The Misconception of Smartness and Intelligence

All of us have most likely come across the word ‘smart’. If you have been through school, you will probably hear and use this word a lot. We generally use it to compare our performance in education with our peers. However, the word can actually be very misleading with regards to its true meaning (I talked about this briefly in the previous article I wrote). For example, if a person always gets top scores in your school, that person will probably be called smart. But this may not be entirely true.


The Story of the 70 IQ Kid

dumb look. Pixabay

A couple of years back, I had a conversation with my mother about the topic of smartness as well. She inevitably also brought up a story about her classmate back when she was still in school. This classmate of hers had a particularly low IQ of 70. However, I believe this to be a slight exaggeration as having a 70 IQ can already be classified as mental retardation. Nonetheless, she told me that her classmate never performed well in-class activities. On the other hand, this classmate of hers always got one of the top scores in tests or exams. When asked about his peculiarity, he told his friends that determination and hard work is the key to his exam successes. 

Eerily, I also had a similar experience to my mother’s classmate. Of course, I luckily don’t have an IQ of 70, but I was also one of the people that can’t learn fast. I perform averagely on class activities and frequently perform well in exams. I also usually study the syllabus ahead of time to keep pace with the class. Funnily enough, when our school did an IQ test, I scored as low as the person with one of the lowest-performing students in the class.

So, for both these cases, can the individuals in them be classified as smart?


What Does Smart Actually Mean?

Smartness or intelligence is actually not very easy to define. From the video above, you can see that intelligence has many parameters and cannot be determined by one single factor. Our society has tried to define intelligence for many years and has failed miserably countless times. However, we have finally settled on the IQ test. Indeed, IQ tests are not perfect, and some sources have even debunked them. However, albeit not so accurate, IQ tests (in my opinion) can provide some basis on someone’s intelligence: fast learners and thinkers will generally have higher IQ.

A smart individual, or someone with high IQ, would also have less trouble absorbing class materials on the fly. They probably won’t have to struggle at all in studying the syllabus before an exam. They are the types of people who can easily absorb a book like a sponge. This is why IQ tests are timed so that they can distinguish people who learn and think fast. 

I hope now you understand why smartness is cannot be defined by the scores from exams. Both an average and a smart individual can have the same high score in an exam. However, while an average student would take three hours to study, a smart student probably only needs one hour. 


Can You Actually Become Smarter?

brain. Pixabay

IQ is something innate, something that we are born with. In fact, it is strongly correlated with our biological parents. It is similar to all hereditary traits such as height or eye color. According to an article by, about 50 per-cent of the difference in intelligence between people is due to genetics. So yes, smart parents will most likely produce smart children. 

Moreover, the environment also comes into play in affecting intelligence. Take the example of the height hereditary trait. Even though both parents might be tall, a malnourished child will never be as tall as their parents. The child must require a proper diet to achieve their full genetic potential. Similar to intelligence, living in an environment with lead poisoning (from petrol) and having iodine deficiency during childhood will severely stagnate a child’s cognitive abilities. 

However, you can, technically, become smarter by doing certain cognitive activities. These activities can include playing games such as sudoku, mazes, or chess. Learning new languages and musical instruments can also help boost your cognitive abilities. In fact, research claims that musicians have a better working memory than non-musicians. In my personal experience, the opposite can also happen. For example, I sometimes feel better at playing the piano after doing math homework. The logic is similar to exercising but on the mental scale. 

Despite this, the effects of these activities can be minuscule. I have played the piano, learned Chinese as a new language a couple of years back, and played chess until this day. However, I will never reach Einstein’s level of smartness. Einstein had an IQ of 160, and he was born with that. Doing all of these cognitive activities will never get you to Einstein’s IQ. 

Therefore, yes, you can get smarter, but probably not to a great extent. Sadly, we are all stuck with the IQ we are born with. The only thing you can do as a fellow slow learner is to blame your parents and luck. 


The Difference Between Smart and Genius

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein-

If you have an average IQ like me, don’t fear that you can’t accomplish anything throughout your lifetime. Your IQ does not determine all of the performances that you have in your life.

Though you might not be born smart, nothing stops you from potentially being a genius. Genius is defined as the ability to show cleverness, skill, or originality. Though you are more likely to be a genius if you are smart, not all geniuses are smart. 

Similar to smartness, the word genius is also likely to be misunderstood. Many people thought that to be a genius, they probably need an above-average IQ of 140. However, looking at the definition of genius, you can clearly see that the word intelligence is not present. Rather, genius is correlated with originality or creativity. Being a genius doesn’t require you to learn fast, get good scores, or have a high IQ. Instead, a genius can think of an idea that has never been thought of before. 

The quote above, by the genius himself, is by far the most important thing to take note of here. If you want to be a genius, you must first do something that you are passionate about. Einstein can have an IQ of 160 but will never be a genius if he spent his whole life trying to do zoology. He loves physics and decides to pursue it. Because of that, he is crowned as one of the greats in the field. So go out there and do what you love to do. Unless you don’t want to be a genius, don’t pursue something that is not your passion.



I hope that you have a much better understanding of what it means to be smart or a genius. Our society has defined intelligence  Though our intelligence level might be on average, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be a genius and change the world. But to do this, make sure to always pursue your passion and dreams.


Ananto J

Ananto J

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