Why IQ tests do not test intelligence

Why IQ tests do not 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

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.