Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Which One of These People Doesn't Belong?

“Nationally, 75% of the people who take this test, pass it,” the proctor of the Mensa admission test told the eight of us.   We were gathered in a low-ceilinged, poorly lit room in the basement of a county library to see if we were as smart as we thought we were. “In Minnesota, we are about 10% better than that,” the proctor boasted. 

“Okay,” I told myself, “So about 82.5%, or roughly 6.5, of us should pass. That means that little guy isn’t going to make it. He has to be the half. Who’s the other one? I crunched those numbers pretty quickly, that’s a good sign. I thought ‘quickly’ instead of ‘quick’, that’s good. Also, I’m pretty proud of the half a person joke I came up with. Gotta remember that.”

The questions on the test Mensa gives are not necessarily hard, but the test is timed, and there isn’t much time.  That is how the test measures intelligence- one must be smart enough, for example, to look at the multiple choice answers of a complex math problem before spending a lot of time on it. Often, one doesn’t need to solve the problem; one simply needs to figure out which of the 4 choices it must be, i.e. a question may ask, “What number is 3 less than 3/5 of 75% of 200.” We could figure it out, but it’ll take some time. Maybe if we look at the answers first, two of them will be over 200, and thus automatically disqualified, and one may be 12- way too low. The answer is the only remaining choice, whatever the number is.

The proctor explained that, in order to qualify to become members of Mensa, we would need to score at least 80% on this test, putting us in the 98th percentile nationally. 

“Now, you may be asking, ‘How can 75% of the people who take this test be in the top 2%’?  Well, because this is a self-selecting crowd. And, I shouldn’t need to tell the people in this room what that means,” he quipped. It was the first of many “We‘re all pretty smart” jokes we heard that day.  “If I have to ask where to put my name, should I just leave?” “My wife sent me here. I’m not sure how to feel about that. Either she wants me to prove to myself that I am smart, or she wants to prove to me that I’m not as smart as I think I am.”  “I can’t bend a spoon simply by thinking about it. Is that okay?”  “My mind is not a steel trap, but it is a dense plastic polymer, so I feel pretty good.” (Those last two were mine. I couldn’t resist.) And so on.

The test was divided into two parts, with a 15-minute break in the middle.  I quit smoking a long time ago, so I never really know what to do with breaks anymore. I figured I would use the bathroom, and amble around the library for whatever time I had left. Luckily, I wasn’t married to that idea. This helped me remain calm when I accidentally dribbled urine on my shorts. Most of my 15-minute break, then, was spent directing the air dryer at my shorts, drying them enough that I could leave the bathroom standing tall. I returned to the test room in time to catch the end of a conversation, which I gathered involved everyone talking about what it was like to be so smart. I was glad I had pissed on myself. I sat in my seat and half listened, half looked around to find the person who was not going to make the grade. I was aware of the poker saying which states that, “If you look around the table, and can’t find the sucker, the sucker is you.”  Soon, the voice of the woman next to me cut through my mounting anxiety.   She began carrying on about how, whereas she knew plenty of people who could be fooled, she was not one of them. And she complained that there was only one person in her life who she could talk to. Everyone else was just too dumb. Later, someone mentioned humor, and my neighbor damn near fell out of her chair. “I know! I have the best sense of humor of anyone I know. About 10 years ago, I was waiting for a bus at a bus stop. There were two other women there, they were sisters, and they were, ahh, um, not white. Anyway, it comes out that they were 11 months apart. So I said, ‘Okay. So you’re Irish twins.’ And they were like, ‘Do we look Irish?’ They totally didn’t get the joke!”

Lady, you didn’t have to stumble over your “not white” comment. As soon as you paused, we knew where you were going. And nobody is too smart to hold a conversation. That doesn’t even make sense. And if you are still bragging about that joke 10 years later, well…

My stress gone, my search over, I settled in for the second half of the test, certain that I would pass.

p.s. I don’t know whether I did or not. I’ll find out in a couple weeks.

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