One of the neatest features of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is that it helps us understand ourselves better. Since the theory is based on nouns (words, numbers, pictures, music, people, nature) rather than on verbs (e.g. judging, perceiving, seeing, hearing, achieving, investigating), it can be related to our personal lives more easily and clearly than other self-help assessments such as the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram. The following is a simple assessment that I’ve put together based on my over thirty years working with the theory. It is important to state right from the start that this is not a test. It will not tell you ‘’who you are.’’ If you’re an educator or counselor, it should not be used in any way as a diagnostic instrument, a screening tool, or ‘’test’’ as part of any formal research study. It is what I would call a ‘’rough-and-ready’’ tool to get you thinking about the eight intelligences in Gardner’s model, and how those eight intelligences intersect in meaningful ways with your personal and professional life. The instructions are simple: check any item that applies, and then see me on the other side of the assessment for some words on how to interpret the results.
__ I hear words in my mind as I go about my daily life
__ I am an avid reader
__ Writing comes very easily to me
__ I enjoy doing word puzzles (e.g. crossword puzzles) and/or playing word games (e.g. Scrabble)
__ I have a pretty good vocabulary
__ I am comfortable speaking to a group of people
__ I like listening to books on tape and/or to talk shows or news broadcasts on the radio
__ I like to have fun playing around with language through jokes, puns, tongue twisters etc.
__ I’m interesting in knowing the meanings of new words and/or finding out about the origins of words.
__ I like memorizing and reciting poetry or other textual material.
__ I can calculate arithmetic in my head fairly easily
__ I enjoy and/or get a lot of information from statistics in the news
__ I think I have a basically logical or scientific way of looking at things
__ I enjoy playing logic games (like chess) or working with logical puzzles (like Rubic’s Cube)
__ I have no trouble at all balancing my checkbook
__ I did well in math and/or science class
__ I think I’d do well working as an accountant, data analyst, or computer programmer
__ I often see logical patterns in people’s behaviors
__ I feel more at ease with solutions to life’s problems if they are arrived at through the use of hard data
__ I believe that the truth of things can best be achieved through the use of reason.
__ I enjoyed and/or did well in art class at school
__ I find myself doodling if I get bored at a meeting or a class
__ I can visualize pretty clearly when I close my eyes
__ I can find my way driving in an unfamiliar area without the use of GPS
__ I have a hobby that involves painting, sculpture, design, photography or some other visual art
__ I did better in geometry class than in algebra at school
__ I tend to make pictures in my head to help solve personal and/or professional problems
__ People have said that I draw pretty good
__ I’m very sensitive to color and/or other visual features of whatever new environment I find myself in
__ I’ve got a very good visual memory
__ I enjoy participating in group or individual sports
__ I tend to express myself a lot using gestures and other body language to communicate
__ I work well with my hands in things like woodworking, sewing, and/or other handicrafts
__ I often have visceral responses or ‘’gut feelings’’ to things that happen to me in my life
__ I like to dance or move my body around in other creative ways such as jogging or doing gymnastics
__ I think being physically fit is an important part of daily living
__ I have excellent flexibility in my body for my age
__ I enjoy practicing yoga, Pilates, Zumba, tai chi or some other mind-body practice
__ I have excellent manual dexterity when it comes to fixing things
__ I enjoyed being in theater at school and/or have a dramatic way of presenting myself to others
__ I often hear music playing in my head during the day
__ I play one or more musical instruments
__ I enjoy listening to music on CDs, streaming, or other media
__ I have strong feelings (likes and/or dislikes) about music that I listen to
__ I have a good sense of rhythm
__ I have enjoyed being part of a chorus, orchestra, or other musical group
__ I like hearing rhythms, tones, and other ‘’music’’ in things around me (e.g. rhythms from a machine)
__ I can play a musical instrument by ear and/or read musical notation fairly well
__ Life would be much poorer if there were no music in it
__ When I listen to music, I can pick out specific instruments, musical patterns, and/or musical motifs
__ I tend to enjoy being around people
__ I have taken on leadership roles in my life and felt comfortable doing so
__ I’m good at picking up on what another person is thinking, feeling, and/or intending
__ I feel a deep sense of empathy for those who are undergoing suffering
__ I’ve been involved in charitable, philanthropic, or service organizations that help others
__ I can interpret social cues pretty well
__ I work well in group situations at home and/or work
__ I’m good at listening to others
__ I’d rather be at a party than home alone working on a hobby
__ I was very popular in school
__ I have a pretty good sense of what I’m feeling at any given moment in time
__ I am good at setting goals and monitoring them over time
__ I’m a self-directed learner than doesn’t like to be told what to do
__ I have strong opinions about controversial issues
__ I have a pretty good sense of my strengths and weaknesses
__ I’m resilient when it comes to facing life challenges, obstacles, and/or setbacks
__ I’ve got one or more hobbies that I like to engage in on my own
__ I have an overall sense of where I’m heading in life and where I’ll be five years from now
__ I enjoy reading self-help books and/or being involved in personal growth activities
__ I pay attention to my inner life through dreams, intuitions, and/or inspirations
__ I’m good at identifying the names of trees, plants, shrubs, flowers and other flora
__ I have a knack for relating to pets and other animals
__ I feel a sense of commitment toward saving the planet from ecological damage
__ I enjoy watching nature-related topics on TV, in movies, and/or through online videos
__ I like to read books and/or magazines that have nature as a key feature
__ I have a green thumb when it comes to gardening and/or landscaping
__ I like to go out in nature and investigate the living things that are found there
__ I particularly enjoyed classes in school that dealt with nature in some way (e.g. biology etc.)
__ I have been part of one or more clubs or organizations that focused on some aspect of nature
__ I need to have some kind of nature around me when I am working
Interpreting the Results
Let me reiterate that this is not a test and quantitative analysis (e.g. the number of checks for each intelligence) has no part in the use of this assessment. Having said that, you certainly can look at trends. If you checked all the items for Word Smart and none of the items for Number/Logic Smart, that tells you something about what Gardner called ‘’proclivities’’ (tendencies) toward Word Smart more than Number/Logic Smart.
However, even in that situation we must be careful. You might not have checked any items for an intelligence because of the way I worded the items (I haven’t set this assessment up for reliability and validity analysis), or because of the way you decided to interpret the items. Also, if you didn’t check any items for an intelligence, it doesn’t mean that you have no intelligence in that area. Gardner points out that we possess all eight intelligences, but in different ways.
I once had a teacher take an assessment similar to this one and he came to me rather distressed. I asked him what the problem was and he said ‘’I didn’t check any of the items for Number/Logic Smart.’’ I told him what I’ve told you, that this isn’t a test. ‘’But I’m a math teacher,’’ he replied. As we talked, though, it became apparent that he was an excellent math teacher, especially for those students who struggled in math, because he had struggled in math.
There’s also another element at work here. You might have checked all or most of the items for a given intelligence, let’s say Music Smart, and very few for Picture Smart. And yet it may be Picture Smart activities that give you the most satisfaction. You can be good at something and still not like to do it, for various reasons. And similarly, you can be not so good at an intelligence and be excited about developing it. That’s another important thing to keep in mind: you have all the intelligences and can develop them all with the right resources and plenty of effort. We’re definitely talking about a ‘’growth mindset’’ here, where research has suggested if you think that you’re more or less born with a certain amount of intelligence (a ‘’fixed mindset’’) you won’t achieve as much as if you have a belief that you can develop it if you work hard (‘’growth mindset’’).
Having said all this, you still can use the results of this assessment to make your own personal assessment of which intelligences are currently most developed in you and which are less developed (I hasten to add that you keep away from words like ‘’strengths’’ and ‘’weaknesses’’ because they reinforce a fixed mindset). This personal evaluation may tell you why you’ve always liked to paint but hated the piano lessons your parents made you take (another excellent approach for assessing the intelligences and how they developed or failed to develop is to relate them to your childhood experiences).
The results of this assessment may also give you clues as to the best vocation or career for you. If you checked most of the items for Body Smart and few for Word Smart, then you probably want to stay away from jobs that have you sitting at a desk from 9 to 5 pushing a pencil around, and instead look for careers that have you moving around, like a photographer, firefighter, or emergency room physician.
All in all, I encourage readers to use the information gleaned from this assessment in a flexible way – one that opens up doorways instead of closing them down (one child came from a classroom where they were introduced to the eight intelligences and her mother asked her what she learned; and she replied: ‘’that I’m not Word Smart.’’). The best approach to take when interpreting this assessment is to determine not what you’re ‘’at risk’’ for, but what you’re ‘’at promise’’ to become.
To find out more about multiple intelligences, check out the following resources:
For general overview and self-help strategies (high school, college, and adult learners): 7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences. New York: Plume, 1999.
For K-12 educators: Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom 4th ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2018.
For K-12 educators (with a focus on literacy): The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003.
For parents: In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences, New York: Tarcher/Perigee, 2000.
For kids (ages 5-9): Smarts! Everybody’s Got Them. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit, 2019.
For kids (ages 10-14): You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit, 2014.
This page brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com