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Your IQ: What Questions Are In IQ Tests?

Updated on August 28, 2011

What Is in an Intelligence Test?

Everyone has been bated by pop-up banner messages advertising free IQ tests, but what really goes into an IQ test? We all agree that intelligence is a good thing, but who can describe it? Is knowledge the same as intelligence? Psychologists and philosophers have long struggled to define intelligence. Schools and the military started using precursors of modern intelligence tests around World War I to identify mentally challenged students and screen recruits. They continue to be used in schools to establish giftedness or the need for remedial assistance, and occasionally in criminal proceedings to determine if defendants are competent. Scientists over the last century have developed tests to measure it, but what is it they measuring?

There is no one universal test for intelligence. Psychologists have developed several different tests based on slightly different theories about what constitutes intelligence and to address problems some test takers may have stemming from specific communication skills. What all of these tests have in common is the goal of testing mental skills, with a minimum of acquired knowledge. Ideally, one should not be able to study for an intelligence test; the test should strictly evaluate ability or problem-solving performance.

The Stanford-Binet Tests

The Binet-Simon intelligence test was the earliest of modern intelligence tests. It was initially developed by the French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon to test children for mental deficits. German psychologist William Stern proposed scoring intelligence based on a quotient of Binet’s concept of mental age and chronological age, hence the “quotient” part of the term “intelligence quotient.” American psychologist Lewis Terman of Stanford University created a revised version of the Binet-Simon test, and the test became known as the Stanford-Binet test. Terman served in the U.S. Army during World War I and oversaw a wide expansion of the use of IQ tests.

The Wechsler Tests

Today, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV (WAIS-IV) is the most widely used adult intelligence test in the world. The Stanford-Binet tests were developed to evaluate children’s intelligence. Dr. David Wechsler worked as a clinical psychologist and saw the Stanford-Binet tests as irrelevant to adult intelligence. Wechsler’s adult test did not use the mental age concept for rendering a quotient, but used a percentile scoring method. Wechsler focused on intellectual performance. To Wechsler, intelligence was “The global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his/her environment.” Ability did not matter if it could not be used adaptively.

The Structure of the Wechler Adult Intelligence Scale IV

The most recent revision of the Wechsler adult intelligence test has four main components: verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. Each is elaborated below:

Verbal Comprehension. This portion contains four subtests: three “core” items on similarities, vocabulary and information, and a supplemental subtest on comprehension. The similarities subtest tests abstract verbal reasoning, e.g. “How are a bat and a bird similar?” The vocabulary tests knowledge of, and ability to express everyday vocabulary items. The information subtest tests general information, e.g. “What is the Capital of California?”

The Perceptual Reasoning Scale. The core subtests involve block design, matrix reasoning, and visual puzzles. The block design subtest is a timed test where the subject arranges colored blocks in specified patterns. Matrix reasoning involves non-verbal problem solving, for instance determining which shade should come next based on a series of abstract shapes. Visual puzzles involve non-verbal tasks such as combining pieces to assemble a picture.

Example of a matrix puzzle
Example of a matrix puzzle

Working Memory Scale.  The working memory scales evaluate digit span, that is, the ability to recall and recite back strings of numbers, and perform mental arithmetic.  Subjects are asked to work with numbers without a pen and paper.

Processing Speed Scale.  These subtests measure speed, accuracy and attention.  There is a symbol search where subjects indicate the presence of a symbol in a row and a “coding” subtest, i.e. transcribe a digit-symbol code.  The tests are time limited and higher scores are given for speedier results.

True IQ tests, such as the Wechsler or Stanford-Binet tests, should only be administered and evaluated by trained professionals.  Online so-called IQ tests are typically knowledge tests or simply advertising teasers.   


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    • Brupie profile image

      Brupie 6 years ago

      Thanks everyone. I've been interested in psychology since I was in my teens, but even in college the descriptions of intelligence testing were vague, so I did some research.

      Jtyler, I'm sure you're smart, but I think most online intelligence tests jack up scores to flatter people before they try to sell something to them.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Very interesting hub and an enjoyble read. Many thanks for sharin.

    • jtyler profile image

      jtyler 6 years ago

      Nice hub. At one point I took a few free IQ tests and got between 145-155. Since they were free, I don't know exactly how reliable they were.

    • cceerpp profile image

      cceerpp 6 years ago from Ghana

      Very informative. Thanks a lot dear.

    • edelhaus profile image

      edelhaus 7 years ago from Munich, Germany

      Extremely well put together - informative and interesting - bull's eye! thank you.

    • Brupie profile image

      Brupie 7 years ago

      FloBe, I was interested in clarifying what formal intelligence tests were about versus the EQ and the entertainment tests you mention. I think the concept of "IQ" is muddled in many people's minds by these competing uses of the term.

      Okmom23 & FloBe, Thanks for the compliments!

    • FloBe profile image

      FloBe 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The online tests are more for people's entertainment and give someone a general idea of what some weaknesses might be. Have you done much research on EQ which seems to have more relevance in personal and work relationships? An interesting read.

    • okmom23 profile image

      Donna Oliver 7 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

      Excellent research! My child has had a few of these evaluations during her school years. Good article.