Try the GSS WORDSUM questions!

Saturday January 1, 2022

The General Social Survey includes a WORDSUM vocabulary test component that is often used as a proxy measure for IQ. Want to see how well you can do? Try these 20 questions!

For each initial word, find the other word which means the same or most nearly the same.

In the example at right, “animal” is selected because it has the closest meaning to “beast.”























Here's an excerpt on the history of WORDSUM:

In the early 1920s, Edward L. Thorndike developed a lengthy vocabulary test as part of the I.E.R. Intelligence Scale CAVD to measure, in his words, “verbal intelligence.” As in the modern-day Wordsum test, each question asked respondents to identify the word or phrase in a set of five whose meaning was closest to a target word. Robert L. Thorndike (1942) later extracted two subsets of the original test, each containing twenty items of varying difficulty. For each subset, two target words were selected at each of ten difficulty levels. The ten items in Wordsum (labeled with letters A though J) were selected from the first of these two subsets.

It's not perfectly accurate to say Thorndike developed a lengthy vocabulary test. The I.E.R Intelligence Scale CAVD, copyright 1925 and 1926, is 17 levels (A through Q) and each level has ten vocabulary questions in multiple choice format, among other question types.

Thorndike 1942 is Two screening tests of verbal intelligence, which describes how two 20-word tests “containing two words from each of the levels of CAVD from H through Q” (the more difficult end of the spectrum; levels A through E use pictures) were constructed.

two forms

The first subset then is Form A, and those are the questions included above. I don't know which ten words from Form A's twenty are in WORDSUM, however. As GSS Codebook Appendix D explains:

To minimize the admittedly small possibility that some form of publicity would affect the public's knowledge of the words included in the test, they are not reported here.

I think it's fascinating that a vocab test from the 1920s is part of the GSS, which continues to be administered in the 2020s. I think it's fascinating that WORDSUM has been used for evidence that Intelligence makes people think like economists, among many other things.

I think the benefit of knowing what the WORDSUM questions are far outweighs any risk “that some form of publicity would affect the public's knowledge of the words included in the test.” Frankly, I'm not sure WORDSUM deserves an encomium.