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Does IQ test determine intelligence

Intelligence Quotient is a test that has been used by both scholars and employers to measure the level of intelligence of their students and employees respectively. A lot of research has been done on the validity of tests in measuring human intelligence. But controversies have risen as a result of lack of proper definition of the term intelligence and what really the tests are supposed to measure.

does IQ test determine intelligence

IQ tests are not an accurate measure of a person’s intelligence:

According to Sarason (1981), IQ means intelligence quotient and it is a test score that determines how bright an individual is compared to the rest. Thus the test score determines the potential of an individual. The average IQ is 100 and a score above 100 indicates an average that is higher than the normal IQ, while a score below it is an illustration of a lower score than the average. Half of the world’s population has IQ ranges of 9o to 110. The test has been used to measure a person’s intelligence. Therefore, what is intelligence?  According to Buros (1999), intelligence is the ability to perform well in school.

But according to Hergenhahn (1982), nobody knows the meaning of the term intelligence, because it has never been defined adequately, and thus it is arguable that if there is no proper definition of the term, then what does IQ test measure. Block & Dworkin (1976), Posits that, intelligence cannot be measured unless it is defined.

Based on the Jean Piaget theory, intelligence of a person cannot be measured based on the intelligence test (Sarason, 1981). This is because according to his theory, intelligence is a very complex term that is only related to the adaptation of an organism to its immediate environment. According to Piaget, intelligence is dynamic in nature and qualitatively changes with time (Block & Dworkin, 1976). Some psychologists also argue that the idea of intelligence cannot be reduced to a single number that is measurable. Hergenhahn (1982), say that the definition of the term is broad and he calls this multiple intelligence theory. The multiple intelligence theory postulates that there are nine different types of intelligence and not just one. These types of intelligence include: logical-mathematical, verbal, musical, spatial, body movement, intelligent to understand oneself, naturalist intelligence, intelligence to understand others and the existential intelligence. According Buros (1999), IQ tests only measures logical-mathematical and verbal intelligence but ignores the rest.

Additionally, intelligence is not a measure of a single ability but rather a measure of multiple abilities. This is because the intelligence of a person stems from a number of traits and not a single one. According to Hergenhahn (1982), IQ exams test only a few of these skills and the most tested skills include: reading, spatial relations and vocabulary. In most cases, the tests do not determine the intelligence of a person in terms of survival, conversational and social life among others. Therefore, it is not the best way to test intelligence as it does not encompass physical intelligence. Furthermore, the tests are more applicable in academics where predictable results are needed, but not in general intelligence because of the existing emissions in the course of testing (Buros, 1999).

The current definition of the term intelligence is not conclusive.  According to study by Sarason (1981), intelligence is the skill of critical thinking, logical reasoning, problem solving and the adaptation to one’s environment.  But according to Buros (1999), the above definition is only valuable if the content of the IQ test is examined before it is administered. Buros further argues that no specific skills can be identified following the given definitions of intelligence, and he supports his argument by giving an illustrated sample of IQ test. This particular test is composed of both performance and verbal sections. In each verbal subsection, there is varying degree of performance that relies on specific vocabulary, memory skills, knowledge and expressive language, while on the performance subsection scale; the essentials for scoring include aspects like: speed, good motor coordination, visual and spatial abilities.            Hergenhahn (1982), IQ tests basically measure the knowledge that a person has gained but not his future potential.

In addition to the definition problem that intelligence has, the IQ tests are not reliable and this has made them to be the focus for criticism for a number of years. For instance, in most cases the scores vary from one test to another, while anxiety, tension and unfamiliarity of the environment impact on the test performance (Buros, 1999). Furthermore, Sarason (1981), describes the biasing effects that instructions, qualification and tester attitudes on the testing procedures. Despite this, instructors still rely of the IQ tests to determine the intelligence level of the students.

Block & Dworkin, (1976), argue that students who do well in class do not always perform well in the IQ tests. Similarly, those who do not perform well in class excel in the IQ tests. Therefore, it is evident that the tests do not test one’s intelligence but rather tests skills like logic, reasoning and memory. This gives the implication that some people are smarter in these skills than the rest.  Consequently, it is hard to measure the overall intelligence of a student because school examination consists of a wide range of subjects. In most cases, students may perform in one or two subjects or topics that they are exceptional good at, while fail to score in subjects they are not interested in (Buros, 1999). Thus, the definition of the term intelligences and the IQ tests is a continuous debate that will not end in the near future.

In conclusion, IQ tests do not measure a person’s intelligence but rather tests competences. This is because the tests are more inclined in determining the level of comprehension, vocabulary, literacy and general command of a language and this makes people to assume that those who lack the skills are not intelligent, yet this cannot be true.


Block, N.J & Dworkin, G. (1976). The IQ controversy: critical reading.

New York: Pantheon Books.

Buros, O. K. (ed). (1999). Mental measurements yearbook. Highland Park,

NJ: Gryphon Press.

Dworetzky, J.P. (1982). Introduction to theories of learning. Englewood cliffs,

NJ: Prentice-Hill, Inc

Hergenhahn, B.R. (1982). An introduction to the theories of learning (2ND ED.).

Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hill, Inc

Sarason, S. B. (1981). Psychology misdirected. New York: The Free Press.

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