Do Grades Define a Person’s Intelligence?

More often than not, I see students around my age succumb to the pressures of our academic system. Education is so incredibly stressed in America and failing to hit those high marks can leave a student feeling devastated. The general consensus would agree that receiving a good education is required for a good life. However, that apparently depends on whether or not you are “smart.” Oxford English Dictionary defines intelligence as, “The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Despite this, the notion that intelligence stemming purely from academic performance or grades is something that plagues the mind of our young today and is absolutely untrue. To think that something so complex and nuanced as our brain can be simply dissected and assessed with just a packet of questions is unbelievable, yet it happens in America. Our human brains are so intricate and detailed that uncovering something like intelligence is still being studied and debated today. It’s unfair to label yourself or anyone else as “dumb” or “smart” based solely on test scores alone. Intelligence is more than simply doing well in school. Intelligence is more than what we commonly perceive it to be.

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Standardized testing is the most common and widely used method when it comes to measuring how “smart” a person is. It is often used to compare a student’s performance to others, but it doesn’t reveal the full picture. This makes it one of the biggest culprits when it comes to our generation’s misguided perception of intelligence. The biggest gripe that people have when it comes to these sort of tests is how unreasonably limiting they can be. What these standardized tests fail to realize is a student’s potential, or perhaps other skills they may possess. Standardized tests will often test on core subjects like math, reading, and writing but will, unfortunately, leave no room for testing other key skills such as leadership, communication, creativity, resourcefulness, teamwork, etc. These are all equally important skills that are needed in the job force and the adult world. These skills represent a different side of a person’s intelligence and they require special attention. Neglecting these core aspects is essentially ignoring a large portion of a person’s being and overall intellect.

In addition, an issue with these tests is the multiple choice style of questions. Multiple choice tests require the slightest bit of skill. The fact that you could ‘guess’ an answer choice and still get it correct is simply a mistake. In fact, the SATs do just that. Wrong answer choices on multiple choice questions have no negative consequences. No penalties are calculated into your score when this happens. However, you actually can receive points for guessing the correct answer choice. This can totally skew any result taken from these tests, and lead to misinterpretation of what actual intelligence is. This in itself is a reason why we should not let our academic performance and test scores influence how we think about intelligence. Standardized tests cannot simply gauge a student’s aptitude for these things and are simply inaccurate when reporting and measuring a person’s capabilities.

Limiting the idea of intelligence to only apply to academic performance is ignorant. As mentioned before, intelligence is “The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” To paraphrase, it’s being able to take what you know and using it in a meaningful way. This application aspect of intelligence is drowned out in an academic setting. When students are just studying to do well on tests, they’re not actually retaining anything that they learn and as a result, they fail to apply it in the real world. This is supported by a 2001 study lead by Brookings Institution. In their study, they discovered that a majority of students only study in preparation for upcoming tests. This resulted in a weak long-term retention of material. Any true application skill is lost for outside the academic world. This is quite alarming considering many jobs require these important skills. How will a student progress in their knowledge and grow intellectually when they’re being taught only for tests and grades, and to only memorize material temporarily? This goes to show how unreliable our academic performance can really be when used to measure something so subjective like intelligence.

When it comes to intelligence, many would say that getting good grades and performing well in school is all it means to be “smart.” I strongly refute this idea, but this sort of mindset is common throughout all academic levels, not just college. This misguided way of thinking is a result of the pressure of American society. Intelligence is much more complex and cannot be determined with just test scores and grades. As I have discussed, our overall intelligence stems from other sources like adaptation and application too. We must be careful when administering standardized tests because they aren’t flawless, and those flaws can have a significant impact on a student’s life.  

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Do Grades Define A Person's Intelligence?. (2021, Jul 28). Retrieved June 29, 2022 , from
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