I started working with a clinical psychologist last week,  Dr. Adam G. Stein, in search of techniques to improve my focus and working memory.  The first few sessions included a battery of I.Q and achievement tests.

There were, of course, a few surprises: (Surprise!)

1) I was sure my backwards memory (i.e. repeat a sequence backwards) would be terrible.  Turns out it’s better than my forward memory.  Not sure what this means yet.

2)  I find the process enormously fun (actually, that might not be a surprise, but still worth noting).

3) There is absolutely overlap between the IQ and SAT tests.  Just speaking from firsthand experience, I’d say they’re first cousins — maybe once removed — but definitely share the same DNA.

For example, I.Q. test questions look just like these SAT questions:

According to Nicholas Lemann’s book,  The Big Test, the SAT did in fact start out as a sort of I.Q. test in the 1920s.

SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” but in 1993, the College Board changed it because that sounded too I.Q.-ish. Then it became a “Reasoning Test,” and now I don’t believe those letters stand for anything in particular.

Here’s what the College Board has to say:

The SAT tests the skills you’re learning in school: reading, writing and math. Your strength in these subjects is important for success in college and throughout your life.


And,  Wikipedia about the I.Q./SAT connection:

Certain high IQ societies, like Mensa, the Prometheus Society and the Triple Nine Society, use scores from certain years as one of their admission tests. For instance, the Triple Nine Society accepts scores of 1450 on tests taken before April 1995, and scores of at least 1520 on tests taken between April 1995 and February 2005.

The SAT is sometimes given to students younger than 13 by organizations such as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, who use the results to select, study and mentor students of exceptional ability.

Frey and Detterman (2003) analyzed the correlation of SAT scores with intelligence test scores.[20] They found SAT scores to be highly correlated with general mental ability, or g (r=.82 in their sample). 


Gawd, could you imagine if it turns out that my own I.Q. is the final road block?

llustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

  • JD

    If SAT scores weren’t highly correlated with IQ scores, colleges wouldn’t be interested in them. They already have your high school transcript. The AP and SAT Subject Tests are standardized across all high schools; colleges don’t need the SAT to cross check the rigor of your high school curriculum (that is a cover story). Most competitive colleges have dossiers on nearly every high school in the country. They know, for all intents and purposes, well enough how difficult it is to get an ‘A’ in AP Lit at New Trier vs. Chappaqua High School. They see your application essays which are a much more accurate representation of your writing ability than the speed writing test you see on the SAT.

    So why then do they need another test to see how good a student you are? They don’t. They already know, with ridiculous precision, how good a student you are ( after all, they’ve had 132 applicants from your high school in the last 10 years). What they want to know, what they need to know, is how *smart* you are.

    The SAT didn’t start out as ‘kinda’ an IQ test. It started out *exactly* as an IQ test. The stigma and political incorrectness of IQ tests, not to mention the cultural bias’, are the root causes of the tests evolution into something that more resembles an achievement test. Now that the test has changed, there are many ways to improve your SAT score independent of IQ. But because of the way the test is structured, those “ways” will come easier and faster to those students whose brains operate in higher IQ gear. That is the way the College Board builds the test because that is exactly what colleges are using it for. Don’t hold your breath waiting for anyone to admit it though.

    • Huh.  I feel like I’m the last to know this in a “duh. Obviously” kind of way. 

      Here’s a question:  Do you think that I.Q./SAT scores are improvable with a lot of hard work and elbow grease? 

      Btw, how’d you do on those I.Q./SATs?  (now that the whole world knows my I.Q., um, SAT scores)  :)  I’m sure you did great!  I’m the only one absurd enough to flaunt my poor scores.  (Maybe I’m not smart enough to realize the consequences.) 

      • Guest

        I don’t think that they S.A.T.S don’t measure your I.Q. at first I thought that,but I realized that it’s not. nor can it predict as they claim how well you will do in University. In real life math , writing , and reading is not as difficult as the make it on the exam.

      • JD

        The scores are definitely improvable. I would note that although SAT and IQ scores are correlated, they are not the same thing. And the correlation holds for a population of test takers who are in large part not doing efficient SAT preparation (remember there are 1.5 million test takers a year).

        They say you can’t increase your IQ score. Why then can’t you find a real IQ test anywhere on the internet? Try asking your psychologist for 10 practice tests and see what he/she says.

        The fact is, you can improve your IQ score with practice. You will have a much harder time increasing you actual cognitive aptitude, but you can definitely increase your score on a standardized test that purports to measure that aptitude.

        The SAT offers even more opportunity for score improvement because the questions are based on topics that can be learned AND it is a standardized test that repeats patterns over and over again (and there are plenty of practice tests to study). So, for example, you can learn what a comma splice actually is AND learn to cross out non-essential clauses when you see a verb underlined after a comma.

        I don’t think your blog is absurd btw, I think it’s great. I have no idea what my IQ is, but I am getting very good at the SAT. I think it has a lot to do with my test taking tactics, and having very good natural number sense, not necessarily a high IQ. My verbal score never got out of the low 500s as a kid and I took the test several times.

        • I’m going to ask the psychologist when I see him this week.

        • Jpdo

          Sorry but this is BS. You can not improve your IQ. (Not significantly higher but you might improve it by a few points. It would not be statistically significant.) You can become more knowledgable but your IQ is a quotient of your cognitive abilities.
          The Binet IQ tests were first used to distinguish which children had mental retardation and be removed from school so they could be better taken care of in asylums. Since that time IQ tests have also been used for military selection.
          My score stayed exactly the same 7 years later. (In my last posted comment I mistakenly wrote 2007 & 2012. I went and dug up my test results and actually it was 2005 & 2013. And I mistakenly wrote that my score was 2 standard deviations above ave, but it’s actually 3 SD above. Sorry about that.) The psychologist was the same person and she was excited to compare the results. She said all subtests were almost exactly the same scores. The only thing that changed was my digit symbol coding dropped by 45%! I have no idea why.
          By the way….you’re not supposed to “practice for the IQ test”. That would give you a false score. You can however improve your cognitive abilities in order to help you do academic work (SAT) and career goals.

    • Jpdp

      The reason for standardized tests like the SAT is because there are millions of people who apply to college and they need a way to compare applicants that would correlate with the demands of each given college. It would be unethical to to admit a student who took an AP english class and had a teacher who believed in only giving A’s, charge her tuition and then have her fail out because she actually can not handle Ivy League level classes.
      That is what “standardized” means. Everyone is on the same level playing field. Student B at school F gets SAT 950. Compared to student C at school A gets SAT 2400. Which student do you think Harvard will take?
      Admissions will not always know the reputation of the high school you went to but if they see your grades were consistant and passing and you get perfect score on a standardized test, they will take you.
      Because they dont want a high attrition rate.

    • jpdo

      Oh btw, I highly doubt every school is going to waste time searching through every high school to see how difficult each class a student took was difficult or not.
      1) Difficulty of a class is very dependant on who taught it that year. So that “dossier” of schools would have to be updated every year to show when a new teacher took over the class.
      2) It makes no difference to the admissions officer whether the class was difficult or not. What matters is the trend in a student’s grades. (Did her grades go up or down or stay consistent. Did her grades go up when she took non-AP/non-honors classes. Did she fail any classes.)
      3) The final GPA is more important to the admissions officer in the first run through of applicants. They use it to help rule out students who don’t meet the minimum GPA at competitive universities.
      4) Once in a while a university will ignore an applicant’s GPA and SAT score if the student’s parent was an alumni who makes donations to the school or has a high status with “connections”. Going to a private high school also indicates to the admissions that the student has someone who is willing to pay whatever the university asks for. (The university doesn’t have to worry about a student dropping out due to lack of funding/financial aid/private loans…..they want to protect their attrition rate……and they want your money. To them it’s a guarenteed 4 years of money. And if you aren’t a good student they still win because then it’s a guarenteed 5 or more years of money. )

      I went to a university with lots of rich kids. A student I became best friend’s with had very low scores but his father was the CEO of a huge engineering company in another country. I became close to his father and he told me confidentially that he had to pay a lot of extra money to get his son in and was greatful to the school for letting his son in.
      My roommate freshman year also was from an affluent family. During one of our convos she mentioned her tuition. (She didn’t realize it was much higher than mine.) Btw she never went to class. She hardly studied. And she was in CGS. (The College of General Studies.) Which is the college within the university for students to take easier/less demanding classes. their admissions requirements are much lower than the rest of the university. That’s why most of us nicknamed it Crayons, Glue and Scissors. “CGS”
      My boyfriend sophomore year was also from an affluent family. His father is a surgeon. Also was in CGS.
      My childhood friend was in CGS as well. Her parents are the sole eastcoast importers for Singha Beer, which is the highest selling beer company from Thailand.
      They all went to private high schools. (Except the childhood friend.)

    • Callitwhatyoulike…

      While it may be true that a high SAT score (assuming that the individual in question actually took it…:) ) requires a relatively high IQ, the inverse is absolutely not the case, and it’s unfortunate comments like yours that forever hinder people like myself, given that corporations *still* incorrectly utilize the SAT as the bottom line and all that is necessary to accurately measure mental capacity (unless, of course, their primary interest in the SAT is its obvious correlation with inherent social class [a.k.a. “cultural fit”]).

      School was boring for me (and, as you might suspect, I didn’t fit in and was bullied horribly). With an IQ above 140 (SD, SB15), I was smarter than not only every other student in the school, but every teacher, as well (the average IQ amongst Harvard’s student body is ~135). As such, I stopped attending spiritually, then literally. By the time the SAT rolled around, the best I could muster was 1200 (which “correlates” to an IQ score of approximately 120), because I had *stopped learning* what the SAT tests at a super-1200 level (advanced mathematics, vocabulary not encountered within typical works, etc.) long prior to that date. As a result, I couldn’t go and study with the brightest minds, but to my detriment and society’s, was forced to attend state school, which, of course, is a death sentence for anyone seeking work within the middle class as of 2015 (it doesn’t matter that I have acquired multiple Master’s degrees; “the one that matters is undergrad”).

      The SAT is not an IQ test. It is a test of learned material that *can and will be gamed by those who can game it, which tend to be the affluent*. (As is the GMAT, but that’s another story.) Stop using it as a supposed proxy of intelligence, please, so that society can become a better place (for all of us).

      p.s. the AFQT (99th percentile, here) is a far better indicator of mental capacity than the SAT, in my opinion; like an IQ test (which it is, minus the memory component [which should not be included within IQ tests, in my opinion]), it requires nothing but a pencil (or a keyboard). Absolutely *nothing* must be learned, beyond basic mathematics and reading comprehension, prior to testing, to determine IQ (general intelligence) relative to others. There is no opportunity for gaming, preparation, or anything else that presents an unfair advantage, and *this* is why the SAT *must not* be used as an estimator of intelligence, given that *much better* and *much more accurate* measures of intelligence are readily available.

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  • Jpdo

    I agree that a person who scores very high on SAT (in the 75th percentile) must correlate to a high IQ (2 Standard deviations above average), however I do not believe the reverse it true. (High IQ will not always get a high SAT.)
    My IQ was tested in 2007 & 2012 is 145. I’m dyslexic and needed recent proof of psychometric testing to receive special accommodations during exams in medical school as well as for my medical board exam accommodations.
    I never realized I had a learning disorder because I was a great student, was in the gifted program since I was 7, and took advanced level college classes in high school. But my grades were not great. I had a lot of difficulty with reading. Teachers thought I was just not studying hard enough.
    All the standardized exams for school I scored 97th percentile or above. But I scored 1100 on SAT. (1993 it was two sections only. Math and analogies. ) 500 verbal, 600 math.
    Meanwhile my classmates were getting 1400’s.

  • Problem solving is always a difficult task. I learned a lot in my life when I was a student and now I better manage all my situations. If you want you can check my articles on mind-globe.com, I think it may interest you. The topics are about self-improvement, self-help, meditation. All you can do with your mind :)