Online IQ Tests: Accurate & Reliable?

Here’s everything to know about online IQ tests being accurate and reliable:

It really depends on the test. 

Good online IQ tests tend to get consistent results even when the same person takes them several years apart. 

Bad online IQ tests provide a number that may mean very little if anything. 

If you want a good measure of your IQ, you should look for tests conducted by active researchers.

So if you want to learn all about how accurate and reliable online IQ tests are exactly, then this article is for you.

Keep reading!

Online IQ Tests: How Accurate & Reliable? (All the Info)

What Is IQ?

IQ, or intelligence quotient, is a scientific approach to trying to measure a person’s ability to process information and make successful decisions in a given framework.

For anyone looking for a simpler explanation, it’s an attempt to measure how people think. 

A lot of people would say that IQ measures intelligence (since it’s in the name), but that’s not quite right. 

Intelligence can be defined in a lot of ways. IQ is trying to be more specific. 

It’s trying to measure (rather than grade) how people think about situations in order to solve problems.

Because of this, IQ tests are quite varied, since they aren’t all trying to measure the exact same aspects of thinking or problem-solving. 

You can also get pretty different scores on various IQ tests. 

Most of all, IQ isn’t a strong predictor of human behavior in a lot of cases.

One of the reasons IQ was developed was to try to figure out who could and couldn’t successfully manage wartime tasks. 

Since then, the concept has evolved and methods have developed, but the original purpose was to predict how people would do in certain tasks. 

While IQ can be used for that, the years of study have taught us that IQ alone isn’t a great predictor. 

Instead, it’s one piece of a much larger puzzle that is studied by psychologists, neurologists, and other researchers and professionals.

How Does IQ Scoring Work?

The most important thing to understand about IQ is that it is a statistical comparison of all of the people who take the test. 

In order to get meaningful results from an IQ test, you need a lot of participants, and you can then use the scores to compare the participants.

While there is some variance among IQ tests and how they score, a general convention has arisen, and it’s based on a statistical distribution. 

Anyone familiar with normal distributions will appreciate that 100 is the center of the curve with a standard deviation of 15.

For those who aren’t invigorated by the thought of doing statistics, the average IQ score for most tests is 100. 

On top of that, the expectation is that around two-thirds of participants will score somewhere between 85 and 115 on an IQ test.

The number 15 matters here. 

With a good IQ test, every 15 points above or below 100 is meaningful. 

So, if you’re trying to use the test to try to find someone with very strong problem-solving skills, a score above 130 is a good indicator. 

Roughly 95% of participants will score below 130 on a valid IQ test.

How Do IQ Tests Work? (4 Categories)

I keep mentioning this idea of good IQ tests. 

It’s an important concept because there have been successful IQ tests. 

In fact, there are plenty of good tests that are accurate and reliable. 

There are even more bad tests that don’t give meaningful results at all. 

I’m going to explain how to tell the tests apart.

One important component of all of this is knowing more about how the tests work. 

What are they really measuring, specifically? 

The truth is that you can try to measure any thought process with an IQ test if you put enough research and planning into it. 

So a lot of IQ tests are trying to get results for things like critical thinking, creative problem solving, language processing, and more.

But, there are specific aspects of the test that pop up a lot more commonly. 

In the majority of good IQ tests, you’ll find four components: 

  • Spatial reasoning
  • Math
  • Language
  • Memory

When these four skills are combined into a total IQ, it tends to provide the best results for predicting cognitive skills.

So, if the military is trying to figure out who is mentally fit for battle, or a med school is trying to see who should qualify for admittance, this type of IQ test is going to be more useful than more specialized tests.

#1 Spatial

Spatial reasoning tests your ability to see and understand shapes and their relationships. 

So, physical puzzles are great for testing spatial reasoning. 

If you can visualize the components and the final shape well, you’ll have an easier time assembling a three-dimensional puzzle.

In IQ tests, spatial reasoning tests are often based on the concept of visualization. 

The test question will usually provide a picture for the question and different pictures for the answer. 

Your ability to visualize and then manipulate the images in your mind will determine how well you do.

If that’s a little vague, check out a few examples.

As you can see, the tests are all about moving pictures around in your head to figure out which answer is correct.

#2 Math

Math tests are exactly what they sound like. 

Math tests often involve pure logic, which is useful for measuring critical thinking skills. 

You’re provided all of the information necessary to solve a problem. 

If you can leverage logic correctly, you will arrive at the correct answer.

On IQ tests, math sections are often catered to age or grade level. 

The expectation is that a six-year-old hasn’t developed as many math skills as an adult, so the problems should probably be less rigorous. 

Regardless, all math questions on an IQ test should be rooted in logic.

#3 Language

Language test questions probe an entirely different avenue of the brain

These tests are quite varied. 

Some aspects of a language test will focus on your understanding of individual words and their meanings (similar to SAT questions if you ever took that test). 

Other language tests focus more on communication and completing sentences in the ways that are the most reasonable.

You can try a sample language test to get a feel for some of the different ways language shows up.

#4 Memory

Memory tests aren’t about your ability to remember everything in your life. These tests usually give you a short amount of time to memorize images. 

Then, the test asks specific questions about the images. 

Memory tests can also involve numbers, colors, words, or anything else the test maker deems appropriate.

The idea is to test a person’s ability to absorb new information in useful ways.

What Goes Into an IQ Test?

The primary component of a good IQ test is research. 

Trying to compare the cognitive functions of different human beings is difficult. 

People are wildly different from each other, so building a scientific, mathematical measurement system of intelligence is no small task.

For a good IQ test, there are two things you should really look for: 

  • Research 
  • Statistics 

If the test isn’t built by professional researchers trying to accomplish a specific task, it’s probably not a very good test. 

Similarly, IQ measurements require a lot of statistical treatments. 

If the test makers aren’t explaining their statistical methods, they probably aren’t legitimate.

Just look at the idea of cultural factors on an IQ test to get a taste of how difficult this process really is.

Controlling for Cultural Factors

Culture matters a lot for an IQ test, and it’s easy to understand if you think about it. 

If an American takes an IQ test in France, they probably won’t do very well. 

For starters, you have a language barrier. 

Language is a quarter of a typical IQ test. 

If you’re not fluent in the test language, you won’t do well on that section.

But aside from language barriers are cultural barriers. 

Some shapes are a part of common symbology in some cultures and not others. 

For instance, can you spot the difference between a Star of David and a pentagram at a glance? 

For some cultures, that’s a lot easier than others, and that’s just one shape.

Good IQ tests have to take culture into account, and as a test maker, that’s not easily accomplished.

More than that, culture is only one way that people are different. 

Age matters. 

Education matters (especially for vocabulary-based language questions or math problems). 

Even the testing conditions (at home on your computer vs in a school) can impact results. 

Good researchers have to account for all of it.

How Do You Know Whether an IQ Test Is Reliable? (2 Ways)

Here’s the bottom line. 

If you really want to know whether an online IQ test is reliable, you look at two things. 

Who made the test? 

How are the results compared?

#1 Judge the Creator

I keep harping on this. 

IQ tests are made by professional researchers. 

So, you should be able to follow the paper trail and see who is credited for the research. 

If you can’t, then it’s safe to assume the IQ test isn’t very good. 

Now, there might be some good tests out there that don’t visibly credit their researchers, but any test that can be traced to legitimate research is much more likely to be a good test.

#2 Comparative Results

The other thing that matters is how the results are compared. 

I told you earlier that IQ is really a statistical distribution. 

Your score only matters relative to everyone else who took the test. 

So, if you take a test that isn’t aimed at your culture, your numbers will be low. 

Likewise, if you take a good test that was made 30 years ago, your score is being compared to a different generation. That matters.

A good, modern test will let you know who the target group is. 

If you don’t fit that target group, it’s not a good test.

How Do Online IQ Tests Compare to Offline IQ Tests?

Considering all that can go right or wrong with an online IQ test, isn’t it better to just get an offline test instead?

Not really.

The problems with online IQ tests are not there because of the internet. 

These are challenges that arise with creating an IQ test in the first place. 

Just because the test is administered by a school or at a testing facility doesn’t mean that it is inherently any better or worse than an online test. 

For offline tests, you still need to go through the same steps to check the quality of the test. 

Who made it? 

How did they make it? 

Who are you being compared to with that test? 

What is the purpose of the test?

When you carefully review the tests, you will find that the mixed bag of test quality is there both online and offline.

However, if you take an IQ test that is administered and supervised properly, such as with a certified Psychologist, then you can be certain your IQ test will be adequate.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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