Intelligence_Dissected (Sam Curran)

This article explores intelligence is in an educational sense, how it is quantified in schools and the author’s opinion of true intelligence.

Is the smartest child the one with the best exam results and grades? Are students that go to University cleverer than those that don’t? Do exams or other factors determine intelligence? Does genetics have an impact on intelligence? Are left brained people clever than right brained people? What about multiple intelligences? This article takes each of these questions in turn and tries to come to a conclusion on them.

Exams and Intelligence/University vs. Non University

Exams are the principle form of assessment used in schools and are recognised as the most valuable measure of a child’s intelligence. They are taking even more importance now that coursework is being gradually phased out (and being replaced with controlled assessment which is basically like an exam) and recent reforms which stipulate that all children will take their exams at the end of Year 11 in a linear model. There are fears among some people that this will take a ‘make or break’ scenario where everything rests on this period. With exam stress already a constant problem in education, could this exacerbate this even more?

Ministers would argue it makes sense to place exams at the end of Year 11as this is when the child is at the peak of their knowledge and will therefore have the most chance of success and a good grade. Regardless on where you stand in this debate: are exams the best measure of intelligence? With the all-important C grade at GCSE being a benchmark of supposed intelligence these days and holding the key to progressing to higher education, getting a place on degree and most jobs, are we in danger of becoming too obsessed with exams?

I have worked in many places and attended many educational institutions and it has varied on the most desirable qualities that employers are looking for. Sometimes it has been personality characteristics, others experience and a significant proportion of them my exam results. The ones where my exams have been the deciding factor have tended to be jobs in education which does seem to back up that in education exams are the key currency in success and intelligence. But is it like that in all other jobs? Many other jobs I have applied for have been judged on personal attributes and experience which some might say you have to have some intelligence to gain. CBI and other major business organisations have stated that employability skills (organisation, work ethic and drive etc.) are what they look for in participants rather than their exam results. However, these organisations have also expressed concern about prospective employees’ numeracy and literacy skills which hints again at the importance of exams.

There is also the question of emotional intelligence which according to a theorist called Goleman is more key to success in life than academic intelligence. There may be some truth in this. Everyone faces hardships in life and you need resilience to overcome them and interpersonal skills to form good relationships with people at work and at home.

Amazingly, there may be cases where having good exam results can be a hindrance rather than a help as you can be ‘over-qualified’ for certain jobs. In teaching there is some belief that having a first can actually be worse than having a 2:1 due to being branded an academic rather than a good teacher. It is perhaps unsubstantiated but does this belief actually exist? There seems to be considerable debate over whether exams are the key indicator of intelligence. Personally, I think they are important but there are other factors like personality and emotional intelligence to take into account.

Nature vs. Nurture?

There has long been a debate over whether people are born with intelligence or whether they acquire it over time thanks to hard work or as a result of their upbringing. This is not just limited to education but also sporting and other fields. It comes up quite a lot.

Thinking from my own experiences, I think genetics does play quite a part. I am quite good at maths and English and I come from a background of people who were also proficient in these fields. Speaking more broadly, How else can you explain of the number of Afro-Caribbean successful athletes, the number of sporting families or the number of father and son/brothers who are footballers? In an academic sense, the amount of naturally clever pupils I have worked with is something I couldn’t count because there has been so many of them. They seem to be able to naturally do the work without any effort and just absorb anything they are taught. On the other hand, kids are so clever and soak up things like a sponge anyway. These naturally clever kids sometimes struggle with a question that isn’t so straightforward and requires a different type of thinking: such as a heavily worded maths question.

On the other hand, surely environment and upbringing play quite a part in determining someone’s intelligence. Will 2 academics spawn another generation of academics? If aspirations are low in a family will the children pick up on this and mirror their parents’ habits? Both my parents are quite clever, although neither of them went to Uni for various reasons. I was raised in an environment where I was always encouraged to read, take my work seriously and put in maximum effort. I also had lots of support and encouragement available from other relatives like my sister, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Naturally, all of this resulted in me getting good results at GCSE and A levels and progressing to University. I had a bit of natural maths ability but for me the main factor in my intelligence was my upbringing and the environment in which I was raised. Surely any child who is encouraged with education and to read will do quite well.

There is also that the maxim that ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ and I think this is true and is mirrored by what I have seen in schools. Hard working pupils always achieve good solid results whereas naturally clever students can occasionally tack their foot of the pedal and under-perform. Nature and Nurture play a big part in determining intelligence although it is hard to say which plays the more dominant role.

Left vs. Right Brained

Carrying on the genetic themed section of the article, who is more clever: left or right brained people?

People with left-brained tendencies are logical, have a good memory and like facts and figures. They tend to like subjects like Maths and Science. Conversely, right-brained people are more creative and can think more imaginatively in an abstract manner. People of this dominance prefer subjects like English, Art and Drama. This is over-generalising things but gives you a base idea of the concept.

More importantly, which is cleverer? Left-brained people like myself are good at maths and science which are 2 core subjects in the curriculum and quite important in success in life. Being logical and straightforward can sometimes be a barrier in life as many situations are grey and require ‘blue-sky thinking’ which right-brained thinkers may be more adept at. Right-brained people are creative and imaginative and are good at English which is really useful at University, I can tell you. Personally, I am a left-brained figure (my best subject is maths) and I have had to work hard to try and get into the middle of the spectrum and develop a more well-rounded profile.

Everyone is on the spectrum at some level and both ‘dominances’ have their advantages but I would like to propose that being both left and right brained (in the middle of the venn diagram) is true intelligence as they are skilled at a lot of things. Maybe being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is better than it sounds.

Multiple Intelligences

This was a theory by Gardner that said we had loads of different intelligences like spatial, mathematical, linguistic and inter/intra personal and that we all have an intelligence profile. Can intelligence be quantified by this?

Linking back to the right and left brained debate, is it best to have an even intelligence profile or peaks and troughs? I took a multiple intelligence test. The results showed that my proficiencies are in Maths and English but not music and the arts. The tests are available to take online and are very interesting.

Take the test by following the link here:

Overall, given just how many different subjects there are to study and diversity of situations in life, I think it is useful to have a mixture of different intelligences. Exams have an important role in determining intelligence but so do so many other factors in life.

By Sam Curran


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