children giving IQ tests
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Are IQ Tests Reliable? Their History and an Alternative

Intelligence quotient or IQ for short has its applications as a measuring stick for an individual’s capabilities. Using a standard metric to measure success is not socially healthy. The tests used to calculate this metric are not an accurate depiction either.

What are IQ tests?

The use of an IQ test stems from the need to measure an individual’s intelligence. It however, focuses on a specific branch of intelligence. In other words, it focuses on academic intelligence. The use of logic and solving proofs take precedence. But this does not indicate whether or not an individual will be relatively more successful than their peers in their lifetime. The reason for this is that IQ tests do not measure an individual’s emotional intelligence, nor does it measure their ability to work hard.

What it does is rank individuals based on quantitative values, called the “scores” of an IQ test. Test givers obtain different scores for different IQ tests since not all of the tests ask the same questions. All IQ tests have the same common goal to measure logic and proof solving capabilities. Yet, they are still distinguishable by their individual purposes. Some tests are in use for university admissions, some for admitting new job recruits while others are in use to discover an individual’s learning disability. 

However noble the purpose is, the objective is the same; distinguishing individuals based on an institution’s definitions of smart and successful.

The Origins of IQ Tests

“People who boast about their I.Q. are losers.”

Stephen Hawking

The origins of IQ tests are rooted in society’s obsession to quantify human intelligence. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were when such obsession reached its peak. 

French psychologists Alfred Binot and Theodore Simon were given instructions by their government to research on and discover students who were academically apt in schools. His efforts led to one of the first IQ tests known to mankind: the Binet- Simon scale. Thus began makinds pursuit to classify individuals according to the numbers they scored in IQ tests. 

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists and researchers came to the conclusion that standard intelligence can be with certain skills. Those skills were verbal reasoning, working memory and having the ability to dissect visual information and details.

These skills are measured and quantified by having people go through tests which evaluate the aforementioned skills. The scores from those tests are then divided by the person’s age and multiplied with 100. This provides the value for the individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ).

The tests used as a means of discrimination

As mentioned earlier, these tests were discovered to assist individuals in their lives. This however, became a weapon used to discriminate and segregate. The early widespread use of IQ tests first came into being during World War 1 in the United States of America. The tests were used to selectively differentiate amongst the recruits. At the time, it was the case that immigrants were the ones scoring the lowest in those IQ tests. This created the idea that they were of lesser beings. It also further fuelled the anti-immigration propaganda among the ones supporting the far-right in the political spectrum. What made this even more controversial was that this implied certain ethnic groups had less intelligence than others. 

The military recruiters failed to understand though that most of the immigrants were new to the country. This meant that they were not familiar with the culture and most importantly, nor were they familiar with the English language. This was a real-life example of how IQ tests are not reliable, while also being a social deterrent. 

So, if IQ tests do not provide us enough information about a person, then what does?

Emotional Intelligence

In 1990, John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey discovered the emotional intelligence test. Emotional intelligence tests, as their name implies, are used to measure an individual’s emotional intelligence. If the objective is to measure a person’s potential to be successful in life, this test can work in tandem with the IQ test.

Mayer and Salovey describe emotional intelligence as a part of social intelligence that includes the ability to identify and understand one’s own feelings as well as those of the people around them. This intelligence would then be used by the individuals to make the appropriate personal and social decisions. 

And although it is difficult to measure emotional intelligence, it has five basic components that help to measure it. 

Self- Awareness

The first component is self-awareness. Our mood is never going to be consistently happy or consistently sad. But, what is important is that we understand this ourselves. Once we do, we will be better able to decipher our deepest emotions as well as understand how our behavior affects the people around us. 


This directly leads to empathy, the second factor of emotional intelligence. Empathy allows us to understand someone else’s feelings. Understanding someone else’s feelings allows us to better understand what they are going through. At the same time we can advise them about our own experiences. The greatest benefit of discerning someone else’s feelings gives you a different point of view and makes you wiser.  

Social Skills

Having natural empathy magnifies our social skills, another factor of emotional intelligence. 

Our social skills enable us to live in harmony within our society and at the same time allows us to foster meaningful relationships. 

Socialising with individuals gives us the opportunity to know them on a personal level. Once we start to know them, we learn not just about their successes but their failures too. More importantly, we learn how they overcome their failures. Knowing how they overcome their failures causes us to get motivated that we too can overcome our failures. As a result, motivation is also key for emotional intelligence.  


Last but not the least, it is self-regulation that allows people to be really successful. We have heard many times growing up that discipline is key. What does it mean though? Usually the word discipline is associated with being uptight but that cannot be further from the truth. Discipline and self-regulation go hand in hand. If we self-regulate our behaviour, our habits and our emotions, we can achieve high emotional intelligence. Easier said than done but the least we can do is try.