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Intelligence Definition and Measurement


This paper is an assessment of the nature of intelligence. It is an exploration of what intelligence means in a psychological context. The measurements of intelligence will be related to the definitions to see how they contribute to these definitions. It will look at a selected few intelligence and achievement tests: Abbreviated Torrance test for adults, the assessment of individual learning style: the perceptual memory test, basic educational skills test and the California Achievement tests Writing skills system. Their psychological assessment in terms of bias, normative procedure, validity and reliability will be assessed. Theories of intelligence such as the Sternberg, Spearman and Gardener’s theory will be assessed in relation to the tests.

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There are many definitions given to describe intelligence and its nature. Also the reliability, validity, normative procedures, and bias of the Abbreviated Torrance test for adults, the assessment of individual learning style: the perceptual memory test, basic educational skills test and the California Achievement tests writing skills system will be assessed. These tests will be compared and their goals and usage and the purpose of administering them will be espoused. Lastly, the ethical considerations of administering these tests will be explored. This paper will critique these definitions and relate them to measures of intelligence and achievement, look at the theories of intelligence and how they are related to the measurements of achievements tests and intelligence tests.

Major Definitions of Intelligence

The following are the major definitions of intelligence:

The definition by Main Stream Science on Intelligence: “A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings — “catching on”, “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do”, (Gottfredson, 1997). This definition does not account for biological input into determining IQ as a hereditary component. In studies done by psychologists on race, the biological nature of IQ was proven thus it couldn’t be ruled out.

The definition by American Psychological Association: “Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought” (Perloff, Sternberg, & Urbina, 1996). This definition does not account for biological acquisition of intelligence and mainly focuses on the distinguishing characteristics in relation to how we deal with the environment.

Relation of definitions to Tests

These definitions relate to the selected achievement and intelligence tests in that they account for the learning and adaptation component of IQ (as intelligence is commonly referred to). They refer to experience as a factor in developing creativity and proficiency in skills like reading, math, writing, and sciences.

Theories of Intelligence

Intelligence is measured using the IQ or the intelligence quotient which is defined as the ratio of mental age (MA) and the chronological age (CA) but has since been revised to be a person’s performance relative to same aged peers (Kassin 1996).

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Before looking at IQ tests, we should also take into account that they mostly concentrate on academic intelligence or general intelligence (g) while ignoring specific intelligence. C. Spearman proposed that g is the broad intellectual ability factor used to explain why performances on different intelligence tests are often correlated using the factor analysis technique.

Sternberg’s Triarchic theory

This theory suggests that there are three kinds of human intelligence. These are information processing, creative intelligence and practical intelligence.


This theory encompasses the many forms of intelligence that are measured by the selected tests since it gives the creative aspect of intelligence and its relation to the environment. Practical intelligence explains the learning aspect both informally and formally. Information processing intelligence is what is measured in the achievement tests in respect to proficiency.

Achievement Tests

  1. The Basic Educational Skills Test measures the proficiency in math, reading and writing through a series of multiple-choice questions.
  2. The California Achievement Tests Writing Assessment System accurately measures achievement in reading, language, spelling, math, study skills, science, and social studies. This test evaluates student performance and gives innovative assessments, which help give insight into problem areas, and helps in training teachers and giving a framework for curricula. Creative intelligence is what is measured in the ATTA tests through ‘just suppose questions’ and the Perceptual memory test which measures human performance and creativity in carrying out different tasks (Sternberg, 1985).

The procedure to assess tests

Reliability i.e. the degree to which tests yield consistent results when re-administered at a later time and split- half reliability i.e. the degree to which alternate forms of a test yield consistent results. The intelligence tests selected have proven not to be fully accurate. They do not account for potential in intellectual development. They can be self-assessed thus are not good indicators of inter-rater reliability (since they are not trained especially in ATTA). However compared to other tests ATTA has been better in terms of reliability. The perceptual memory test is reliable in the implicit memory i.e. the picture clarification but is wanting in explicit memory (recalling). The achievement tests are not reliable in that they sometimes fail to account for savants and special intelligences posited by Gardener (Gardener, 1983).

Validity of the test which is the extent to which a test measurers/ predicts what it is designed to. The selected tests are all effective on this front as they all measure creativity and proficiency or learning capabilities respectively.

Normative procedures of the tests include comparison of the test results and those of the other examinees. ATTA compares the creativity of answers given in the figural and verbal responses of the test to judge the creativity of ones imagination and cognitive structures. Perceptual Memory test norms on the basis of traits, which are ranked according to one’s level of functioning. The California Achievement Tests Writing Assessment System has different components that give results in the same scale thus can be easily compared with standard test times. Basic Achievement test usually gives the highest scores in the delivery of results so that the examinee can compare and uses the same manual in determining results. Biases in the tests include ignoring potential for future and accounting for entire construct of intelligence. In addition, special intelligences are not measured thus ignores other Frames of Mind (Gardener, 1983).

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How are the two tests similar?

The achievements test are similar in that they both measure proficiency and information processing in academic skills although the CBEST is used mostly to assess teachers and in their training.

The intelligence tests are similar in that they both measure creativity but they differ in that the Perceptual memory test measure the explicit memory more so than creative responses. The intelligence tests are used in career projection but the achievement test measure the academic achievement and help in upgrading the education system.

Why are different tests given?

Differing tests are given to give a varied evaluation of intelligence and proficiency since the tests may differ in approaches and answers.

Ethical considerations in giving am intelligence or achievement test

The ethical considerations of using these tests in education include the fact that they do not measure potential for academic improvement. They give insight in class placements and does not account for special intelligences such that people with low-test scores are considered not so smart. People with low-test scores also tend to lose confidence and put in less effort into learning. The tests may also show high scores in different parts than in others, giving vague ideas of what the actual intelligence level is.


In conclusion, this paper has explored the dynamics of intelligence, the theories related to it a selected number of intelligence an achievement tests. It gives an assessment of the test by reliability, normative procedures, validity and bias. It relates the Triarchic Theory to the tests and lastly evaluates the ethical considerations in administering these tests in the educational setting.


Gardner, H., (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gottfredson, L.S., (1997). Foreword to Intelligence and social Policy (pdf). Intelligence, 24(1), 1–12. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(97)90010-6.

Kassin, Saul. (1995), Psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company USA.

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Perloff, R., Sternberg, R.J.& Urbina, S., (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. American Psychologist, 51.

Sternberg, R. J., (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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