Get the Dunce Cap Ready (Again)

In 2009, 60 Minutes did a piece on Mensa, a well-renowned international organization and community for highly intelligent people — to be specific, individuals who qualify to join must score within the top 2% of the total population on a select list of professionally administered tests. Varying with each accepted test, the minimum IQ score is 130. Am I that intelligent? I do not know. I’d like to think that I am near the borderline and within the margin of error of IQ tests (15 points).

I can’t find the original story online, but there is a condensed version of it on the CBS Sunday Morning show. Ever since then, I have wanted to join. I seem to draw highly intelligent yet quirky people into my life like a magnet. Meanwhile, normal people seem to view me as being socially awkward and honest to the point of rudeness. I have always thought it would be a good thing for such square pegs like me to have a place to their own. Is Mensa such a utopian little society? I do not know as I am not a member. However, based on the 60 Minutes piece, I am optimistic it would be.

After that 60 Minutes piece, I inquired of the Las Vegas chapter of Mensa about being tested for admission. I was invited to come down to their Henderson office to sit for it. For what I recall was a modest fee, a Mensa member proctored me through the exam. As my lousy memory has it, the entire test was multiple choice.

After I finished, the proctor, a nice and talkative lady, explained that she could only give me a pass/fail grade. She explained that Mensa used to give the exact IQ matching one’s performance, but in the recent past somebody’s self-esteem was damaged by said measurement and then sued Mensa for the subsequent mental anguish.

After the Mensa proctor graded the test, which did not take long, she returned to the room I was waiting in. It was a thumbs down. While she couldn’t provide a numerical score, she strongly urged me to try again and suggested other tests that Mensa would accept. After spending some time licking my wounds, I did not make an effort to take a qualifying test again until very recently. It was not a conscious decision; but I probably did not want to face the humiliation of failing again and paying to do so, at that.

Fast forward 11 years and somehow this topic came up with a friend. She seemed to know a lot about IQ tests and she had her daughter tested, who scored somewhere in the genius range. To make a long story short, we challenged each other to take it. In my case, re-take it. She kindly made an appointment for me with an independent psychologist licensed to administer the test.

Fast forward again to today, where I just finished taking said test. I took the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) which consisted of ten parts, took around 90 minutes and cost $250. This time, it was only a Psychologist and I in his office near the Summerlin Costco.

I arrived with a pencil holder chock full of sharpened number twos. However, they would not be needed. Most of the test was verbal. I think only two parts involved writing anything. He explained that some parts of the test would be timed and others would not. Most of the questions would start out rather easy and gradually get harder.

The experience is somewhat of a blur, but here is what I recall in no particular order:

  • Tangrams - This section started with four cubes. Each cube had two white sides, two red sides, and two sides that were half white and half red, divided along the diagonal. The objective was to arrange the cubes into the same shape as a diagram shown by the proctor. After doing some with four blocks, he whipped out five more for a total of nine. Between each challenge, he rolled the cubes like dice. This test was timed. Afterward, the proctor said, “well done.” It would also be the only time he would say that, unfortunately.
  • Mental Math - The proctor asked math questions verbally. The rules stated that I could ask him to repeat the question, in which case he would have to say the entire question again. The questions were mathematically simple but were challenging to do quickly. Here is an example (and I don’t recall the exact numbers so I am making them up): It takes six machines eight hours to produce ten units. How many units can one machine make in half an hour?
  • Missing Piece (Part 1) - The proctor showed four to six diagrams in a row, with one missing. The missing one could be in any position. The task was to identify which was the missing piece out of the five to choose from.
  • Missing Piece (Part 2) - Similar to Part 1, but there were four pieces in a two by two grid, with the lower right piece missing. The task was also to identify which one was missing out of the five to choose from.
  • Word Definitions - The proctor simply said, “What does _____ mean?” As usual, it started easy and got harder. Three words I recall were diversity, compassion and plagiarism. All but one word I knew (not one of the examples), but I got the sense I was being tested on how I expressed my answer.
  • Miscellaneous Knowledge - The proctor asked simple questions.

    Here are some I recall:

    • Who wrote Hamlet?
    • Who wrote Sherlock Holmes?
    • Who wrote Alice in Wonderland?
    • Who was Sacagawea?
    • Who was Martin Luther King?
    • Who was Gandhi?
    • Who was Catherine the Great?
    • What is the capital of Italy?
    • In which country were the first Olympics?
    • In which continent is Brazil?
    • In which continent is the Sahara?
    Sacagawea – My hero

    Sacagawea – My hero. An interesting thing is there are no historical drawings or paintings of her, so there is no historical record of what she looked like, other than the obvious race, gender, and approximate age

  • Writing Fast - In this portion, there was a simple diagram associated with each numeral from 0 to 9. Then there was a page of seemingly random numbers from 0 to 9. The object was to transcribe the symbol for each numeral in order, with the goal being to complete as many as you could in the allotted time.
  • Find the Symbols - In another simple test, there were two symbols in a column on the left and five in a column on the right. The object was to identify those columns in which neither symbol on the left appeared in the column on the right. Again, the object was to complete as many as possible in the allotted time.
  • Find the Commonality - The proctor would identify two words with the goal being to find something they have in common. This section started easy with pairs such as “nose and tongue” but became more difficult with pairs like “statue and music”.
  • Memorization - The proctor said up to seven numbers from 1 to 9. At first, the goal was to repeat them in the same order. Next, it was to repeat them in backwards order; and then it was to repeat them in numeric order. I have a lousy memory, so I am fairly sure I did badly on this section.

After the test, the proctor asked if I had any questions. I had two only, which I am sure everybody asks. The first was what would happen next. He said he would evaluate my results this week and send me (by choice of Email or postal mail) the results. The results will not solely be a single IQ number; it will also detail my strengths and weaknesses in each area of testing.

I then braced myself and asked: “How did you think I did?” The proctor said I did well in some areas and “average to high average” in others. He also said that the application he uses to compile the results of the testing responses sometimes surprises him with the final scores. Through this he kept a poker face and did a good job at being vague – erring on not getting my hopes up. Or perhaps, I totally blew it and he was giving me a little false hope.

After leaving, I went to the bathroom and was washing my hands when the proctor came in. At the time I was trying to recall who wrote Alice in Wonderland, which I am embarrassed to not know cold, as the book has a lot of logic puzzles and jokes in it. I find intelligent people use analogies from Alice in Wonderland often. Unfortunately, by the time he asked this question (almost at the end of the test) my brain was fried. All I could think of was “Lewis Clark,” which probably was in my head from my long-winded answer about Sacagawea. Anyway, in the bathroom, it came to me and I blurted out as the proctor was taking a piss, “Lewis Caroll!” The proctor laughed and said “Correct!”.

When I got home, I told my friend who initiated this whole thing that I was humbled and not confident I did very well. She has more confidence in me than I do. As usual, when faced with a disagreement, I offered a bet and she accepted. My side of the bet is $100 that my results will NOT qualify me for Mensa.

Now, it is a matter of waiting until I get the results. My hopes are not high, and I am preparing myself for another intellectual humiliation. I am used to it, as I take the Jeopardy test on an annual basis and have never even made it to the second level of screening. When I applied to be on Survivor, I didn’t even get the courtesy of a rejection. I’ve also applied to be on The Weakest Link and Tic Tac Dough and didn’t meet their qualifications either.

Whatever happens, I will be okay. Next week I will share my results with you.

Me thinks I’m going to fail my IQ test

Me thinks I’m going to fail my IQ test


  • * By the way, I immediately got the question right at the beginning of the Sunday Morning show segment.