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From the classic IQ test to the intimidating SATs and ACTs, there’s no shortage of tests designed to measure intelligence and decide who gets to be successful. These standardized exams tend to measure mathematical and linguistic ability, since our society typically values these two strengths above others. Here’s the problem with that: There’s more than one way to be smart. In fact, studies have shown that standardized tests are not always reliable measures
of intelligence.

But there’s another way to look at intelligence. In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, knew that success wasn’t only about being good with words and numbers. After contemplating the different skills that humans use in life, he coined the term “multiple intelligences.” His theory? Intelligence is being able to solve problems or create things that are valuable to society. He determined that there are at least eight categories of intelligence.

Hardly anyone will be a master at every type of intelligence, but you can harness your strengths and improve upon the areas that come less naturally to you. The key is finding balance. Click on each type of intelligence to learn how.

Linguistic learner

1. Linguistic

The ability to use words effectively to tell a story, explain, or convince, either in speech or writing.

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If you’re a whiz at reading, writing, and public speaking, linguistic intelligence is probably one of your strengths.

Careers that are a natural fit
Journalist, lawyer, marketing consultant, politician, social media manager, writer, editor

How to improve your linguistic intelligence
Try creating a blog to practice your format and sentence structure. You can make it about saving the polar bears, your favorite healthy recipes, or any topic that inspires you. Consistent practice will help you brush up on your skills, even if it’s just for the sake of improving your social conversation and email correspondence (which you’ll likely rely on in any career).

+ Hone your vocabulary with these addictive word puzzles

“I’m not good with words or making speeches, but I work on it by performing on stage.”
—Jayden, freshman, Fall River, Massachusetts

Mathematic learner

2. Logical-mathematic

The ability to use numbers effectively (e.g., solve math problems), to notice patterns/relationships, and to reason well (e.g., science, computer programming).

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If you’re the first to solve math problems, puzzles, and calculate how much tip everyone needs to pitch in for the pizza, you’ve got logical-mathematical skills.

Careers that are a natural fit
Accountant, actuary, computer programmer, database designer, doctor, engineer, mathematician, website coder

How to improve your logical-mathematical intelligence
Calculators can come to your rescue in most situations, but logic does more than help you figure out the answers to your math homework. It’ll help you think scientifically, pick out flaws in other people’s arguments—and it comes in handy when it’s time to create a budget for your upcoming college expenses.

+ Take your logic up a notch with this fan favorite logic puzzle app

“Logical-mathematical intelligence helps me visualize how things work. I really enjoy understanding numbers and how they play a role in our life.”
—Demetri, senior, Singapore American School

Spatial

3. Spatial

The ability to think in terms of physical space while being very aware of your environment. This can apply to indoor spaces (e.g., architect or designer) or the outdoors (e.g., as a scout or guide).

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What do rearranging your room, taking photos, driving, and navigating the great outdoors have in common? If you’ve got a knack for them, spatial intelligence is likely your strength.

Careers that are a natural fit
Architect, artist, civil engineer, game designer, graphic designer, interior decorator, outdoor guide, photographer, professional driver, urban planner

How to improve your spatial intelligence
If directions aren’t your thing and you want to improve your spatial intelligence, try navigating your city without the use of GPS. Take a look at your smartphone map and try to get a feeling for your destination in relation to your current location, but then put your phone away (don’t worry, you can pull over and take it out again if you get lost). Another option is playing chess, which boosts problem-solving ability and creativity (one of the most important skills for the careers listed above). The famed Rubik’s Cube can also help you brush up on your spatial intelligence.

+ Try a digital version of the Rubik’s Cube

Bodily-kinesthetic

4. Bodily-kinesthetic

The ability to use your own body to express feelings or ideas (e.g., actor, dancer, athlete) and use your hands to transform things (e.g., sculptor, surgeon, mechanic). 

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If you’ve got great dance moves, a steady hand when crafting, or a natural talent for sports, you’re a pro at bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. You’ve got control over your body and can use it to produce small and specific (e.g., with your hands) or large and dramatic (e.g., with your whole body) movements.

Careers that are a natural fit
Actor, athlete, carpenter, craftsperson, dancer, jeweler, mechanic, personal trainer/fitness instructor, sculptor, surgeon

How to improve your bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
Join a sports team, dance group, or get involved in the school play, depending on whether you want to use your body athletically or creatively. Ask a friend to sign up with you and pledge to make it a no-judgment zone. Just because you two aren’t dancing like Beyoncé doesn’t mean you can’t improve with practice!

+ Find a local sports team to join

“Bodily-kinesthetic is my strongest form of intelligence. It helps me in everyday life because I am a dancer. When I dance, I want the audience to feel what I’m feeling and to understand the character that I’m portraying.”
—Gabriella, freshman, Brooklyn, New York

Musical

5. Musical

The ability to understand, create, or express musical forms (e.g., a music critic, composer, DJ, musician).

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Do you play an instrument, sing, create the best playlists, or are you always feeling the music? Your musical skills are likely your strength.

Careers that are a natural fit
Conductor, DJ, music critic, musician, singer, sound engineer, speech therapist, talent agent

How to improve your musical intelligence
The most obvious solution is to learn an instrument or take voice lessons, but if you haven’t got the time to invest, here’s a simpler way to become more music-savvy: Switch up the type of music you listen to. If you’re using Spotify or Songza, challenge yourself to pick a different genre of playlist every day. You’ll inevitably train your ear to recognize different pitches, melodies, and tones.

+ Improve your singing voice with this vocal training app

“You don’t have to automatically discard your passion if it’s a weakness, but move forward with caution. Just because we have a passion doesn’t mean it needs to become a career. For example, you may be passionate about singing, but if you’re tone deaf, it might be better to keep singing as a hobby,” says Hallie Crawford, a certified professional career coach, author, and speaker in Atlanta, Georgia. “However, you can find an industry that has to do with your passion where you could use your strengths. In this case, you could become a talent scout, a music critic, a concert promoter, or a recording engineer.”

Interpersonal

6. Interpersonal

The ability to understand the moods, intentions, feelings, and motivations of other people. People with interpersonal strength have empathy for others and know how to effectively handle social situations.

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Are you the first one that your friends come to for advice and one of the last guests to leave a party? If you consider yourself a social butterfly and are comfortable communicating with almost anyone, your strength likely lies in your interpersonal intelligence.

Careers that are a natural fit
Business administrator, hotel or restaurant manager, journalist, nurse, psychologist, public relations agent, salesperson, social worker, teacher

How to improve your interpersonal intelligence
Rather than sticking to surface-level “Hello” and “How are you?” conversations, make it a goal to have a real talk with at least one different person every day. If face-to-face communication is difficult for you, start a conversation on Facebook or Messenger. Try to learn something new about someone while also sharing something about yourself (keep your personal information private online, though). When a friend confides in you, don’t simply listen—make an effort to feel empathy by putting yourself in their shoes and giving well-thought-out advice.

+ Here are six ways to be more empathetic

“I think that my strongest intelligence is interpersonal. It helps me figure out how to cheer someone up or what to say to someone.”
—Naomi, freshman, Concord, Massachusetts

Intrapersonal

7. Intrapersonal

The ability to accurately understand yourself (including your strengths and limitations), and make decisions based on your goals and interests.

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If you’re self-aware enough to understand all of your positive traits, quirks, and flaws, as well as what your short-term and long-term goals are, you probably possess intrapersonal intelligence.

Careers that are a natural fit
Business owner, entrepreneur, career coach, consultant, counselor, psychologist

How to improve your intrapersonal intelligence
Get to know yourself by creating your own personal development plan. It sounds complicated, but it’s simple: Write down the goals that you’d like to achieve within the next year, and reflect upon the specific steps and decisions they require. For instance, if you’re planning to attend college, think about which programs are in line with your career interests, when you should start visiting campuses, filling out applications, etc. Don’t forget to think long-term: Where do you want to live, and what kind of lifestyle do you envision for yourself after school? Think about how your natural strengths and abilities will help you get there, and keep in mind any areas you want to improve on.

+ Here’s a guide to creating your own personal development plan

Naturalist

8. Naturalist

The ability to recognize and classify a variety of species and natural phenomena in the environment (e.g., flora and fauna, cloud formations, mountains) or to do the same in an urban environment (differentiate types of cars, buildings, etc.)

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Do you naturally recognize and remember facts about the living things around you, like which tree species grow in your neighborhood and which birds live in them? If so, you’ve got naturalist intelligence.

Careers that are a natural fit
Anthropologist, botanist, biologist, conservationist, environmental lawyer, florist, geologist,
veterinarian, wildlife expert

How to improve your naturalist intelligence
Get comfortable with nature by spending more time outdoors. Plan a camping trip with a friend and make it a point to learn which plants and animals live in the area. If you’re specifically interested in plants, consider starting a garden in your yard or caring for a few indoor plants. You could even try growing your own veggies, which will keep you stocked with healthy ingredients and earn you serious bragging rights when you treat someone to a “garden to table” meal.

+ Find out which plants and animals live in your region

+ Get easy tips for growing vegetables at home

How these intelligences might look in your day-to-day life:

  • That time you mediated a fight between friends and got them to re-friend each other on Facebook? Your interpersonal skills saved the day.
  • When you remixed that song everyone loved? Your musical strengths helped you create the perfect mashup.
  • When you scored multiple goals to help your team win the soccer game? Thank your bodily-kinesthetic abilities for those moves.

“When we think about real-world problems, not just those on an IQ test or an exam in school, we see that there are many ways to solve problems [and] many ways to be smart,” says Dr. Thomas R. Hoerr, author of Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School and director of New City School in St. Louis, Missouri.

Dr. Gardner says that the strengths needed to succeed in situations like these (and in life) are all forms of intelligence—they’re just not the ones you’d use to solve an algebra equation or write an essay. And that makes sense, since different careers require different skills.

“People who are able to use their strongest intelligences at work are more likely to be successful,” says Dr. Hoerr. “That’s not to say that we can’t improve skill in an intelligence; we can. But it does mean that we will find more success and pleasure when we work in areas in which we have strengths.”

“Obviously some [careers] rely heavily on a particular intelligence, but most require a balance of several,” says Mindy L. Kornhaber, associate professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Quotation

I make two claims. The first claim is that all human beings have all of these intelligences. The second claim is that, both because of our genetics and our environment, no two people have exactly the same profile of intelligences, not even identical twins, because their experiences are different.

- Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University professor and creator of the theory of multiple intelligences

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Article sources

Mindy L. Kornhaber, associate professor of the Department of Education Policy Studies at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Hallie Crawford, MA, certified professional career coach, author, and speaker in Atlanta, Georgia.

Thomas R. Hoerr, PhD, author of Becoming a multiple intelligences school and head of New City School in St. Louis, Missouri.

Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (3rd ed.). Cloverdale, CA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=GAVRBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=multiple+intelligences&ots=B53Aec13FG&sig=oX9ca284eRNHDAgODbLtqxK_PNE&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). Performance counts: Assessment systems that support high-quality learning. Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from:
https://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2010/Performance_Counts_Assessment_Systems_2010.pdf

Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Perseus Books Group. Retrieved from: https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=2IEfFSYouKUC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=multiple+intelligences&ots=3-7S6R0Rw-&sig=RXlc0abkwWaODE0j_3Mxe5bbOVI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Hampshire, A., Highfield, R. R., Parkin, B. L., & Owen, A. M. (2012). Fractionating human intelligence. Neuron, 76(6), 1225–1237.