Editor's Note: Think you're smart? That depends on what it means to be smart. And how do you become smart – if you're not there yet? This week, in our special series "Are You Smart?" our Alina Cho takes an in-depth look at all aspects of intelligence. Tomorrow on American Morning, we'll examine the "other" smart: emotional intelligence. Some educators say it's a much better indicator than IQ tests.
By Alina Cho, CNN
(CNN) – The most famous measure of intelligence is the IQ test, but how many people have actually taken it? And does it really tell us if we're smart? What does it mean to be smart? And what does a "smart brain" look like?
It's happening all over the country. In some cases, kids barely out of diapers are being tested at 27, 30 months to determine whether they're gifted and talented…smart.
But are these tests accurate measures of intelligence?
"Good God. A kid tested when they are barely over 2-years-old somehow doesn't pass muster and that kid goes down an entirely different track from a more precocious 27-month-old. That is insane," says Daniel Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind."
For adults, the IQ test is the standard. Clear-cut, right and wrong answers. The average score is 100.
But researchers say IQ, your intelligence quotient, is only 25 percent of what makes you successful. IQ misses the other 75 percent.
“So what we have here is we have mechanisms that measure an important part but an incomplete part of what it means to be intelligent,” says Pink. “This ought to alarm us more than it does. Imagine getting into an airplane where the pilot was getting only 25 percent of the data she needed to fly the plane.”
If that's the case, what does it really mean to be smart and how do you get there? Can you make yourself smarter? Or are you born with it?
We went to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. Dr. John Gabrieli is a professor of neuroscience there. He showed us computer images of two brains: a composite of a brain with a relatively high IQ and one with a lower IQ.
The lower IQ brain showed lots of activity.
"They're using a lot of their mental resources,” says Dr. Gabrieli. “They're pushing the gas pedal really hard to do well on this task."
The higher IQ brain, not so much.
"They're trying smarter, not harder, because it's easy for them, relatively speaking."
Smarter brains, simply put, are more efficient.
“We think in many ways, the magic of the brain is in the wiring; that our brains are really made up of millions of little brains all working together,” says Dr. Gabrieli. “We think that's a huge part of the secret of smartness. But part of smartness, we have this magical sense, the brilliance, you know? And genius, we just really don't understand. … You can be pretty smart and none of us are Einstein, except Einstein, right?”
But there is hope, and it's a new frontier in brain science.
A mental exercise can help raise your IQ score by about five points in a relatively short amount of time: 30 minutes a day, five times a week, for about a month.
What's significant about the test is that it shows adult brains can change. And a few points on IQ test can change your life.
“Every few points you get increases your chances of a better paying job, a healthy future, more stability in your family life,” Dr. Gabrieli.
Which is why so many kids are starting so early.