Rick Rosner and I were friends in high school in Boulder, Colo., in the late 1970s. He was smart and had a dry sense of humor, and was well-liked, but there was something about Rick that I couldn’t put my finger on. He seemed to be operating on a different level than everyone else, not really connecting with his fellow students. After we graduated I didn’t see much of him.
Almost 30 years later, I was watching an episode of Errol Morris’ HBO documentary series, First Person, and was stunned to see an episode all about Rick. On the show, Rick explained that after graduating in 1978, he forged a bunch of documents and re-enrolled in another high school in New Mexico. (When he broke into the Boulder High School office to steal his documents for forging a new identity he learned his IQ was 150.) After New Mexico, he went to another high school in another state. And then he did it again. And again. Rick went to different high schools until 1987.
Why did he do this? He wanted to perfect his high school experience, and he says it took several tries to get it right. During and after his extended stint as a high school student, Rick has worked as a stripper, a bouncer, a roller skating waiter and a writer for Jimmy Kimmel. If you want to learn more about Rick’s unusual life — and I promise it’s fascinating — read this essay he wrote for the Mega Society (a club restricted to people with one-in-a-million IQ test scores), watch Errol Morris’ aforementioned documentary or listen to my interview with him.
Rick had to eventually stop being a high school student, but his IQ-improvement efforts paid off. His test scores place him among the smartest people on earth, and he attributes his high scores to habits he’s followed for decades. With diligent practice, says Rick, anyone can “pop their IQ up by at least 25 points, at least in terms of test scores.” A 25-point boost can make a huge difference in your kid’s education. Cash-strapped public school systems place the highest-scoring kids in special programs that offer excellent education programs with the best teachers. For instance, Rick says, “North Hollywood High has a ‘highly gifted magnet’ program and you need a 150 IQ to get in there.” (A 150 score is higher than 99.9% of test takers).
With two kids of my own, I thought I should ask Rick for some IQ-boosting tips. Here’s what he told me:
1. Take practice tests. It’s the number one away to improve scores. IQ tests are meant to be given cold, so the primary way to do better on them is be familiar with the kinds of questions asked and how they are presented.
Find out what kind of test your kid will be given in school, and go online and download as many practice tests as you can. When your kid is taking the official test, says Rick, “it will be harder to trip them out.”
The same principles can be used to improve SAT scores, which universities place great importance on when considering college applications. “The SAT functions more or less like an IQ test.” He warns that SAT prep classes are of limited value. “Yeah, you can take the prep class and your score might go up 20 points on a scale that runs up to 1,600, so it’s negligible. The way to kick ass on the SAT is to practice like crazy. Take at least 30 practice tests. Ideally more than that. Use official ones, because the ones from other companies are crap.”
Rick gave his daughter lots of practice SAT tests while she was still in middle school. She won a prestigious national scholarship awarded to just 30 students a year, providing winners with a full ride to the private high school of their choice.
2. Emulate the behavior of geniuses like Richard Feynman and George Gamow, as a way to get smarter.
“Read up on them and see if there’s anything about their approach to problem solving or life that can be appropriate, which includes just thinking about the world itself. You don’t have to have 10 years of post-graduate education to think profoundly about the world,” Rick says.
3. Play mental games with the world around you. “I play number games with license plates in front of me in traffic, and see if I can get the digits to add up to a certain number. I have my digit of the day, 12 or 13 or whatever, to see how many license plates I can make hit that.” Rick is also a fan of playing Words with Friends as a way of maintaining mental dexterity.
4. Maintain a healthy diet and fitness regimen. Rick avoids sugar, and takes a baby aspirin and Omega 3 oil every day, along with a large number of supplements. He stresses the importance of sleep, because brain function suffers greatly without restful sleep.
Making sure your eyes are healthy is important, too. He says to get your kid’s vision checked. Undiagnosed vision problems can cause difficulties with reading and, subsequently, learning.
And floss your teeth. “Dirty inflamed gums distribute gunk and inflammation straight down your gullet to the rest of your body,” which can wreak havoc on how your body’s organs function, including your brain.
5. Listen to classical music. “Musical rhythms are like puzzles to solve. A musical rhythm establishes a pattern where your brain is waiting for the next thing and wants certain satisfying resolutions to these patterns and music. It’s training your brain and problem-solving, which is what’s the best next sound.”
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