Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ IQ

In a recent study published in Plus oneIn this study, researchers evaluated the effect of non-formal education during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on students’ intelligence quotients (IQs).

Study: Students' intelligence test results after six and sixteen months of non-formal education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Image credit: Drazen Zigic/ShutterstockStady: Students’ intelligence test results after six and sixteen months of non-formal education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock


The COVID-19 pandemic and related countermeasures have resulted in many temporary but widespread impacts on global societal systems, including work, social life, education and culture. Many institutions including schools were unprepared for a major turnaround and partial closure of their operations, resulting in a long period of impromptu teaching along with truancy around the world.

Numerous potential ramifications of disruption to mainstream education, such as learning loss, students’ feelings, and mental health as well as students’ experiences and perspectives towards online learning, have been studied and investigated. However, the impact of the pandemic on students’ intelligence is rarely understood.

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In this study, researchers evaluated intelligence test scores of seventh- to ninth-grade high school students during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and student samples were evaluated in 2002.

Between August and September 2020, 424 pupils in grades 7, 8 and 9 answered the Berlin Test of Intelligence Structure (BIS-HB). In four German grammar schools in Rhineland-Palatine, these pupils attended regular or private lessons. The average age of the sample group was 13.34 years, with 41.98% of female students. In July 2021, 257 students with an IQ score assessed at the initial measurement point were retested.

The BIS-HB test includes a paper-and-pencil intelligence test developed to measure the intellectual structure of adolescents with superior and superior abilities. The playback component consists of processing speed [S]creativity [C]memory [M]and inference [R]. Test content includes language, numerical and pictorial skills. Each test item is associated with a specific mix of content and operation. From 2011 to 2013 (called the “2012 sample”), BIS-HB was offered to 197 children in Year 8 from the same four schools as students in the 2020 sample. In 2002, 1,506 pupils in Years 5–10 were also assessed from schools in five German states as part of the BIS-HB standards.

A comparison was made between the 2020 sample and the 2002 sample in Analysis 1a and a comparison was made between the 2020 sample and the 2012 sample as well as the 2002 samples in Analysis 1b.


In Analysis 1a, the propensity score (PS) matching algorithm combined 104 students belonging to the 2002 sample with 104 students belonging to the 2020 sample. The proportions of class type, grade level, and sex in the matched samples were identical, and there were slight differences in age and PS. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) revealed significant and statistically significant variance between the BIS-HB values ​​of the samples, with the matched 2002 sample performing the best. The discriminatory function analysis revealed an important function that distinguished the 2002 sample from the 2020 sample.

All measures of intelligence, with the exception of creativity, showed significant structural coefficients showing that the 2002 sample performed significantly better than the 2020 sample. There was no intrinsic correlation between creativity and assessed function, and thus creativity did not differentiate between samples. Finally, ANOVA detected a moderate difference in g-factor between samples, in favor of the matched 2002 sample.

Approximately 113 students belonging to the 2012 sample were matched with 113 students belonging to the 2020 sample by PS matching. Using a second PS matching technique, 110 pupils from the 2002 sample were matched with 110 pupils from the 2012 sample. A third PS matching technique then paired the 110 pupils belonging to the 2012 sample that had been selected by the second PS matching procedure with 11 pupils belonging to the 2020 sample. Examination of discriminatory functions revealed two significant functions that characterized the 2002, 2012, and 2020 samples.

All measures of intelligence showed significant structural coefficients in function 1. This function distinguished the 2012 sample from the 2002 and 2020 samples, showing that the 2012 sample had higher IQ scores than the other two samples. On the other hand, Function 2 showed that all measures of intelligence except C and R showed significant structural coefficients. Function 2 mostly distinguished the 2002 sample from the 2020 sample, indicating that the 2002 sample had higher IQ scores.

All scores increased significantly from tests to retests. The correlations between tests and retests ranged from r = 0.71 for memory to r = 0.87 for general intelligence. Furthermore, the average improvement in IQ was 6.86 points, and it ranged from 3.56 for creativity to 11.93 for processing speed. For the 2020-2021 school year, there was neither a significant decrease in IQ test scores nor a significant increase that would be considered “catch-up” with previous classes.


The results of the study indicate that issues related to COVID-19 may affect children’s cognitive abilities. Although intelligence plays a vital role in many aspects of life, further study of the discrepancies between samples of pre-academic students and samples of current students will be necessary in order to account for these differences in testing standards and potential drawbacks by offering appropriate interventions.

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