Should We Ask If IQ Tests Are Worthless Due to Multiple Intelligences?

Successful intelligence testing was first undertaken by the French psychologist Alfred Binet in the early 20th century. Binet had developed his tests in response to a request by the French Ministry of Education in order to identify special needs students. This test came to be known as the Binet-Simon Scale, which formed the basis for psychometric testing. Charles Spearman, a British psychologist, reported his discovery of “general intelligence” in 1904, which can be measured using psychometric tests based on the early model developed by Binet. His theory, which claims that intelligence is a general cognitive ability that can be measured objectively and expressed as a number, still has the largest number of supporters and published research.

However, since then, there has been a tendency for subsequent theories of intelligence to move away from the idea of a single, general intelligence towards a broader concept, supported most prominently by Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. Nowadays, Gardner’s theory is valued highly in the field of education.

Gardner distinguishes between 8 main types of intelligence:

  • Verbal-linguistic intelligence (word smart): the ability to use language, both oral and written, as a means to process, store and transmit information.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (number smart): ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically.
  • Musical intelligence (music smart): includes rhythm, music and aural skills. According to Gardner, this type of intelligence is closely linked to linguistic intelligence.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body smart): the ability to use one’s body in highly differentiated and skilled ways; people with a high kinesthetic intelligence tend to learn better when they are involved in some sort of physical activity.
  • Spatial intelligence (picture smart): the ability to interpret information from visual sources
  • Interpersonal intelligence (people smart): the ability to interact with others, understand them, and interpret their behavior. These individuals tend to be particularly good at perceiving the moods, temperaments, motivations and intentions of others.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (self smart): refers to having a deep understanding of the self; of one’s strengths/ weaknesses, and reactions and emotions.
  • Naturalist intelligence (nature smart): sensing patterns in and making connections to elements in nature.

Any of these types of intelligences provide us with the skills to exceed in a particular area. While someone with high interpersonal intelligence may be doing better as a salesperson, someone with logical-mathematical intelligence may do particularly well as a scientist.

Standard IQ tests, however, are designed to measure only three types of intelligence (linguistic, mathematical and spatial), almost entirely ignoring the other five types. Even though this type of testing may seem biased, it has one favorable aspect: it is these three types of intelligence that are most valued in our culture and, therefore, largely define our school systems. While the theory of multiple intelligences is now widely accepted and may even be used in some classrooms, instruction and testing in schools, especially in higher grades, only require certain skills. Students with a high kinesthetic intelligence are at a clear disadvantage once they reach a grade (often as early as first grade) where they are expected to remain seated while in class and learn new information through verbal or visual instruction. Someone with a high kinesthetic intelligence may find this particularly challenging and, consequently, do not as well academically or on a standard IQ test. He may, however, become a great football star and be much more successful overall than his classmates who scored high on every IQ test!

So in conclusion, are standard IQ tests worthless? To measure intelligence, most definitely. While in our present school system these tests may give a more or less accurate indication of how well a student is going to do academically, a high score on a standard IQ test is largely irrelevant to economic success. Different activities require different types of intelligence, so instead of relying on tests, we should diversify the learning experience for our students, try to find ways of learning that suit our abilities, and occupations that we truly enjoy.

This post is part of the series: Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

This series explores the power of multiple intelligences in Education
  1. What Are the Multiple Forms of Intelligence and What do Standard IQ Tests Assess?
  2. Multiple Intelligences and Art Education: The Use of Music in Art Class
  3. Using a Learning Styles Chart in the Classroom
  4. Take Advantage of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences