Which is the Most Intelligent Country in Asia?

Priscilla Lee
Smartest Countries in Asia

It’s not always fair to use a specific benchmark to say whether one person is smarter than the other.  After all, we’re all intelligent in different aspects.

That said, intelligence is a topic we all have an opinion on — and there are traditional ways of measuring it.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the ‘most intelligent’ Asian countries based on:

  • IQ
  • Student test scores
  • Number of geniuses produced

Smartest Asian Countries Based on IQ

Asia RankingCountryIQ Score
1 (tied)Hong Kong108
3 (tied)South Korea106
7 (world ranking: 9th)North Korea102
8 (world ranking: 10th)Macau101
Source: World Data

One caveat here: the IQ data is a compilation of various sources as there aren’t any more recent studies covering every country globally. It uses the most recent data where possible, but some of the results could be from as far back as 2002.

That aside, here are a few things we noticed:

1. Asian countries rank high on the global IQ chart

You may not know this but when it comes to IQ, eight Asian countries held the top spots in the world ranking. Well done Asia!

2. Singapore is tied with Hong Kong for #1 globally with an average IQ score of 108

In both places, the high average IQ scores could be largely due to the focus on education. Both Singapore and Hong Kong model their public schooling systems on that of the UK — and both societies place a lot of pressure on students to perform academically.

3. North Korea made #7 — and the top 10 globally

Whatever our feelings on DPRK may be, it turns out there are a lot of smart people keeping the country going. 

Smartest Asian Countries Based on Student Test Scores

Every three years, about 80 countries come together and measure their 15-year-old students in reading, math, and the sciences. In addition to student performance, the survey considers enrollment rates, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and population.

This international assessment is known as the PISA.

Here’s how Asia ranked in PISA 2018:

Hong Kong524551517
South Korea514526519
Source: OECD

According to the results, here are a few trends:

1. Again, Asian countries took the top spots!

When it comes to test scores, Asian countries seem to have very little competition.  China, Singapore, Macau, and Hong Kong hold the top four spots in the world.

Why? As with the IQ scores, Asian countries tend to have structured education systems that are highly focused on tests, grades, and hierarchies.  Comparatively, Western cultures are less stringent on test results and strive for more holistic learning that favours humanities as much as math and science. 

2. China ranked #1 — but their students were only from four provinces

While China ranked at the top, it may not be representative of nationwide scoring. The sample size was taken from just four out of 22 provinces in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang). This  may lead to inaccuracies since the four selected provinces could have a vastly different education setup from the rest of China.

3. Singapore ranked #2 – A small country with big wins

With 20% of the national budget spent on education, it’s no wonder that Singapore ranks well in both IQ scores and student test scores.

The country’s Compulsory Education Act even makes it a criminal offence for parents to not enrol their children in primary school. Adding to the pressure is the Singaporean kiasu-ness (the fear of losing out). Nearly 70% of parents send their children to private tuition classes for extra classes. The amount that households spend on tuition has even reached S$1.4 billion!

4. Macau ranked #3 – free formal education for local students

What could’ve helped Macau’s win is the basic 15-year compulsory education offered free to students, provided they meet the requirements. This incentive could motivate young minds to learn faster and score better. Furthermore, most schools in Macau offer language learning, mathematics, and science subjects — key areas tested in the PISA.

5. Besides Singapore, other Southeast Asia countries ranked low in Asia

Test scores of ASEAN countries like Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia are over 100 points lower than the top three Asian countries.  This disparity could be due to a couple reasons:

  1. Lower standard of living could have impacted the students’ ability and capacity to learn
  2. The youth may have had to help bring in income for the family, leaving less time for education

Smartest Asian Countries Based on the Number of Geniuses

Established in 1895, the Nobel Prize recognises contributions to the advancement of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Economics, and Peace.

To date, there are nearly 1,000 laureates. Here’s how Asia fared:  

Asia RankingCountryNo. of Nobel Prize
4East Timor2
6 (tied)Taiwan1
6 (tied)Bangladesh1
6 (tied)Hong Kong1
10South Korea1

1. Japan ranked #1 with the most Nobel laureates in Asia

Japan’s 29 Nobel Prize winnings are split across 5 categories but with the majority in the field of science:

Physiology or Medicine5

2. India ranked #2 with nine Nobel Prize winnings

Mother Teresa counts as the most prominent Nobel Peace Prize laureate in India:

Physiology or Medicine1

3. China ranked #3 with eight Nobel Prize winnings

China won its first Nobel Prize as early as 1957. Until 2015, three of the prizes were awarded for contributions in Physics. In 2010, Liu Xiaobo was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for calling out political reforms in China. He was regarded as China’s most prominent figure to oppose the country’s official policies and deemed as one of China’s most famous political prisoners.