Smarty Pants

Why are we still so insistent on our methods of measuring intelligence, when we know that it is flawed? How is it possible that we can accurately assess intelligence if there is so much disagreement over how it is defined, and what qualities make a person “smart”. Generally, people think of intelligence as how much a person knows and is reflected in a person’s academic career. This implies that a person who does not do well in school or pursue academics in the future are not intelligent, and may face challenges formed by stigmas against poor-performers. But we shouldn’t be so quick to judge those who don’t do well in school because their tests only seem to reflect psychometric forms of intelligence, which includes linguistic, logical-mathematical, and spatial. This means that you are only evaluated by 3 of the 8 forms of intelligence. You can be successful and never go to college. There are other important skills necessary to life that don’t have anything to do with regurgitating information from a classroom. Reading a room, understanding a person’s body language, being able to predict scenarios and plan for them, making art, so many things can never really be measured and graded because there are things so important you can’t put a numeric value on it. 


It’s also important to note that how well a person performs on an exam is largely influenced by numerous factors outside of their control, and even day to day or moment to moment. Factors such as sleep or mood can drastically lower a person’s score, even if they can recall information later. Socioeconomic status and race can also give people major disadvantages because those who typically make the tests are constructing them with unconscious biases that can set students up for failure. If you evaluate someone from the “out-group” by the standards of the “in-group” it only reflects how well they would do in that particular environment. 


One of my family’s favorite shows to watch for the past several years was Big Bang Theory, and it’s main character Sheldon is a prime example of someone who is extremely gifted in mathematics and science, but completely fails to be a human being when it comes to other basic tasks. For example if asked, he would be able to define what the definition of sarcasm is, who it can be used in a sentence, the linguistic origins of the word, etc. But he is not able to detect someone’s sarcastic tone of voice which tends to get him in trouble, as well as his inability to understand what is considered rude or identify behaviors that cross people’s boundaries. In the prequel series Young Sheldon, which follows his childhood, season 2 episode 5 shows Sheldon and his twin sister Missy volunteering in a study about intelligence and how it is related to genetics and environment. Sheldon performs extremely well on the psychometric section of the exam while Missy struggles. Later on, the test administrators show them images of scenes that they need to describe (separately). Sheldon was able to describe the objects within, but not how they are related to another, and general tones/feelings or dynamics within, while his sister aces this section in flying colors, even stating that she “wasn’t finished yet” and pointed out several more things. Sheldon gets frustrated and asks to go back to other questions like before and protests when the administrator states that there are multiple types of intelligence. I don’t watch the show anymore, I lost interest after season 1, but I like this scene because it showcased how their family had been inadvertently overlooking Missy and what she has to offer just because her brother was a prodigy and needed special attention. 


That being said, does this mean that we should just throw all forms of testing out the window? No, I don’t think that it’s fair to those who work hard and do well to just have all their efforts ignored. Also, it is still important to evaluate ourselves and teachers to make sure that people are given the quality education they deserve and provide additional help to those who need it. However, I think that we should be doing more to make sure that a student’s self worth isn’t tied to a number, or multiple numbers. There are deeper qualities to a person that may never be defined or standardized and we are not a stagnant species. We are forever fluid and changing, and a test cannot capture that.

3 thoughts on “Smarty Pants

  1. vleonled

    One of the main reasons intelligence is such a big factor in our lives is because it is a way to measure and divide people into groups. Despite the research that discourages tests such as AP, IB, and the SAT, it makes it easier for institutions, like workplaces and universities, to judge people. Although in recent years, the SAT and ACT tests have not been a requirement to go to college, it is still considered an easier way to determine the worth of a person. By predetermining how well a person is going to do throughout college based off of a test, is a way of putting them in a box. Tests do not offer an extensive span on what is being measured, but this is often overlooked by institutions.

  2. Sydney Wayne

    I find intelligence to be a really interesting topic discussion. What does it mean to be intelligence? What does it mean to not be intelligent? How do you know? How do you measure it? It can go on in circles. Often coming up with one definition excludes another group. For example, defining intellect as how well you do in school. My cousin is extremely smart. So smart, he didn’t understand why he had to do all the extra homework if he got 100% on all the tests. So, he had low overall grades but did amazing on tests. Maybe he is too smart for his own good!
    I also agree with vleonled’s reply, its used as a way to divide and label people. I also find the way it was used to push racism to be interesting, in addition to crazy a wrong.

  3. ccragun

    I completely agree that students intelligence shouldn’t be tied to a number. A lot of people, especially in school, are only judged by tests and grades which isnt fair to a lot of students. Obviously, sometimes the only thing that can be done is a test or exam, but I think there should be other ways that are more fair for all students

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