Education, Politics, Social Science

Silence Around Test Scores Serves the Privileged

Right-wing podcaster Stefan Molyneux recently advised his teenage fans that they should append their IQ scores to job applications. This idea was widely and deservedly ridiculed on Twitter. It’s a serious faux pas to include test scores of any kind — IQ especially, but also SAT or graduate admissions tests like LSAT, MCAT or GMAT — on a resume.  Including test scores will cause many employers to draw negative assumptions about an applicant, and thus reduce the applicant’s chances of being hired, regardless of how good the scores are.

But why is there such a taboo against sharing scores, that including them on a resume would cause an employer to draw negative inferences about an applicant’s character? Why is it considered extreme and risible to suggest that a job candidate with a high IQ or a high SAT score should treat that as a qualification? And who benefits from this norm of keeping this data secret?

Proxies for aptitude

While it is bad advice for a job applicant to share test scores with an employer, nearly every job application will include an applicant’s college degree and the institution that granted it.  There’s no taboo against telling people where you went to school. You’re expected to put it on your resume. You can mention it in conversation with people you just met. You can include it in your online dating profile.  You can wear a T-shirt with the name of your school printed on it, or festoon your car with bumper stickers that show your school spirit. However, there’s almost no occasion where it is socially acceptable to brag about your test scores or ask somebody else about theirs.

People use the relative prestige of their degree-granting institutions to sort themselves, their colleagues and their peer groups into hierarchies, and employers use this information to rank prospective hires as well. If an applicant went to an elite university, most employers will assume that applicant is likely to be smarter than someone who attended a less prestigious school.  

It’s true that being very smart and scoring very well on the SAT is the only way most people can have a chance of getting into an Ivy League school, but a lot of seats at elite schools are set aside for special people who don’t have to meet the high academic standards required of everybody else. Meanwhile, a lot of people with stellar scores attend lower-ranked schools, to take advantage of economic incentives like merit scholarships or in-state tuition, or simply because elite schools turn away a lot of top academic performers to make room for the children of the rich and powerful.

The 25th percentile SAT scores at Yale, for example, are 720 on the critical reading section and 710 on the math.  The 75th percentile SAT scores at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Maryland, College Park, which is currently ranked #61 by USNews, are 720 critical reading and 750 math.

That means at least a quarter of Maryland students scored higher on at least one SAT section than at least a quarter of Yalies.  And there are dozens of other colleges and universities where significant percentages of students are more academically accomplished than many students at top schools.

Privilege at work

Even though many students at places like Maryland have better scores than many students at places like Yale, those students don’t actually have good enough applications to get into those elite schools, because top schools have a two-tiered admissions system.  

Daniel Golden won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for reporting on college admissions for the Wall Street Journal, and he explains how these systems work in his excellent 2006 book The Price of Admission. In addition to the widely-discussed practice of using lower admissions cutoffs for underrepresented minorities, the most prestigious colleges in the country also use lower academic criteria to admit students who are legacies — the children or grandchildren of alumni, and students who can participate in athletics. And, while admissions officials flatly denied this on the record, Golden makes a strong anecdotal case that the admissions standards can bend much further for the children of the very rich and the very powerful.

He found cases where administrators who focused on cultivating donors, attempted to exert pressure on admissions committees on behalf of certain applicants. Or found sports teams to slot favored candidates onto, in order to get them the benefit of lower admissions criteria for athletes. And certain special cases got very special treatment.

Jared Kushner

Before he married Ivanka Trump and became a top adviser to the President, Jared Kushner was well-known for the rumors surrounding the circumstances of his admission to Harvard. Jared’s father, Charles, a New Jersey real-estate developer, donated $2.5 million to the college shortly before Jared applied. Officials at Jared’s high school told Golden that they were shocked he got in; his transcripts and test scores were unremarkable. And they were especially disappointed that he was admitted while his high-school classmates who were better-qualified on the merits got rejected.  

Kushner’s story is famous, but not unusual; Golden obtained a list of elite Harvard donors and found that most of them had gotten their kids admitted. And recent admissions data shows that nearly a third of the students admitted to Harvard are legacies.

That means that, while a quarter of Yalies got in with a 1430 or lower combined SAT score, only students who have some kind of hookup can get in with scores like that. The cutoff for students with no connections is at least a hundred points higher.

Regardless of the circumstances of his admission, Jared Kushner and all the rich kids who got in through the Ivy League’s VIP side-doors hold elite degrees, and students who earned high test scores but, for various reasons, ended up at lower-ranked colleges are, nonetheless, graduates of lower ranked colleges. And the fact that there is no context in which it is ever appropriate to talk about test scores tends to reinforce and preserve the status conferred by admissions regimes that favor elites.

Tests are the only objective admissions criteria

It’s distressing that too many of the most prominent voices defending the use of testing are far-right types like Molyneux who want to use tests to further some kind of racial agenda, because, over the last hundred years, tests have been a great driver of economic opportunity for marginalized groups.  Tests have become controversial; many progressives view them as inherently discriminatory, and hundreds of colleges have adopted test-optional admissions.  Detractors argue that tests were invented by eugenicists and perpetuate inequalities.  

But standardized tests are the only mechanism that allows students without connections to demonstrate themselves to be stronger candidates than the wealthy and connected. The implementation of the first standardized college admissions tests led to dramatic increases in Jewish and Catholic enrollment at elite universities that had historically been dominated by the Northeastern Protestant aristocracy. Over the last fifty years, the options opened up by high standardized test scores have fueled the success of Asian Americans, who now have a higher median level of educational attainment and a higher median household income than whites.

While detractors often argue that tests like the SAT measure nothing more than a student’s family income or ability to afford expensive test prep, the truth is that, while richer kids do better on average, most rich kids still don’t do that well; the average student from a family with an income above $200,000 per year still scores below 600 on each section.  

The wealthy have the best of every other metric in the admissions packet.  They have good grades; everybody has good grades. But their good grades come from famous private schools with storied reputations and longstanding status as “feeders” to the Ivies.  They have the best extracurricular activities money can buy.  They can pay consultants to help them polish their essays.

Rich people can also pay for fancy test prep, but their kids still have to take the same test everyone else does and be scored by the same computer, and be ranked according to objective criteria. It’s the only chance an outsider has to beat them.      

And while the wealthy and powerful manipulate admissions to their benefit under the current regime, test scores put a backstop on how much those mechanisms can be manipulated. Top schools like Yale and Harvard each have 25th percentile scores above 700 on each SAT section, which limits the number of mediocre rich kids they can admit, and they like to keep their 75th percentile scores at a perfect 800, which means they’ve got to admit a certain number of truly high-achievers.  The admissions cutoff is lower for legacies and athletes, but there’s still a cutoff.

There are thousands of rich kids and legacies with combined SATs below 1400 who elite schools have to reject to preserve those medians. In a world without testing — in the absence of an objective criteria that reveals who is stellar and who is mediocre — all those applicants would get in, while the achievements of striving students with no connections could be dismissed.

Why don’t we talk about scores?

It’s illegal in the United States for an employer to use an IQ test to rank job applicants; tests used in hiring which are likely to have a disparate impact on minorities have to measure skills directly related to job performance. But that can’t explain why there’s such a strong social taboo against talking about scores, and why an applicant who considers his scores to be a credential and wants to include them on a resume is presumed to be some kind of degenerate.

Surely it’s no coincidence that the only admissions criteria it’s taboo to discuss is the one that money can’t buy. Surely it’s no coincidence that the means by which undesirable minorities squeezed their way into elite spaces has become something that we’re supposed to treat as shameful. Surely it’s no coincidence that the one thing that reveals the mediocrity of the children of the rich and powerful has become taboo to talk about.


Daniel Friedman is the Edgar Award-nominated author of Don’t Ever Get Old, Don’t Ever Look Back and Riot Most Uncouth. Follow him on Twitter @DanFriedman81 


  1. Kurt says

    In the late 90s when I interviewed with several strategy consulting firms, they asked for SAT or GRE scores as part of the application materials. I remember noticing that one interviewer had circled my verbal score as an area of concern as it was in the 600s, even though I was completing a PhD in English at the time at a “Public Ivy.”

  2. Paul says

    This is a well-written and thought-provoking article, but I’m afraid the first sentence in the second-to-last paragraph is incorrect. It is not illegal for employers to select job candidates using cognitive ability tests. The only legal requirement is that if a given test shows disparate impact against a protected class, the employer must justify its use by demonstrating the job relevance of the test. This can be accomplished either through a judgment-based linkage of the test content to key job competencies (may not be suitable for the type of tests discussed in this piece) or evidence of a statistical correlation between scores on the test and an appropriate measure of job performance (absolutely suitable for the type of tests discussed in this piece).

    The relevant legal guidelines are available here:

    • El Cid says

      Disparate Impact analysis and burden shifting make it practically illegal to use aptitude tests and other requisites. IIRC, the Philadelphia Police Department couldn’t meet this burden for modest physical fitness requisites (something like running a mile in x where x was enough time to stroll the mile at a leisurely pace) due to disparate impacts inuring to the detriment of female and specifically black female candidates.

      An unadulterated IQ test is almost certainly going to cause problems in any number of predictable ways.

      • yandoodan says

        As someone who administered Affirmative Action for a law enforcement agency (a looong time ago, but still…) I can assure you that you have heard incorrectly. That is, Philly may well have included standard P.E. tests as part of their job qualifications, and that these sorts of tests have been invalidated for at least forty years.

        Women are, on an average, smaller than men. This is not a disqualification for police service. There are a lot of excellent police officers less than 5′ 9″ and 180 lb. Any job test that filters on this anyway is clearly discriminatory, even if unintentional. Intent is irrelevant in AA.

        Back in the day a state trooper agency got into trouble for requiring recruits to lift a certain weight, and ended up filtering out nearly all their women applicants. They switched it to pulling a bag the size and weight of a deer from a roadway. It worked.

        Affirmative Action does not require you to hire unqualified people. It requires you to not use irrelevant qualifications to filter out protected categories, and it doesn’t care if you did it because you are stupid instead of racist. This helps the agency, not hurt it.

    • Surge says

      Thanks for your informative reply. This would mean that IQ scores, and the SAT (a close proxy), could always be included. IQ measures by design the components of mental ability that are widely relevant across mental tasks.

    • EK says

      The amusing thing about Title VII § 703 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the decision in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) is that the law was enacted and the case was decided at a time when the US was drafting or inducting as many as 32,000 young men a month into the armed forces and their scores on the AFQT, an IQ test, were the sole determinant of what their military occupation would be.

      If you wanted to fly a plane, you needed a PIQ of 120; want to go to OCS, VIQ greater than 115. If you wanted to volunteer to be an infantryman, FSIQ at least 75 (in 1966, this was shaded down to 70 and that did not go so well).

      The Air Force and Navy had higher AFQT requirements than the Army and Marine Corps. On the ground in Viet Nam, the disparate impact of these requirements was obvious after 1967. It was common knowledge that by and large, your MOS (military occupational speciality) was a reliable proxy for your IQ.

  3. El Cid says

    Maybe a better question is why the rest of us are subsidizing country clubs for the kids of well-connected rich people in the first place?

    Also, the Ivy League nonsense has always been particularly infuriating because Ivy schools didn’t award merit-based scholarships – they’re almost engineered to practically exclude smart kids from middle class backgrounds.

    • Middle Class Kid At An Elite School says

      Elite schools (including Ivies) don’t award merit-based scholarships because practically everybody who isn’t Jared Kushner gets in on merit. Instead they all give need-based financial aid.

      I – and many of my middle-class peers – pay nothing or just enough to not have to take out loans for tuition.

      The merit-based scholarship I was offered at my state’s big school was very good but I still would have probably taken $30k out in loans after 4 years.

    • markbul says

      In what way are you subsidizing Harvard students?

      • Gonzo says

        Harvard and other non-profit universities do not pay taxes like private businesses do. When you consider that they do not pay property taxes, for example, you realize that they are subsidized by local homeowners and businesses who do pay taxes and whose taxes are often on the rise to pay for the local services needed to support the ever growing college town (roads, bridges, etc.). This is just one way non-profit colleges are subsidized by local taxpayers. When you then look at the fact that 50% (approx) of Princeton’s graduating class of 2006 (the last year they released such data-gee I wonder why) went into investment banking, finance or management consulting it becomes clear that taxpayers are subsidizing the careers of many individuals who end up making a great deal of money for themselves, with no obligation to give anything back to society that gave them so much. This is partially why, According to The New York Times, the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

  4. Tyler says

    There are already plenty of ways to signal very high IQ if that is your intended goal on a resume. Institution is only one way. Two of the most common are the academic discipline one majors in and their relative GPA in their major. Even better is some kind of relevant experience such as research, academic competition, organization membership, internship, academic honors etc.

    It is a red flag to put test scores on a resume for the simple reason that talented people have no room for such basic information on their resume. They can fill the resume with much higher quality signals. Those with only high test scores are most likely signaling intelligence, but also laziness and possibly the fact that they have “peaked in high school / college.” It’s not a taboo, it is a signal of a weak candidate with weak credentials.

    • Rob says

      I’m willing to grant you academic discipline, but GPA is significantly overshadowed by the perceived quality of the institution. A middling score from a top school is often given priority over a top score from an average school, simply because the average school is seen as ‘softer’.

      Your other suggestions are all signals that are easier to buy than earn, to an even greater extent than university admissions.

      Research and internship positions are notoriously nepotistic, and tend to require the financial means to work unpaid. Organisation membership is meaningless. Elite secondary and tertiary educational institutions funnel their students towards academic competitions on a scale that ‘lesser’ schools can’t begin to afford to compete with. And those same institutions hand out academic honours, titles and prizes like cheap Halloween candy. I should know, speaking as a former Prefect and Scholar, as well as President of half a dozen impressive sounding academic and sporting school clubs and associations.

    • ga gamba says

      … talented people have no room for such basic information on their resume.

      IQ: 136; MCAT: 526

      Gadzooks, you’re right. Look at how much room that’s taken on a CV.

      … it is a signal of a weak candidate with weak credentials.

      If that’s all the applicant presents that’s the case. Frankly, I’d want to know who received preferential admission by being a legacy, the child of a uni professor, or the niece of the Sultan of Brunei.

      • Tyler says

        It’s still wasted space. Might be ok to add scores on a comprehensive CV, but a resume highlights only the most important information. If the best you have to offer on your resume is a high IQ, it is probably going in the trash bin unless you are really young. In addition, an MCAT score is meaningful because most know who administers that test and its validity. There are so many poorly administered IQ tests today most people will just ignore it anyway.

        You can easily tell those “legacy” cases on a resume as well. Just looking at their name will tell you many times. Often the worst of those cases don’t even show up in the resume pile as those people have family jobs lined up for them through connections. I doubt someone like Kushner ever had to sit in a real job interview.

        • markbul says

          No, there are not poorly administered IQ tests. All intelligence tests – including the SAT – correlate with each other. Some jobs require at least a 120 IQ – that’s that. They require more, but they require a certain level of intelligence. No amount of denial will change that fact.

        • I hire young, unpleasant people with high IQs for difficult jobs, sorry boomers says

          > It’s still wasted space.

          Motivated reasoning right here, folks. Ten-page CVs list every lousy conference you’ve ever attended. One-page resumes include an interests section (“oh, you like wine tastings?”). The article shows that keeping test scores off can only possibly benefit people with good softs but bad scores. Good scores show talent better than good softs, which can be bought or faked.

          As a smart, formerly poor person myself, I thank God for standardized tests.

          Discriminating against smart kids because they weren’t groomed for Ivy admission is bad for those kids, bad for society and bad for my investors. It’s also bad for me, because hiring a glossy dolt on the basis that he attended an Ivy is likely to impede me in making my numbers. I straight up ask for test scores in interviews and it’s done a lot more for getting me good employees than asking if they went to pony camp or summered in the Hamptons.

          • ga gamba says

            I don’t disagree with you.

            My chief complaint about the public’s intrusion and interference (via the government) in the private realm is that it should be the business owner who decides to hire for good or bad. It’s his/her money and company at risk. If I want to staff my company with my nitwit relations, polo playing Argentinians, ex-Mormon furies, or the Fruit of Islam for no ‘legitimate’ reason that’s my choice. The consequences that befall me, if any, are mine to bear.

            Because this right to intrude and socially engineer has gone on for so long, it’s now normalised – even many on the right think it’s legitimate. This astounds me. We’ve created a bureaucratic class not only in government but also in private companies’ HR departments who simply exist to establish targets and monitor compliance. The knock-on effect is is now an entire industry of diversity consultants and lawyers who are nothing more than parasitic rent seekers.

  5. Sergio says

    I don’t understand why adding a test score to a resume would be a faux pas, especially if it’s relevant. It’s literally what graduate and professional schools use to determine admissions. Obviously it’s not the only metric used to extend an offer of admission, but one of many, which is how hiring managers should look at IQ scores.

    The biggest issue I see, is what organization is credible enough to accept IQ scores from.

  6. Pingback: Exams are more relevant than ever – Filling the pail

  7. Anon says

    Mensa used to offer a statement with IQ number.

  8. AG says

    “That means at least a quarter of Maryland students scored higher on at least one SAT section than at least a quarter of Yalies.”
    This is likely but doesn’t necessarily follow from the stats mentioned.

    • Walter says

      You sure? If 1/4 of Maryland has 750 or better math and 1/4 of Harvard has 720 or worse math, doesn’t the author’s statement follow?

  9. We are not allowed to talk about intelligence, IQ, etc. for the simple reason that it runs counter to the egalitarian myth. Some people are simply less intelligent than other people and even more dangerous some groups are more intelligent than others. You can dismiss that as “far right” thinking but it is something that anyone with any experience in the world knows to be true.

  10. stephen buhner says

    I have long struggled with the social difficulties of mentioning IQ scores. My IQ tested at 183 yet i was schooled in a time when it was considered more healthy to children to “mainstream” them, that is, to not share with them their IQ scores and to keep the “gifted” in regular classes so they could socialize better. It wasn’t until I was accepted by Mensa that I realized there was a reason i had spent my school years bored out of my mind. While there are many legitimate arguments about IQ tests, IQ scores do measure something. For much of my life I have felt as if I am a gifted 7 foot basketball player who cannot mention my height. Like income, IQ scores are under social pressure to remain secret. As Sido mentioned, i do think it has something to do with the egalitarian myth, still, there is a reason that one of Mensa’s main thrusts has been to constantly offer tests to children, that is, to actively try and prevent children with high IQs from living with the existential disconnect and internal psychological disruption that comes from a social sequestering of their mental giftedness.

    • Robert Paulson says

      As “gifted” as you may be, it seems that by crowing on about how superior you are relative to others, you might be “socially sequestering” yourself. And Mensa is just a club, what have you actually done that is deserving of respect? (Gracing us with your presence doesn’t count).

      Some humility and grace are in order: you got lucky and won the genetic lottery. Had you had different parents you might have ended up with an IQ of 83 working at WalMart. You should be thankful for what you have instead of whining about how inferior everybody else is.

      • stephen buhner says

        funny, you just made the point of the egalitarian myth while not paying attention to my points, well done.

      • Brooke Weese says

        You seem to have shown us the reason one might be reticent about revealing his IQ: people with lesser scores will be hostile, perhaps because they are made to feel inferior.

      • Simon MCMLXXX says

        “You should be thankful for what you have” Isn’t his point rather that because of the way things played out, he has needlessly struggled, when all along he could have excelled and We as a whole could have prospered? It is surely a mistake to see this topic purely in the context of what the individual gains for themselves rather than what they have to offer the world.

  11. Jack B. Nimble says

    Suppose that 1 of 23 seniors at Slack Water High School go on to college. We could say that 4.347826% of the seniors went on to college–that would be correct in a mathematical sense but it implies a degree of precision that just isn’t present in the raw numbers. It would be more correct to say that the percentage is approximately 4% and to ignore the decimal places that are just an artifact of floating-point arithmetic.

    Likewise IQ, GRE, SAT, GPA, etc. numbers for a student can also imply more precision than is really there. Apart from requiring students to take achievement tests twice [true replication], about the only way to address the precision question is to use pseudo-replication methods, which are part of every statistician’s tool kit.

    Why don’t testing firms and universities report a measure of sampling variance along with the average GPA or score for each student? I don’t know, but I wonder sometimes if the sampling variances would be so large as to undercut the validity or repeatability of the average or aggregate value per student.

    Note: I have talked about precision rather than accuracy, because the accuracy of, e.g., IQ tests depends on whether the test is actually measuring intelligence, which is a completely different question.

    Bottom line-averages without variances should always be viewed skeptically.

    • Richard says

      I’m pretty sure the usual educational aptitude tests include error bars or something like that. For instance, College Board says the total SAT score should be viewed as +/- 40, giving an 80 point range. Something similar is done with the GRE, and I’m pretty sure with most of these tests. I’m pretty sure it is standard psychometric practice.

      As for test reliability, these tests generally have very high reliability. In individual cases, you might see a dramatic change between test administrations, but they would be relatively rare.

  12. Edward says

    Excellent piece. The taboo is laughable, given that the general factor of intelligence (g), as measured by IQ tests, is the single best predictor of job performance. Failing to test the IQ of prospective employees costs the US economy many billions of dollars a year.

    Bill Gates knew this well. As he said in 2005: “Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future.” In an interview with the WSJ, he stated: It’s all about IQ. You win with IQ. Our only competition for IQ is the top investment banks.”

    The article is also spot-on that IQ testing expands opportunity as opposed to diminishing it. That was why the SAT was introduced in the first place. This was also illustrated well in a recent study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that the proportion of Black, Hispanic and low-income children in gifted programs increased when universal IQ testing was introduced, relative to when admissions to the gifted programs were based on teacher recommendation.


  13. Shenme Shihou says

    “It’s distressing that too many of the most prominent voices defending the use of testing are far-right types like Molyneux who want to use tests to further some kind of racial agenda”

    I dont think Molyneux is trying to further a racial agenda. I dont remeber the name, but Maolyneux had a IQ scientist on his show recently who did argue that while IQ was heretible to a large degree (up to 70% maybe?) other factors were involved. I dont think he mentioned race once.

    Moreso, I read the link to the Guardian used as the source for the claim that Molyneux is pushing a racial agenda. Its written by a Political Scientist who claims that the science behind IQ heretability has been debunked. There are no footnotes in the artile to track why he makes such a claim.

    Likewise, his own claims about IQ heretability have been called into question.

    I dont know a lot about IQ science, but I really dont get the impression that Molyneux is trying to push a racial agenda.

    • Jessica says

      Molyneux does discuss why he is so interested in the topic on the Rubin Report. It is not to push a “white supremecy” agenda at all.

  14. SkipTownCPA says

    “…most employers will assume that applicant is likely to be smarter than someone who attended a less prestigious school” and, depending on the business, better connected and more apt to enhance its bottom line.

  15. Caligula says

    This article makes me think of the joke about someone who, running for a bus that’s about to leave, wishes it were possible to teleport to the bus stop. For if one could teleport, why not just teleport to where one wishes to go?

    The author points out that the Ivy degree is not a perfect honest signal, in part due to rule-bending done to admit “legacies” and to achieve diversity goals. Yet the corruption doesn’t/can’t stop there, as there’s little point in admitting students if these special admits then fail to graduate.

    And so the corruption must extend beyond mere grade-inflation to a general reduction in academic rigor. And indeed, although it’s certainly still possible to find academically rigorous courses, professors have inexorably watered-down requirements to pass- by reducing (sometimes to zero!) what students must read, for example. Much of which is at least imperfectly discussed in Richard Arum’s book, “Academically Adrift.” Which asks the oft-ignored question, “are undergraduates really learning anything?”

    Education itself has become widely available at little or no cost, at least for those who are highly motivated to obtain it (for example, MIT has had much of its courseware available online for years). Yet educational credentials remain shockingly costly. And increasingly of questionable quality as an honest signal of knowledge and ability.

    An obvious(?) alternative to costly seat-time (aka credit-hours) as a requirement for a degree would be subject-specific comprehensive exams. Let students learn by doing the seat-time if they wish, or by whatever means they choose. And then require that they prove their learning via comprehensive, well-proctered exams.

    Of course, there will remain subjects (e.g., nursing) that require hands-on education, and technical fields often benefit from labwork. But that only points to the use of a hybrid model that includes (but is not limited to) on-campus learning.

    Higher ed. is overdue for massive , disruptive reform, as it costs far too much and, especially regarding undergraduate education, often accomplishes far too little.

    Of course, this disruptive reform may well come first to countries such as India or China which don’t yet have the massive public and private investment in the present system. For today’s massive higher ed. apparat surely will not go gently into that good night. And, in fighting reform, accreditation standards and organizations will bring massive resources to bear against all but the most superficial reforms.

    Nonetheless, if a thing can’t continue then it won’t. And higher ed. can’t just keep getting more costly every year even as it delivers less value.

    Of course, there will always be more to evaluating a potential employee than raw aptitude scores, even if these have significant predictive value. In the words of our 30th president (USA),

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

  16. Coolius Caesar says

    1) Molyneux isn’t “right wing”. Just because he has certain views on IQ and race doesn’t mean he’s right wing. His views on IQ and race are at least based in some degree of science, he has a whole series where he interviews people knowledgeable in the field. Out side of just smearing him as “right wing” what do you have?
    2) No, molyneux is not enacting some racial agenda. If Molyneux is “wrong” for being “right-wing” than surely citing The Guardian as a source should come with an enormous asterisk concerning their brazen leftist bias.

    • asdf says

      If IQ differences are true and pragmatically unchangeable, it threatens the justification behind a large number of progressive policies and laws because it means they are at best useless and at worst actively harmful and unjust.

      It also impacts the social power of progressives. As many of them retort, “if this is true then white people won’t feel as guilty.” If progressives can’t use guilt as a weapon anymore, they will have less power over others. Guilt is used in lieu of logic or results to justify the progressive state of affairs.

      Basically, progressives are doing a lot of bad stuff because it increases their power and makes them feel good, but its all based on a lie. So the lie must be maintained. Questioning this is right wing because it would diminish the power of leftists.

      • SkipTownCPA says


        If IQ differences are true and pragmatically unchangeable…

        I believe the “Flynn effect,” mentioned repeatedly in the Harris-Klein dust up and not refuted by anyone, belies that premise.

        • asdf says


          Honestly, go google the research on the Flynn effect if you actually want to know the truth. This isn’t a huge ask if you actually care. This is such a commonly debunked argument I can only assume bad intentions and/or massive laziness on your part.

          • SkipTownCPA says

            It appears none of the first page links associated with “flynn effect and race” support your assertion. But feel free to associate no further effort on my part to massive laziness and peripheral interest. Any link you might provide, however, I’d be happy to read.

          • SkipTownCPA says

            Hmm. It seems the HTML tag didn’t work as I expected, so just google “flynn effect and race.” Sorry about that.

          • SkipTownCPA says

            OH, and you can ignore the Vox stuff as I did.

  17. asdf says

    Employers with very high IQ requirements do find ways to test for it (see Silicon Valley). There has always been a difference in emphasis for IQ between the west coast tech sector and the “paper belt” of finance/law (DC-BOS).

    Most jobs don’t REQUIRE top tier IQs (say 3SD+). Usually anything around 2 SD is “good enough” for all roles outside the ultra technical, even 1SD can be ok in certain instances. At that point things like conscientiousness, personal skills, social network, etc are more useful in terms of performance.

    It’s important to remember that power and success peak around 2 SD (nobel prizes and genius inventors may be different, but I’m talking ‘rulers’ here). There is a larger population at that level so you can choose people with high degrees of those other talents. There is also the 2 SD communication problem. Namely that we can only communicate well with people within 1 SD and communicate ok with people that are 2 SD away. Anything more and you might as well be talking to an ape (or your the ape for someone +2SD above you). 2 SD is right around the sweet spot for being smart enough to run organizations and being able to communicate and understand most people.

    I would also point out that companies don’t just want smart people. They want smart people that will toe the line. Making smart people jump through lots of hoops proves their not going to rock the boat. Letting a smart person who is in a loose cannon into your organization is a threat, not an asset. Most of these organizations are running some kind of scam or monopoly. You want the kid who dutifully did what his professors said even when it was nonsense, not the one that skipped all that and might become a whistleblower or competitor.

  18. Mick says

    I believe that if you brag on your SAT/GRE/etc scores, and the scores are v high, the net impact on your success may be positive despite everything everyone is saying here. Sure, some people will think “Hmm, that’s kind of in poor taste.” On the other hand, most CVs contain a few things that will strike any given reader to be in poor taste. A sophisticated hirer is going to take the test scores pretty seriously–more predictive than references, what school you went to, etc.

    The biggest problem is verification. The HR department of any large firm will not verify the test scores, and I’m not sure ETS itself will provide scores to anyone besides academic institutions. So the hirer would have to trust you. Some might, others wouldn’t.

  19. OleK says

    The panic over IQ stores seems way overblown. As both Jordan Peterson recently mentioned in a podcast (maybe with Ben Shapiro?) and asdf above, while IQ is the BEST predictor of success, it is not the ONLY predictor.

    The narrative needs to be changed to emphasize other traits mentioned – supported best by the POTUS 30 quote above by Caligula.

  20. Robert Paulson says

    If social justice types and progressives were serious about dealing with inequality, they would do well to acknowledge differences in intelligence and ability since these underlie much of the economic and social inequality we see. If we are concerned with the welfare of all people in our society, denying differences in ability and intelligence will only lead to resentment and destructive social policy that tear at the social fabric in an attempt to eradicate that which is biologically instantiated.

    We don’t have to deny differences in ability and intelligence to think about a more just society. The question becomes how to create a society in which everybody has a way to contribute, even if only in a small way. The contributions don’t have to be equal, but just meaningful enough for people to feel valuable.

    The question for the meritocrats is this: do you want to live in in a society where large segments of the population are essentially rendered useless through automation and who are relegated to a meaningless existence of video and drug addiction? If not, then we should find ways to structure the economy in such a way as to make these people economically productive, even if that means sacrificing efficiency gains that could be realized through greater automation.

    Self-driving cars seem to me like an innovation that is likely to produce tremendous gains in efficiency, but those gains are going to be distributed upwards to the owners of the companies that employ the new technologies. Millions of jobs could be lost – jobs that support families and in turn the social order. Sorry, I know a lot of people on this site will disagree with me, but at some point economic liberalism begins to corrode the underlying society and when that happens, the good of the society needs to take precedent over the good of the economy. (And don’t give me some variation on the “all productivity gains are good for everybody” argument. The results of the last 40 years of globalization should have dispelled such utopianism).

  21. Walter says

    If you want to get hired, you need to put:

    IQ: Just a smidgen less than the person reading this resume.

  22. Greensleeves says

    IQ or test scores tell you about potential, but not actual achievement. Employers are more interested in whether you can actually deliver.

    Plenty of people do not live up to their potential, for a variety of reasons, including lack of discipline, or motivation or character, or because their lousy personality traits interfere with any chance of achievement, etc.

    A less intelligent person with more motivation or discipline can in fact be a superior employee to one with just high IQ.

  23. X. Citoyen says

    The author seems to have lost sight of the purpose of IQ and aptitude tests. Psychometrics has value in selection processes when knowledge of candidates is low and investment in them is high. Testing is invaluable to universities and militaries because they recruit young people with little formal education or relevant experience, and they spend a lot of time and money training them. Both institutions need a way of determining who can do what and who will succeed.

    But the cognitive sorting has already taken place by the time people reach the job market, which is why aptitude tests and IQ scores have no practical value in differentiating candidates in real-world selection processes. The difference in IQ between, say, two chemical engineers will be too small (and therefore too unreliable) to predict their success on the job because the chemical engineering degree already performed the cognitive testing and sorting. Even when all other things are equal, choosing the candidate you like is probably a more reliable predictor of success than choosing the candidate who scored five or ten points higher on an IQ test. And this is the real reason test scores and IQs don’t belong on resumes: The recruiter already knows what it is.

    As for the other issue, I’m having trouble getting excited over the small number of legacy admissions at Ivy League universities. They’re private institutions (in theory at least), and they were built by their wealthy donors. Legacy admissions seem to fall into the category of necessary evils.

    Besides, the nepotism dilemma keeps things in balance. Both the institutions and their donors have a vested interest in keeping nepotism to a minimum (= high-priced and rare) and poor performers out altogether. If Harvard’s entire student population became halfwits whose parents bought their way in, the institution would soon lose a reputation worth paying for. Come to that, I’d be surprised if a cost-benefit analysis did not show that a small level of big-money nepotism was an overall benefit to the institution and its students.

    One more thing worth bearing in mind. Kids whose parents have the money to buy their way into Harvard aren’t taking any benefit beyond the prestige. The progeny of multi-billionaires do not use their Harvard degrees to out-rank middle-class state school grads in engineering competitions at Acme, Inc. They get Daddy to buy Acme, Inc. and make them CEO.

  24. John says

    Political correctness aside, I have to wonder if there might not be unintended consequences if this becomes acceptable. For example, job applicants would then have a serious external incentive to be able to report higher IQ scores than they actually have, and psychologists would have to give IQ tests knowing that it would directly affect their patients’ career prospects. It seems like this might debauch the utility and reliability of IQ testing.

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  26. Funny but (way) back in the day I’d ask interviewees for the SAT scores.

    Being an ordinary 99th percentile guy, I considered scores more important than degrees.

  27. KD says

    I am a Yale graduate, and my strong impression from watching local admissions and reading my alumni magazine is that legacy in and of itself cuts no ice with Yale (or the other Ivies) these days. The fact that a relatively high percentage of any Ivy’s class are alumni children almost certainly has more to do with the fact that those children have benefited from the drive, income and heritable IQ of their parents rather than the legacy factor in and of itself.

    As for the superrich, any parent, alum or not, willing to make a large donation to a college is going to have his or her thumb on the scale when it comes to that child’s admission decision. For a small liberal arts school that needs funds, I have some sympathy even if I don’t like it. For places like Yale or Harvard, which have a $27 billion and $36 billion endowment respectively, there is no excuse.

  28. NickG says

    It’s true that being very smart and scoring very well on the SAT is the only way most people can have a chance of getting into an Ivy League school

    Being a person of hue helps alot too.

  29. There’s an assumed hostility for ‘rich kids’, and the case against Jared Kushner doesn’t hold much water. Instead of actual scores/grades, classmates’ impressions are offered. Why not use Barak Obama? There are no scores/grades available in his case either. Rich kid or poor kid, legacy or affirmative action, the ones who truly qualify are probably about 50%. And the qualifying standards are being redrawn regularly. Scores count less than personal essays. And diversity trumps all standards as it is now the highest standard.
    Last week NYC mayor DeBlasio announced changing admissions to specialised high schools (Stuyvesant, Bklyn Tech, Bx Science) to ‘desegregate’ them. They have a large percentage of Asian students and very small amount of black & hispanic.

  30. JustSomeGuy says

    I was a docile, friendly, and bookish kid, but also “gifted” (according to gov’t testing). I also happened to be born into an incredibly dysfunctional family. Long story short, I turned into a depressed, nihilistic, and cynical delinquent in my teens and didnt think I’d live to be 25, due to suicide or getting myself killed somehow. Let’s just say that a formal education wasnt in the cards for me.

    But I eventually moved away from that life due to pure luck, and now I honestly think it’s a tiny miracle that I’m not in prison or dead.

    I then managed to squeak into a gov’t position as a temp, and because I’m a friendly and hard-working fellow (and sharp), I got moved up the chain as far as my immediate managers could move me. However, I’m now butting up against HR because of my lack of credentials, and it’s resulting in embarrassing scenarios where I’m being removed from positions and responsibilities after the fact, even though I excel and produce remarkable results.

    I understand that creds matter, and HR can’t let what appears to be a goon (me, on paper) get promoted because it might seem like nepotism, but I just want to highlight amongst all this talk of elite-vs-standard education and IQ that there are actually “smart” people all around you no formal education at all.

    I would never mention my 150+ IQ on my resume, or even in polite company because it’s considered crass, but for someone like me, it’s all I got.

    Just my 2 cents, food for thought, I love this website, and appreciate all the commentators contributions because I find them incredibly insightful. 🙂

    • JustSomeGuy says

      Gah! Those typos! Blame it on my phone, or me being in a bar right now, or the fact that I didnt finish high school.. Take your pick. 🙂

  31. Skittishness regarding IQ also hurts racial minorities and low-income children. Various studies have shown that universal IQ testing helps more underrepresented students get into gifted and talented programs than the traditional teacher referral system.

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