Your Brain and How To Use It?

The Sunday Times has been advertising a new feature aimed at improving the mental prowess of the nation. On Sunday you will get a free DVD which will let you measure your brain power. Whoopee.

I hate things like this. I hate IQ tests, I think they are silly. If you get a low score you get upset because you think you are thick. If you get a high score in one of these tests you get upset because you are not running the country (not that this is necessarily an advert for cleverness).

Of course the real reason that I hate the tests is because I get very confused/irritated by them. When confronted by a "pick the right answer/odd one out/next in sequence" kind of question I can usually think of a whole bunch of reasons why any one of them could be the correct one, depending on the whim of the person setting the test. So what I'm really finding out is if my interpretation of the situation is the same as someone else. Who presumably has a "gold standard" of cleverness in their office.

You might find it strange that someone who often has to measure how good people are at something by setting exams and exercises dislikes IQ tests so much. I think the thing is that what I try to assess is how useful somebody would be. Given a bunch of learning outcomes (which is what courses have these days) I'm going to set questions that will try to find out how useful you can be with the knowledge that you are supposed to have.

I'll start by asking a few things which will determine whether or not you have taken the trouble to learn the fundamentals of the subject and then give you a bunch of situations where you can demonstrate that you can use this understanding to achieve things. Finally, I'm going to try and get you into a place where you can say "There are no right answers here, just different compromises which reflect different priorities" and then tell me all about these.

Of course not everything can be nailed down like this, and I'm also going to want to see how well you can present your understanding (which is why we get the first year students to demonstrate their programs), but it is a good start.

I've nothing against doing stuff which keeps your brain agile (I love the little brain power games for the Nintendo DS). But I am strongly against dodgy pseudo-scientific tests which don't really prove anything useful.