Can You Improve Your IQ Score With Practice?

Have a question about science, health, fitness, or diet? Get cited, evidence-based insights with Consensus.

Try for free
Written by Consensus
13 min read

Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Check out this answer from Consensus:

While IQ has traditionally been viewed as a stable measure, various interventions can lead to significant improvements. Music lessons, relational operant skills training, working memory training, dietary supplementation, and creative problem-solving training have all been shown to enhance cognitive abilities and increase IQ scores. These methods operate through different mechanisms, including enhancing cognitive processes, improving relational skills, and addressing nutritional deficiencies.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is often considered a stable measure of cognitive abilities. However, recent research suggests that certain practices and interventions can lead to improvements in IQ scores. This article explores various methods to increase IQ and the mechanisms through which they operate.

Methods to Increase IQ

1. Music Lessons

Mechanism of Action: Engaging in music lessons, such as learning to play an instrument, can enhance cognitive abilities. Music training involves complex cognitive processes, including memory, attention, and spatial-temporal skills, which contribute to overall intelligence.

Evidence: A study involving children assigned to music lessons (keyboard or voice) showed greater increases in full-scale IQ compared to control groups receiving drama lessons or no lessons. The effect was small but generalized across various IQ subtests and academic achievement measures.

2. Relational Operant Skills Training (SMART)

Mechanism of Action: SMART training focuses on improving relational skills, which are crucial for cognitive tasks such as problem-solving and reasoning. This training enhances the ability to understand and manipulate abstract relationships between different concepts.

Evidence: Multiple studies have demonstrated significant increases in IQ scores following SMART training. For instance, a stratified active-controlled trial showed a mean increase of 5.98 points in non-verbal IQ (NVIQ) among adolescents who underwent SMART training. Another study reported significant improvements in verbal IQ, matrix reasoning, and vocabulary scores after 12 weeks of SMART training.

3. Working Memory Training

Mechanism of Action: Working memory training involves exercises that improve the capacity to hold and manipulate information over short periods. This training enhances fluid intelligence (Gf), which is the ability to reason and solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge.

Evidence: A meta-analysis found that training on demanding working memory tasks can lead to improvements in fluid intelligence. The extent of gain in intelligence was dosage-dependent, meaning the more training, the greater the improvement.

4. Dietary Supplementation

Mechanism of Action: Proper nutrition is essential for cognitive development and functioning. Supplementing diets with essential nutrients such as multivitamins, iron, and iodine can address deficiencies that may impair cognitive abilities.

Evidence: Meta-analyses have shown that supplementing a deficient child with multivitamins or iodine can raise their IQ. However, the effects of iron supplementation and executive function training were found to be unreliable.

5. Creative Problem-Solving Training

Mechanism of Action: Training in creative problem-solving enhances cognitive flexibility, critical thinking, and the ability to generate novel solutions. These skills are integral to both fluid and crystallized intelligence.

Evidence: Revisiting Kvashchev’s experiment, researchers found that prolonged intensive training in creative problem-solving led to substantial IQ increases. The experimental group showed a 15-point higher increase in IQ compared to the control group.


Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Ian Silver has answered Uncertain

An expert from University of Cincinnati in Intelligence, Behavioural Science, Social Sciences

IQ – or intelligence – scores generally represent a composite score across a variety of different traits (e.g., problem solving, verbal reasoning, logic). While scores on an IQ test can vary, the underlying traits tend to be developed early on in the life-course and remain relatively stable over time. This is not to say that intelligence can’t change, but it requires a concerted amount of effort to improve the underlying traits simultaneously. Most practice modalities, such as the phone applications or online courses, will not increase IQ scores or intelligence generally. Research, however, has shown that some medical (e.g., fish oil) or environmental (e.g., educational courses) can improve simultaneously improve the underlying traits in the short term and potentially increase IQ scores.


Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Andreas Demetriou has answered Likely

An expert from University of Nicosia in Intelligence

According to the Flynn effect, IQ improved over 20th century by about 20-25 IQ degrees. IQ training studies show that IQ improves because of training by up to 8-10 degrees. The problem is that most of it fades out in 2-3 years after the end of the study.


Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Nachshon Meiran has answered Likely

An expert from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Intelligence

This is a tricky question: You can improve your score on the test, but will it improve your intelligence? not sure at all. In the training literature, we make a distinction between training effects (seen as improved performance in the trained task), near-transfer effects (see in improvement in an untrained task that closely resembles the trained task), and far transfer effects (see in improvement in an untrained task that does not superficially resemble the trained task, but theoretically measures the same thing, such as ‘intelligence’). Far transfer effects are rare, tend not to replicate across studies and so forth.

To complicate things even further, it is not at all clear if intelligence as the underlying cause for success in a wide variety of tasks truly exists, and some new theories (mutualism, and process-overlap) actually suggest it does not. So, if something (intelligence) does not exist, it certainly cannot be trained.

I hope I did not confuse you too much, but in a nutshell, don’t waste your money and time on intelligence improvement. Use them to learn new things, for fun, etc. If you have extra money that you have nothing to do with- I have a list of much more urgent needs.


Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Hynek Cígler has answered Unlikely

An expert from Masaryk University in Psychology, Quantitative Psychology, Psychometrics, Intelligence

Practicing IQ tests will improve scores obtained in such tests as you become a better “test-taker”. However, an impact on your actual intelligence will be negligible. On the other hand, some “kinds” of intelligence are connected to learning and practicing. Training of such skills could lead to better development, especially at a younger age. Thought, this relationship is not straightforward.


Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Dimitri van der Linden has answered Uncertain

An expert from Erasmus University Rotterdam in Psychology

The question is a bit ambiguous because it seems to contain two possible questions. Namely whether one can enhance IQ scores by practice, and also (more implicit) whether one can enhance intelligence by practice.

 General remarks

Before going into it, one topic needs to be addressed: the relationship between general intelligence and IQ score. Intelligence refers to how intelligence a person really is (e.g., is able to solve novel problems). IQ score is the score one obtains on a test that is used to measure intelligence.

Overall, (at the large group level) IQ tests are a relatively good measures of general intelligence. That is, IQ scores of people can predict success in many life domains such as occupational achievements, health, and social relationships. IQ scores, in general, are among the best predictors of behavior in Psychological research.

  1. The interpretation of the question as related to the scores on IQ tests

Now, if one would extensively practice on IQ test, one imagine, however, that it is possible to improve one’s score considerable. For example, items in IQ test work according to certain principles and if one practices enough items then some items in the real test will be easier because one has already seen something similar (or identical). In this way one’s score possible score can go up substantially, say from 100 to, maybe 115 or higher.

The increase would be even more extreme if one practice on the actual test that one has to do. In principle, in that case one could memorize all the answers on the items and get a perfect score. I guess this latter situation is more cheating.

 The subsequent question, of course, would be: Does that make IQ test useless? The answer to that is question: no, not at all. Although it is possible to enhance one’s score by practice, or even cheat, overall the IQ test still remain good predictors.

As a comparison it is good to know that, if one really wants to, one can enhance or manipulate one’s score on almost every test or self-report measure in Psychological research. That, however, also does not mean that almost every measure in psychological research is useless. And remember that among all psychological measures, IQ or intelligence test are still one of the best predictors of a wide range of behaviors.

  1. The interpretation of the question as related to one’s actual general intelligence

The second interpretation of the question would be whether practice makes one really smarter (more intelligent). This question is similar to the one previously asked on this site (‘Is it possible to boost your intelligence by training?’ ). Regarding this, I agree with most experts who responded to that question: It seems quite unlikely that general intelligence increases by training. Training can make you better at specific tasks (for example, chess, computer programming, maths etc,) and some of that training may transfer to other task that have similar elements. So, after training you became a better chess player, better programmer, or better at doing maths. But you, probably did not become more intelligent in the sense that when you encounter an entirely new problem you would still be ‘only’ as good as your stable general intelligence level.


Can you improve your IQ score with practice?

Louis Matzel has answered Uncertain

An expert from Rutgers University in Genetics, Psychology, Neuropsychology

If I was forced to choose, I suppose I would say “uncertain”, but that’s not quite accurate. A better answer would be “yes, but not in any kind of meaningful way.” 

This is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  If by “practice” you mean that if you take an IQ test several times, will your score increase across subsequent tests?  The short and simple answer is “yes”, but the increase in score will be very small and is not attributable to anything like an increase in intelligence.  Rather, it is a consequence of secondary (and beneficial) influences on test performance such as a reduction of stress/anxiety, familiarity with the structure of the test, better time management, etc.  As an analogy, the single best preparation that you can do for a test like the SATs or the GREs is to simply do a practice test under actual test conditions.  This kind of practice tends to reduce anxiety, allows you to develop a strategy for time management, and generally adapts you to the conditions of testing.  On SATs and GREs (and with no other intervening “test preparation”), the second test score will sometimes increase as much as 50 points (on the old 600 scale) relative to the first test (with only very small or no subsequent gains).  This sounds good, and may help the test-taker get into a better school, but it does not suggest that the test-taker somehow became better prepared for academic achievement.  They just got better at taking the test. 

The same is true for an IQ test, but to a much lesser degree.  First, it should be noted that all conventional IQ tests are explicitly designed to minimize any effect of practice.  On an IQ test like the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM), we sometimes see an increase of 2-5 points (where 100 is the average and 15 is the standard deviation) on a second relative to first test.  This is a really negligible increase, and should dissuade anyone from thinking that IQ tests don’t measure innate ability (and could be beat just by practicing the test).  At any kind of theoretical level, this small increase is of so little consequence that it can be ignored.  At a practical level, I would wonder “who cares”?  It doesn’t mean that you are a few points smarter (and a few points simply don’t matter), and unless you are tying to get those three more points necessary for admission into Mensa (again, I would wonder why you would care), why even bother with the practice?  (I always tell students that if they want to appear smarter, read some books.  Don’t worry about a few points on an IQ test.) 

This kind of question is often raised in the context of evaluating the concurrent validity of the IQ test (i.e., is the score obtained by an individual reliable and repeatable).  All of the available evidence indicates that IQ test scores are highly reliable and repeatable.  In these regards, perhaps some of the best evidence regarding the effects of practice comes from an analysis reported by Carpenter, Just, & Schell in 1990. The RPM consists of five blocks of perceptual reasoning problems, with each block of problems becoming progressively more difficult.  Upon careful examination of the test, Carpenter et al. determined that all of the problems on the RPM could be solved with the application of just five rules (combinations of which were applicable to the different blocks of questions).  However, if subjects were explicitly trained to recognize and implement the rules, subsequent performance on the RPM still varied tremendously across the subjects, i.e., there was still a normal distribution of individual IQ scores.  Relative to scores prior to training on the rules, explicit training on those operations only resulted in a small (about 5-10 point) increase in actual IQ scores.  Carpenter et al. concluded that rather than “practice” (or learning the rules), application of the rules (indicative of some innate abilities) accounts for much more of the variance in individuals’ performance.  Carpenter et al. identified two psychological processes (reflective of innate abilities) that were utilized in formulating solutions to each test question.  First, subjects needed to apply working memory to store partial or potential solutions while the potential solutions were computed, compared, and evaluated.  Second, subjects were required to utilize a “goal monitor” for planning strategies, setting up sub-goals, and monitoring the utility of a potential solution, all while not becoming confused.  This latter innate ability requires monitoring of working memory and directing attention to each appropriate stage of the process of computing solutions under conditions of high interference.  (As an example of these kinds of operations, imagine for instance trying to simultaneously remember several unique phone numbers or mentally comparing the outcomes of different moves/countermoves in a game of chess.  Some people are good at these kinds of tasks, and some people just aren’t.)  In total, Carpenter et al.’s results and analyses suggest that while practice (or even learning the rules) can have a small effect on IQ test performance, an individual’s actual score on the IQ test is still primarily a reflection of that individual’s innate abilities. 

So, can IQ test scores improve with practice?  Yes, but only to a very limited degree and not in any way that actually reflects any functional significance regarding intelligence.

Have a question about science, health, fitness, or diet? Get cited, evidence-based insights with Consensus.

Try for free