Saturday, February 23, 2008

The IQ Bowl

A few weeks ago, I wasted a hell of a lot of time conducted what just might be a ground-breaking experiment by taking three different online IQ tests. Here’s what I discovered: my IQ is either 127, 138, or 145. Hmm, that’s a bit of a variance, wouldn’t you say? What to do with these numbers? That’s the question. I could just take the average (and by that, the possible 145-IQ-me wants to make sure you realize I’m referring to the mean), which would put my IQ at approximately 136.666… (oooh, “in case of Rapture, my vehicle most definitely won’t be unmanned,” not with an IQ like that. Has anyone seen the bumper sticker that says this?). I could just get rid of the highest and the lowest scores and go with 138. Then again, I could just take the tactic of your average kindergartner and announce that my IQ is 145, having no problems, when asked, about saying, “because that’s what I want it to be.”

On the other hand, maybe the best tactic for figuring out what my IQ is might just be to take the numbers, throw them in a bowl with a whole bunch of other numbers, and pick one. Maybe I should even throw 60 in there, which is what Froshty had me convinced my IQ was, circa age 10. On many levels, my IQ should be 60.

When I considered many of the questions on these tests (all three tests are similar and all overlap), I couldn’t help my tendencies to skewer them. My natural question for what seemed like over half of them was, “Yes, but what if…?” For instance, quite a lot of them required the test-taker to have some familiarity with geography, which leads someone like me to think, “What if you attended school in The United States post-1960 when geography was all but eliminated from the curriculum?” You probably spent many years filling in blank maps of The United States, and that was the extent of your education in geography. If you don’t happen to be one of those kids who enjoyed reading encyclopedias and atlases for fun, or a crossword puzzle fiend, you very well might have no clue how to answer:

The Thames is to England as the _____________ is to Russia.

Chances are, you’re not going to be the least bit familiar with Russian rivers. You may not even know that the Thames is a river. Now, it’s a multiple-choice question, so you can choose the most Russian-sounding answer and increase your chances of getting it right. But what if it’s a trick question? What if it’s the most Mexican-sounding name, despite being in Russia? I just can’t help thinking that knowing the names of rivers in different countries can’t possibly be any indication of IQ. Wouldn’t a better question be: how can I find out the names of rivers in Russia if I don’t know what they are?

Here’s another one that requires knowledge that I wouldn’t exactly consider innate:

If you unscramble these letters YKTOO, you get the name of a:

a. planet

b. city

c. animal

d. all of the above

Does anyone else out there panic that oh yes, some new planet was recently discovered? What was it called? It wasn’t Kotyo, was it? What if there’s some endangered animal species in Antarctica called the Kotoy?

Then there’s this question (which I actually copied and pasted, because I’m so annoyed with it):

John received $0.76 in change from a purchase in a drugstore. If he received 8 coins, and five of the coins were the same denomination, how many quarters did he receive?

I look at a question like this one and automatically think, “ah, trick question.” This means I will spend at least twenty minutes on it (thus guaranteeing, if time is a factor in taking this test, which it was when I had to take such things as the S.A.T.s) that I will be at a disadvantage. My thoughts go something like this, “The question says five, but I bet that’s the trick. They want you to mess around with five coins of the same denomination, working with five and five only, but it might be six coins of that denomination, which would mean at least five, because the question doesn't say 'exactly five.' It could be seven or eight. Maybe all eight coins are the same denomination, and John didn’t get any quarters. They always want to trip you up by making you forget that zero could be the answer.” It’s actually a pretty straightforward question, but someone who doesn’t trust that can waste quite a lot of time with such a question. And let’s not even think about the fact that you have to be familiar with the American money system and its denominations to get this one correct.

Now, here’s what I’m thinking. I may get the river in Russia by the luck of the draw, but suppose you were giving this test to a Masai warrior, one of those cool Masai warriors who’s been hired to lead tourists back to their tents at night in Kenya, because he knows how to avoid wild beasts to keep from being attacked, and the tourists don’t. So, that Masai warrior may have no clue that YKTOO is a city called TOKYO. Maybe YKTOO is something completely different in his language. However, at that moment, whose IQ do you want: the Masai warrior’s or my 127-138-145-or-whatever IQ? I’ll go with Mr. Masai warrior and get him to keep my arm from being some lion’s midnight snack, because when it comes to this question:

To avoid a ravenous lion, one must ________

my IQ hovers somewhere around 15.

I guess that means my groundbreaking experiment yielded no significant results. I’m choosing to stick with the kindergartner’s response and will tell everyone my IQ is 145, because that’s what I want it to be. I’m a genius. Just don’t ask me to protect you from lions.


IM said...

Okay, so I got the first two examples I think. I chose the Volga because it is the only river I know in Russia (it's that darn US education system's fault, not mine). The second one came easily, but you're right the third IS a trick question because there is no answer, at least not one that I could determine after ten minutes straining my brain and having smoke come out of my ears. As soon as I see a decimal point and more than one number my cerebral cortex starts to hemorrhage. Do they allow you to pull change out of your pocket and arrange it on the table during one of these tests?

Courtney said...

Well, I've never taken an IQ test but since are long lost sisters I am declaring mine 145 as well!

Cam said...

Of course there's an answer to the coin question, and I can't think of any other possible solution if there are 8 coins. Which just goes to show you how arbitrary IQ tests are -- not getting the answer is not an indication of your intelligence. Just from reading his blog, it is obvious that Ian is intelligent, even if decimal points make his head explode.

I don't remember why I went to the Mensa site recently, but something led me to wonder what was the exact IQ needed to belong (I wasn't looking to join, btw). The answer? It depends on the test. As Mensa explains, on one test it might be 136, another 148, yet another 150 (those numbers from memory so may not be exact).

I don't know how you tell if someone is intelligent, but I sense when someone is. How's that for something intangible? Here is something that I find curious: on occassion I've heard someone who I don't perceive to be at the upper ranges of IQ remark that someone else is really intelligent. Even if I agree (maybe, especially if I agree), I wonder: how do they determine that? Yeah, I know that's really snobby. I decided years ago that my mission in life is to understand (and live it!) that being wise is far more important than being smart. I'll need to live many more decades, maybe centuries, before I could even come close to being wise.

I think it is wisdom, and skill -- not intelligence -- that helps that Masai warrior.

Eva said...

I've *lived* in Russia *and* England, and I'm still not positive what the answer would be (I didn't see that you had listed choices). My automatic reaction was the Neva, since that's what St. Petersburg is built around, a la London and the Thames. But the Volga's important too (even if it doesn't run through Moscow)!

These IQ tests sound super sketchy, and not like they're measuring innate intelligence at all. Maybe if you took an 'official' one that wasn't free on the internet, it'd be a little better? I don't know.

Froshty said...

I took three IQ tests and my scores were 143, 145, and 147. So, Emily, since our numbers appear to be so close, I guess I'm a 60. The question that bugged Mary, Anna, and me was the one that said, which of the following is not like the others: horse, donkey, mule, cow. The problem with that question is that there are two correct answers because the mule is the product of breeding two different animals--a horse and a donkey. However, a cow is not in the horse family. I got it wrong because I picked mule, but I felt cheated because I think that someone who didn't know that a mule was different from a horse, a donkey, and a cow didn't have a high enough IQ to write the questions for the test. By the way, Ian, the answer to the third question is two quarters--5 nickels + 2 quarters + 1 penny is 76 cents (and 8 coins). Emily, if you try to have more than 5 coins of the same denomination, you don't get 8 coins total.

mandarine said...

Moskowa. b. 2. run?

Anonymous said...

There was a really good article on I.Q. tests in the New Yorker a while ago. It basically says they are pretty skewed and people have know this for a while. But if you have a high score, I say milk it for all it's worth.

Emily Barton said...

IM, and you don't know how many times I come across in which there are no logical answers (even those with no decimal points in sight). However, I'm sure these tests would result in an IQ of at least 160, since you know what a hemorrhaging cerebral cortex is. (Oh, and I didn't think of this as I was writing the post, but sorry if I brought back GRE nightmares for you.)

Court, yes, quite obviously, you are right up here in the genius category with me.

Cam, yeah, I seem to remember those varying numbers for IQ tests when I studied about them in one of my psychology classes. Apparently, there's one test in which 140 is considered "genius" level, and another in which it's 160. I guess even more tests have been devised since I was learning about it (back in the Dark Ages). And you're right: being wise is far more important than being smart (although I'm afraid, looking back on my life, my Wisdome Quotient might be in the negative numbers).

Eva, yes, I'd say these tests are quite "sketchy." Some of the questions really do seem to require knowledge of trivia more than anything else, and I've never considered the ability to memorize trivia to be a sign of intelligence (especially in this day and age. Why fill your brain with useless information when the answer to almost any trivia question can be found within minutes online? Of course, that is, unless you're planning on making it big as a Jeopardy champion or something).

Froshty, oh yes, that kind of question of horse, mule, donkey, and cow is the kind of question I despise. And I knew the answer to the coins question. It's just that it's the sort of question that I'm always convinced must have more than one answer or be very tricky in some way.

Mandarine, "run," that's it! Thus proving, what we've all suspected, that your IQ hovers somewhere around 180.

Linser, did you know I have such a high IQ, I think doing such things as washing dishes and mopping floors is totally beneath me?

ZoesMom said...

I was going to mention the same New Yorker article which was quite good. I was hoping to provide you with a link to the same, but the New Yorker website search capabilities leave something to be desired.

Anyway, I definitely agree -- go with 145.

litlove said...

Wow - well, whichever score you settle on, Emily, they are all extremely impressive. I'm completely hopeless at IQ tests. Oh yes indeedy. My verbal skills somehow or other fail to equate to verbal reasoning tests and I cannot rotate shapes in my head or figure out sequences of numbers. My IQ is probably about 80 or something!

Anonymous said...

Every now and again I get sucked into IQ tests. I don't think I ever get as far as the results, because there is always something like that coin question, to which my response is 'Who cares?'!

Anonymous said...

Five nickels (25 cents), two quarters (fifty cents, for a total of 7 coins and 75 cents), one penny (bringing the total up to 76 cents and 8 coins). I always loved logic puzzles as a kid, so my IQ was always falsely elevated because of that. It amazed my teachers that I could have such an extremely high IQ number (something absurd like 170) but be such an idiot in the class. IQ tests probably validate worthless knowledge and skills, and Worthless Knowledge and Skills is my middle name (just call me Wks for short, or Wiks if you insist on vowels). When I heard that the GRE took out the logic part of the exam (I think they called it qualitative analysis?), I was devastated--it was the section where I scored the highest, missing only one question on the whole section.

Emily Barton said...

ZM, The New Yorker definitely needs to get someone who isn't as old as the magazine itself in there to work on their web site, huh? I gave up on them sometime ago.

Litlove, I guess you are a prime example for that New Yorker article, since you're obviously way too smart for IQ tests. Incidentally, my ability to take IQ (or any) tests is completely related to how important the test is. If I had been taking any one of these tests in a psychologist's office, being told some job I had applied for depended on the results, my score, too would have been about 80. Oh, and I've always been terrible at flipping shapes around (never get those questions right). I think it's a learned skill, though. I was never taught how to do it, but in math classes here, they now teach kids how to do it, and I've witnessed classrooms full of 8-year-olds doing it with no problem. And through the stuff I have to read for work, I'm slowly beginning to pick up on being able to do it myself.

MFS, yes, who cares? (Except the person working in the store who wants to make sure she's given the correct change. And guess what? The cash register will tell her whether or not she has!)

Hobs, oh me too, about being disappointed that they got rid of the logic section on the GRE. Everyone talked about how awful it was, and I completely surprised myself by scoring way better on it than on the English and math sections. I think, maybe, I was just so convinced it was going to be beyond me that I relaxed and found it no trouble at all (although I missed quite a few more than one).

Nick said...

Try this one. It is "PHD CERTIFIED", they say!!