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IQ test – 3 levels of stupidity

Normal curve

Normal curve


Mental deficiency used to be more finely classified using the following technical terms that later began to be abused by the rest of society (5):

IQ Range Classification

  • 50-69 Moron
  • 20-49 Imbecile
  • below 20 Idiot


The following is written by Rodrigo de la Jara
This is a quick explanation of IQ, put up due to popular demand.There are many books on psychology or intelligence that would provide a more rigorous explanation of IQ.

What is intelligence?  The definition I like is that intelligence is “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations … also : the skilled use of reason” (7)*.  I have heard some people misuse the word smart to mean knowledgeable.  That is like confusing velocity with distance.  That one can lead to the other does not mean that they are the same thing.
I.Q. = Intelligence Quotient
Originally, “IQ” tests were created to be able to identify children who might need special education due to their retarded mental development (1).  Binet’s test included varied questions and tasks.  The tasks even included unwrapping a piece of candy and comparing the weights of different objects (4)!
To relate the mental development of a child to the child’s chronological age the IQ was invented.  IQ =  (MA/CA) * 100.  The intelligence quotient was equal to 100 times the Mental Age divided by the Chronological Age.  For example, if a certain child started reading, etc., at the age of 3 (CA) and average children start reading, etc., at the age of 6 (MA), the child would get an IQ score of 200.  (Such a score is very, very rare).  Since people wanted to also use IQs for adults, that formula was not very useful since raw scores start to level off around the age of 16 (2).
Thus the deviation IQ replaced the ratio IQ.  It compares people of the same age or age category and assumes that IQ is normally distributed, that the average (mean) is 100 and that the standard deviation is something like 15 (IQ tests sometimes differ in their standard deviations).
What is a standard deviation (SD)?  Simply put, the standard deviation is a measure of the spread of the sample from the mean.  As a rule of thumb, about 2/3 of a sample is within 1 standard deviation from the mean.  About 95% of the sample will be within 2 standard deviations from the mean (3).
With the standard deviation and a mean, you can calculate percentiles.  Percentiles tell you the percent of people that have a score equal to or lower than a certain score.

High IQ societies ask for certain percentile scores on IQ tests for you to be eligible to join them.  Mensa asks for scores at the 98th percentile or higher.

There have been various classification systems for IQ.
Terman’s classification was (6):
IQ Range


140 and over Genius or near genius
120-140 Very superior intelligence
110-120 Superior intelligence
90-110 Normal or average intelligence
80-90 Dullness
70-80 Borderline deficiency
Below 70 Definite feeble-mindedness
(Terman wrote the Stanford-Binet test (1), which has a SD of 16.)
Later, Wechsler thought that it would be much more legitimate to base his classifications on the Probable Error (PE) so his classification was (6):
Classification IQ Limits Percent Included
Very Superior 128 and over 2.2
Superior 120-127 6.7
Bright Normal 111-119 16.1
Average 91-110 50
Dull Normal 80-90 16.1
Borderline 66-79 6.7
Defective 65 and below 2.2

Mental deficiency used to be more finely classified using the following technical terms that later began to be abused by the rest of society (5):


IQ Range Classification
70-80 Borderline deficiency
50-69 Moron
20-49 Imbecile
below 20 Idiot


These are now largely obsolete and mental deficiency is now generally called mental retardation.  The following is the currently used classification of retardation in the USA (5):


IQ Range Classification
50-69 Mild
35-49 Moderate
20-34 Severe
below 20 Profound


Moreover, “educable mentally retarded” is roughly equivalent to mild mental retardation, and “trainable” mentally retarded is roughly equivalent to moderate (5).  The DSM now requires an assessment of a person’s adaptive functioning as an additional criterion for labeling someone retarded.  IQ is not enough.  Maybe the same sort of thing should be done for labeling somebody a genius.


(1) Berk, L.E. (1997).  Child Development, 4th ed.  Toronto: Allyn and Bacon.

(2) Eysenck, H. (1994).  Test Your IQ.  Toronto: Penguin Books.

(3) Iman, R.L. (1994).  A Data Based Approach to Statistics.  Belmont: Duxbury Press.

(4) Nietzel, M.T., Berstein, D.A., Milich R. (1998).  Introduction to Clinical Psychology.  Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

(5) Reber, A.S. (1995).  The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, 2nd ed.  Toronto: Penguin Books.

(6) Wechsler, D. (1944).  The Measurement of Adult Intelligence.  Baltimore:  The Williams & Wilkins Company.

(7) The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online:

* Originally, my definition simply said “the ability to learn”, but I found that the expanded dictionary definition is better even if it is not as simple.

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