Devil’s Advocate: Do grades represent intelligence?



When considering the question of whether or not grades reflect intelligence there are several spheres of inquiry which must be eliminated. One may have a genius who due to his birth, upbringing or circumstances beyond his control did not go to a school that enabled him to achieve academically; yet the opportunity and exclusivity of our education system is not at issue here, assume equality as far as quality of education.

Furthermore, let us not be concerned with motivation, incentive or how hard one is pushed, these are irrelevant, assume that everyone tries hard for equal reward. Obviously working harder or going to a better school will get you higher marks, but that is not within our remit. So at a school where everyone has the same background, same education and the same amount; what accounts for variation in grades? Without all the externalities does this difference illustrate intelligence?

We often treat intelligence simply as the retention and application of knowledge, yet dig a little deeper and there is much more to it. Intelligence under a wider definition includes the ability to reason and have abstract thoughts, evaluate and adapt to situations and to think imaginatively and productively. The most common measure of intelligence, the IQ test, is deeply flawed and even modern adaptations are unable to recognise in scores, people who we regard as highly intelligent. It appears the broader elements of intellect are unquantifiable.

If we work off our narrow definition; how well people are able to learn facts or concepts, remember them and then use that knowledge when required, grades would express a difference in intelligence. Some people, it would seem are naturally better suited to making the neural connections needed for such tasks and they attain the better marks.
While difficult to define it does appear that at least a portion of intelligence can be indicated by grades; they do reflect intelligence, if only a part of it.

Malcolm Canvin


The horror of the exam season has just been upon us, complete with the endless hours of revision and waiting to see if our hard work has paid off. For many of us, exam results are the be all and end all, and failure of a module would see our world crashing down around us. However, I disagree that grades define our intelligence. In fact they are irrelevant.

There is more to being intelligent than consistently achieving 20s. It is our life experience that counts, that informs our judgements and defines us as people, and not exam grades, the revision for which will most probably be forgotten among the end-of-exam festivities and jubilations. We cannot be intelligent if we have not experienced life first hand, and this is something that cannot be learned from books. Intelligence consists of understanding people, diplomacy, communication, empathy, and the list could go on.

So, do not be disheartened if your exam grades were not as high as you had hoped. Take comfort in the knowledge that here at St Andrews there is ample opportunity to develop your intelligence by participating in societies, meeting new people and attaining hands-on life experience. Sitting in a lecture theatre or revising most certainly does not give us these skills that are essential for life outside the bubble.

A case in point is Lord Sugar. He left school at 16 and is now an undisputed success, and you would be hard pressed to find someone who would say he is not an intelligent man. Instead of academic prowess, he displays many qualities such as determination and organisation, and it is these that have constituted his success. This makes him an excellent example of how intelligence can be manifested in different forms, not just academic success.

There is much more to intelligence than grades. Grades are only one aspect of our personalities. We need life experience to be truly intelligent, and to know how to apply and use whatever knowledge we have in the best possible ways.

Dalia Cohen


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