Bring Up Intelligence—How IQ tests do not measure how smart we really are

Anna Tarazevich|

I can’t even begin counting the number of times people called me “smart” for studying science at a university level. And even though I am partly flattered, another more substantial part of me is outright annoyed. To be clear, I am understandably not a proponent of the maxim “You don’t need a rocket scientist to do this.” This idea that rocket scientists are at the top of the intelligence pyramid is downright arrogant. Yes, they are indeed brilliant, but there are also plenty of people in other fields that are equally smart. Be careful here; even non-scientist can be as intelligent as rocket scientists. So next time you feel compelled to tell your scientist friends how smart they are, remember to tell your local farmers how smart they are as well. We need to stop considering how intelligent people are by the amount of mathematical knowledge they master or how much academic content they can stuff into their brains. We may have understood now that intelligence is complex. Yet, we are still way behind when it comes to redefining how we view it in our modern society. 

Since the early 20th century, intelligence has been defined by how much you score on an Intelligence Quotient test (IQ test). Considering the average on the test to be 100, anyone who would score under 90 would classify as dull and the ones with scores under 70, mentally defective. On the contrary, individuals that score above 115 would be considered gifted. However, even though we created this test with the intention to measure intelligence, it only succeeded at evaluating the general factor, “g” (i.e. cognitive abilities). Indeed the questions asked often revolve around aspects like general knowledge, arithmetics, vocabulary, language comprehension, picture completion, block design, object assembly, coding, picture arrangement and similarities. This tool seemed so formidable and has been so successfully marketed as a universal intelligent test that most people today would readily believe them to measure intelligence. But beware that this test does not capture the whole picture of intelligence, and rating your job candidates on only this measure would be a complete travesty. 

There are, however, people out there that are genuine supporters of the IQ tests as a future performance predictor. Although these individuals are not entirely misguided -IQ tests do indeed show moderate correlation with future successes-, other measures have proven themselves even more reliable. For instance, emotional intelligence has proven itself a good predictor, along with self-control, faith over one’s future and interpersonal strategies. More impressively, in all those predictors, self-control actually was better at estimating one’s chance of success, even compared to IQ tests. And this brings me to wonder about the consequences of such an intelligence test. For me, it seems like a premature way to etiquette people into categories dictating if they should succeed or not. If we decide to attend university or apply for jobs, we can’t escape the ‘oh!’ so prevalent IQ tests, which may determine if we will get the job or not. And it seems that the more prestigious the place you are applying to, the more probable you will have to face one of these tests. So the test is no longer used merely as an indicator but as an obstacle too. We can only wonder from such observation if the success is truthfully linked to IQ scores or are the IQ scores deciding who should succeed or not? For me, this whole IQ thing really sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy.


So if intelligence is not what IQ tests are calculating, then what is intelligence? Many psychologists and psychometrists attempted to describe it. Yet, nobody came up with a theory upon which everyone could agree. This disagreement over the definition arises from the different understanding that people have of intelligence. A mathematician, for example, may believe that intelligence is your ability to reason and compute complex problems; a physicist may think that it is the ability of one’s mind to picture abstract objects; an artist may perceive it to be the ability to create. And it is that flexibility in the concept that makes it hard to measure. I would even say that it is a vain pursuit to try measuring it. Intelligence is too complex and evidently a subjective notion. Yet, some theories seem better at summarizing the idea. 

In an attempt to correct how we saw intelligence, Robert Sternberg proposed the triarchic theory of intelligence. He started describing the classical view of intelligence as analytic intelligence. This one best describes how well we will do in an academic setting. It involves reasoning, computing, problem-solving, and more. As a second theory, he introduced creative intelligence. It best defines how someone can be innovative, inventive and a generator of new ideas. As the third and last, he brought up practical intelligence, which describes best the people that are particularly ‘street smart.’ Those individuals are known as people who can have a good idea of how things might turn out and avoid trouble. They typically know the best route, the best restaurant, the best contacts, etc. They also might have a better intuition about someone’s intention soon after meeting them for the first time. 

Julia M Cameron|

Although this approach is much better than what IQ tests offered us, I find it still lacks complexity. It doesn’t yet capture the whole image of intelligence. And someone else, an American psychologist, came to a similar conclusion and proposed that we view intelligence as multimodal and not as one single unit, which agrees with what Sternberg previously offered. However, Gardner’s theory was slightly more ambitious as it officially encompasses nine types of intelligence, and unofficially, 10. Yet, given the lack of empirical evidence to support this idea, this theory is still being critiqued. Gardner’s approach was uniquely based on subjective judgement and observation. And since the whole concept is an abstract notion, to begin with, such as love and sadness -which we can’t measure either-, I find it quite suitable.  

We could probably group the first three under Sternberg’s view of analytic intelligence. And yet, I find this segmenting to be fairer. They are visual-spatial intelligence, linguistic-verbal intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence. They are all probably very self-explanatory, but I can, at the very least, describe them a little. Visual-spatial intelligence refers to people who are good at locating themselves and finding directions. Basically, people who score high on this intelligence may be capable of mentally visualizing the whole itinerary when they travel somewhere. Individuals that score high in linguistic-verbal are often the ones we would describe as eloquent. They have a way with words, and they also have an easier time learning new languages. Well, logical-mathematical inclined people have an easier time following rules and creating new ones. They also excel at reasoning and critical thinking. 

As mentioned, there are at least six more to introduce, so I’ll be quick. These six types are bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. Bodily-kinesthetic people are better at orchestrating and fine-tuning their movement. It is why this type is most often called physical intelligence. Musical people have increased ease in determining the tone, sounds and rhythms of music. Interpersonal individuals are more skilled at networking and creating good long-lasting relationships. Intrapersonal refers to people that are finely tuned to their inner thought workings and are very good at introspection. Naturalistic intelligence characterizes people that can effortlessly draw links with nature. And existential intelligence was created as an alternative to spiritual intelligence, where people perceive that their lives have a higher purpose. At last, there is one remaining unofficial intelligence, which is digital intelligence. Its need arose from the accessibility to digital content. 


To wrap up everything, let’s say that I particularly like Einstein’s quote: “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.“ It is truly an amazing analogy to describe how everyone can be intelligent in their own way. But if you test them all using the same standardized tools, you might miss what’s right under your nose. So, as a take-home message, I would like you to realize that some scientists are smart (on some modalities), but so can be dropout students (on different modalities). And most importantly, that you are intelligent too and never forget it. I’ll end this article with another clever quote from Einstein: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change [or to adapt],” and I find that it englobes well the notion of intelligence. As humans, we are born with the ability to adapt, and as such, we are all intelligent. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education


Being a curious individual, I always want to learn. I frankly can’t imagine a time when I’ll have to stop seeking clues about the inner workings of the world. The best way I found to satisfy my deep desire to learn was going to school. Luckily for me, going to school was mandatory for anyone under the age of 18. Yet, as soon as I entered high school, the only thing I could focus on was the impending end of time in school. There was only one solution. … I had to attend university. But first, I needed to get a Cegep degree. For those unfamiliar with the term Cegep, it is an academic institution that offers both general training and technical training. Both kinds of training lead to the obtention of a degree after 2 or 3 years, respectively. The general training aims to be pre-university training, whereas the technical training should lead you directly to the job market. 

Honestly, I particularly disliked Cegep. From my perspective, the teachers were unpassionate about their courses, and they were also exhaustingly hard to reach in between classes. I must mention that some teachers defied those expectations and were excellent teachers. However, I found that those were the minority. My observations were, however, not shared amongst most of my acquaintances that went to Cegep. Possibly, this difference could be credited to my degree being different, or it could be that they got their degree from another Cegep altogether. Alternatively, It could also have resulted from my mental state at the moment. Indeed, my head was not in the game then. I was living a distressing time at home and was incredibly worried about my perceived worth. Unconsciously, I didn’t mind failing my courses. It would just have been another proof of my worthlessness. 

Somehow after four years of on and off school, I decided to apply to university despite my lack of a Cegep degree. Why did I wait so long to apply to university if this whole thing was unnecessary? Well, I sincerely didn’t know that it was even possible. Everyone in the academic system has led me to believe in this one-size-fits-all path, either by ignorance or for simplicity’s sake. They teach you that the one path for university is first high school, then Cegep and finally, University. We, thus, remain oblivious that it is actually possible to skip Cegep altogether. It turns out that you only need to be 18 years old and possess a high school degree to be admissible for most university applications. They call these applicants mature students. There are also programs offered, like the one at Université de Montréal (Accès aux Études Universitaires), that grants you access to most if not all their undergraduate programs and also they offer you the opportunity to apply to other schools.

Armin Rimoldi|

That was a path that was better suited for my needs. I did the program at Université de Montréal, and then I applied to Bishop’s University. You may realize that one is a French-taught university and the second, an English-taught university. Given that French is my native language going to Bishop’s University has proven itself pretty challenging. Although, I must admit that I loved stepping up to the challenge and prove myself capable. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, I had come to realize that university studies suited me. I didn’t fail any classes; I even performed very well in most. My life made sense again, and I was satisfied, both from the work I’d accomplished and the learning I’d made. At that moment, I really wanted to teach, specifically at the university level. I needed to obtain a doctorate degree. So, I went to pursue a Master of Science at Université de Sherbrooke. I chose to do a research-based degree, and at first, I must admit that I absolutely loved it. 


My research project was, at first, brand new to me, and I needed to learn a bunch before getting to design my own experiments. I adored that part, the learning part. Unfortunately, this is not a good resume of my whole experience in the lab. The lab atmosphere was terrible. From the start, my labmates attempted to convince each other that I did not deserve my place in this lab. Then, when my supervisor was made aware of their attitude, he addressed it. However, them trying to ridicule me was not their only ammunition at hand. They were also enjoying making the lab assistant’s life miserable. However, I liked the lab assistant very much. Contrary to the others in the lab, she was sweet, and she was always ready and willing to give me a hand. Little did I know that just tagging along with this marvellous person would get me shunned from the labmates. 

Marley Clovelly|

Eventually, all I have ever done in the lab was being scrutinized and then mocked. My attitude in the lab started being somewhat unstable, and I began to develop a tendency towards overreaction. After two years of being part of this lab, this last change in my behaviour was the last straw to motivate my supervisors to ban me from the lab at the request of the majority of my labmates. Fortunately, I was able to complete my degree after all, despite my unfinished project. Instead of writing my thesis at the lab, I was able to write it remotely. I was happy to be away from the drama that accompanied my presence in the lab, but I was distraught by the unfamiliarity of writing a Master’s thesis. I had no assistance from my supervisor, nor did I get much help from the department. I had to figure it out all on my own. Sometimes the immensity of the task was proving itself too scary, and I often preferred avoiding completing it altogether. With the kind help and motivation from my fiancé, I finally accepted that doing my best, although it would eventually need redefining, was all I could do. And as such, so I did; after three reviews, the review board approved my thesis for submission, and I obtained my diploma. 

I heard that my recent experience was not a typical one. However, it is not an isolated case. My multiple discussions with other Master’s students and Doctorate students revealed something interesting. I began realizing that the quality of our experience directly correlates to how the supervisor manages the lab. If he keeps repeating that he is overwhelmingly busy and thus he expects his students to be ultra self-sufficient, it’s a potential red flag. It could mean that he is not available to guide the students, nor can he be there to address any possible cases of abuse. If the supervisor willingly claims that the lab has some recurring conflicts and that he had problems with students in the past, it’s a red flag. It could mean that he can’t adequately manage his lab and his students and that he may tolerate misbehaviours. At last, if the supervisor only talks about himself and his lab, red flag. Possibly, the supervisor doesn’t care about your personal preferences nor your mental state. It is a poor attribute for your supervisor to have given that these elements may potentially damage the quality of your work. Also, if the supervisor is indifferent to you, he is probably with everyone else as well. In sum, make sure to vet your potential supervisor carefully. It may be tempting to accept any supervisor that supports your candidacy first, but it may not be to your own benefit. Take your time and ask yourself if that supervisor is a good fit for you. 

Stanley Morales|

Two years after completing my Master’s degree, I have finally grasped that my negative experience in that lab was not entirely because of me. A lot had to do with being in the wrong lab, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people. Some day, I may find my way back to studying or working in a lab, but not now, nor anytime soon. Right now, I am fully satisfied writing from the comfort of my home, or in this case, a charming pub in North Hatley, QC, CA. Although my future is uncertain, I now understand that I am in charge of my destiny and happiness. Maybe this future will bring me to complete another undergraduate degree, or perhaps it won’t. The one thing I am sure of is that wherever life carries me, I will make damn sure that I’m happy, no more compromises. 

College or university degrees should not be sought with the only motivation to enter the job market but to further knowledge and understanding. University studies are challenging, and deliberate decisions to gain wisdom about a particular field are needed to succeed. Unfortunately, too many people enter university programs with the only hope and desire to get a specific job. Way too often, those people don’t get the desired position, either because they only crammed the knowledge without properly absorbing anything, or they may find out that they don’t want that job in the end. As for me, I decided to forge my own path. Science communication is one of the most integral parts of my life. I often do it without even realizing it. So, even though my training typically leads to an academic career, I decided to break away from the mould and become a self-employed entrepreneur. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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