The growth of intelligence

The growth of intelligence | IELTS Academic Reading Sample Question

The passage contains the following question types from IELTS Reading Question Types:

  • Multiple Choice Question
  • Summary Completion
  • Yes No Not Given

The growth of intelligence

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-14, which are based on Reading Passage below

No one doubts that intelligence develops as children grow older. Yet the concept of intelligence has proved both quite difficult to define in unambiguous terms and unexpectedly controversial in some respects. Although at one level, there seem to be almost as many definitions of intelligence as people who have tried to define it, there is broad agreement on two key features. That is, intelligence involves the capacity not only to learn from experience but also to adapt to one’s environment. However, we cannot leave the concept there. Before turning to what is known about the development of intelligence, it is necessary to consider whether we are considering the growth of one or many skills. That question has been tackled in rather different ways by psychometricians and by developmentalists.

The former group has examined the issue by determining how children’s abilities on a wide range of tasks intercorrelate, or go together. Statistical techniques have been used to find out whether the patterns are best explained by one broad underlying capacity, general intelligence, or by a set of multiple, relatively separate, special skills in domains such as verbal and visuospatial ability. While it cannot be claimed that everyone agrees on what the results mean, most people now accept that for practical purposes it is reasonable to suppose that both are involved. In brief, the evidence in favour of some kind of general intellectual capacity is that people who are superior (or inferior) on one type of task tend also to be superior (or inferior) on others. Moreover, general measures of intelligence tend to have considerable powers to predict a person’s performance on a wide range of tasks requiring special skills. Nevertheless, it is plain that it is not at all uncommon for individuals to be very good at some sorts of task and yet quite poor at some others.

Furthermore the influences that affect verbal skills are not quite the same as those that affect other skills.

This approach to investigating intelligence is based on the nature of the task involved, but studies of age-related changes show that this is not the only, or necessarily the most important, approach. For instance, some decades ago, Horn and Cattell argued for a differentiation between what they termed ‘fluid’ and ‘crystallised’ intelligence. Fluid abilities are best assessed by tests that require mental manipulation of abstract symbols. Crystallised abilities, by contrast, reflect knowledge of the environment in which we live and past experience of similar tasks; they may be assessed by tests of comprehension and information.

It seems that fluid abilities peak in early adult life, whereas crystallised abilities increase up to advanced old age.

Developmental studies also show that the interconnections between different skills vary with age. Thus in the first year of life an interest in perceptual patterns is a major contributor to cognitive abilities, whereas verbal abilities are more important later on. These findings seemed to suggest a substantial lack of continuity between infancy and middle childhood. However, it is important to realise that the apparent discontinuity will vary according to which of the cognitive skills were assessed in infancy. It has been found that tests of coping with novelty do predict later intelligence. These findings reinforce the view that young children’s intellectual performance needs to be assessed from their interest in and curiosity about the environment, and the extent to which this is applied to new situations, as well as by standardised intelligence testing.

These psychometric approaches have focused on children’s increase in cognitive skills as they grow older. Piaget brought about a revolution in the approach to cognitive development through his arguments (backed up by observations) that the focus should be on the thinking processes involved rather than on levels of cognitive achievement. These ideas of Piaget gave rise to an immense body of research and it would be true to say that subsequent thinking has been heavily dependent on his genius in opening up new ways of thinking about cognitive development. Nevertheless, most of his concepts have had to be so radically revised, or rejected, that his theory no longer provides an appropriate basis for thinking about cognitive development. To appreciate why that is so, we need to focus on some rather different elements of Piaget’s theorising.

The first element, which has stood the test of time, is his view that the child is an active agent of learning and of the importance of this activity in cognitive development. Numerous studies have shown how infants actively scan their environment; how they prefer patterned to non-pattemed objects, how they choose novel over familiar stimuli, and how they explore their environment as if to see how it works. Children’s questions and comments vividly illustrate the ways in which they are constantly constructing schemes of what they know and trying out their ideas of how to fit new knowledge into those schemes or deciding that the schemes need modification. Moreover, a variety of studies have shown that active experiences have a greater effect on learning than comparable passive experiences. However, a second element concerns the notion that development proceeds through a series of separate stages that have to be gone through step-by-step, in a set order, each of which is characterised by a particular cognitive structure. That has turned out to be a rather misleading way of thinking about cognitive development, although it is not wholly wrong.

Questions 1-4

Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.
Write your answers in boxes 1-4 on your answer sheet

1) Most researchers accept that one feature of intelligence is the ability to
A.
    change our behaviour according to our situation.
B.    react to others’ behaviour patterns.
C.    experiment with environmental features.
D.    cope with unexpected setbacks.

2) What have psychometricians used statistics for?
A. 
   to find out if cooperative tasks are a useful tool in measuring certain skills
B.    to explore whether several abilities are involved in the development of intelligence
C.    to demonstrate that mathematical models can predict test results for different skills
D.    to discover whether common sense is fundamental to developing children’s abilities

3) Why are Horn and Cattell mentioned?
A.
    They disagreed about the interpretation of different intelligence tests.
B.    Their research concerned both linguistic and mathematical abilities.
C.    They were the first to prove that intelligence can be measured by testing a range of special skills.
D.    Their work was an example of research into how people’s cognitive skills vary with age.

4) What was innovative about Piaget’s research?
A. 
  He refused to accept that children developed according to a set pattern.
B.    He emphasised the way children thought more than how well they did in tests.
C.    He used visually appealing materials instead of traditional intelligence tests.
D.    He studied children of all ages and levels of intelligence.

Questions 5-10

Do the following statements agree with the views of the writer in Reading Passage?
In boxes 5-10 on your answer sheet, write

YES             if the statement agrees with the views of the writer
NO              if the statement contradicts the views of the writer
NOT GIVEN        if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

5) A surprising number of academics have come to the same conclusion about what the term intelligence means.
6) A general test of intelligence is unlikely to indicate the level of performance in every type of task.
7) The elderly perform less well on comprehension tests than young adults.
8) We must take into account which skills are tested when comparing intelligence at different ages.
9) Piaget’s work influenced theoretical studies more than practical research.
10) Piaget’s emphasis on active learning has been discredited by later researchers.

Questions 11-14

Complete the summary using the list of words, A-l, below.
Write the correct letter, A-l, in boxes 11-14 on your answer sheet.

A.adultB.practicalC.verbal
D.spatialE.inquisitiveF.uncertain
G.academicH.plentifulI.unfamiliar

Researchers investigating the development of intelligence have shown that 11)  …………… skills become more significant with age. One good predictor of 12) ……………………. intelligence is the degree to which small children are 13) ………………………… about their surroundings and how much interest they show on finding themselves in an 14) ………………………………….. setting.

Answers for IELTS Reading Sample Question

1) A: The first paragraph says ‘intelligence involves the capacity … to adapt to one’s environment’.
Distraction B: There is no suggestion in the text that we change behaviour according to what other people do; C: The word ‘environment’ is used in this text in a more abstract way, i.e. ‘surroundings’; D: Although the text states that the ‘capacity … to learn from experience’ is one feature of intelligence and we can suppose that coping with ‘unexpected setbacks’ would be one outcome of learning from experience, which is one feature of intelligence, this is not stated anywhere in the text.

2) B: The second paragraph says ‘The former group [‘psychometricians’ in the previous paragraph] has examined the issue by determining how children’s abilities on a wide range of tasks intercorrelated, or go together.’
Distraction A: Although there is a wide range of ‘tasks’, there is no suggestion that any of them are ‘cooperative’. However, psychometricians are interested in how the individual tasks ‘intercorrelate, or go together’; C: The text only states that psychometricians have used statistics in their research, not that they use mathematical models to predict results; D: ‘Common sense’ [- good practical, logical abilities] is not the same as ‘general intelligence’ [overall intellectual ability],

3) D: The third paragraph says ‘studies of age-related changes …
For instance, … Horn and Cattell … fluid abilities peak in early adult life, whereas crystallised abilities increase up to advanced old age’.
Distraction A: Horn and Cattell didn’t argue with each other. Instead they ‘argued for’ something [= they put forward the idea]; B: It is true that Their research concerned both linguistic and mathematical abilities’ (tests of mental manipulation of abstract symbols’ and ‘comprehension and information’) but this is not why Horn and Cattell are mentioned; C: Their research was about certain special skills, but not general intelligence.

4) B: The fifth paragraph says ‘the focus should be on the thinking processes involved rather than on levels of cognitive achievement’.
Distraction A: In fact the text tells us the opposite: ‘a second element concerns the notion that development proceeds … in a set order’; C: The text does not tell us what materials he used, only that his work was ‘backed up by observations’; D: The text does not describe exactly the range of either ages or intelligence.

5) NO: The first paragraph says ‘quite difficult to define [= what is meant by] in unambiguous terms and unexpectedly controversial [= people disagree about it]’.

6) YES: The second paragraph says ‘general measures of intelligence tend to have considerable powers …. Nevertheless, it is plain that it is not at all uncommon for individuals to be very good at some sorts of task and yet quite poor at some others’.

7) NO: The third paragraph says the test suggests the opposite of the statement: ‘Crystallised abilities’ which are ‘assessed by tests of comprehension … increase up to advanced old age’, whereas ‘Fluid abilities … that require mental manipulation of abstract symbols’ ‘by contrast… peak in early adult life’.

8) YES: The fourth paragraph says ‘These findings seemed to suggest a substantial lack of continuity [= a big difference] between infancy and middle childhood. However, it is important to realise that the apparent discontinuity [= what appears to be a difference] will vary according to which of the cognitive skills were assessed in infancy.’

9) NOT GIVEN: In the fifth paragraph we are told Piaget was influential regarding both (‘immense body of research’ and ‘subsequent thinking’) but there is no mention that either one of these things had a bigger impact than the other.

10) NO: The last paragraph says ‘his view that the child is an active agent of learning … has stood the test of time [= it is still respected]’, even if the previous paragraph states that ‘most of his concepts have had to be … radically revised, or rejected’.
The summary outlines the ideas in the fourth paragraph.

11) C: verbal: ‘verbal abilities are more important later on’.

12) A: adult: ‘It has been found that tests of coping with novelty do predict later intelligence’ (the text does not deal with ‘academic ability’ in particular).
Note: ‘academic ability is the natural collocation, not ‘academic intelligence ’

13) E: inquisitive: ‘their interest in and curiosity about the environment’.

14) I: unfamiliar: ‘the extent to which this is applied to new situations’.

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