End The April Agony—Bring Back IQ Tests!

It happens every spring. High
school seniors

across the country
anxiously grope in their
mailboxes for letters from

—exulting if the envelope is a fat one
stuffed with acceptance details, despairing if it`s a
thin one containing a one-page rejection.

In his "Economic
column in the April 14th
New York Times

Cornell economist Robert H. Frank,
co-author of

The Winner-Take-All Society,
explains why college applicants` annual April Agony gets
worse each year:

steep rise in overall earnings inequality over the last
three decades has occurred in virtually every industry
and occupation… For every starting analyst`s position
posted by

J. P. Morgan,
for example, the firm receives mail
sacks full of applications. Employers in this situation
seldom find time to interview applicants who did not
graduate from an

elite university
. Ambitious high school students
have responded by applying in record numbers to the
nation`s most selective universities. But there is no
greater number of slots in these institutions than

But what makes an “elite
elite? Is it because they do a better
job of educating students?

Oddly enough, nobody seems terribly
interested in finding out. It`s extremely rare for
anybody to test college seniors to find out how much
more than they know than when they were freshmen. This
indifference is typical at all levels of the

education industry.

Ironically, our pretence that we
believe in

empirical egalitarianism
leads to educational
elitism of the crassest kind.

Because we are supposed to assume
in public that all men are created equal, it follows,
quasi-logically, that if Harvard graduates are smart
(which they generally are), that can only be because
Harvard made them smart (which is

very seldom the case

In reality, of course, universities
are ranked primarily on the grades and SAT or ACT scores
that their students achieved in

high school.

The fame of their grad schools and even the
successes of their hired


gladiators seem to matter more to their
reputations than documented evidence, assuming any
exists, of the effectiveness of their undergraduate

So, why do employers care
about which college applicants attended? Mostly because
it`s evidence of an applicant`s

SAT score
—along with high school grades—which in
turn is correlated with his IQ. What college you go to
permanently signifies your position in the IQ strata.

This is why high school students
and their parents are so frenzied over college
admissions: it really does

go on your Permanent Record.

One consequence is that many kids
strive to get into colleges where the average IQ is a
little higher than their own. In his NYT article,
Frank points out:

according to one study, applicants typically seek an
institution whose average combined SAT score is roughly
100 points higher than their own."

In other words, high school seniors
would like their resumes to suggest they are about a

standard deviation
smarter than they really are.

Why not one or two standard
deviations (200 or 400 points out of 1600 on the
pre-2005 SAT)? Because getting into a college that`s
too far over your head can lead to flunking out—which
also looks bad on your resume.

For example, when I was a high
school senior, I almost applied to Cal Tech. But I
eventually realized that, if they were stupid enough to
let me in, I wouldn`t have any idea what anybody was
talking about. (Outside of science-engineering colleges,
however, famous private colleges tend to be easier to
stay in than top public universities.)

Because girls mature more quickly than
boys, the current overwhelming emphasis on high school
performance hurts males. The system is also biased in
favor of upper middle class kids whose highly-competent
parents can help them jump through all the hoops. The
process seems to mold young people into the
well-organized but shallow and unappealing careerists
who predominate in

David Brooks` profiles
of today`s elite college

Obviously, this is also a screwy,

Rube Goldberg
way for companies to evaluate job
prospects. The consequent lousy hiring decisions cost
all Americans in lower overall prosperity.

When a 28-year old, for instance,
applies for a job, why should a company care so much
about how he did on an IQ-type SAT test a decade before?

Why not just give him a new
test—perhaps one fine-tuned to the

needs of the job?

The reason: the Supreme Court`s

Griggs v. Duke Power
decision made it risky for
employers to give

written tests
to applicants.

If the test has a

"disparate impact"
on blacks, or other

legally protected groups
, the employer must
demonstrate that the need for the test rises to the
stringent level of a

"business necessity."

So, because African-Americans

average lower scores
on every predictively valid
IQ-style test

ever devised,

written tests
are guilty—unless proven innocent by a
battery of high-priced consultants.

Many companies still do use written
tests—because they are so useful. Consumer packaged
goods giant Procter & Gamble, long famous for the
quality of its employees, paid a large amount of money
to have their


problem solving test
validated. The NFL encourages
all college football players hoping to be drafted to
take the

12-minute Wonderlic IQ test
. (For average IQs by
position, click


Other firms insist that their
managers conduct personal interviews that are IQ tests
in disguise.

Fear of discrimination lawsuits is
why Microsoft famously uses

IQ-type questions
in interviews—such as "Estimate
how many gas stations there are in the US"—
of using written tests, even though Bill Gates is

about IQ.

This is no secret. Rich Karlgaard,
former editor of Forbes ASAP,

in the Wall Street Journal about a
journey he took with Gates in 1993:

that trip, I must have heard Mr. Gates mention `IQ` a
hundred times. The obsession with smarts is embedded
deep in Mr. Gates`s thinking and long ago was
institutionalized at Microsoft. Apply for a job and
you`ll face an oral grilling that probes for IQ. It is
oral and informal because of

Griggs v. Duke Power
, the 1971 Supreme Court
ruling that banished written IQ tests and `tests of an
abstract nature` from job applications. But Microsoft
knows what it wants. It wants IQ. And Microsoft always
has been savvy at getting what it wants."

(Whenever I mention how much Gates
values high IQ employees, somebody objects that
Microsoft`s software is lousy so his workers must not be
very smart. But that assumes that Gates wanted

to deliver good software. I suspect that
he just wanted them to make him the richest man in the
world. If they had to foist buggy software on the public
to do it, well, that was a price Bill was willing to

Griggs leads to some bizarre
corporate customs worthy of


When I was at Dun & Bradstreet, I
was once told to hire a computer programmer. Not being a
professional code writer myself, I asked the Human
Resources department for D&B`s official programmer`s
test. They told me that they didn`t have any
written tests for fear of

civil rights bias lawsuits.
I was free to ask job
hunters questions orally. But I absolutely couldn`t
write them down.

Written exams more likely to be
biased than oral interviews? To assume that, you have to
be a

Supreme Court justice

Another problem with oral
examinations: their small sample size of questions.
Interviewers don`t generally have time to ask enough
questions to get a statistically-significant picture of
how smart the applicant is.

For example, when I was getting an
MBA, the famous consulting firm McKinsey called me in
for an interview. I figured a secretary would set me
down in an unused office and give me a half dozen case
studies to write up over a couple of hours.

But, instead, everything was done
orally. A McKinsey partner`s` time is money, so Mr. Big
only had time to outline for me just one client`s
problem and ask me what the key insight would be.

I got the wrong answer. That was
the end of my

brilliant McKinsey career.

Perhaps I really wasn`t smart
enough to be a McKinsey consultant. But I like to think
that a longer written test would have provided them with
a more accurate assessment.

In contrast, I was eventually hired
by a small, fast-growing marketing research firm. One of
the founders was a college professor, so when I showed
up for an interview, the HR department had me first
spend two hours taking the professor`s quite difficult
Advanced Marketing Research 301 final exam.

A few years later, when the company
grew large enough to show up on the

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission`s
radar, it
had to stop using the test.

The quality of new hires was never
the same again.

All these irrationalities stem from
the fact that our society is

a)     obsessed with IQ (as any advanced technological
culture has to be); and

b)     so

terrified of the topic
that we aren`t supposed to
discuss it in print.

It`s time we grew up and talked honestly
about the facts of life.

And, as a consequence, end the
April Agony we inflict on the young—those least able to
bear it.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website

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