Sunday, July 22, 2007

oh, the IQ of it all

For no apparent reason seven year-old Iris Uber Alles became obsessed with learning her IQ. She kept bringing it up: "Hey, Mom, the next time you talk to someone at my school, can you ask them what my IQ is? What? Do you mean to tell me that no one has ever tested my IQ? ARE YOU SURE NO ONE EVER TESTED MY IQ?"

Now I happen to have a chip on my shoulder about IQ tests. I was never formally tested, but when I took online IQ tests a couple of times, I did not do as well as I expected. I don't remember the score I got the first time I took one, but I do remember being upset for days, idiotically enough, and being especially traumatized when I learned my score was far below the level at which one is expected to perform in order to graduate from law school. Ironically enough in general I test fabulously, and indeed the high point of my life, cognitively speaking, was probably the day I took the LSAT, on which I got a perfect score. (This became legend among my college friends, who all looked at the physical piece of paper and shook their heads. A friend-of-a-friend who was very competitive with me actually cancelled her plans to take the LSAT and changed her entire life plan because she didn't want to get a lower LSAT score than me). But there is something about the traditional IQ test which doesn't mesh well with my way of thinking. I like to say that the IQ test is based upon particular, antiquated forms of reasoning, rather than the powerful logic and incisive reasoning measured by the LSAT, but that is only the inane ramblings of a touchy sore loser.

The Sober Husband decided to scratch Iris's itch to determine her IQ. He found her an IQ test online, and she settled down to it. Watching her, I couldn't resist making another stab at it myself, and of course the husband followed suit. I ended up with a respectable score, one which is typical of a lawyer or doctor (evidently over my years as a Drunken Housewife since I last tested my IQ, my IQ improved). The Sober Husband's was 7 points higher, putting him appropriately enough in the research scientist/professor level, which made me quite sulky until I comforted myself by the rationalization that surely my score would have been higher if I were not suffering from severe sleep deprivation (2 nights terrible insomnia, followed by third night of Harry Potter mania involving buying book after midnight, returning home around 1, and reading until about 4:30).

And Iris? The website refused to grade her test when I put her age as 7, as there is a policy against children under 13 using the site. When I input her age as 13, Iris's score was 90, down in the suited-for-manual-labor category. I explained to Iris that if her test had been scored for a 7 year-old, undoubtedly her IQ would be very high and that for a 7 year-old to test at the level of a dumb 13 year-old was actually quite good.

She sucked her disappointment up stoically enough, which was probably a mistake on her part. We gave her a hard time today over it. When she asked for praise for a tree-climbing trick, I said, "Wow, that's pretty amazing for a dumb girl." Her father chimed in: "It's remarkable what you can do for a person with only an IQ of 90." I advised her that "dumb people have to work harder to learn how to do things, so you should get in the habit of working very hard." Agreeing with this, the Sober Husband suggested that Iris develop a winning personality to compensate for her lack of cognitive ability. I countered with the fear that she might become a bimbo and use her good looks to make up for a lack of brainpower. Iris tried to scowl, but couldn't keep a straight face.


Chuck Sigars said...

Yeah, they can make us crazy, looking for validation in all the wrong places. And I say that knowing that the highest IQ score I ever got, an online test, came one night when I was really, really drunk. Hey, it's all about potential.

Anonymous said...

IQ test are pretty inacurate in my humble opinion... and I'm not saying that because I took several on the web and ended up with the IQ of a Barbie Doll !

Some IQ test are good - they mix up logic with verbal abilities etc. But let's face it, they don't mean much anyway.

Funny you baby girl was so obsess with it. Do you know the reason ?

hughman said...

i agree with zhu. these online tests are stupid. and dumb. and wrong. way wrong. if i ever took one - WHICH I HAVEN'T (maybe) - i'd just think it was wrong and didn't mean i'm as dumb as a lawn jockey. WHICH I'M NOT. bad bad IQ tests.

Silliyak said...

I took one in high school and never got the results. The ONLY thing I ever asked my counselor for in 4 years and he just put me off, "Yeh one of these days" I think it must have stunk. I was a pretty good test taker and I had a lot of self esteem tied up in shit like that, so I was probably for the best.

Missy said...

Some tests are better than others, I always found the Cogat (cognitive abilities test) to be a pretty good measure of student strengths/weaknesses. It measures verbal vs. nonverbal ability, which often explained why some kids could--you could just tell--"get it--" but not necessarily explain it.

After about oh, sixth grade or so, I think they are pretty much worthless--the test taker is too busy trying to figure out how to beat the test than to actually do well.

Tests are best used as an ability to tell strengths vs. weaknesses--as in, I can't figure out what that piece of paper when folded will do for jack--meaning, no ability to visualize anything, ever--from a sewing pattern to an architectural blue print.

It's a pity that too many people value the ability to take tests well over the actual ability.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I don't know how Iris got so obsessed with it. I have to say that she's a little bit too vain about being smart... as was her mother as a child, before her mother grew up and realized that smart and $2 will buy you a latte. the Sober Husband and I were both academic superstars, but we agree firmly that social skills are more important to overall success in life than academic skills.

Silliyak, I'm glad your counselor didn't tell you if your score were surprisingly low on the silly test. he may have spared you some pain. i know I was really, ridiculously upset when I tested as an idiot that time before.

Incidentally the test we all took was the classic IQ test put up online at

Missy, that's fascinating about the verbalization test.

I think that there are so many different ways of being smart, and IQ tests privilege their brand of smart over others. I'm an idiot about machines, gauges, etc.... but when it comes to fast, logical thinking, I'm excellent, and I'm usually good at explaining things. (That's worthy of a post some day. My ex-husband, back when he liked me, used to say that he could tell I was a true genius because I had areas of idiocy). My mother's grandfather was never to be seen reading a book and was very non-verbal, but he was a genius at solving puzzles. Everyone would give him extremely difficult puzzles for Christmas, and by lunchtime, he'd have solved them all.

Freewheel said...

Does her school have "gifted" classes, or are all the students treated as "gifted"?

the Drunken Housewife said...

I've never heard the word "gifted" used at her school, and I'm glad. (I strongly recommend once again to everyone that they read "Hothouse Kids: Dilemma of the Gifted Child" by A. Quart). there's a whole bunch of problems that arise in life when one is identified as "gifted" (perfectionism, unwillingness to do things at which one is not naturally gifted, etc.., etc..). At Iris's school, kids are divided into groups for reading and math which are based upon ability, and they spend part of the week working in their ability groups and there are "extension activities" so the girls can seek out more challenging related work.

Anonymous said...

I've read Quart and found her petulant approach belie her immaturity -- conflating her own issues of growing up in a high-pressure household with the people profiled in her book. She seems obsessed with clothing and surface appearances (including one memorable sequence about eating "grease sandwiches" with someone of lower SES than herself, going on to describe the woman as if she were part of another species altogether). There was one amazing homeschooling family profiled -- I believe they were Native American... one child had his own business, one was an actor, all were engaged and highly motivated. Quart seemed to thing they were freaks rather than seeing anything positive in the way they chose to live their lives. I guess they weren't as cool as her friends.

There is a difference between hothousing and nurturing a child's (any child's) intellect, something Quant grudgingly acknowledges and discusses only in passing near the end of her book. I'd highly recommend reading "Smart Girls" by Barbara Kerr for a more balanced view of what gifted girls (and women) actually need, as well as "Mindset" by Carol Dweck and "Raising Resilient Children" by Brooks (?) to better understand how to deal with motivational issues and perfectionism.

FWIW, "The Price of Privilege" by Levine and "The Overachievers" by Robbins deal more successfully, and with less apparent bias, than Quart regarding the serious potential consequences which can be brought about by excessive external pressure on children to perform (though to be fair, the subjects are older).

Anonymous said...

Oops. Helps to do a final proofread. :)

The first sentence above should begin: I've read Quart and found her petulant approach to betray her immaturity

Alison said...

Maybe your dumb girl and mine could get together ....

Back when my daughter was 8 she read a couple of books featuring kids with high IQs. That was the first she'd heard of IQ, and she got a bit curious. Rather than leading her to an online test I asked her what she thought her IQ might be, given that an average person is about 100. After a bit of thinking she decided on about 95 ... even though she's in advanced groups for everything at school etc etc etc. We must live in a really sub-average neighbourhood!

hughman said...

the average IQ is just 100?? wow. i didn't know that.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Nmoira, that's a propos that you mentioned "The Overscheduled Child." i read it and actually sent my copy to Missy, the current holder of the esteemed Mrs. Drunken Housewife title as her prize.

my take on Quart was different. Check my post on that, if you care to. I got a lot out of her book, but that doesn't mean I agree with her in all things. i do want to avoid both overscheduling my daughters and labelling them as gifted. I hope they'll be happy, social, and creative in life, not burnt out or overly perfectionistic.

the Drunken Housewife said...

p.s. I will look for the other books mentioned here; I'm always happy to get a good recommendation.