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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Son

Do Grades Determine Intelligence?

Just last week, I was sitting in the school cafeteria while munching on some baby carrots. The conversation buzzing around me was nonstop: Have you seen her new hair? Did the English teacher get fired or did he quit? Who do you think the smartest kid in the grade is? Amidst all of this chatter, my attention is drawn to one topic.

“...he has to be the smartest boy in our school. I heard that his APUSH average is 105!”

My friends and I often gravitate around this theme: comparing our grades, averages, and test scores. We, along with many other students in our classes, compete to see not only who has the highest average, but the most intelligence.

Sure, no one says it out loud, but people often associate grades with intelligence. For example, take the college admissions process. One of the first things that colleges see in our transcript is our grades. With everyone scrambling to get the highest score possible on their SAT or ACT, one has to wonder how much all of these factors really matter. Just a few numbers have the ability to make or break our school career and the last couple of years of our adolescence. But how accurately do grades really determine how smart we truly are? Are complete strangers correct in attributing our intelligence to our grades? Or is this tendency a wrong that needs to be made right?

There are a variety of factors that can affect how a student does on a test. Try to remember the last time you took an exam without getting any sleep the night before. Were you satisfied with your score when you received your grade? Probably not. The amount of sleep one gets can affect test scores, much like a bad day or anxiety. Taking multiple tests in a week or even a day can also affect test scores. With so many variables factoring in on test taking, it’s hard to compare the intelligence of all students to one standard of grades.

Think of it like a science project where the question that you’re trying to answer is, “Do Grades Determine Intelligence?” The dependent variable would be the varying grades of the people who took the same test. The independent variable should be a single difference in the conditions under which students took the same test. As you can see, this experiment is flawed. It is impossible to ensure that an entire group of people can take a test in the same exact conditions, from what they ate for breakfast to their current socio-economic situation.

Another reason why grades cannot truly be reliable indicators of intelligence is because of the varying priorities of people. Some people have a passion for math and take part in the Mathletes team. Others may love playing basketball, hoping to be a future NBA player. Still others may love singing, receiving applause on stage. Just because someone would prefer studying their lines for school play over formulas for a chemistry test doesn’t mean that one is smarter than the other. It only shows how different people have different values.

Take, for example, one of the most brilliant scientists in history: Albert Einstein. He once failed a college entrance exam, flunking the botany and zoology sections. We now know that Einstein had an aptitude for math and science, and his failing grade did not reflect his intelligence in these fields because it tested other, less favorable subjects of Einstein’s. However, Einstein remains arguably one of the smartest people in history.

So, maybe grades don’t determine intelligence. But that doesn’t mean that they are unimportant. They simply reflect our ethics when it comes to test-taking and school. Regardless of the lack of correlation between grades in intelligence, this fact will do little to deter students from comparing averages or intelligence in the near future because traditions are difficult to uproot, even if they have no basis in truth.

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