An authority on intelligence has criticised students assessment systems at universities and schools for rewarding 'nerds' and depriving the majority of students of an opportunity to realise their talents. IBM professor of psychology and education at Yale University Robert Sternberg said recent research showed 'frightening' evidence of the irrelevance of student assessments in predicting future performance. Professor Sternberg was speaking following lectures he delivered at City University of Hong Kong on the topic of Successful Intelligence. 'Although conventional tests account for about 25 per cent of the variation in the school grades, they only account for about 10 per cent of the variation in who succeeds in life. 'This means that a lot of people who have the ability to succeed are not given the chance because they don't do well in conventional measures,' he said. 'They are disenfranchised by the educational system, which leads not only to individual loss but to society's whose most valuable asset is probably human capital. 'The ability to make use of knowledge is more important . . . so knowledge can end up being nerdish. My concern is that in school and colleges we often end up teaching kids in a way that puts in the nerd knowledge; the kids have it but they can't use it.' Hong Kong was not an exception to this situation, he said. Findings suggested that those who did well in school assessment were not necessarily the ones who would be the most successful in life. He said the school system mainly rewarded memory abilities on the grounds that 'nature has decided that these were what counted for being smart'. 'The point is that no matter how smart you are in a traditional school sense, if you don't have the basic practical smarts you can't get anywhere; even in the so-called ivory tower of university no one wants to hire you.' He cited the example of a post-graduate student who wanted to become an academic. She had excellent test scores, good memory abilities and analytical skills. But she was repeatedly turned down by her supervisor because she could not come up with original ideas, he said. 'The kind of abilities that get you 'As' in courses are minimally overlapping with the kind of abilities that make someone successful on the job, and that's the problem.' He said creative and practical abilities were more important than memory ability, especially after schooling and in professional life. Professor Sternberg, the recipient of the Distinguished Scientist Award for early contribution to psychology in the United States and author of several books and studies on intelligence, said he could have himself missed the opportunity of becoming a psychologist because of the system. 'When I took introductory psychology, I was very motivated to be a psychology student. But because I'd done poorly in my IQ test and I got a C in the course, the message to me was I should not be a psychologist; I didn't have the ability, and actually my professor agreed and told me I shouldn't be. 'So I almost left the field because I'd done so poorly in this course,' he said. He said there must be many people with the same experience and end up taking up careers where their talents were not used. 'What they're not good at is memorising books, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be good psychologists, economists or executives. 'Our research has shown that, in different societies, different cultures, people have different conceptions of intelligence. Taking a test from one culture and just translating it into another culture is a bad idea because what they consider as smart may be quite different.' A study by Professor Sternberg's team in Kenya showed how children with high results in a test adapted to functions in their own environment scored low results in a conventional IQ test.