Is your IQ fixed? 

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Sometime in my adolescence, one day I randomly gave an IQ test. For the benefit of those who don’t know what IQ test is – it’s a General Intelligence test which measures your intelligence via standardized IQ test. Upon giving I found I am an average scorer in the test. My score was 108 (atleast this is the number that I remember). But let me tell you this in the beginning itself that in my young adulthood and as an adult, I am no longer getting the same score (score revealed in conclusion). So is your IQ fixed ? Certainly Not.


The score in my adolescence doesn’t seem to be very promising but one can’t do much about it. I asked my father how much his IQ is? To my amazement he had also given an IQ test earlier and he knew about the IQ tests. He said somewhere around 120. Well you can guess how that felt. I was very much behind my father’s IQ. The conventional wisdom says that some unchangeable part of intelligence is inherited. Well doesn’t seem to explain my case. At that time it was established that high IQ meant better grades and better bet in life. 


What did a High IQ student mean?


A high IQ student would translate into being a class topper or someone who gets really good scores. Infact during my time many teachers use throw away lectures on IQ as a gift given to chosen ones (genetic). Only some will get it and that others will have to reconcile with whatever opportunities are left after the gifted get the cream of everything. 

This sounds absurd today but some years back it made perfect sense to people. Even today it still does to some people. 


Thanks to research such notions are changed and consensus is being established to move towards a more nuanced approach then rather just focus on IQ.


But first what is IQ ?

Some of the many ways intelligence can be described is  :

  1. Problem solving ability
  2. Abstract reasoning
  3. Learning quickly and then applying
  4. Logical reasoning
  5. Adapting to new situations


IQ then measures General or over all intelligence. This means that one or either combination of above mentioned can be tested and then scored relatively. 


Remember the word relatively here and have a look at graph below :

You can easily see here average scores have the maximum number of people concentrated. An average IQ score is somewhere around 100 or 105. Remember relatively, your score in terms of percentile can tell you where you stand. Example an intelligent person scores about a 120 in IQ test which roughly translates to 90 percentile. This means that student is better than 90 percent of the people who took the IQ test.


However, a score of hundred might just be a satisfactory score. The percentile would be somewhere in the 60’s. The problem is that such type intelligence does not account for will, effort, persistence and determination. All these things can help you get well placed in life even with an average IQ score. And these factors are part of personality and just like intelligence it is shaped with intrinsic (genetics) as well as extrinsic (environment) factors.


Does your IQ decline with age or tapers off ? 


Earlier it was believed that people would peak in their 20’s and probably witness a cognitive decline in 30s. This meant that your memorizing skills or problem solving skills or learning ability will start to taper off after a certain age/maturity. 


This established view seems to be incorrect as proved by this research published in 2015 which states that different abilities which form a part of intelligence evolve differently with age in a person. For example our vocabulary keeps getting better with age, working memory peaks between mid 20’s to mid 30’s and in numeral related tasks the youth over-all performed better. 

The research was conducted by Joshua K. Hartshorne and Laura T. Germine. This essentially meant some part intelligence gets better as you age, some decline and other reaches a plateau. 


Can one improve their IQ with practice or intervention ?

Yes, one definitely can improve their IQ


A study conducted in 2009 in Norway, which studied the effects of increasing the time duration of compulsory schooling in the 1960’s found that there was a 3.7 point increase in IQ for every extra year of education received. 


Both n-back tasks (a working memory trainer) and relational frame theory (where a person understands the difference between more than, less than, despite of etc) have provided promising research where there is some improvement documented.


These results are promising but not dramatic. 


British research on IQ  by Cathy J Price

What was dramatic was that I found this one study which finds mention in many articles featured in Guardian, Live science etc. In the UK there was a study done on students on a very small sample of 33 students in the age group of 12 to 16 using IQ tests and fMRI. The tests were repeated after 4 years on the same students produced much deviation in results. It reported some students showed improvement of about 20 IQ points. This means from average students one could now be labelled as intelligent. And decline of about 17- 18 IQ  points in some cases. So, a person who was sitting in the intelligence bracket after four years was an average IQ student. 


Some important points about this study :

  • Deviations would run high, statistically speaking it is a very small group. 


  • Changes in IQ meant that in verbal ability there was a high range about -20 to +23 and in non verbal (math related) was about -23 to +17.


  • The IQ seems to be prone to change which id of higher magnitude. They were in their Adolescence. There seems to be a handsome lot of believers who now think that change in g factor(general intelligence) can happen. In Fact in some cases a swing of about 6-7 points is very normal. 


  • There are some good criticisms of this study as having a small sample set and other factors but it presents an opportunity to re-work the definition and established conventions about IQ.


  • What was good about this study was that brain scans were augmenting their IQ research on students. Those who improved had shown an increase in gray matter. 


Your IQ is not a number !


Upon my research I also found that your IQ score is not a number but a range. Alan S. Kaufman, psychologist of Yale university said that if a person scores 126 in an IQ test then that person can confidently say that their IQ lies somewhere between 120 to 132. This means you have a range not a score and that range resembles a somewhat measure of your general intelligence. 


To conclude,


Seven Years back I gave an IQ test where I got around a 128 score in a test. Again recently I tested myself and got scores like 130, 128 and 134. At best it seems to me that my range lies somewhere between 128 and 134. Whatever it is I can tell you that studying a lot in recent 8 years has helped me develop a good understanding and better world view. Studying diligently has helped me develop well formed opinions on most things. 


Some critiques may raise issues like :


  • Tests given were probably not standardised. True but they were free so I gave them anyway. If many people have given some would have scored better and some not so good. But the fact that they were free I suspect they have a bigger sample set across various nationalities. Precisely because it’s free. So credibility could be argued. 

                                                       Image credits : Dribbble

Richard Feynmann self- reported his IQ as 124 in some school IQ test. Many have argued that the test was probably not standardized or it probably dominated on verbal intelligence. 


Another example Russian genius chess champion Garry Kasparov reported an IQ of 134. For a genius, 134 point IQ is a bad bargain.


  • Another relevant point is every IQ test will ask some details like age and gender to determine where you stand in the population already tested. The traditionalists argue that even if you improve your intelligence it won’t mean much as the people around you have also improved about the same rate. So if I am standing in the average pool in my school years I must expect the same even after giving tests 10 or 20 years after. So once an average is always an average in IQ sense. 


Whatever the case may be IQ seems to have become a regressive way of building a nation. A wonderful argument against IQ that I read is that it places less importance on teachers to innovate and teach for those who are lacking behind in class. New theories should be tested and encouraged to find better assessment and learning methodologies for better and enhanced learning experience. And sometimes it is as simple as students who are bad in English is because their teacher is bad in English. 

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