IQ vs. Critical Thinking – Unveiling the Difference

IQ vs. Critical Thinking – Unveiling the Difference

By Dr. Merle Riepe

President, SOLVE


In a world driven by assessments and measurements of intelligence, it’s easy to commingle IQ with critical thinking. Both are pivotal aspects of cognitive abilities, but they serve distinct purposes. Understanding these disparities is crucial for hiring practices and professional development. So, let’s delve into the disparities between IQ and critical thinking, the best tool to measure critical thinking, and explore actionable strategies to bolster critical thinking skills.

Deciphering IQ and Critical Thinking

IQ (Intelligence Quotient): IQ primarily measures cognitive abilities such as reasoning, problem-solving, and pattern recognition. It’s often assessed through standardized tests and is regarded as a measure of one’s potential to grasp new concepts and solve complex problems. While IQ can indicate a person’s intellectual capacity, it doesn’t necessarily reflect their ability to apply knowledge critically in real-world scenarios. From a hiring perspective, IQ tests carry with them elevated levels of adverse impact and create significant legal liability when used inappropriately.


Critical Thinking: Unlike IQ, critical thinking is more about how you use your intelligence rather than the raw ability itself. It involves analyzing information, evaluating arguments, and forming well-reasoned judgments. Critical thinkers are adept at questioning assumptions, recognizing biases, and synthesizing diverse perspectives to arrive at informed decisions. It’s a skill that’s indispensable across various domains, from corporate boardrooms to everyday problem-solving. As a result, it is easier to defend the use of critical-thinking assessments in hiring and they demonstrate less adverse impact (little to none if used appropriately).

Assessing Critical Thinking

Organizations most commonly use interviews, online tests, biodata, and/or job simulations to measure critical thinking ability. When selecting a test for measuring critical thinking ability, it’s essential to consider the specific objectives of the assessment, the reliability and validity of the test, and how well it aligns with the skills and competencies you aim to evaluate. The best (and most widely used) assessment of critical-thinking ability is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Assessment. However, interpreting the results of any assessment should be done with caution, considering that critical thinking is a complex and multifaceted skill that may not be fully captured by a single test. Therefore, combining multiple measures and considering qualitative aspects of critical thinking provide a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s abilities.

Strategies to Enhance Critical Thinking

Embrace Curiosity and Inquiry: Curiosity is the cornerstone of critical thinking. Cultivate a habit of questioning everything – from conventional wisdom to your own beliefs. Don’t settle for surface-level explanations; instead, dig deeper to uncover underlying assumptions and implications. Encourage yourself to explore diverse viewpoints, even those that contradict your own. This fosters intellectual humility and broadens your perspective, essential elements of effective critical thinking.


Develop Analytical Skills: Critical thinking thrives on robust analytical skills. Sharpen your ability to dissect complex information by breaking it down into its constituent parts. Practice finding relevant evidence, distinguishing between fact and opinion, and recognizing logical fallacies. Apply the scientific method and recognize the difference between a primary source and secondary sources. Engage in activities that demand analytical thinking, such as puzzles, debates, or data analysis. Regular exercise of these skills hones your ability to reason effectively and make sound judgments in various contexts.


Seek Feedback and Constructive Criticism: Feedback is invaluable for refining critical thinking skills. Actively ask for feedback from peers, coaches, mentors, or experts on your thought processes and decision-making. Embrace criticism as an opportunity for growth rather than a setback. Pay attention to areas where you tend to overlook biases or overlook alternative viewpoints. Incorporate constructive feedback into your thinking process to continuously improve your critical thinking abilities.



Distinguishing between IQ and critical thinking is crucial for navigating the complexities of the modern world. While IQ reflects innate cognitive abilities, critical thinking is a learned skill that can be honed through deliberate practice and reflection. By embracing curiosity, developing analytical prowess, and seeking constructive feedback, leaders can enhance critical thinking abilities and unleash their full intellectual potential. Remember, critical thinking isn’t just about being smart; it’s about using intelligence wisely to navigate life’s myriad challenges with clarity and discernment.