Perseverance overrules IQ in determining success

Graphic courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

Graphic courtesy of Public Domain Pictures


Google “IQ test” and hundreds of online examples of IQ, or intelligence quotient, tests pop up. Even when searching “IQ” questions pop up, like “What is a good IQ?” and “What was Einstein’s IQ?” These searches show modern culture values intelligence and enjoys quantifying it in order to better compare people and their success. However, this concept of IQ comesfrom dubious sources and may not actually determine success, either in the classroom or in the real world.

According to a 2009 article published in the Monitor of Psychology and written by psychology Professor Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., our current IQ test comes from the Binet and Simon Tests of Intellectual Capacity developed in 1908 by Henry Herbert Goddard. This is based on a similar test and scale developed by Alfred Binet, which was used in France to determine educational success of low achieving students. Eventually, the test was adopted by other groups and used to measure both children and adults ability to recognize patterns, their memories and other benchmarks traditionally associated with intelligence. 

However, as researchers have looked further into the implications of IQ testing and the factors that influence it — environment, nutrition and even breast-feeding — they have discovered that these test results cannot account for the complete brain power of a human being. 

The proof is in the research — Keith E. Stanovich, professor in the department of applied psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, begins one of his articles on the relative importance of IQ in the classroom by admitting thatintelligence as measured in IQ tests “has not included the measurement of dispositions toward rational thought and behavior.” 

One thing that IQ doesn’t necessarily predict is success; Angela Duckworth, researcher and author of the best selling book “Grit,” maintains that success has greater correlation with perseverance and hard work than it does with innate talent or intelligence. 

IQ can’t predict success in the classroom or in the other scenarios Duckworth analyzes in her work, including in business or even at military boot camp. Rather, a person’s ability to keep going, their motivation and their long-term passion for a single goal or set of goals, all qualities Duckworth defines as part of grit will determine if a person is able to achieve their goals.

For educators, the decrease in emphasis on IQ tests is part of a greater trend of doing away with numerical ratings of student success, like SAT and ACT scores. At Mount Holyoke, the admissions process became SAT and ACT optional in 2000. On the school website, the admissions office attributes this to the belief that “the SAT does not measure the range of intellectual and motivational qualities that our educational environment requires, we wish to de-emphasize its role in our admission decisions.” 

The drop in emphasis put on SAT and ACT scores by institutions of higher learning stems both from this concept of “grit” and from the understanding that IQ tests, as well the SAT and ACT, which measure knowledge and reasoning ability, can be seriously influenced by other factors such as classroom quality and family situation. These two growing fields of research are destroying cultural IQ scores and standardized measures of intelligence in general. 

Currently, as institutions do away with emphasis on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, they bring the focus back to individual students and their ambitions rather than generalized, oversimplified measurements of a singular definition of “intelligence.”