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TESTING INTELLIGENCE

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The traditional view of intelligence assumed that our ability to learn derived from a uniform cognitive capacity. This led researchers to experiment with the possibility that such an intelligence was measurable, which would enable educational resources to be more appropriately targeted.

 

At the turn of the 20th century, at the request of Parisian educators, psychologist Alfred Binet designed a bank of tests that could be used to analyse children's intelligence. The intention was to discover children's specific strengths and weaknesses in order that they could then be taught more appropriately.

 

In 1912, a simplified (some would say watered-down) version of Binet's test was devised by Lewis Terman at Stanford University and soon became popular in the US as a means of grading students' potential for academic study. This Stanford-Binet test had the advantage that it could be administered as a pencil-and-paper test and was normalised so that an average student would achieve a score of 100. A student who scored 131, for example, could be placed in a gifted programme, while another who scored 81 could be placed in special (remedial) education. Thus, measurement of raw intelligence was to become the norm across all areas of education in the US, giving rise to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which is used by nearly every college in America to help determine whether a student is qualified to enter that institution.

 

In the UK just prior to the first World War, Sir Cyril Burt, at the behest of the London County Council, devised a similar test, which was to form the basis of student assessment for over half a century.

 

Whereas analysis and measurement of intelligence was initially dependent on the interventions of a trained psychologist, economy and scale soon dictated the use of paper-based tests and, more recently, machine-marked multiple-choice papers. This has limited the type of questions that can be asked and the type of responses elicited, and has consequently placed limitations on our concept of intelligence. E G Boring (1923) notoriously defined intelligence as what intelligence tests measure.

 

Having defined IQ as a relationship between mental age and chronological age (IQ = MA x 100 / CA), the validity of the construct depends upon being able to select a normal sample. This sample needs to be sufficient both in terms of quantity and in terms of quality. This assumes both that the researcher is best placed to judge those skills that contribute to the construct of intelligence and that a reliable means of testing these elements can be devised.

 

Criticism of IQ pivots not on the size of the sample but on the breadth (or, more precisely, the narrowness) of those qualities measured. It has been argued that achieving high scores on tests "merely shows that a student is good at taking tests" and there has been much debate about the validity of such tests, with various educators claiming that the content matter discriminates against girls or against minority ethnic groups. Because the tests tend to focus on a particular kind of sequential logic, it could also be argued that they discriminate against creative thinking. Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, two of history's most brilliant minds, were both terrible at taking tests and neither did very well at school. Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences at least suggests that there is more to intelligence than the intellectual factors.

 

It is apparent that ability in one form of intelligence does not necessarily imply ability in another. Whereas there may be a correlation between some abilities (musical and mathematical abilities, for example), it is quite possible to have, for instance, linguistically very fluent people who cannot read maps or make sense of diagrams. It would be quite unsafe to assume that people who score similarly in IQ tests are therefore equally intelligent when the likelihood is that they will prefer to operate in different modalities.

 

More recently, Goleman (1996) has suggested that Emotional Intelligence is an important factor affecting our capacity to learn. Emotional intelligence (a combination of motivational factors determined by our self-esteem) may be considered as broadly similar to certain aspects of the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences as defined by Gardner.