I remembered before graduating from the university taking a Simon-Binet test which is an IQ test of some sort as a requirement to graduate. I never took it seriously but only to comply the remaining signatures for my university clearance. I got 139 which, according to the person who interpreted the result, is pretty high.
I totally forgot about this until this evening when we visited a house of a Vietnamese family to do the customary Tet visits during the start of the lunar new year.
The conversation, as parents are wont to have, was about about their children, how their children are performing in school, tips on how to raise a model child, and plans for their children’s future. These included sending them abroad to study, enrolling them in an English center to make them proficient in the language, and finding the best school in Hanoi in case they fail to qualify the entrance exam for schools abroad.
Their son, a boy of fourteen, all of a sudden asked me if I already took an IQ exam and what my score was. I blurted 139. He gave me an incredulous look and said that it’s too high. He then added, in halting English, that he only got 114 which is the highest in his class. To test whether I am telling the truth, he asked me if I can answer two problems. I said, why not? I expected he would give me a number series, which I know I am bad at. And indeed they were number series; one was a pyramid with several blanks and five given numbers. I had to look for the rule as well as fill in the blanks with the correct number. The next, which was the more difficult of the two, was a number series where I had to find the next three series following a certain pattern that I had to figure out.
I failed to answer both. Of course.
In a transitioning society like Vietnam where education is the primary means for a family to experience upward social mobility, the children’s performance in school is the ultimate if not the only gauge for education and, it follows, intelligence. The IQ test result, most of them believe, is a quantifiable proof, aside from grades received in class, of the student’s potential to be successful in life. It has direct proportionality – the higher the IQ result the greater is the probability of success.
This often places pressure on children to be very serious in their studies, perform well in class, and pass the entrance exams of the best universities in Vietnam and abroad. Because of this, children have to take extra classes in Mathematics, English, and Science.
The look the boy gave me after I said, “I don’t think I am capable of answering it”, might have been the same look parents give to their children after finding out that their sons or daughters failed to pass the entrance exam of a school in Singapore or the US or got a mediocre result in the exam.
I don’t remember my parents being so concerned with their children’s IQ results. We studied hard, during our time, on our own volition. We knew the value of education but we never forgot to play and to enjoy our childhood. I got the top honors since my first grade in elementary until I graduated from college but this did not make me the favorite child of my parents. I was given the same love and treated in the same way as my other five siblings.
The IQ test I took before I finished university might have been a flawed one, I suppose. For indeed, 139 is way up high. Or my intelligence might have slid to a downward slope. I can only give endless reasons.
But what constitutes intelligence? What makes an educated man? What are the parameters for success?
I don’t have any concrete answers to the questions I posted above, for now. I’m thinking of taking another IQ exam one of these days if only to verify the result of my previous test. But I may not have enough time for it. Nor am I so concerned whether the result is 150 or 50.
It does not matter. I just want to be average.