What IQ is and isn’t

School Psychologists spend a lot of time in graduate school learning about IQ and IQ tests and then as professionals, we spend almost half of our working time administering and interpreting them. But what exactly is IQ and what does it mean? There are many many  myths out there about IQ. 

IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient and the first IQ tests were developed and administered in Europe. During World War I, the US Army started developing and administering IQ tests to soldiers. Then, they became popular in the school settings and especially with children to determine needs for special education. 

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Your IQ score is the result of your performance on a test of cognitive processes. Usually IQ tests measure verbal, nonverbal, memory, and processing speed skills.  On most assessments, standard scores of 100 are in the middle of the average range and most assessments are based on a Bell Curve.  The majority of any population has an average IQ. An average IQ score is actually a wonderful thing! It is like having average blood pressure or an average BMI. It is what we anticipate or what is typical for a person.

IQ is a very abstract concept and is super difficult to measure. That’s because it is hard to control for many factors that get in the way of an individual showing their true intellectual ability on a test. Exposure to language and information, culture, and language proficiency will absolutely sway your score. Fine motor skills, hearing, and vision can get in the way of your performance too. And if you struggle with focus, attention, or have test anxiety, those factors can all impact your score, and probably will. That is why you need a trained individual to administer and interpret these types of tests.

An IQ score is the measure of a person’s performance on just one test, and most School Psychologists see it that way, just a number. We tend to pay more attention to extreme low or high scores on the IQ spectrum or when there are significant differences between skill sets. It is maybe safe to say that most people who do not administer or interpret IQ tests put more emotional weight on these scores then us professionals who spend a good chunk of our day working with them.

It is probably important to follow that statement with what IQ isn’t. IQ isn’t a predictor of success in life.  IQ won’t predict how well you do in college or at your first job. There is no correlation between high IQ and happiness.  Your IQ doesn’t indicate if you are smart or dumb…. your IQ score is a snapshot of how well you were able to do on a test of cognitive tasks that you couldn’t prepare for, that’s all.  Your IQ score doesn’t provide any information about your social skills, personality, work ethic, or values. You can’t take a real IQ test on the internet in ten minutes and the score you get on one of those, doesn’t really mean anything. So to sum things up, IQ is a topic that confuses a lot of people and is frequently misunderstood. What is important to know is that there is much much more to any learner than his or her IQ score.

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