What Is a Genius IQ Score?

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People often talk about very high IQ scores, often referred to as genius IQ scores, but what exactly do these numbers mean and how do they stack up?

Are people in the "Genius IQ" bracket really that much better off than those in the "High IQ" or even the "Average IQ" brackets? Are geniuses more successful than their lower-IQ counterparts? Some experts suggest that other factors, including emotional intelligence, might matter even more than IQ.

What Is an Average IQ Score?

An average IQ score is between 85 and 115. 68% of IQ scores fall within one standard deviation of the mean. That means that the majority of people have an IQ score between 85 and 115.

IQ Scores
Illustration by Joshua Seong. © Verywell, 2018. 

A Breakdown of IQ Scores

The average score on an IQ test is 100. These labels are often given for IQ scores:

  • 1 to 24: Profound mental disability
  • 25 to 39: Severe mental disability
  • 40 to 54: Moderate mental disability
  • 55 to 69: Mild mental disability
  • 70 to 84: Borderline mental disability
  • 85 to 114: Average intelligence
  • 115 to 129: Above average or bright
  • 130 to 144: Moderately gifted
  • 145 to 159: Highly gifted
  • 160 to 179: Exceptionally gifted
  • 180 and up: Profoundly gifted

Understanding IQ Scores

IQ scores follow what is known as the bell curve. To understand what the score on an IQ test means, there are a few key terms that you should know.

  • Bell Curve: When IQ scores are plotted on a graph, they typically follow a bell-shaped curve. The peak of the "bell" occurs where the majority of the scores lie. The bell then slopes down to each side; one side represents lower than average scores and the other side represents scores that are above the average. 
  • Mean: The mean is the average score. The average is calculated by adding all of the scores together, then dividing by the total number of scores.
  • Standard Deviation: This is a measure of variability in a population. A low standard deviation means that most of the data points are very close to the same value. A high standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be very spread out from the average. In IQ testing, the standard deviation is plus or minus 15.

What IQ Scores Really Mean

What exactly constitutes a genius score on a measure of intelligence? To understand the score, it is important first to learn a little more about IQ testing in general.

Today's intelligence tests are based largely on the original test devised in the early 1900s by French psychologist Alfred Binet. To identify students in need of extra assistance in school, the French government asked Binet to devise a test that could be used to discover which students were most in need of academic help.

Based on his research, Binet developed the concept of mental age. Children of certain age groups quickly answered certain questions. Some children were able to respond to the questions typically answered by children of an older age, so these children had a higher mental age than their actual chronological age. Binet's measure of intelligence was based on the average abilities of children of a particular age group.

Intelligence tests are designed to measure a person's problem-solving and reasoning abilities. Your IQ score is a measure of fluid and crystallized intelligence. Your score on an IQ test indicates how well you did on these tests of mental abilities compared to other people in your age group.

What IQ Tests Measure

Logic, spatial awareness, verbal reasoning, and visual abilities are some of the key areas assessed by many IQ tests. They are not intended to measure knowledge in specific subject areas like the SAT and ACT tests focus on.

An IQ test is not something that you can really study for in order to improve your score. Instead, these tests are more interested in looking at your ability to use logic to solve problems, to recognize patterns, and to make rapid connections between different points of information.

While you might often hear that brilliant individuals, including Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking, possessed IQs of 160 or higher, or that certain presidential candidates have specific IQs, these numbers are simply estimates.

In most of these cases, there is no evidence that these well-known individuals ever took a standardized IQ test, let alone shared these results with the public.

IQ Scores Are Increasing

IQ scores have also increased with passing generations. This is known as the Flynn effect, named for researcher James R. Flynn.

Since the 1930s when standardized tests first became widespread, researchers have noted a sustained and significant increase in test scores among people all over the world. Flynn has suggested that this increase is due to improvements in our abilities to solve problems, think abstractly, and utilize logic.

In a 2013 TED Talk, Flynn explained that past generations largely had to deal with the concrete and specific problems of their immediate environments. In contrast, people today are expected to think more about abstract and hypothetical situations. Not only that, but approaches to education have changed dramatically over the past 75 years and more people tend to have jobs identified as cognitively demanding.

A Word From Verywell

IQ tests are indeed interesting, but it's important to remember that they are not the only measurement of intelligence. They focus on certain areas of our abilities and, while they do point to how smart a person may be academically, there are areas in life that someone may be better at than others. 

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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