In his excellent book A Question of Intelligence: The IQ Debate in America, former Fortune magazine editor Daniel Seligman describes what it’s like to take the WAIS-R IQ test. On page 3 he writes:
The WAIS consists of 11 subtests, each consisting of questions and problems that tend to be easy at first, then grow progressively more difficult. The first subtest, labeled Information, checks your fund of general information and your ability to retrieve it in a reasonable time. (This is one of the subtests bearing on memory.) I turned out to be mortifyingly slow responding to Stern’s first two questions. The first, which concerned the position of the sun in the sky, could have been answered instantly by a neolithic four year-old, but I found myself suddenly caught up in confusion trying to envision shadows falling on New York City streets at different times of day…
…it took me about three seconds to answer (correctly). After the first two questions, we moved along more rapidly. However, two of my answers (out of the twenty-nine) were wrong. Like the question about the sun in the sky, both involved physical phenomena and reminded me that I was a dumb-bell in seventh-grade science.
According to the WAIS-R manual, a raw score of 27 out of 29, on the Information subtest is assigned a scaled score of 15 (IQ 125- higher than 95% of Americans in the peak age group (20-34)). However Seligman reports that he was 64 when he took the WAIS-R, and I found that his age adjusted IQ on this one subtest remains 125 (U.S. norms). Information is one subtest that holds up very well with old age.
According to wikipedia, Seligman was born in 1924, so it would have been 1988 when he took the WAIS-R (four years before his book was published). but ten years after the WAIS-R was normed. However I will not deduct points for obsolete norms because there was absolutely no Flynn effect whatsoever on the WAIS Information subtest from 1978 to 1995.
According to David Wechsler (the founder of the Wechsler scales), Information tests were originally only used by psychiatrists. Psychologists initially shunned them, probably because they were presumed to be measures of education, not intelligence. It was not until the Army Alpha exams of World War I included an information subtest did they become accepted. When the results of the Army Alpha were analyzed, to everyone’s shock, the Information subtest correlated better with the overall score than any other subtest, probably because general knowledge reflects your brain’s innate capacity to absorb and retrieve sensory input over an entire lifetime.
Still, information is only one subtest, and does not give a complete picture of one’s overall cognitive ability to adapt. In part 3, we discuss Seligman’s performance on the Picture Completion subtest.