Teachers of gifted and talented children were urged Tuesday to prepare students to succeed in life, not only to succeed on intelligence tests.

This was the advice of intelligence expert Robert Sternberg speaking this week to the 400 teachers attending the 15th Intermountain Gifted and Talented Conference at Utah State University.Sternberg, the IBM professor of psychology and education at Yale University, told the audience of educators that training students to excel at IQ tests rather than "life tests" is doing them a vast dis-service.

He uses the term "inertly gifted" to describe youngsters whose outstanding performance is off the IQ charts but who fail to gain "life smarts" that allow them to function and contribute in the real world.

"If we want gifted kids to do better in the world than people are doing now, we need to teach them to confront real-life problems," he told the teachers.

He warned of nine ways traditional education often fails to provide students with life smarts:

- Real-world problems do not have a clear sequence of events, yet tests ask for highly structured exercises. People keep looking for structured answers to life's problems and repeatedly fail when structured answers don't work.

- Real-life problems aren't easily recognized, yet most tests lay the problem before students and ask them to solve it. The emphasis is on solving the problem rather than on figuring out that there is a problem.

- There is more than one way to define a problem, yet most students are asked to accept the problem and go on to the solution. They aren't allowed to think creatively about the problem itself.

- Tests teach students that there is only one right answer. After years of tests, people believe answers are black and white and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. Sternberg uses an exercise in his workshops in which people identify something they strongly believe in and then must defend the opposite point of view.

- In real life, much of the information we need is not immediately available; not so on IQ tests. "People complain if test questions don't give all the necessary information," Sternberg said. "Instead, we need to ask kids to determine what kind of information they need to solve a particular problem."

- "Don't let kids simply state an opinion; make them support it, challenge it and confirm it," he said.

- In real life, people work in groups, committees, neighborhoods and as couples. Yet, in most school testing, we ask students to solve problems individually. "They don't learn how to relate to other people while solving problems," Sternberg said.

On the other hand, Sternberg warned that "group think" has its own set of dangers - a sense of invulnerability, a growing immunity to outside feedback, and pressure by a majority to make dissenters join them or risk ridicule and ostracization.

- Academic problems tend to be clear and neat and they go away fast. Not so with real-life problems. Teachers must find problem-solving exercises that aren't dispensed with in minutes but take deeper thinking and creative strategizing.

- We tend to believe that "normal" means "no problems,"

Sternberg continues. "That works on IQ tests but not in real life." The natural state contains problems, and today's solution may lead to tomorrow's problem.