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Two parts to smart: Is your teen college-ready?

Here’s some unsettling information: Just because your teen can remember math formulas or the timeline of World War II doesn’t mean they’re ready for college. In fact, brain experts will tell you that there are actually two parts to smart – knowledge and IQ – and you need both of them to get into the top colleges and universities.

So what’s the difference?

Knowledge is information gained from learning, studying and memorizing academic material, such as historical facts, grammar or mathematical equations. IQ is a measure of intelligence, including things like spatial reasoning, logical ability and relationships. Where once IQ was thought to be a stagnant number (e.g. you were born with your IQ), brain researchers now know that it is simply a measurement of cognitive skills, which can be strengthened.

Cognitive skills are the tools that enable us to do things like:

  • focus
  • think
  • prioritize
  • plan
  • understand
  • visualize
  • remember
  • create useful associations
  • solve problems

“A teenager’s cognitive skill set is made up of several mental skills, including auditory and visual processing, short- and long-term memory, comprehension, logic and reasoning, and attention skills,” explains Dr. Ken Gibson, author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside; Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child” ( “Unfortunately, many people believe that kids who have memorized a lot of academic information – such as facts, figures and formulas – will automatically do well in college because they did well on their final exams. The truth is, learning isn’t about how much you know, but how effectively you process or handle the information you receive. Cognitive skills are the mental mechanisms that process incoming information. By strengthening cognitive skills, you’ll create a stronger learner, which is what’s needed to succeed in college and beyond.”

In fact, IQ scores are sometimes used as predictors of educational achievement. The Princeton Review published a study about cognitive skills rankings calculated using an SAT to IQ Estimator. College freshmen who scored in the top 19 percent in terms of cognitive skills among their peers were accepted into state colleges. Those in the top 9 percent for cognitive skills were accepted into private colleges. But only those ranking in the top 0.2 percent were accepted into Ivy League universities.

“This really demonstrates the importance of strong mental skills for getting into college,” says Tanya Mitchell, Chief Research Officer for LearningRx, a one-on-one brain training company with 80 centers across the United States. “I think it’s common for parents to believe that if their teen is getting A’s and B’s in high school, that’s probably what they’ll get in college. The truth is that college is much more difficult and memorizing material from books just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Teens need strong cognitive skills like logic and reasoning, faster processing speed, problem solving skills and prioritizing in order to not only keep up in college, but to excel.”

Although Mitchell says that some college prep courses can be helpful, she points out that they’re not about strengthening cognitive skills. “Most of them are focused on academic materials and study habits, not strengthening learning skills. Personal brain training can target the weak cognitive skills that have been identified with a cognitive skills assessment.”

”With one-on-one brain training, there’s no focus on specific academics, “ explains Mitchell. “It’s about increasing the brain’s connections to think, process and learn faster – not memorize more material.”