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How should a person with 110 IQ approach studying? Particularly with math and physics. What are the methods (if any) that can be employed to compensate for my inherent inability to understand very advanced topics? Perhaps focusing on rote memorization in such a case? I'm looking for personal experiences and sources, if possible. Feel free to speak frankly.

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    An IQ of 110 doesn't seem to be average, but rather somewhere at the boundary of the upper 25% quantile of IQ distribution; see here. Anyway, it seems like an utterly bad idea to take the result of some IQ test as a frame of reference when you try to find out how you should learn and what you are able to learn. Dec 2, 2022 at 14:06
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    How to study depends upon the individual, and more than just their IQ. For example, if basing a study plan only upon test scores (a bad idea, but I digress) I would use working memory rather than IQ. Dec 2, 2022 at 14:14
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    "my inherent inability to understand very advanced topics" That's not what IQ means. Dec 2, 2022 at 14:52
  • Given you are on Stack Exchange, "smart and gets things done" should be the mantra (see Joel Spolsky). You are smart, but nobody learns anything without putting work into it.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 2, 2022 at 15:34
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    @JochenGlueck Regardless of the real utility of this question, while 110 might be higher than the population average, OP is comparing themselves to people who have started undergrad training. Dec 2, 2022 at 19:04

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You seem to be interpreting the IQ test as an absolute unbreakable block to your understanding. It is no such thing. Don't try to excuse yourself from the need for hard work to understand deep things.

I was once told, based on a test, that I had the "ability" to do well in a junior college but would probably be frustrated if I tried to go farther than that. I later earned a PhD in mathematics.

No, rote memorization isn't going to take you terrifically far, though some of that may be needed. For the very young it probably is (6*7=42), but not later once the brain develops along with the ability to do abstract thought.

The key to success for most is to work hard but effectively. Don't just try to memorize, but try to solve problems and exercises in both math and physics. Don't read solutions, create them. But you also need feedback on what you do. A good course with a reasonable number of students and a skilled staff should provide that feedback. If they don't then you need to seek it out. Office hours. Be a pest if you need to.

You don't have an inability to understand deep topics. You have a need to develop skills. You may have some setbacks, but even those with great scores on IQ tests will also. Learn to push through those setbacks, with hard work and determination.

I don't know of any university that asks for IQ test results as part of admissions at any level.

The IQ number is just a number it isn't a locked gate.

For background see this at Wikipedia


Let me note a moderately common phenomenon. Some people, perhaps those with high IQ, seem to find early schooling easy and don't have to work very hard to succeed. It just comes naturally. But eventually most everyone will reach a point when it ain't so easy anymore and, if they haven't learned how to learn, might fail at that point having no concept of the work it takes to succeed. I was "lucky" to reach my natural limit early enough that I knew I had to work hard. My sister, who had an easier time in school and far surpassed me in grades, didn't go so far. The "natural limit" of ability (whatever that is) hit her harder.

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    +1, especially for "Don't try to excuse yourself from the need for hard work to understand deep things." Dec 2, 2022 at 14:07
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Basically like anyone else, some references I tend to refer to (and used myself to improve how I learn) are:

The online course is offered for free and based on the material of the book, though I as a warning, it that it is designed for schoolkids as well and so the lectures may come across as childish. However the material they cover is still useful for improving the speed and depth with which you can obtain knowledge.

A couple of other points:

  • Regarding IQs, I remember coming across a study (can't remember where) which states that IQ is only correlated with job performance upto around 120 (a couple of jobs, such as theoretical physics and some mathematics see a correlation going upto 140, though note this was only theoretical physics). Beyond that other skills tended to dominate, e.g. emotional intelligence, networking, drive to perform.

  • Keep in mind IQ only refers to how quickly a person can in theory learn something, it doesn't say how much they will know. If you are an expert in something and we are talking about your area of expertise, you will be the expert regardless of how high my IQ is. All a high IQ means is that if we were both starting from the same background knowledge I would be able to reach your level of expertise quicker than you would. But I would still need to decide that I need to become an expert rather than simply deferring to you (there is such a thing as opportunity cost).

  • To back up Buffy's statement about coasting on natural ability, having a high IQ myself there was a lot of effort put into making sure I didn't think I'd just be able to rely on my natural ability but should have to learn how to study. There is such a thing as a growth mindset and average IQ plus growth mindset will probably be able to do more than a high IQ and fixed ability mindset, even if it might take longer to reach that point. I still need to remind myself every now (particularly if life is happening) and then to engage in focused learning rather then just falling back on my abilities and what I already know.

  • As suggested by the previous point on IQ only being useful upto a point, having a drive to contribute or interest in nature is something I'd say professors keep an eye out for, not just raw intelligence.

  • If you are still worried "My lack of intelligence means I don't have the mental resources to understand this topic", think of it another way. Those people with high IQ can just throw mental resources at a problem until they understand it, if you have to come up with a smarter way to think about something so that you "fit it into your mental capacity" then you have a drive to come up with simpler ways to understand a topic which the high IQ people do not. This can be an incredibly valuable contribution, and is something the high IQ people may also find quite useful themselves.

PS: Rote memorisation should never be your go to, its only useful when trying to deeply understand a more advanced topic than what you're memorising, but you should understand the less advanced topic first.

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  • do you believe iq would ever be a barrier to what someone can learn, or would it always be a rate? Dec 2, 2022 at 18:28

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