Have you ever taken an IQ test, whether in school and you were made to, or on the Internet just for fun? If so, how did you feel about your score? Did it change the way you felt about yourself? Did you feel smart? Did you feel stupid? More important: Is it possible that a short-answer IQ test can really determine how intelligent you are?
Developed by psychologists, the original intelligence tests were designed more than a century ago to identify students with learning disabilities or psychological issues that might impair their ability to succeed in a typical educational setting. While the tests were somewhat successful to that end, psychologists continued to tinker with methods, working to establish a means of evaluating intelligence levels of all students.
Numerous forms of testing surfaced, most notably the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, which were administered in elementary schools across the United States for decades. IQ test scores then became stamped into students’ files, and the magic number would follow them throughout the course of their school years, predicting their educational outcomes and even future successes.
Makes sense, right?
As noted, the tests were helpful for hand-picking students who had difficulties with traditional approaches to education. The problem was that these scores did little to identify how these students might better be educated. Moreover, arguments were made that these tests only evaluated a student’s verbal skills and reasoning abilities. But is that all there is to intelligence?
We’ve all known kids in school who stumbled when reading aloud in language arts class but were agile athletes during gym class. Then there were the students who couldn’t add, subtract, multiply or divide well enough to pass a math exam, but if given a brush and palette during art class, they could turn a plain canvas into a work of art. How could that be?
Thirty years ago, Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and psychologist, published a book— Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences— that blazed a new trail in psychology and tilted traditional thought on educational methodologies. The book’s first press run in 1983 outlined seven forms of intelligence, but Gardner added a couple more in a consecutive edition, published 10 years later.
Gardner’s multiple intelligences are listed below with a brief description of what they entail. As you read through the list, make note of the ones that best describe you.
1. Linguistic Intelligence—You are comfortable using language to express yourself, understand others and to solve problems.
2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence—You have the ability to understand the rationale behind simple systems (like a scientist using deductive reasoning) and/or how to manipulate numbers to solve problems (like a mathematician).
3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence—You have the capacity to think in musical terms of auditory patterns, and the ability to remember music easily.
4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence—Assignments that require you to move your body to solve problems or create something are most appealing (think performing arts, building with your hands, playing sports).
5. Spatial Intelligence—You prefer using space and visual cues to interpret problems, much the way pilots navigate planes and chess players move pieces across the board to win. Pictures and graphics draw you in and help you understand problems more quickly.
6. Intrapersonal Intelligence—These people know themselves well, know their capabilities and limits, know where to go if they need help, and are typically charismatic. They are self-reflectors.
7. Interpersonal Intelligence—These people get along well with others and seem to have an innate ability to understand everyone.
8. Naturalist Intelligence—These folks have the ability to decipher problems using nature as a backdrop, often due to an innate curiosity about the environmental world (taps into our roots as hunters and gatherers).
9. Existential Intelligence—These are the heavy thinkers who ponder life, death and beyond (always gravitating toward discussions of philosophy).
So, how many did you check? One, two … more? Any chance you checked all nine? If so, you win the prize of … (drum roll, please) … your human self, complete with one healthy brain! If you didn’t check all nine, you would be incorrect, but you still win the prize. That’s because your personality is a composite of all nine; everybody has varying degrees of each of the intelligences listed above. Stated another way, by Gardner (2011) himself, during a speech titled “Multiple Intelligences: The First Thirty Years” given at the Boston Public Library, “… all human beings possess not just a single intelligence …. Rather, as a species we human beings are better described as having a set of relatively autonomous intelligences.”
With that in mind, go over the list again. What intelligences are most comfortable to you? The ones you are immediately drawn to most likely reflect your intellectual strengths. If you can recognize the areas you are strongest in, you can somewhat tailor your learning methods around them. For example, if you have a high level of linguistic intelligence, lecture formats probably suit you just fine. But if you lean toward spatial intelligence, learning course materials might come more easily to you if you can find graphics—charts, tables, pictures, etc.—to review before the next exam. Or, if naturalistic intelligence is more your style, perhaps taking a run through the woods is the perfect way to let your mind roam and figure out just how you’re going to write that mid-term report.
Remember, although you may not be astute in algebra or a genius painter, it doesn’t mean you’re not smart. It just means your intellectual strengths are in other areas. You can always flex your muscles and your mind to strengthen your weaker intelligences, but if you can at least recognize the intelligences that come naturally to you, you’ll be doing yourself a favor and, quite possibly, making it easier to get the grades you deserve. While you’re at it, you’ll be following the advice of one of the most renowned linguistic intellects of all time, William Shakespeare:
Drew Whitney is a dabbler and dilettante of multiple intelligences. A writer, editor and educator, she enjoys reading, writing, running trails, socializing with others, working with her hands, traveling, and doing funky dance moves in public for the sheer pleasure of embarrassing her children.