Commenter Gypsy recently told me:

I recently discovered through the UK Govt that the number of students achieveing A*A*A or better, the typical grades required for an offer from Oxford or Cambrige, is 12,843, assuming a perfect correlation between IQ and Educational achievement the minimum IQ at Cambridge would be 132, given that there are around 738,757 17 year olds in the UK which I’m using as a proxy for 18 year olds and a ratio of 12,843 to 738,757 produces a rarity of 1/58. Interesting information, what do you speculate the average is before and after accounting for the imperfect relationship of IQ and Education?

If one in 58 UK teens achieves A*A*A or better, then this implies that the median teen who obtains A*A*A or better is at the one in 116 level in academic achievement.  If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and academic success in the UK, we’d expect the median IQ of these academic superstars to be 36 points above the UK mean of 100 (white norms), but since the correlation is probably about 0.7 (using the correlation between IQ and GCSE as a proxy), their expected average IQ would be 0.7(36) points above 100, or IQ 125.

It’s interesting that the expected median IQ at Oxford/Cambridge is roughly the same as at Harvard, even though the latter school is much more selective.  A likely reason for this is that academic selection in the UK is more meritocratic despite being less competitive.  It’s also possible that GCSE qualifications used in the UK are more comprehensive than SAT scores used in the US and thus a better proxy for IQ.

I know of no data on actual IQ scores for students at elite UK universities but there is some data on the faculty at Cambridge circa 1967, as reported by Grady Towers.


Towers wrote:

One of the most outstanding groups of men that I was able to find was that of the faculty of the University of Cambridge. (Nature, 1967, 213, 442) These scores represent the Full Scale WAIS IQs of 148 faculty members in a variety of disciplines from one of the most distinguished Universities in the world.

The WAIS has a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15…

“The scores range from 110 to 141 with a mean of 126.5 and a standard deviation of 6.3 points. All the scores fall within three standard deviations of the mean. The distribution of the scores in terms of Wechsler’s classification show that all the scientists obtained scores above the seventieth percentile rank for the general population — 35.2 per cent are classified as “very superior”, 51.3 per cent as “superior”, and 13.5 per cent as “bright normal”. Approximate percentages of these three groups in a general population sample are 2.2, 6.7, and 16.1 respectively.”

It’s important to note however that the WAIS was normed on white Americans circa 1953.5 and the Cambridge data was published in 1967.  Given that James Flynn estimates that Wechsler IQ norms become inflated at a rate of 0.3 points per year (I suspect it’s less),  this suggests the WAIS may have overestimated the average IQ of Cambridge faculty by as much as 4.05 points, so their actual mean IQ was 122.45 (white norms) which is still pretty close to the IQ 125 I expect of Cambridge students today.

Commenter “Mug of Pee” has long claimed that the U.S. has one of the dumbest elites in the developed World because compared to other countries, U.S. elite schools select students based less on exam scores, and more on subjective and arbitrary criteria.  While it’s certainly true that the correlation between IQ and academic success in the U.S. has been declining in recent decades, I think this is balanced by the fact that America’s Ivy League has become increasingly competitive.

Schools like Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge educate future leaders so an IQ of 125 is a good estimate not just of the students at these schools, but for the elites of Western countries in general.