Assessing for Wisdom, Intelligence and Creativity

by Robert Sternberg

How does one assess for wisdom, intelligence, and creativity?

In my own classes, I build such assessments into both my formative and summative assessments. For example, in my course on leadership, one of my exercises involves asking students to come up with a creative idea to improve our school, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the idea, indicate how they would implement the idea, and then show how the idea would serve a common good.

In another exercise, I ask students to consider how they would deal with a lazy co-worker in a group project. I ask them specifically to create a plan for dealing with the co-worker, analyze what aspects of it are more and less likely to work, say how they would implement the plan, and demonstrate that the plan would serve the interests of the whole group and not just their own interests.

We even use this model, Wisdom, Intelligence and Creativity Synthesized, or WICS, as a basis for admissions at Tufts University. Here are actual essay topics we used for admissions to the Class of 2011. Completing the essays was optional:

“The late scholar James O. Freedman referred to libraries as ‘essential harbors on the voyage toward understanding ourselves.’ What work of fiction or non-fiction would you include in your personal library? Why?” (Analytical)

“Create a short story using one of the following topics: (a) The End of MTV; (b) Confessions of a Middle School Bully; (c) The Professor Disappeared; or (d) The Mysterious Lab” (Creative)

“History’s great events often turn on small moments. For example, what if Rosa Parks had given up her seat on that bus? What if Pope John Paul I had not died after a month in office in 1978? What if Gore had beaten Bush in Florida and won the 2000 U.S. presidential election? Using your knowledge of American or world history, choose a defining moment and imagine an alternate historical scenario if that key event had played out differently.” (Creative)

“Describe a moment in which you took a risk and achieved an unexpected goal. How did you persuade others to follow your lead? What lessons do you draw from this experience? You may reflect on examples from your academic, extracurricular or athletic experiences.” (Practical)

“A high school curriculum does not always afford much intellectual freedom. Describe one of your unsatisfied intellectual passions. How might you apply this interest to serve the common good and make a difference in society?” (Wisdom)