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Is it true that intelligence not marks is more important for placement?

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January 26, 2009 9:48PM

I'm sure many people evey year hope against hope that this is true. I'm not sure that it is; there would be some case-by-case analysis to see if there is evidence of an applicant's worthiness. It is a little smug to assume that "My brainpower entitles me to placement". Evidence that a person will benefit from the program, and will perform well-- those are much more valuable than an IQ measure. There is a strong correlation between IQ and academic performance, but this does NOT mean that every person with a high IQ will perform well, or that they ought to be handed opportunities without an indication that they are driven to excel.

Answer The best predictor of someone's performance in school is that person's past performance in school. That is, if a person got superior marks last year in a variety of subjects, she is likely to obtain superior marks this year on a variety of subjects taken at the same school. There is virtually no disagreement with this reasoning among college admissions officers. Yet, colleges and universities continue to consider IQ in addition to, or even in some cases instead of, the grades earned in previous schooling. Why? Before we consider this question, it's worth noting that the results of IQ or intelligence tests, per se, are generally not used in admissions decisions. However, the scores on tests that are known to be related to IQ, or which are surrogates for IQ, certainly are considered. Tests such as the SAT, GRE, MAT, ACT, MCAT, GMAT, and LSAT -- used in the USA -- either are in their entirety highly correlated with IQ tests, or contain embedded IQ tests (usually some combination of verbal and numerical indexes). The same holds true of admissions tests used by many universities is Europe and Asia. So why is IQ used as an admission criterion, when almost everyone agrees that past performance (grades in school) predicts future performance (grades in school)? As it turns out, there is a big problem encountered by admissions officers when school grades alone are used to make admission decisions: the grades in one school, on given subjects, don't predict, as well as we'd like, the grades in another school. Some schools suffer from serious grade inflation, while in other schools, superior marks go to the top 5% of students. There are so many schools, and so many possible school-subject variations, that the predictive power of past grades is seriously compromised. One way to improve the ability to predict future academic performance would be to have a yardstick that can be used to compare students no matter where they went to school, and which is known to have some predictive power in its own right. Enter the college admissions exam, which we know is, or contains, a surrogate IQ test. Probably the best predictor of future academic performance available is an index that takes account of both past grades and academic talent (IQ, approximately). Most selective universities, the world over, use just such an index to rank incoming admission applications.