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Unfair Mensa test
In July of 1991 I applied to join Mensa, which is the organization whose only entrance requirement is a few bucks (oh, and an IQ in the top 2% of the population). If you've wandered around other parts of this site (accessible by clicking any of the links above) you will not be surprised to learn that based on my preliminary test score I was rejected.
To quote from their rejection letter, dated November 15, 1991,
My problem is that I think the test was unfair, and if I had gotten every one right that I was wrongly scored wrong on, maybe I'd be a genius after all, and maybe you would too if you'd tried. In the form of an edited letter I wrote on October 26, 1991, here's why I think that, and I want you tell me where I went wrong.
Dear Sir or Madam:
. . . Anyway, here are my specific complaints about The Cattell Intelligence Tests, Second Edition, Revised, Group and Individual, Scale III: Form A, with a date of 6/90 in the lower left-hand corner of the first page (copyright 1966, 1974 Mensa).
¤ The test is written by a Britisher, presumably for a British-speaking readership, yet I am a purebred American, which I do not think should count against me. Certainly in your Synonyms and Opposites tests, and arguably in your Analogies test and others as well, the sometimes not-too-subtle differences between British English and American English can become significant, and since these tests specifically focus on vocabulary, you risk counting some of my answers wrong that might otherwise be right (and vice versa!).
¤ The instructions you provided are both imprecise and, in some cases, contradictory. For example,
in the sample answer on page 3 you plainly imply that sparrows are not animals. Needless to say, sparrows are indeed animals. They aren't mammals, if that's what you're thinking, but they certainly are animals, just as sharks and toads and rattlesnakes and gnats are. What are we candidates to think when it appears that the test writer is ignorant of such basic facts as that a sparrow is an animal?
[Update of June 1, 2012: A correspondent points out that another reasonable answer is that unlike the other four, the word cow (c.f. bull) usually means the female of the species, whether it be kine or elephants or whales or moose.]
As another example, the instructions for Test 6 (Inferences) specifically state as follows:
Yet problem #7 and problem #12 both contain not four or five but six possible answers. Now I would agree that this error should not discombafulobefudulate a candidate with any reasonable expectation of achieving Mensa-hood, but it still strikes me as a questionable sort of thing to run across. It would have been easy enough for you to get it right.
Worse than that, though, is this problem, in the sentence immediately following the one quoted above:
Now, this makes it quite clear that the testee is to mark only one answer (to "put a cross in the square standing at the right-hand end of it," as the distinctly non-American phrasing puts it, although earlier the instructions specifically also tell us to use a check mark), yet the instructions for a problem in that test state
and problem #12 is unconditionally contradictory of the general instructions for Test 6:
Gosh, dear Sir or Madam, when the instructions that are presumably so important to a candidate's ability to score accurately are so obviously contradictory, you should not be surprised when testees begin to suspect that the instructions may be ignored. Was this your intention? Is this sort of thing -- figuring out that the printed instructions must be disobeyed -- actually a secret part of the test?
¤ Problem #2 in Test 6 admits of more than one perfectly correct answer, which should not be the case.
It is not made clear at all what "How much did the horsedealer lose altogether?" specifically means. It could be taken as meaning,
or it could mean
or it could mean
If the question is how much altogether in cash, then the answer is that he lost £40, consisting of the £10 in change that he paid to the thief plus the £30 he refunded to the shopkeeper.
If the question is how much he lost altogether in cash and lost profits, then the answer is the same £40 from the interpretation above plus another £10 for the profit he lost on the sale, for a total of £50, since he bought the horse for £10 and would have sold it for £20. Notice that this legitimate answer, of £50, is not even offered as one of the possible answers.
If the question is how much he lost altogether in cash and lost profits and horses, then the answer is the same £50 from the interpretation above plus another £10 for the loss of the horse itself, for a total of £60, since the horsedealer now has an inventory deficiency of paid-for horses to the tune of one £10 horse. Notice that this legitimate answer, of £60, is also not even offered as one of the possible answers.
I answered £40 because that is the largest amount you offer as a possible answer, but I object to the wording of the question. And if the correct answer is indeed £40, how do you or the test writer respond to my arguments for £50 and £60 as answers?
Update of May 1, 2001 Soon after this page first appeared I started receiving e-mails explaining how I had made a mistake in my analysis of the horsedealer question above. I did indeed make a mistake, and if you've already caught it then you probably have a better shot at Mensa-hood than I will ever have. You can and should read more by taking a detour here.
¤ Problem #6 in Test 6 should not be a test question at all, because it is merely an old riddle . . .
. . . although I learned it as a true rhyming riddle, thus:
Anyway, the point is that I did not have to spend time sorting through the four possible answers because I knew the answer from having heard and read the riddle so many times before. Why is this problem included in your test if all one needs to do to answer it is remember the answer to a riddle that has been read and figured out by thousands, if not millions, of people already? This is a timed test, and it seems unfair that my fellow testees who happen not to have run across this riddle before should have to spend more than the two seconds I spent on it. Or was I on my honor to pretend I didn't know the answer?
There are problems with two other questions in the Inferences section -- the one about the marrying age in England and the one about the aquarium fish -- but I'm tired of complaining. Score my enclosed test booklet as you will, but I do ask, even if you judge me as unqualified further to pursue Mensa-hood, that you consider my complaints about this particular qualifying test.
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