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It’s All About Patterns: Why I.Q. Doesn’t Matter November 6, 2014

I’ve always had mixed emotions when it comes to I.Q. tests. Most of these have been related to a strong desire to discover that I’m an untapped genius and a deep fear of discovering that I’m really a dunce. Despite that, at the encouragement of a friend, I finally decided to give it a try and downloaded the American Mensa Brain Test App.

According to a Mensa press release dated 16 September 2010, “The Mensa Brain Test provides genuine Mensa questions of the variety used in official Mensa test papers.” This seemed encouraging, since it was likely that if I did well with the app, it was a reflection of my actual mental acuity.

Much to my disappointment, my first test went quite badly. I did brilliantly spotting the patterns in the shapes and in the words, but completely bombed on the math. The result was an I.Q. low enough to be a genuine embarrassment.

Convinced that I really couldn’t be that stupid, I tried again. This time, I did marginally better. I reviewed the quiz and took note of the explanations for each answer. I was at least able to secure an “average” I.Q. rating which, if nothing else, meant that I wasn’t a complete idiot. (Though it did dash my dreams of becoming a child prodigy – a dream which probably should have been crushed by my 30th birthday.)

I set the app aside for several months and thought nothing more of it until I began re-watching the British TV series, “Sherlock”. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but on that particular evening I felt compelled to give the practice test another try.

Again, I got an “average” rating due primarily to the math. In fact, I got nearly every question correct with the exception of the numbers. And that’s when I saw it: the number puzzles weren’t about math… they were about patterns. Patterns with shapes. Patterns with words. Patterns with numbers.

I tried the test again and watched as the I.Q. meter climbed… and climbed… and climbed some more until I was within the range of actual Mensa members. Of course, this could have been a coincidence, so I took the test again several times over the course of the next few days.
Each time, the results were nearly the same. And my heart sank. High I.Q. it seems, isn’t a matter of intelligence, but of observation. It’s an ability to see patterns. And it isn’t necessarily innate. I.Q. can be developed. It’s a party trick.

Of course, I’m not ready to discount the potential that exists in an ability to recognize patterns (particularly subtle ones). It’s easier to learn when you spot the patterns quickly. But just because something is easier for some people than for others doesn’t mean that those people are more intelligent, skilled, or knowledgeable than anyone else. (I had an innate gift for musical expression when I was younger, but no one who has heard either my sister or myself play will argue that I am the better player. Through hard work, she developed the skill and now plays at a level far beyond anything which I will ever be likely to achieve.) Raw ability doesn’t equal prowess. Developed ability does. Hard work and a willingness to apply oneself to learning are what make the difference. I.Q. simply doesn’t matter.


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