Your friendly local Gonzo journalist, answering the questions no-one’s asking

0Q – Part 1

“What happens if you get every question wrong on an IQ test?”

IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, has been deeply ingrained in mass society as a cut-and-dried indicator of how clever someone is. If someone has a higher IQ than you, then it’s considered a mathematical certainty that they are smarter, and thereby they can do all sums faster, have a much richer vocabulary, and fix all their own electronics.

‘Test the Nation’ was a show which, between 2002-2007, would air annually on BBC1 and constituted a couple hours of interactive IQ tests you were encouraged to take part in at home so you could calculate your own Intelligence Quotient. It was hungrily taken in by households across the country to be discussed around the water cooler the next day, usually after everyone had rounded their scores up to the nearest 20.

I suppose the attraction that led to its nation-wide popularity, as well as its being commissioned for 6 successive years, is that it’s nice to have a quantifiable figure for something as intangible as whether someone is quite bright or, as you’ve often suspected, pretty dumb.

However I think for the generally naïve public to know their IQ can be dangerous, especially when they believe it’s a precise measure of their brain’s output all because a professor has talked about left vs. right hemispheres and grey matter and psychometrics and other encouraging academic lingo, and on the BBC no less. If the show had been filmed for Channel 4 it would almost certainly have been more frothy and light and irreverent, no doubt presented by Gok Wan wearing some fashionable, avant-garde mortarboard, and so viewers would have been more flippant about the results they came out with.

The concern with the BBC variant is that for its majority it’s reasonably studious and austere, hosted by cold, sober people like Anne Robinson. So if your average desk-jockey admin assistant, who does the odd sudoku in ‘The Sun’ but generally lives a fairly unscholarly life, tunes in to ‘Test The Nation’ and emerges with an IQ of above 130 (or 148 if using the Cattell III B scale), he’d consequently believe unquestioningly that he’s in the top 2% of the country and eligible for Mensa, likely leading to him getting ideas above his station. Even if they haven’t botched the test and their IQ really is that high, it still doesn’t mean they should leave their comfortable office position at Generic Finances Inc. to start practicing eye surgery or apply to NASA lest their incredibly advanced cognitive powers go to waste.

The truth is that your IQ is really a pretty redundant number. It’s a measure of very innate, subconscious intelligence, and doesn’t necessarily provide the skillset required to reattach a retina or determine how fast a manned spaceship should leave a launch-pad. When Mensa members assemble they only play word games and make the odd witty remark, they’re not trying to find the Higgs Boson particle. For instance Shakira, the Colombian singer-songwriter, supposedly has an IQ which makes her eligible for Mensa, and she’s not contributing works akin to King Lear or Candide, she’s submitting that she’s “not looking for cute little divos or rich city guys that just want to enjoy, but having a very good time and behaving very bad in the arms of a boy” (She Wolf, 2009).

Almost all experts of neuroscience and pedagogy know IQ can be used as a general indicator of how well your brain plays ball, but as a definite calculable measure of mental capacity it’s pretty pointless. Yes, with an IQ of 120 you’re probably more switched on than someone with an IQ of half that, but not necessarily brighter than someone with an IQ of 119 or 115 or even 100. Just earlier this year 16-year-old Essex schoolgirl, Lauren Marbe, was reported to have an IQ exceeding that of Einstein or Bill Gates. She is described as a “ditzy” teenager who loves “fake tanning, blonde highlights, manicures,” as well as her favourite programme, TOWIE.

Society’s faith in the purportedly fool-proof IQ system will almost certainly mean Lauren, by dint of having a higher IQ than Einstein or Gates, is regarded as therefore being smarter than those two, but that’s just not necessarily the case. We should not expect a Microsoft competitor from this girl, and whilst I’m sure she’s just ace at working out the next in a series of abstract shapes, we shouldn’t favour her ‘reem’ theory of relativity over old Albert’s.

To demonstrate how unreliable IQ tests are, before someone puts this giggly Essex girl in charge of NATO or finding a cure for cancer for her to doubtless drop a fake eyelash into, I want to take a test and try to score an IQ of 0, or to get every question wrong – the two can be mutually exclusive. Consider the following:

Answering every question incorrectly in an IQ test would merit a score of 0% and hence, it would be reasonable to assume, an IQ of 0. However an IQ of 0 would equate to being brain dead, and to have had the mental ability to lift a crayon and circle some answers, albeit all wrong ones, you must have some IQ, there must be some synapses still flaring in the mound of neural dog food sitting in your skull. It is complicated by the fact that IQs are charted on a bell curve:

With 68% of the population having an IQ between 85 and 115 there are plenty of comparable results and so an Intelligence Quotient can be measured very specifically, but in the 0.2% of people with an IQ of above 145 or below 55 there is too little data to ascertain any definite number – you’re just referred of as having a vague IQ “over 145” or “below 55” and it’s presumed you’re either too clever to care or too stupid to understand.

Consequently the result of an IQ test can be contextual to the average; you can technically get every question wrong and still score an IQ of, say, 44. But I’m not happy with this as a compromise when it concerns the metrical currency of our human intelligence. After all, if every question wrong can mean an IQ of 44, what would an IQ of 43 mean? I even read that if the law of averages plays against you it’s possible to take an IQ test and emerge with a negative IQ, which I’m sure we can all agree as a concept is an absolute mindfuck.

To try to resolve this issue I took a number of online IQ tests, attempting to clear them all without a single correct answer. As you might imagine this is actually fairly difficult as you have to know the right answer to every question in order not to choose it, as well as terribly counter-intuitive to spend 10 minutes cooking your brain working out that the answer to a question is b) 6 and then selecting that the correct answer is instead c) 50. Here are my results:

The Guardian IQ test: This is a 25 question test which measures your IQ against your salary to determine whether you should rightly be getting paid more for your job, precisely the reason why I deemed these tests to be futile and dangerous, and why the admin assistant we mentioned earlier would surely end up weeping having accidentally blinded someone or stranded several people on the Moon. If you do well in the test, you’re rewarded with the message:

Having been actively encouraged to quit my job just because I know what a Fibonacci sequence is and what a cube looks like, I tried the test again trying to score as low as possible. The first time I scored an embarrassingly high 4/25, leaving me with a cleverness coefficient of 0 sugarcoated by saying at least I was being paid the right amount.

The second time I managed to score 0/25, producing a more brusque message:

I left the Guardian test unsatisfied; their “cleverness coefficient” seemed wildly skittish and didn’t go anywhere towards telling me what my actual IQ was, simply whether I should leave my job or not.


– IQTest.com: 38 ‘True or False’ questions in 13 minutes. “If you take longer, you will be penalized, or if you get through the test in less time than thirteen minutes, your score will be increased” it states, meaning having rattled through the test in half that time I then had to wait a further 7 minutes before submission to squeeze every drop of idiocy into my test result.

Annoyingly the results had no measure of how many questions I’d answered right or wrong, but I was fairly confident that I’d got them all incorrect, and my IQ came out at 19, which signifies profound mental retardation. I was also offered a graph and a certificate which proudly displayed my significantly deficient IQ in case I wanted to hang it in my study, for $9.95.

I’m sure there’s probably a lot of money to be generated from people’s belief in IQ tests and subliminal intelligence boosters and other such purchasable dross; money that you probably won’t even have since the Guardian told you to quit the fast-food chain you worked at and apply to be an anesthesiologist instead. I still wasn’t happy with my result; if I scored 0/38 and earned an IQ of 19, what did an IQ of 18 mean?


– IQTestExperts.com: This one comprised of 30 questions with a 15-minute timer counting down alongside. I almost certainly answered every one wrong and still came out with an IQ of 54, which according to the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale is only ‘mildly impaired’.

I had to enter my e-mail address to progress to the screen which showed this score, and I’m reasonably certain this was the source of a hijacker who changed my account password a few days later. The IP address traces it back to Hanoi in Vietnam. I would recommend double-checking your account security before taking this test.


– BBC IQ test: Thus far all online IQ tests had really done were tell me to resign, ask me for money, or try to sell my details to the Vietnamese, scoring me with a plethora of different IQs seemingly picked at random and placing me anywhere between forgetful and vegetative. I had confirmed that at least sites don’t attribute a flunked test with an IQ of 0, they’re aware that you need some cognition in order to pick an answer at all, but besides that they all seemed to disagree on what IQ to give me. If IQ classification is as steadfastly valid as it’s made out to be, you would have thought the same score would have been generated each time; surely the esteemed and extensive quiz used on BBC’s ‘Test the Nation’ would put this matter to bed?

The test takes a long, long time to complete, presumably as it’s pulled straight from a show which has to fill 2 hours of airtime. Different sections flex different abilities such as memory, logic and reasoning, and it seemed a pretty solid test albeit a little overly entertainment-focussed what with some sections titled “Spot the missing celeb!” etc, probably why some periodicals critically panned the programme as just a glorified “quiz show.” Particular segments like the visual tests took some pondering as I’m relatively colourblind, whilst others like the vocab section I obviously ravaged, and ultimately I finished with a triumphant score of:

Now this must be clear evidence that IQ tests are fundamentally skewed and untrustworthy. This plainly states that scoring 0/70 in a test, the lowest conceivable mark, still represents an IQ of 70, which is only just considered below average. This was the very test televised and undertaken by millions of people, the test that influenced whether people thought they were perhaps too overqualified for their jobs, and probably not a far cry from the test that exalted Lauren Marbe as being more intelligent than Stephen Hawking. This is today’s Twitter feed from Lauren, does it strike you as the utterances of someone who could keep up with and maybe even correct some of Stephen’s gravitational singularities theorems?

I don’t think the lines “where’s my tan gone?” or “come my party, safeeee” have ever rumbled from Stephen Hawking’s speech synthesiser.

The IQ tests I’ve completed thus far then seem to be just as inaccurate as I suspected. A score of 0% should be a universal baseline that all tests agree on, and yet my supposed IQ has varied from 19 to 70, from brain dead to just simpleminded, it’s all very confused and unreliable. No wonder people can take these tests and achieve vastly contorted results that render them twice as clever as Isaac Newton whilst they sit ‘lol’ing heartily at Keith Lemon from their bookless, poster-coated bedrooms.

However, I concede that these are all online tests, some that appear to be the guise for scams at that, so inaccuracies are almost to be expected. The only way to really gauge the consequences of spectacularly failing an IQ test is to take a physical one, namely the supervised, pen-and-paper test that determines whether you are eligible to enter the UK Mensa society. Only by avoiding a single correct answer in an exam of that calibre am I to find exactly what happens if you get every question in an IQ test wrong, and possibly prove that as a measure of intelligence an IQ score is negligible.

I will book my Mensa IQ Test for the near future, deliberately flunk, and report back to you with my findings in Part 2…


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