Don’t let exam results put your plans on death row

Exams produce a number. Don’t let that number become an excuse for inaction.

One of the things the education process accidentally teaches is a really good excuse to limit your own potential.

The biggest challenge for many people on the verge of starting up a new business, pursuing a new creative direction, trying to force through change in their organisation (or their life) is recognising and overcoming their own fears and excuses.

One of these fears-and-excuses is thinking that you just aren’t up to the mark, that you don’t make the grade.

This is where education lets us down and limits our potential. By education I mean the standardised tests, the narrow measurement of intelligence which spit out a number  that tells you how smart you are. Or are not. And which thereby furnishes you with an excuse, a free opt-out card, never to start your business.

Standardised exams and tests measure specific forms of intelligence: mainly, verbal reasoning and numeracy. The forms of intelligence which are rarely measured include : linguistic, musical, mathematical, spatial, inter-personal, intra-personal, emotional, analytical, social and more. But the standardised tests focus on a small subset and reduce the “announced” intelligence of large cohorts to a number or a letter: say, B, for example.

In fact, one of the creators of the definitive test of intelligence, the IQ test, Alfred Binet rejected the idea that his test could be used as a scale of intelligence. He had designed the test to enable the identification of people who might need special schooling.

A person’s IQ score as he intended it was an indicator of how they were getting on with their development. The IQ could be measured and changed by appopriate schooling and training. He was appalled by the “brutal pessimism” of the possibility that someone would be tested once and foreverafter labelled unintelligent. And yet that is how the IQ test has been used.

In his book The Element, the creative evangelist, Ken Robinson writes of a case where an inmate on death row schools himself by passing the time in his cell reading books. He had a lot of time on his hands. After all, he was not to be executed because his IQ was below 70 when he was sentenced. Below 70 the state considers you lack the intelligence to be executed for a capital offense.

The inmate increased his IQ by reading all these books, and accidentally demonstrated the principal of the double-edged sword. That is to say that he proved one’s IQ level is not irredeemably fixed. His IQ rose above 70. And then he was executed.

The SAT exam runs a similar (but different) risk in that it says human intelligence can be summed up in a number. And again cohorts twist and tear themselves up to pass a single test which will determine their education, their life chances and perhaps their own view of themselves.

And it’s true that the number will  for most people determine their schooling and their schooling will affect their life chances. But the number is just one factor. While it serves as a useful  shorthand for your academic performance it is you and not the number that will persuade  you that your potential is forever limited and pre-ordained.

In the end it’s just a number. It’s only counts for more than that it you let it.