IQ stands for intelligence quotient. IQ tests are tools to measure intellectual abilities and potential. They’re designed to reflect a wide range of cognitive skills, such as reasoning, logic, and problem-solving.
It’s a test of intelligence, something you’re largely born with. It’s not a test of knowledge, which represents what you learn through education or life experience.
To know your IQ, you take a standardized test in the presence of a trained professional. IQ tests you find online might be entertaining, but the results aren’t valid.
It’s also important to understand that your IQ score doesn’t exist in isolation. The number actually represents how your results compare to those of other people your age.
A score of 116 or more is considered above average. A score of 130 or higher signals a high IQ. Membership in Mensa, the High IQ society, includes people who score in the top 2 percent, which is usually 132 or higher.
Keep reading as we explore more about high IQ, what it means, and what it doesn’t mean.
IQ tests have gone through significant changes through the decades to correct for racial, gender, and social biases, as well as cultural norms. Today, there are several versions in use. They may have different methods of scoring, but they all use 100 as the average.
IQ scores follow a bell curve. The very peak of the bell represents the average score of 100. Lower scores are represented on one slope of the bell while higher scores are represented on the other.
The IQ scores of most people are represented in the middle of the bell, between 85 and 115. Overall, about 98 percent of people have a score below 130. If you’re among the 2 percent with a higher score, you’re an outlier.
Basically, a high IQ means your score is higher than that of most people in your peer group.
What’s the highest possible IQ?
Theoretically, there’s no upper limit to an IQ score.
Who has the honor of the highest score isn’t entirely clear. Though there are many claims of super-high IQs, documentation is hard to come by. The fact that IQ tests have changed quite a bit over the years makes it difficult to compare results from different eras.
Mathematician Terence Tao is said to have an IQ of 220 or 230. Tao started high school in the 1980s at age 7, earned a bachelor’s degree at age 16, and a doctorate at 21.
In 2017, India Times reported that an 11-year-old girl living in the United Kingdom achieved a score of 162 on a Mensa IQ test. The publication also noted that Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking are both “thought” to have an IQ of 160.
Standardized IQ tests are given and scored by trained administrators. The score represents how you compare to your peer group in:
- reasoning abilities
- processing speed
- visual-spatial processing
If you have a high IQ score, it means your reasoning and problem-solving abilities are better than average and may signal intellectual potential.
An IQ of 70 or below may indicate limited intellectual functioning. However, IQ alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Testing of social, practical, and conceptual skills is needed to make that kind of determination.
There’s a lot of debate on the subject of intelligence and whether it can actually be measured.
There’s also no shortage of debate on the accuracy of scoring. A 2010 study validated the average scores in 108 countries, finding countries in Africa to have consistently lower scores. That same year, other researchers took great issue with that study, calling the methods used “questionable” and the results “untrustworthy.”
The decades-long controversy over IQs won’t end anytime soon. When it comes right down to it, don’t read into this single number as the definitive measure of your intelligence.
IQ scores can be affected by factors such as:
- health conditions
- access to education
- culture and environment
Whatever your IQ, it can’t accurately predict how your life will turn out. You can have a high IQ and attain little success in life, or you can have an IQ on the lower side and do very well.
There are many paths to success and we don’t all define success the same way. Life is more complicated than that, involving many variables. Life experience and curiosity about the world matter. So do character, opportunity, and ambition, not to mention a little luck.
The brain is a complex organ — we may never fully comprehend how intelligence, ability to learn, and knowledge overlap. You can have a high IQ, but lack education and general knowledge. You can earn a degree yet score a lower IQ.
IQ tests measure your ability to reason, grasp ideas, and solve problems. Intelligence, in that respect, may be a matter of inheritance and potential.
For the most part, IQ is generally considered stable throughout life. Your IQ score is still a measure of how you compare to others in your peer group. IQ scores will remain fairly stable if everyone in a group begins to perform better on testing.
You can take the same test multiple times and end up with slight variations in score. For example, if you were sick or fatigued the first time around, you might do a little better in a second test.
All of this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more intelligent now than you were before.
There’s no proof that cognitive training raises overall intelligence. Though, you can — and should — continue to learn throughout your life. The keys to learning tend to involve curiosity and being receptive to new information. With those qualities, you can enhance your ability to:
- remember details
- grasp new concepts
- enrich your imagination
- add to your knowledge base
Reading, both fiction and nonfiction, is one way to boost your abilities in these areas. Mental stimulation can help slow or prevent cognitive decline as you age. In addition to reading, activities such as puzzles, playing music, and group discussions can be useful.
If you have a high IQ score, your intelligence and potential for intelligence is above that of your peers. This could mean you’ll fare well when faced with unusual or complex problems. A high IQ might give you a leg up in certain situations, like getting the job you want.
A lower IQ score doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent or incapable of learning. A low score shouldn’t prevent you from working toward your goals. There’s no telling what you can achieve — regardless of IQ numbers.
Whatever the number, IQ scores are still highly controversial. It’s just one of many indicators and doesn’t need to define who you are.