Online IQ tests say my child is gifted: When an IQ test is not an IQ test

November 25, 2015

You’ve probably seen a number of tests and quizzes online and on social media that claim to be able to test your or your child’s IQ. Funnily enough, all of the people I’ve seen share their results have received a result of “giftedness” or “genius,” what an amazing coincidence!

However, there are a number of reasons why these sorts of tests that are available online are not the same as having a trained psychologist conduct a formal assessment of your child’s IQ, and I’ll explain why.

A brief history of intelligence testing

The formal testing of IQ (intelligence quotient) first began over a hundred years ago in France. The French government asked psychologist Alfred Binet to create a test to determine which children would require special assistance in their education. Based on comparing each child’s responses to their peers of the same age, this test classified children as having a ‘mental age’ which may differ from their chronological age.

After several years, this concept was taken on by psychologists at Stanford University in the USA, where they developed the testing further. In this version, the person being tested would be compared to the scores of a sample group of participants. The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale was, and its current version still is, a widely used test for IQ assessment.

In the 1950s, psychologist David Wechsler developed another version of IQ test, which examined a person’s intelligence in a number of areas of ability, rather than just a single number. The test compares a person’s score to the scores of hundreds of other people of the same age who have taken the test (called “norms”), and this has become the standard way to measure IQ. The current version of the Wechsler scales are very commonly used, particularly the WISC-IV in the education system.

So there is over a hundred years of research and development behind the types of tests used by psychologists in the assessment of your child’s IQ.

Here are some other reasons why an online IQ quiz has a number of shortcomings in getting a valid measurement of IQ:

  1. The conditions under which people are taking the test are all different. An IQ test conducted by a psychologist is a highly standardised process; this means that the instructions, order of tasks, prompts and scoring are exactly the same for every person being tested, which helps to determine that the differences in scores between two people are more likely to do with their abilities rather than them getting help from somebody or using other ways to get answers.
  2. Online quizzes usually only assess a certain type of problem solving or reasoning skill. You might often see matrix puzzles where you have to pick what pattern or shape comes next in a sequence or pattern. This is one type of problem solving but it doesn’t encompass all of the aspects researchers have come to include in the concept of IQ. Formal IQ tests look at things like verbal knowledge, visual spatial skills and speed of processing.
  3. Psychologists are trained in the use, administration and interpretation of psychometric tests. This means understanding a test’s strengths and weaknesses, the types of abilities that it actually measures and what the scores mean in real terms – something an online quiz cannot give you, especially if the result is just a number.
  4. Psychologists aren’t just interested in whether the answer is right or wrong; we also use observations of a child while they’re completing a test in order to learn something about how that child goes about solving problems. Do they get frustrated? Do they persist when something is difficult? Are they able to comprehend verbal instructions? How long do they take to think or respond? These are some of the things that are important in understanding how a child uses their abilities in a real life context, which is crucial to applying the results to make recommendations for a child’s learning progress.

So while it might be nice to have a quiz tell you you’re a genius, only a formal assessment can determine your IQ.

For more information about IQ and other testing please see my previous blog articles, or feel free to contact us at Attuned Psychology to discuss the possible benefits of assessing your child.

Rebecca Rossi, Psychologist


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