Is it really possible for me, at 42, to increase my IQ/fluid intelligence/learning ability?
Last night I took an online IQ test
. I did shockingly badly, scoring a 106. (I think it was based on the Wechsler Adult Scale, but can't be sure). It was partly because I didn't manage to get to all the questions, but I got a surprising number wrong--and not just in one or two areas.
I know online tests probably aren't all that reliable, but I get the sense that if anything they would probably tend to be easier than "real" ones administered by psychologists. What's troubling to me is that I was tested at the age of eight and scored 140. I don't remember what test it was, except that it was given verbally by our district's school psychologist, and one of the tasks I was set was to list as many different random words as I could in the space of a minute.
Throughout school, I flourished in English and history classes and struggled in math. Since I was about three, my verbal fluency has been mostly off the charts--I could read at three and was reading longer, non-illustrated books at seven. On standardized tests my scores placed me in the top 99th percentile in reading and vocabulary; I did respectably in math, but not nearly so well. When I was tested for our district's gifted program the summer before fourth grade, I was supposedly reading at the college level.
Most of my life, however, I've been suffering from serious impostor syndrome. I've never considered myself truly smart because I stopped taking math altogether in tenth grade after Algebra II and science after eleventh grade chemistry in order to hack my GPA. I majored in English in college and managed never to take a "real" science course that involved any sort of mathematical reasoning, and then I went on to grad school in English literature and am now ABD.
I now work as a technical writer, but I still sorely feel the math/science deficiency. I believed (and so did my husband, who is a scientist) that my poor performance in math and science was the result of having been convinced by my parents and teachers that I had little aptitude for those subjects. So a couple years ago I started taking courses in computer programming and math at a local community college. The programming is kind of like learning a human language. It's a struggle, but it's a walk in the park compared to the math. I managed to come out of my precalculus course (the first in 25 years) with a C (after failing the final, no less). I ended up just dropping calculus. I hated it, mainly because it was so damn hard and I just wasn't getting it.
I am, of course, generally among the oldest students in the class. I'm not sure why I'm doing so poorly. When I do the problem sets, I check my answers to the odd questions against the answer key in the back of the textbook, but generally get the even questions (whose answers are not given) wrong, and then I do horribly on the exams, despite the fact that I am probably being more diligent about homework and practice than other, younger students. (It takes me much longer to finish.) I will go into an exam believing that I'm on top of the material, and come away feeling as though the rug has been pulled out from underneath me. And yet, somehow I believe that if I could just figure out what was wrong, I could start to master it and start enjoying it as a result.
So I'm just trying to figure out what my problem is. Is it that I'm getting older and my fluid intelligence is decreasing? I know about how mathematicians and theoretical physicists usually do their best work before age 30, but I don't know whether the capacities of above-average but nonbrilliant folks decrease over time as well. If so, is there anything I can do about it? I would really, really like to learn calculus, and I'd like to be able to take courses in the hard sciences that rely on higher mathematics to improve my job skills, bridge the gap with my scientist and developer coworkers, and just feel less all around like I am faking being smart. Taking that test last night was really disheartening. Is there a chance for me, or is it too late, and am I relegated to a life of just fixing the grammar and usage of genuinely bright people? And if it's not too late--especially if you've been in a similar situation--what advice can you give me?