Ask a Nerd! “IQ vs SAT”

Question: There are so many different types of tests these days and I’m getting confused. Some schools and accelerated programs require an intelligence test but I’m already taking achievement tests. What’s the difference between the IQ and SAT test and why do I have to take both?


Brief: An intelligence test (IQ test) measures a person’s intellectual potential. An achievement test measures what they have learned and comprehended over time.


You are right, there are so many tests that students have to take these days. Almost every student will take multiple achievement tests throughout secondary school and post-secondary school. Achievement tests, often called standardized tests, measure what a student has achieved academically thus far. Many incredibly intelligent students don’t happen to do well on standardized tests while, on the other hand, some students happen to test well but may not fully understand the concepts or formulas behind the test (READ: “A Timeline Study Guide for the SAT“). This is a common frustration amongst many high school juniors and seniors studying for their college entrance exams. When it comes to an achievement test, the bottom line is that it is meant to test how well a student has understood their English and math classes and whether or not that student can demonstrate the knowledge that they have learned.

Multiple standardized tests

There are multiple standardized tests other than the college entrance exams that measure more than just the student’s success. Tests that are taken in elementary and middle school are also meant to measure the achievements of the teachers in a particular school or school district as well as the school district overall. Districts that do not receive high test scores may be identified as needing improvement. Districts that can display high student test scores across the board may be given an award. Some of these tests may also affect the amount of funding a specific school receives from the government.

And intelligence test or IQ test is meant to measure the potential of an individual. Educational scholars have various opinions on the validity of IQ tests; some feel that they are excellent and provide accurate results while others ignore them completely. One thing that many educational scholars do agree on is that it is best to give an IQ test to a very young child in order to get accurate results (READ: “Emotional IQ vs. Intellectual IQ“). Adults and teens may already have too much understanding of the world around them in order to receive an accurate score. Nonetheless, some private middle schools and high schools require that an entering student take an IQ test. In addition, students who have been identified as appropriate for GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) in the public school system may be asked to take an IQ test as supporting evidence of their ability to achieve in such a program – our Orange County GATE testing tutors are here to help.

Why do I have to take both?

This brings us to your second question: Why do I have to take both? There’s no specific reason why you have to take both other than that you are required to. If you’re applying to a private school or to a GATE program, then you must take the test in order to enroll in the school or enter the program. Almost every student will ask their teacher, tutor, or parents why they must take the SAT or ACT. Unfortunately, the answer is very simple but is generally not acceptable to most students who are feeling overwhelmed: It’s required – (READ: “ACT Tips From a Private Irvine Tutor“). I recommend not thinking too much about this and simply viewing standardized tests as a small hurdle that you need to jump over in order to attend college or university. Once you are done with your various standardized tests you can forget about them all together and enjoy higher education in a classroom or research environment. Of course, students who wish to attend graduate school will need to take the GRE at a minimum. But don’t worry about this now; that’s a good four to six years away.

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