would not affect how well you scored. Familiarity with the format of the tests will improve your scores, thus the tests measure how well you can take the tests… or rather temporarily develop the limited set of skills the tests do actually measure. General conclusions about overall intelligence, or intelligence in areas not explicitly tested, should not be drawn from the test results.

It would in interesting to get three sample groups.
One group is given an SAT prep course.
One group is given an ACT prep course.
One group is given no prep course.
Then you make them take the SAT, ACT, and an IQ test, one a week for three months… and try to quantify how much fudge factor prep courses and test familiarity introduce into the accuracy of the scores.

Note, I’m not talking about the “IQ tests” we all see on the Internet. Standardized IQ tests are not published for that reason — and as such you can not “practice” taking those tests. In fact, there is a consistancy in the results when an individual takes multiple IQ tests - both within a short time frame (a few weeks barring illness and such) and over that individual’s lifetime.

then perhaps this should be in GQ, rather than IMHO?

The key question – that no one’s been able to definitively answer – is “what is intelligence?”

If intelligence is what is measured by IQ tests, then it could be argued IQ tests are accurate (if an exercise in circular reasonsing). But many argue that the skills tested on IQ tests are not accurate measures of intelligence because intelligence is more than just problem solving.

In addition, some people are more comfortable taking tests. You could give me any multiple choice test and I’d know I’d do well. Others would panic when faced with the test and thus wouldn’t be thinking clearly as they take it. This panic factor automatically makes IQ tests inaccurate, and the fear of testing has nothing to do with intelligence.

In addition, test strategies can make a big difference. My daughter took her SATs the first time and skipped questions if she didn’t know the answer outright. We pointed out that if she narrowed things down to two or three answers, it was good strategy to guess. She improved her score considerably by that simple change.

IQ tests are interesting, but you shouldn’t think they actual prove anything one way or another.

By definition, such tests measure only one’s ability to take the tests. That’s all that there’s any metric for. It’s like asking whether yardsticks measure only linear distance. Of course they do. But given a relatively pure sample of a material of known density, there’s an extremely high correlation between the measured volume of the sample and its weight – measure the sample’s height, length, and depth, and you can say with a fairly high degree of accuracy what it weighs, even though you’ve done nothing to measure that attribute.

What you’re asking for, then, is some evidence that there’s little or no correlation between ability to take such tests and other, less directly measurable attributes of individuals. Obviously, there’s a high enough correlation between results of these tests and certain attributes that they’re considered to be useful in identifying and/or predicting the degree to which individuals who take the tests possess or will come to possess those attributes.

The reason some people (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) will say that tests generally measure only test-taking ability is that other people frequently make the mistake of assuming that correlation equals causality. The fact that people who possess a particular attribute (a large vocabulary, for example) tend to do well on these types of tests does not necessarily mean that they do well on the tests because they possess that attribute. If there is not an absolute correlation between test-taking ability and the attribute in question (in other words, if people who demonstrably possess that attribute in varying degrees perform identically on the test, or if people who demonstrably possess that attribute in the same degree perform differently on the test), then it is an inescapable conclusion that some factor other that the correlated attribute is at work in determining how they fare on the test. Scoring very highly on a test of a particular set of skills or knowledge, when one demonstrably possesses very little of that set of skills or knowledge, is reasonable proof that there is not an absolute causal relationship – doing well on the test may be a result of having the quality being tested, but it also may be the result of some other factor (skill at taking tests) that is unrelated, and there’s nothing about the test results themselves that will allow you to determine which factor is at work in a given instance.

This is particularly obvious to those of us who do have a facility for taking tests, without necessarily possessing the attributes nominally measured by the tests. For example, in high school, I invariably scored in the 90th percentile or above on the math portion of any standardized test I took (SAT, ACT, ASVAB, you name it). Yet I flunked Algebra the first time I took it, squeaked by with a C/D average the second time, and narrowly escaped flunking Algebra II, while in college I made a B in Elementary Functions only by virtue of a grading curve from hell (I had a 57 out of 100 and a 50 out of 150 on the last regular exam and the course final). Despite periods in which I studied my ass off and did everything I could think of to help me “get” Algebra, I never made much progress with it. Yet on standardized tests of math ability I consistently outscored classmates who were taking university calculus classes as juniors in high school. Likewise, I had numerous acquaintances who were demonstrably more successful academically than I was (not to mention smarter, by most subjective standards), but who consistently performed dramatically worse than I did on standardized tests.

I realize this veers onto turf you’ve already indicated you don’t want to explore, but the reason I mention it is that it’s critical to understanding the appropriate use of tests and why so many of us are contemptuous of them. Results on intelligence tests tend to correlate well with other measures of intelligence. As a statistical analysis of a sample of a particular population, they may even have important things to tell us about the attributes of that population in general. The problem is that for any given individual, with only the evidence of the test, it’s impossible to know whether the test results accurately reflect that individual’s possession or lack of that attribute, or whether the results are as they are because of one of the other factors that can influence them. In the aggregate, people who score a 145 on a standard IQ test may be statistically likely to be extremely intelligent, but there’s nothing about that score that can infallibly tell you anything about a specific individual who achieves it. Yet IQ tests, and other standardized tests, are routinely used to determine the attributes of individuals, and to control and/or shape the opportunities offered or denied to them. And that’s what I find objectionable about them, and why I’ve often attempted to minimize their importance.

The Construct Validity of IQ Tests: A Comprehensive Psychometric Analysis

I think a pretty decent definition of intelligence “the ability to learn”. I guarantee that practicing the types of questions these IQ tests tend to use would help you score higher. This means that it is a test of a set of skills, which can be practiced.

If you have practiced and learned to do a new skill, or improved your ability at it, are you now smarter? I doubt many people will agree with that. If you’re not, then IQ tests are not a good measurement of true intelligence.

I had two kids in Compton, CA whom I sent for Gifted testing. Both failed, despite the fact that one of them may have been the smartest kid out of 5 classes of 4th graders there. He had NO training in the kinds of questions they asked him, I’m sure, and his teaching had been so bad in his school career that he was at a distinct disadvantage with the regular or “high society” kids who were also taking the tests.

ANY TEST IS A TEST OF A SKILL SET. Skill sets can be practiced and improved. There is no such test as one that can not be practiced for. If a skill can be performed better or worse, then practice can improve the ability.

For instance, out of my sixth grade class (30 kids) in Ventura, CA, mostly upper-middle class white kids, I think about 6 or 7 of us ended up in Gifted in junior high. The smartest kid out of about 150 in Compton couldn’t make it. It comes down to having practiced the skill set.

I think many anti-IQ people are guilty of holding intelligence tests up to a naive, straw-man standard that nobody else subscribes to. They seem to think that a test is worthless unless it predicts academic or career success the way, say, Newton’s laws predict the motion of a projectile. If we held all educational theories to that standard, colleges of education would shut down in disgrace. Which might not be a bad thing.

A university that admitted its students based on SAT scores alone (I know the SAT is not an intelligence test per se, but the idea is the same) would be open to the criticism that SAT scores are not perfect predictors of anything. Thing is, there is no university that does that. Even the people who administer the SAT will tell you that it’s only a rough indicator of one aspect of a person’s abilities.

I would submit that someone who scores a 1400 on the SAT is extremely likely to have higher general intellectual ability (by any reasonable definition) than someone who gets 700. 1200 vs. 1000, now you’re in a gray area. That’s why colleges have admissions committees.

This has sort of been my experience, though I simply don’t recall my test scores. (I was in a haze during high school. Seriously. I got through it, but barely remember anything.)

I do know that I have a serious math phobia. My eyes glaze over with it. However, I can be pretty good about figuring out math in my head. Not complicated stuff, but I can figure out tips quite quickly, do simple sums, percentages, that kind of thing. Not anything remarkable, but surprising considering my math phobia. And especially suprising considering that some people I know (who do not have the math phobia I do) cannot do math in their head. (I get sick of telling people, “The tip should be this much” only to watch them do the math the slow way and eventually come up with the same sum.)

I’ve taken online IQ tests and have always gotten wildly different scores (I don’t take them too seriously), but hey, they’re always good scores (above average) so I’d like to think that they have some merit! :wink: But on some of the tests I’m told that I tanked in the math department and that has brought down my overall score. Is that right? I don’t know. I suck at math but yet I can accomplish a certain amount of “practical” math in my head, something that some other people with more innate math abilities can’t. I don’t know how significant this is, but I don’t feel that my math phobia is crippling my life. I can calculate how much tip to pay, after all! :wink:

And another thing—yeah, I know that the OP wasn’t talking about this, but I can’t forget a friend of mine who is very smart by all accounts, with a high IQ, but no common sense. She does whacky things that cause her grief and has a certain amount of self-delusion. IQ tests don’t measure common sense, unfortuately.

Well, the Flynn effect seriously calls into doubt the validitiy of IQ test, IMHO; I don’t think people from 80 years ago were border-line retarded.

Note that the is strong evidence that IQ results from both environment and genetics. The prevailing idea is that the Flynn effect is, in part, the result of better nutrition which raises the IQs of that portion of the population. Raised IQs in the same way that better nutrition and heath care has increased life expectancy from between 40 and 50 years in 1900 to 77 or so today. And in the same way that better nutrition has created a substantial increase the average height over that same period. In fact, even today, taking vitamins will raise IQs of those individuals who are vitamin deficient.

Also, society (environment), on the whole, has undoubtedly become much more complex during the last 100 years. So the average individual today is in a situation that not only provides better living conditions that has produced an increase in longeivity and stature but also places that individual in a more challenging environment. I doubt that these changes would not have had a positive effect on IQ during that period of time. In fact, as mentioned above, removing a child today from a poor environment where there is little stimulation and poor diet or health and changing those conditions will increase that child’s IQ.

Finally, the Flynn effect may have run its course. As I understand, during the last decade or so there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in overall IQ scores.

This quote comes from a link at your source -


I took a verbal IQ test when I was seven to get into the gifted program. I failed by two points. (I think it was 140 to get in to the program). One question I remember was “how much is a ton” and I didn’t know because I was seven. I also had a very rocky relationship with the test giver (she and I were at each other’s throats because I questioned her religious teachings in a public school) and was fuming at her the whole time. I was an interesting seven year old. :smiley:

I took it again the next year when it was a written test with scantron answers (much like the SATs, etc). My IQ was more than 30 points higher than the test I took the year before. The written test had more spatial relationship, pattern and problem solving questions than the oral one.

The format of the test and the person giving it can drastically skew IQ results. So, I agree that IQ tests only test how good you are at taking IQ tests… of that type.

I’m curious to take one again (and I may join Mensa if I do) to see how things have changed. I’ve specialized my knowledge a lot since the second grade but I’m also much more in to word and logic puzzles which help with IQ test type questions.

To get a better idea of what I’m talking about in this thread — here are the correlations of IQ for a variety of achievements that were linked in the OP. While I understand that individuals have their own unique experiences and personalities — these correlations don’t relate to individual experiences but are rather derived from groups of test takers. Note that a correlation of +1 (or 1) means that whenever you see one item you always see the other. (i.e. the sun and sunlight) A correlation of ‘0’ mean that if you see one there is a random chance you will see the other. A correlation of –1 means that if you see one you never see the other. You can get an approximate idea from that –

I should probably have read this entire thread before attempting to answer the OP. But…
A standard IQ test measures several aspects of intelligence. The “scores” are simply a comparison of the knowledge and capabilities that you possess against the average scores of others tested within your demographic range. They do not reflect your potential or current success. They don’t prove that you are “smarter” than a person with a lower score.
There are concerns that standardized IQ tests are somewhat racially biased in that “minorities” test scores are lower than they should be. The main cause for this is due to several factors. There are IQ tests available which have shown no bias based on race and/or gender.
and YES some people DO TEST better than others. The more of them you take the better you do. BUT a good tester will include this factor and should make allowances for that fact…
Regarding high scores = success, I don’t have a cite handy but in my grad. psych at UT
IIRC higher scores and failure are about as prevalent as low scores and failure, maybe more so.

IQ = your mental age/your chronological age

So, if I have the knowledge of a 15 year old but I am only 10 then I score a 150 IQ. A genius!
Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal does it?