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Learning about your cognitive profile

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It can be important to have your intelligence and academic skills assessed based on an objective standard.

Reasons for having your cognitive and academic skills assessed

Assessing whether you're meeting your potential

Extremely bright students sometimes get straight A's with little effort, while falling short of what they're capable of, because they're not being challenged or challenging themselves. In the other direction, more modestly capable students sometimes hold themselves to unrealistically high standards, feeling demoralized that they're unable to get top grades despite putting an enormous amount of effort into doing well. Knowing whether your intelligence is at the 10th percentile, the 50th percentile, the 90th percentile, the 99th percentile, or the 99.9th percentile can help you determine whether you're meeting your potential.

Assessing your relative cognitive strengths and weaknesses

Some people have unusually large discrepancies between their different cognitive abilities. For example, some people have a nonverbal learning disability, which is characterized by having much higher verbal skills than nonverbal skills.

By having your intelligence tested, you can determine what your cognitive strengths and weaknesses are, which can help you determine how to utilize your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.

Assessing whether you're keeping pace with your future college classmates

Students who are among the strongest at an academically unexceptional high school, and who go to prestigious colleges, are often shocked to learn that they're underprepared relative to their college classmates. See our collection of quotations on underpreparedness

You may be getting A's in most of your classes. If you're in this position, you know that you're doing well relative to high school classmates. But you don't necessarily know how well you're doing relative to your future college classmates. If you take opportunities to assess how well prepared you are relative to the country's best students, you can better determine whether you're on pace, or whether you should be taking extra measures to increase your learning.

Assessing your academic skills

Some resources that are available to assess your academic skills are:

ALEKS

ALEKS is an online math assessment and practice tool. You can sign up to use it for ~$20/month, and assess whether you've mastered the different topics of the high school math curriculum. Something to be careful about is that if you repeatedly do practice problems on a given topic, you may gain short term knowledge of how to solve them, without retaining it. So it may be a better tool for assessment from time to time than for practice.

Advanced Placement practice materials

AP courses are based around well-crafted standards. Knowing enough to get a 5 on an AP exam (the highest mark) corresponds to having developed substantive knowledge of the subject. Getting a 5 doesn't always correspond to mastery of the subject: the cutoff for getting a 5 is not very high. But knowing enough to correctly answer ~90% of the questions on an AP exam generally does correspond to mastery of the subject, and if you can do this, you can be confident that your knowledge of the subject is competitive with that of most students at prestigious schools.

You don't have to wait until you take an AP exam to see how you compare: you can assess your knowledge using past AP exams that have been released. The College Board links to these here.

If your school doesn't offer sufficiently good instruction for you to achieve mastery of a given AP subject, you can substantially increase your knowledge of the subject (and even approach mastery) by studying from AP exam preparation books. Many (though not all) of the Princeton Review's "Cracking the AP" series and the Barron's series are very highly reviewed.

Thus, you can ensure that your academic preparedness for college meets a reasonable minimum threshold by learning the material tested on AP exams well.

Math competitions

If you're interested in developing your mathematical problem solving ability, math competitions provide a means of assessing your progress. These test your ability to solve non-routine math problems that require ingenuity and/or synthesis of several different mathematical ideas.

One of the most prominent examples of a math competition is the American Mathematics Competition, You may be able to find others through your school. One resource for preparing for this kind of math competition is the collection of books published by The Art of Problem Solving.

There are also untimed math competitions with problems that take longer to solved. One of these is the United States Mathematics Talent Search. A new website that offers weekly challenge problems is Brilliant.

Math competitions only involve some aspects mathematical thinking, and you shouldn't give them too much weight as an assessment of your ability. They're still a somewhat meaningful indicator of how you compare with students across the nation.

Intelligence testing

Consider having your intelligence tested by a psychologist, who can administer a test such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, Fifth Edition. This can be very expensive, but is the most reliable way to learn what your intelligence level is, and your cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

A less informative, but much cheaper option is taking a practice SAT. Historically, SAT scores were strongly correlated with intelligence test scores. Nowadays, people put a lot of effort into preparing for the SAT, and this diminishes the degree to which the SAT is a measure of intelligence. Nevertheless, taking a practice SAT can give you some sense for your intelligence level. The College Board publishes a practice SAT online, as well as a book of 10 practice tests. The College Board publishes a conversion table that gives you the percentile rank associated with a given score for college bound seniors. If you're not yet a senior, your percentile within your age group is probably higher than your percentile within the group of high school seniors. For example, Study of Exceptional Talent reports that a 700 on math or verbal before the age of 13 corresponds to the 99.99th percentile of people in the same age group.