You may think of yourself as a relatively smart person, but unsure of exactly what is a high IQ. Is 110 a high IQ? Is it an average IQ? For those people who have had their IQ tested at some point in their life, and know their score, they still may not know if their score constitutes a high IQ. Today, the two most popular IQ tests used by psychologists are the Stanford-Binet and Wechsler IQ tests. There are a number of versions of these tests that are administered based on your age range.

While high IQ scores can signal genius level intelligence or giftedness, the primary purpose of testing for IQ is to help understand a person’s cognitive ability level. For children, this can help identify learning disabilities or advanced abilities. Understanding a child’s strengths and weaknesses can help educators place them in programs that will best match their needs and abilities.

General IQ scoring scale

An IQ test is not the only way to measure intelligence and cognitive ability, but the most popular tests have been studied extensively over the years and have statistically proven reliability in measuring for a high IQ. If you are about to take an IQ test, either as a requirement for something or just out of curiosity, then you can expect it to measure things like your visual and audio processing abilities. This can be done by seeing how well you understand a pattern that you are shown or how well you understand something that is played out loud for you to hear. An IQ test will also look at how fast you can process this information and how strong your short-term memory is.

As far as the actual scores go, there are seven general categories that IQ scores are lumped into. A high IQ is generally accepted as a score over 110, which would put someone on the high side of average intelligence.

IQ Range ("Deviation IQ")IQ Classification
145-160Very gifted or highly advanced
130-144Gifted or very advanced
110-119High average
80-89Low average
70-79Borderline impaired or delayed
55-69Mildly impaired or delayed
40-54Moderately impaired or delayed

The lines of high IQ or genius IQ are somewhat subjective

While the table above is often seen in conjunction with IQ scores, there are a number of different tests and where the line is drawn for true “genius” moves a bit depending on who you talk to. For example, another scoring range that’s commonly used was developed in 1916 by Lewis Terman. His IQ scoring categories are broken down as follows:

IQ ScoreClassification
> 140Genius or near genius
120-140Very superior intelligence
110-119Superior intelligence
90-109Normal or average intelligence
70-79Borderline deficiency
< 70Definite feeble mindedness

By these standards, a genius IQ is considered 140 and above. It is generally accepted that standard IQ tests are only reliable up to scores of around 140-145, and beyond that, it takes a highly trained professional to deduce scores in higher ranges. The bell curve below indicates the percentile ranges of IQ scores. 95% of scores fall within +/- 30 points of the average IQ of 100, with most scores falling within the 85-115 range.

iq distribution curve

Factors influencing a person’s score

There are some things that can affect a person’s score when they take an IQ test. High levels of anxiety can cause them to not do their best on the day of the test and would result in a lower score. Other things, like medical conditions, can also lower scores. For example, if someone has a hearing deficit or color blindness, they may score poorly on the test despite having a normal intelligence. While some of these factors may have a detrimental impact on IQ scores, people can improve their IQ over time. Human beings as a whole have continued to become smarter, which causes IQ tests to recalibrate results so that average scores retain the bell curve distribution above. This is known as the Flynn effect. If you’re interested, read up on our tips to improve your IQ score.

Highest IQ scores in history

There’s always some level of intrigue around famous people with high IQs, but in terms of raw intellectual horsepower, the people below are often brought up in discussions about people with the highest IQs.

3. Einstein: Most people correlate high IQs with Albert Einstein, but surprisingly he only scored in the 160-190 range. While these scores are still impressive, they are far from the highest out there. Einstein was a mathematician and physicist from Germany in the 1800’s. He received a Nobel prize for his work with light and the properties it has.

2. Christopher Michael Langan: This man was born in California and had a reported IQ score of 190-210. He had already learned to read by the time he was three and came up with a theory called the Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe.

1. William James Sidis: This person has the highest scores ever recorded, ranging from somewhere around 250 up to the 300 range. (IQ tests can’t reliably score people that many standard deviations outside of the normal range.) This gifted individual was born in New York in 1898 and had learned six different languages by the time he was five. For reasons related to his family upbringing, he ended up focusing his life on politics instead of pursuing his education further.