In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 2 Aug 99

Anecdotes on Intelligence Tests and Elite Groups

Part Two

Adapted from our discussions of April '99

JCC:   I've worked to compile a listing of tests widely-regarded for strength in offering a valid measure on both the fluid and crystallized aspects.
(1) WAIS is individually administered and provides 11 subtest measures, grouped as verbal and performance IQ under a full-scale IQ score.

FWM:   From what I've seen, at least for adults, the WAIS is the test. It is somewhat intimidating, though, to think that performing poorly on it would mean more than doing well somewhere else, because it's the cannon, of sorts. There may be a range of scores which people are psychologically conditioned to accept, unless he or she is a perfectionist :}, but I think that if he or she scores exceptionally low or high on a test, then the test is viewed as being invalid. Since this came up before I know I'm not the only person who gets these insecurities, at times though, they can be almost overpowering. Good thing about subtests, you can always argue that since you did so well on x, y, & z [that] a, b, & c aren't really true indicators of anything at all.

JCC:   (2) Miller Analogy Test is excellent as an index emphasizing knowledge-base and verbal comprehension.

FWM:   True, I wonder how much of a knowledge base is needed. I find it interesting that the MAT can measure up to the Promethean level, I wonder, as I do with old SAT scores, if the rarity at that level correlates with IQ, however. At such high levels, and such rarity, it might be said that the very highest scores place importance on slightly different aspects of intelligence. Being quite adept at taking any specific sort of test will raise the score you receive, so I wonder if some of the higher SAT scores could have been reached by strategy, whereas it is, I would think, harder to do so with an IQ test. At that level, however, I'm sure the discrepancy is somewhat low, seeing as how an individual would have to be quite smart to have gotten remotely close anyway.

JCC:   (3) Raven Advanced Progressive Matrices and the Cattell Culture Fair are stronger on the fluid and spatial side, and where language barrier would otherwise obscure the measure. Of the latter, form 3A is preferred for adults of superior intelligence.

FWM:   I like the fact that Raven allows for timed and untimed exams. They do yield different types of scores, but it's refreshing to see an option of which kind of measurement one wants. If you take it one way, can you take it the other, or is that it?

JCC:   (4) The Cattell III-B verbal, which is offered through American Mensa as a low-cost group test, is really quite a reasonable general instrument. It is timed, but not terribly time-restrictive, and the item diversity is fairly good.

FWM:   I get shivers when I think about this one, but largely because I had no idea what I was doing when I took it ;) It gets good reviews in most test books though, and is probably quite a good test, the only thing which stops me from advocating it is my own poor association with it.

JCC:   (5) The College Board generally hates to have its academic tests treated as IQ tests, and from the beginning has gone to great pains to present scale scores which look like nothing hinting of IQ, but essentially these correlate far more highly with IQ than academic performance. It doesn't do them any good to have large numbers in academia aware of that {smile} as it tends to invalidate them for the intended purpose of admission to degree programs. We certainly accept GRE for Colloquy, and it hasn't seemed to restrict the diversity of the group. What we have not done is to base entry on composite scores, as it doesn't appear that good data has been collected on composite values.

FWM:   The College Board's tests are ones which I advocate quite highly. There is a question of people taking test after test to get a suitable score, which many people do for college, and then submitting one as a qualifying score, but, overall I think them to be quite well done. Recentering has, IMHO, hurt them a little bit, in that the College Board will no longer acknowledge even the faintest correlation between them and IQ tests due to the magic of making the test easier :> The big problem with recentering, however, is that it effectively eliminates the use of it for societies above the 99.9%, and even then it mandates a fair degree of balance between verbal and quantitative abilities, so there's a lot less room to miss questions ...

JCC:   The real notion of IQ is that it represents potential, predictive of the ability to acquire knowledge, solve complex, problems, etc. Some part of the inference I suppose is demonstration of the extent of the knowledge base that the candidate has already acquired ... but the test which relies too much on this point begins to lose its meaning. So, where a subtest is "general knowledge", it really has not to be esoterica. The process of developing a valid and reliable test is that the individual items are post facto put under the microscope to assure that they are performing in sync with the objective of the test as a whole. For example, the raw scores of a population can be split by quartiles or stanines. One notes that scores in the bottom ranges answer item 34 correctly more frequently than those in the upper ranges. Item #34 will be replaced in short order or removed entirely before this test is marketed for public use. The tests will be split in two segments and normed to be sure that set A and set B produce comparable results, and these will be measured against tests already in use. One gets the idea that this requires the budget of a fair-sized corporation, and not one person's weekend puttering.

FWM:   To be a Mensan you have to be fairly bright, but was the makeup of the group that which you might expect statistically, that is, were there mostly people who seemed to just barely make it, or was it a good mix?

JCC:   Good question! When I served as a Mensa proctor, I conspired with my candidates to assemble a profile of what the test population really looked like. I found that on CTMM, the test population mean was about 135 IQ on the 16-point scale, and the standard deviation was just a bit over 8. For every eight candidates (selected by pre-test on Cattell Verbal form III-A) about 5 would qualify on CTMM. In a testing session of fifteen or so, there would likely be at least one testing above 150 IQ (99.9%ile on CTMM). As far as I could determine, not as many (American) candidates qualified on the Cattell III-B as the CTMM, though the split should have been more even. Also, at the high ranges, there was not the gap which would be anticipated with the great divergence in s.d. between the two instruments.

I believe that Mensa erred in trying to become too mainstream and populist, targeting Reader's Digest and the like for recruitment advertising. In gaining greater numbers, there was some perceptible shift downward which probably made the group less appealing to the more "academic" sort of Mensan. I would venture that membership revenues and the purely quantitative are but one index of "success" and might just as well be a failure from a differing perspective. It depends on what people want from such a group and what they might be willing to put with, in exchange. A real "marginal utility" concept {smile}.

EM:   Hello FWM, you seem to have a desire to make higher scores on standardized/non-standardized tests than you have done so far. This is easy, practice makes perfect, keep on taking them, and your scores will improve.

FWM:   True, I don't have altruistic motives in the slightest ;) Some of my queries though, are on a real, if not particularly enthralling, philosophical line of thought.

EM:   But, to what point or purpose? Of the population of this nation, perhaps 2 and a half million people could qualify for the top one percent, and the tests that measure in and above that range. Of that number, fewer than 1% will affiliate with high I.Q. groups, and of those who affiliate, fewer still will remain beyond a short time, i.e. a few years.

There is a an interesting abnormality here, which never seems to get examined. Why are those who join high I.Q. societies, and remain, so very different from most other people?

FWM:   Perhaps you have a group of people who join for little more than curiosity's sake. This group, of course, quickly finds that they are not interested in what really goes on in such groups, and don't even have wont of the affectation which goes around by saying that they're members of them. That's all well and good really, and socially adjusted :)

However, there are others who, for a variety of reasons, seek out people who are, more or less, their intellectual equals. Now the motives of this group ... are the interesting ones. Since this is a mailing list, and the general assumption I'm going by is that under one circumstance or another, anyone seeking name recognition could easily join Mensa and Intertel and get it, I would venture to guess that most people who actively post and/or read are indeed very interested in the opinions and though processes of others who are on the same intellectual plane as they are.

That's rather broad-based, however, the general air which I seem to get from most responses is that this question or comment is addressed to the group because of the practical limitations of finding such a group to discuss the issue with. From person to person the reasons for doing this may vary widely, I myself have a select group of interests which I'm more than ready to discuss, often though I come across other outlets for doing so. For example, my interest in sports cars and Sherlock Holmes are both satiated through my somewhat aggressive insistence that my friends check them out so I can have shop talk with someone :}

My prime motivation, but hopefully not that of everyone else here, is to pick the minds of some very intelligent people. It's rather easy to notice that I have a tendency to write with a strong personal slant here, rather than taking an objective point of view ...

With respect to Eric's observation that I seem to want to score higher and higher, which is undoubtedly true, and that people who continue to be somewhat active in these groups are different than normal, I'll submit a little explanation pertaining to both. I have on numerous occasions mentioned that as I was going through the educational system, and as I progress through it still, IQ testing is largely taboo, but, what's more interesting than being quantified compared to your classmates and never being able to find out why?

If I were to blame anyone for the odd slant which I've taken now, it'd be Dr. W---, who would never release the slightest bit of info upon my scores to get into the gifted program to my parents, nor anything about the cutoff, etc. On the whole, it was a very good move on her part, I believe, because ... only maybe one other kid in the township ... developed the abnormal interest in intelligence testing ...

My last, and first, and possibly only :} girlfriend was quite intelligent, and also better than me in math, which always chaffed me a bit. Being the same age as I was, it became uncomfortably clear to me that there became an increasingly large number of instances where we could be compared, even though it was a long distance relationship ...

EM:   On the idea of new people and the I.Q. societies. The first social event I ever attended as a member was at Jim Lange's house in Silver Spring more than 20 years ago and I was scared green! I knew I was a flukey tester, and hid it carefully from the normals I worked with in various what are now called "entry level" jobs. I knew that anyone there at the Mensa party could match me, some would greatly surpass me, and I felt sure that my presumed cleverness would quickly be revealed for the shallow and tawdry thing that it was. It never happened! The next event I attended was a tea party at Julia's, where I was nervous, but not inwardly trembling the whole time.

Because of proximity, Julia and I saw much of each other year in and year out. When we started the Baltimore Freethinker Journal, it was a happy and facile arrangement, Julia likes thinking, I like writing. In the five years we did it, we met some wonderfully fascinating people, not the least of whom was the lady working with John Allegro on his last book about the Dead Sea Scrolls, when Allegro unexpectedly died. We had the manuscript, as far as he had completed it. Somewhere around here I have the tapes of Allegro's last two lectures at Columbia.

My first encounter with Mensa was in 1960, my involvement with Mensa and other groups has been since about 1975. What do I think about them now? They meet a need, or they wouldn't exist. Few people qualified seem interested in affiliating, far fewer remain for any extended period of time.

What are the characteristics of the long-termers? That might be an interesting topic of debate. Perhaps the I.Q. groups are voluntary self-help groups for the intellectually unfulfilled?

FWM:   I would say that part of my drive to be active here ... is to learn more about the whole bit with intelligence, and to listen here and there about the experiences which people have had with it and such, because it simply fascinates me. I think due to my own insecurity, it's not odd that I have two tests on my desk which I'm working at, nor that I'm looking for a reputable one which I can afford to settle the matter, hopefully ...

I don't wish to examine why this is though, the need to become better, in an abstract, than I will probably need to be during most of my life ...

I was looking over norming from Mega and Titan tests, to see, on the whole, how many questions right equate to cut off scores. I did notice, however, that there seemed to be a highly misshapen bell curve with such scores, which relates to what Julia mentioned about the people who do take such tests.

EM:   As far as tests are concerned, I suspect that if I had a better memory, my scores would be about 20 points higher. Often, when reviewing tests, and my wrong answers, I find that I not only at one time knew the answer, but knew it without the slightest effort. Case in point: Now, immediately, without any reference, list the 12 labors of Hercules. I am certain that one of them was cleaning the Augean stables, the others would be improbable guesses. Sixty years ago, at my age of 9, it would have been easy to list them, and to explain them, if wanted. I found them more engaging than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Far more so than clumsy myths about naked women discussing lunch with talking serpents hanging out of trees in a Mesopotamian garden.

At various times in my life I have had immense bodies of knowledge about particular subjects. In my late 20's, I had a huge knowledge of the biographies of Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Mozart, and much of their music. Almost all gone now, other than birth and death dates. I have found that knowledge, once acquired, returns quickly with some extended study, but there is rarely any motivation to go back and review it. This does not apply to physical/mechanical skills such as playing musical instruments. What was acquired in childhood remains, what was acquired in maturity is lost if not used.

WAP:   Eric touches on an interesting point. I have often wondered how much of a factor memory is in IQ testing. Consider that if you had absolutely no memory (whatever that would look like), not only would you not do well on tests, you would not be able to function independently. If you had an exceptionally good memory but no understanding of what you had memorized, you could undoubtedly function, but you would not score very high on tests.

Now, if you back off from the extreme examples and consider someone with a poor memory and an ability to learn quickly, that person might do fairly well on a test. As Eric said, he has forgotten a lot of what he learned. (I can relate!) What strikes me as significant is that if you have an exceptionally good memory and mediocre or poor learning ability, you might still score fairly high because you have the ability to retain knowledge until you are able to figure out what it means. In other words, a person with exceptional memory only (average abilities otherwise) might score just as well as someone with an average memory and exceptional understanding.

I would be interested in knowing what the correlation is between the ability to memorize (long term) and achieving high scores on tests (not necessarily IQ tests). If anyone out there has heard of such a study, let me know!

CW:   Actually what you are able to do is different as when you have a poor memory as I do you spend a lot of time creating information that you could have just memorized. ... You are frequently forced to analyze situations where you could have done it by rote, and as a result there is some encouragement to become more efficient at analyzing things. I noticed this because I had a co-worker who had a great memory but just couldn't figure anything out. It took him forever to learn new tasks ... but once he learned it did it exactly the same way every time. His measured IQ was 145 and he had 3 university degrees.

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