Achievement vs. Intelligence: Definition & Discussion

Instructor: Joe Ricker

Joe has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Defining achievement is a much easier task than defining intelligence, which is why there is significant debate about the ability to evaluate or measure intelligence, especially creative intelligence.

Different Concepts

Achievement and intelligence are often intertwined, especially when academic testing is involved. While there is some overlap between achievement and intelligence, the two concepts are much more different than they are alike. The similarity between achievement and intelligence is that they often improve the other. In other words, one builds or is often dependent on the other.

The major difference is that achievement can be measured more easily than intelligence. There is a clear understanding of what achievement is. Intelligence, on the other hand, is more difficult to define explicitly, which makes it a concept that is difficult to evaluate. Another thing to consider, as you'll see when you continue into the lesson, is that there are different kinds of intelligence.


Achievement is the ability to accomplish something based on knowledge or an acquired skill. When we think of achievement in an intellectual capacity, we're not referring to how fast you can run a mile. Think about all of the things you can accomplish on a day-to-day basis that require some intellectual application. For example: balancing a check book or figuring out a gratuity. Even the things you do for your job can be classified as achievement.

However, none of us were born with an innate ability to perform those skills, so some level of intelligence is needed to produce achievement. In order to acquire a skill, you have to be able to learn. How and what you're more capable of learning depends on your strengths in different types of intelligence. Yes, there are different kinds of intelligence.

Think about achievement this way. Do you remember being in the second grade? There are probably some things that your remember, but it might be difficult to remember exactly what you learned. In second grade, you used the knowledge you acquired in the first grade to continue your learning in the first grade. Your achievement is measured by your ability to move on to the third grade. Intelligence is how you adapted to the new information being presented to you in the second grade based on what you learned in the first grade.


Intelligence is the ability to learn something new or develop a skill. Robert J. Sternberg, a contemporary psychologist whose work offered a better understanding of the concept of intelligence, theorized that there were three basic types of intelligence: practical, analytical, and creative.

Intelligence; however, is a more difficult concept to measure than achievement, especially creative intelligence. There is, however, some level of correlation that where a person is intelligent or shows great aptitude in one area, they will exhibit great aptitude in other similar areas, which makes those levels of intelligence easier to measure. For instance, if you consider practical and analytical intelligence, these concepts are much easier to measure than creative intelligence.

Practical intelligence refers to an ability to understand and accomplish every-day tasks, which is easily measured by achievement. Analytical intelligence refers to an academic ability or problem solving. This too, is easily measure by achievement.

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