Admissions Testing

What's it like to take one of these tests?

by Teresa Santoski
The Nashua Telegraph, 10/12/2004
reprinted with permission

What do a cheese grater, a necktie and an alarm clock have in common?

I've been trying to figure this out since I sat for the Mensa admissions test about two weeks ago. I thought if I pondered it long enough, I'd wake up yelling it at 2 in the morning, like that time when I forgot the name of that guy - you know, the one who did that thing.

But as more time passes and I still have no clue, I've realized I'll probably never know, and years from now, my children will ask me why I cry every time I see a cheese grater.

The Mensa admissions test is actually two tests: the Wonderlic, which is word based, and a test that's adapted from the California Short-Form Test of Mental Maturity, which is more visual in nature. That way, people who process images better than words and people who process words better than images have an equal chance of getting into Mensa. According to my proctor, John Bauman, they test the same thing in different forms.

I was given 12 minutes to do as much of the Wonderlic as I could - it's rare for anyone to finish this test because you're only given 12 minutes - and spent most of the time trying not to laugh because the test name sounds like an ice-cream company from the 1950s.

The questions involving words and language were fun and pretty easy - no problems there - but math has never been my strong suit. At least, not the kind of math you have to do in your head, without a calculator.

Then my proctor gave me the answer sheet for the second test. It's been a good four years since I've taken the SAT, but every time I see one of those answer sheets with the little bubbles on them, every muscle in my body tenses and adrenaline starts surging through my veins.

This is kind of a bad thing because the timesheet I have to fill out at one of my jobs looks like an SAT answer sheet. I know some people get anxious about their paychecks, but I don't think they mean like that.

In spite of the unanticipated adrenaline rush, the second test was more my style, which surprised me. I'm a writer, so I had always assumed that I related to words better than images, but apparently not. Maybe this is what happens when you watch too much television.

My proctor began the test by reading me a story. This was quite a nice way to begin an exam, but I was kind of confused as to why he was reading it to me. People tend to have a good reason for telling me stories - usually it's because they want something from me.

It turned out there was a good reason for this story, too. The last section on the exam consists of questions about the story. Sneaky.

The other six sections of the test were pretty straightforward. The first three parts were groups of pictures where you had to find the different picture, the similar picture, and then figure out the relationship between the pictures and choose which additional picture would fit with that group.

This is where I ran into problems with the cheese grater. I should've paid more attention to "Sesame Street" when I was a kid.

After the third section was over, I asked my proctor about the relationship between a group of pictures of different kinds of animals. He explained that since the animals were all mammals, you would end up choosing the picture that was also of a mammal.

Oh. No wonder. And here I had been thinking along the lines of "They're all kind of fuzzy, you might find them all on a farm, they're kind of cute if you look at them the right way." Whoops.

The fourth section required you to make change in your head. I could hardly believe my luck. I'm a bank teller, so this was right up my alley. I know what you're probably thinking: Wait, she's not good at math, but she works at a bank? Well, I've never had to graph a parabola to give someone their change. Calculus is hard. Pennies and nickels, not so much - at least not in my case.

And of course, it wouldn't have been a Mensa test without a section of word problems of the "if Train A leaves Chicago at 3 p.m. going 50 miles an hour" variety. I made it through one problem, and then my brain locked up.

Fortunately, the sixth section was choosing synonyms with words instead of pictures, and then I finished with the questions about the story my proctor read at the beginning of the exam. If the word problems had been the last section, I guarantee I would still be sitting in that room, playing with my pencil and wondering why the little metal bit on the top was so shiny.

Did I make it into Mensa? To be quite honest, I don't know yet - I'm still waiting for my results. My mother, however, firmly believes I'm Mensa material.

"You make your stuffed animals talk, and you give them personalities, to the point where you feel bad about leaving them on the floor! And they always say that genius hinges on insanity."

It should be noted that I have a 7-year-old brother and a 5-year-old sister. A "talking" stuffed cat who chases imaginary mice with a plastic hammer (thank you, Fisher Price Tool Kit) can do a lot to stave off a temper tantrum. Mr. Stumbles - hey, it wouldn't be convincing to the kids if he didn't have a name - is a big sister's best friend.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take my stuffed cat, my inability to cook anything other than a Hot Pocket without setting fire to it and my stubborn insistence on wearing flip flops until there's a foot of snow on the ground and go sit out by the mailbox. Only time will tell whether I'm an eccentric genius or just a regular old nutball.