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Is there a link between intelligence and grades?

Is there a link between intelligence and grades?

3 min read
  • The science of learning

Intelligence has been shown to enhance with education. In fact, an additional year of education can cause an increase of up to 5 IQ points – which might be why it is considered to be the strongest predictor of academic achievement. In turn, educational attainment is associated with many life outcomes: good grades are seen as important when wanting to go into higher education and thus, have a significant influence on an individual’s life.

So, what is the link between intelligence and grades? And how do they influence each other? Here’s what the research says…

What is intelligence?

Intelligence can be defined as the ability to learn from experiences and use our knowledge to adapt to new situations. It involves the use of different mental abilities including logic, reasoning, and problem-solving.

Intelligence is very closely linked to education and many believe it is a prerequisite to academic success. It is measured through an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) that can be calculated through a test that results in a number-based score. As a point of comparison, the average IQ in Europe is 98; 9 points higher than the global average. Although an IQ score may not be the most accurate measure of intelligence, it is a good indication of a person’s general skill level and cognitive abilities.

However, the link between intelligence and academic success is a classic example of a “the chicken or the egg” dilemma: does intelligence cause differences in educational outcomes, or does education cause differences in intelligence?

Does intelligence matter?

It is likely that intelligence and education work in synergy: improving one will improve the other and create better outcomes than if they were acting alone. Researchers are constantly going back and forth in this discussion as there are many ways to interpret the link between intelligence and education.

However, the majority of the evidence indicates that a longer education raises intelligence scores by up to 5 IQ points. It consistently remains the most durable method for increasing intelligence. Many students who are achieving lower than their peers are often not receiving the same stimulation and practice. Further education can therefore give them more time to develop these skills and enhance their intelligence.

A study involving 70,000 students found a positive correlation between intelligence and educational achievement in national examinations. This means that those who scored highly on intelligence tests often did well in their GCSE exams across all subjects. Scores on intelligence tests remain a robust predictor of academic achievement.

There are many different ways in which intelligence can enhance the learning experience. A prime example of this is seen in motivation. Intelligence can often manifest motivation in different ways, depending on the type of learner. This can influence grades and general academic achievement.

Students with a mastery-oriented motivation may approach a class with curiosity and an interest in the subject, whereas a student with performance-oriented motivation does so solely from a grade standpoint. Teachers could encourage students to focus on developing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills rather than simply memorising information for a test. This will shift their focus and help them develop their intelligence.

Boost your students’ motivation with training that introduces them to the seven key habits of successful people.

What can teachers do?

Developing a growth mindset is a brilliant way to improve a student’s intelligence, ability and performance; all characteristics that will encourage learning and promote success. Research demonstrates how a growth mindset can lead to academic success and enhanced motivation. In one study of over 1,500 students it was found that those who took part in a growth mindset intervention were more likely to complete their Maths, English and Science courses. They also received better grades than their peers who did not take part in the intervention.

Teachers who are looking to nourish their student’s intelligence could start with teaching them to seek out better feedback, enhance their self-esteem, and develop better self-regulation. These are all characteristics of a growth mindset and will work together to create an environment that increases intelligence. Read our complete guide to find out more about how to help students develop a growth mindset.

Final thoughts

The link between intelligence and grades demonstrates a positive correlation; enhancing one will increase the other. As it has substantial influence on school grades, intelligence can be regarded as a very important variable in education. The two work alongside each other to develop internal strengths such as critical thinking and initiative, whilst guiding students to become encompassing learners.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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