Memory Skills | Mental Health Blog

IQs Can Change

If you have taken an IQ test at some point in your life, whether at school or through an evaluation, the number you achieved way back when may not be the same number you would score today.  That’s because IQs can change over the years, according to new research.  So instead of an IQ score being a benchmark of fixed intelligence that can be used as a predictor of success, it is really just a measurement of one “type” of intelligence1 at a randomly chosen point in time.

The study, conducted at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, provided IQ testing to 33 typical children between the ages of 12 and 16.2  The average score was 112, and ranged between 77 and 135 points.  After four years, the researchers performed a follow-up and had the participants take another IQ test.  At this time, the average score was 113, only one point higher than four years earlier — not a big change.  It would seem at first glance that the IQs were static.  But once the numbers were broken down further, the differences were quite apparent.  The range of scores was now between 87 and 143, which is 10 points higher on the low end of the spectrum and eight points higher at the top.  And, when comparing each volunteer’s scores against his or her first test, some went up by as much as 21 points, and others lost up to 18 points.

When the scientists looked at the scores in various categories of learning, there were major variations as well.  For instance, when they considered just verbal IQ questions, some of the scores had 23-point differences, and in the area of performance IQ, the change was 18 points.  Overall changes of 15 to 20 points can place a person in another IQ classification, such as moving from average to gifted with a change from 110 to 130, or going from average to below average with a shift from 104 to 84.  Twenty percent of the adolescents tested actually had large enough differences between their two scores to change classification.

Even more interesting, while taking the IQ tests, the volunteers were also undergoing brain imaging.  The researchers’ aim was to examine the gray matter in the various parts of the brain affecting IQ scores.  And sure enough, the gray matter density differed between the first and second tests in the speech-related region when verbal scores changed.  These types of real, measurable disparities show that changes are constantly taking place within our brains and affecting us, sometimes for the better and sometimes not so much.

So if we don’t work on improving our capabilities, we might remain the same…or we might lose skills over time.  However, the flip-side will also hold true: whatever aptitude we begin with in a certain area can be improved upon with a little effort.  This builds on previous studies that have shown we can increase our intelligence with a brain workout.

A study earlier this year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that memory tasks performed regularly can nudge your IQ up a few points — and the uptick remains in place several months later.3  The researchers randomly placed 62 elementary or middle school students into two groups.  The first group was instructed to play video games on the computer that were really mental training exercises meant to improve working memory.  The second group also played video games on the computer, but their games were instead focused on vocabulary and general knowledge subjects.  When the experiment was over, the children in the memory-training group had raised their IQ by an average of five points.  When they were retested three months later, the gains remained with them.

The evidence all points to one important conclusion: exercise for our brains is just as important as exercise for our bodies.  Cognitive declines may be a common part of aging, but we don’t have to resign ourselves to that future.  A little regular exercise of the brain can boost our intelligence levels higher than ever.

  • Join a community theater so you can work on developing memory skills as you learn your part.
  • Or try learning a new language.
  • Hey! Haven’t you always wanted to learn calculus? Now’s the time!
  • Wouldn’t you like to tell your Congressperson what to do with his budget proposal? Try taking a night course in economics.
  • Are you a sports nut? Why not memorize all of the vital statistics for all the players on your team…going back as far as you can?
  • Take on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle every week.
  • The list is endless

But whatever you do, don’t try counting cards in Vegas. From what I’ve heard, although it’s great exercise for your brain, it can be bad for your health.


1 Unknown. “howard gardner’s multiple intelligences.” (Accessed 17 Dec 2011.) <>

2 Ramsden, Sue; Richardson, Fiona M.; Josse, Goulven; et al. “Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain.” Nature. 19 October 2011.  Nature Publishing Group. 13 December 2011. <>.

3 Jaeggi, Susanne M.; Buschkuehl, Martin; Jonides, John; Shah, Priti. “Short- and Long-Term Benefits of Cognitive Training.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 13 June 2011.  National Academy of Sciences. 21 July 2011. <>.