Forget IQ; this 3 question test will decide how well you’ll perform in your career

There are plenty of IQ and aptitude tests designed to measure intelligence, work style and even career paths for those unsure of what direction to take. 

But what if a simple, three-question test could determine how well you’ll excel in your career? 

A recent study from Frontiers in Psychology suggests that the Cognitive Reflection Test may be a key predictor of success in your next role. “The cognitive reflection test measures your ability to come to a correct answer instead of going with your incorrect gut response,” explains Alexander Burgemeester, neuropsychiatrist and founder of TheNarcissisticLife.

“Since the test does have positive correlations with intelligence, it can be used in the employer/employee setting as a way to identify candidates with better cognitive abilities. Of course, there is some controversy surrounding this test since some research shows that people who have never heard of the test do better on it than those who have knowledge of it.” 

Here’s a look at what the Cognitive Reflection Test measures, where it originated and how employers could utilize it in the future. 

What is the cognitive reflection test?

Though its use as a hiring tool is novel, the Cognitive Reflection Test has been around since 2005. “The Cognitive Reflection Test, sometimes dubbed as the ‘world’s shortest IQ test,’ was developed by then Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management Professor, Dr. Shane Frederick,” explains Victoria D. Coleman, LCPC, LCSW.

The test itself has only three questions, which seem simple at first glance. However, getting all three correct hinges on moving past your gut instinct and taking time to calculate each answer. 

What questions are on the cognitive reflection test?

One survey found that in a survey of 3,428 people who took the test, 33% answered all three questions incorrectly – with 83% answering at least one wrong. The three questions are as follows:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

At first glance, $1 seems to be the obvious answer. However, to accurately calculate this equation, you’ll need to solve for X. 

The ball costs X. We know the bat costs $1 more than X. So, the bat costs X+1. 

Bat + Ball = X + (X+1). This equals 1.1 – we know they cost $1.10 combined. Which means 2X +1 = 1.1. This means that 2X = 0.1, so X = 0.05. 

The ball costs five cents, and the bat costs $1.05.

If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

No, it’s not 100 minutes. Breaking this down, it takes one machine five minutes to make one widget. If 100 machines are working together, each can make a widget in five minutes. So in five minutes, 100 widgets can be made. 

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

It’s not 24. Every day moving forward, the patch doubles in size. Moving backward, the patch halves in size. Day 47 is when the lake would be half full. 

How do you score well on the Cognitive Reflection Test?

To score well on the cognitive reflection test, you’ll need to employ what psychologists refer to as System 2 thinking. “System 1 and System 2 are the two generally accepted types of cognitive activity,” Burgemeester explains. “System 1 is characterized by quick thinking that shows no real thought or effort being put into it. While System 2 is the exact opposite, with time and effort spent on the thought.”

System 1 thinking tends to be our default mode. This short test shows how hard a person is willing to work to get to the correct answer. 

“The end goal of using this test is identifying those with System 2 cognitive activity because these are the people who are not quick to react and who take time to reflect and consider before giving an answer,” Burgemeester continues. 

It’s important to note that System 2 thinking takes more mental stamina than System 1 thinking. “You can’t give employees several things to consider in a short amount of time,” Burgemeester cautions. “If you overload them, then you’ll get System 1 thinking by default.” Which is why this test is so brief. 

How to improve System 2 thinking

According to Burgemeester, employers can cultivate an optimal environment that makes System 2 thinking easier to access for employees. “You can encourage this slower thinking by not creating a sense of urgency in the workplace and giving employees time to consider — and even encouraging them to do so,” he says. 

Coleman also recommends taking the below steps to use System 2 thinking to your advantage.

  • Examine the steps in the decision-making process

What are the current steps you take to reach your decision? If you’re going with gut feelings overall, it may be time to add more strategic steps into your process.

  • Conduct extensive research into the decision to be made

Depending on your role and the decision at hand, leveraging data and information that will help guide your line of thinking is a critical part of System 2 thinking.

  • Spend more time thinking about and analyzing decisions

How did you come to the conclusion you’ve made at work? Breaking down your thought process and taking a closer look at what calls you make based on gut reaction vs. research can help shift the way you approach challenges at work. 

  • Consult with others, including multicultural and diverse populations, to determine how they might use System 2 thinking

Everyone approaches challenges differently. Learning from others who utilize System 2 thinking regularly in your workplace can help put you ahead.