What I Learned From Taking A Mensa IQ Test

Mensa is a not-for-profit society that aims to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of our race. Membership is open to anybody, with one small stipulation -- your IQ must be in the top two per cent of the general population. Last week, Lifehacker's Chris Jager decided to flex his cerebral muscles by taking the official IQ test. He will not be joining Mensa.

To celebrate the home media release of Lucy, Universal Sony Pictures invited members of the media to partake in a Mensa-certified IQ test. This was carried out by Emma; a registered psychologist who facilitates all Mensa testing in Australia and ultimately decides who is accepted into the group.

The test consists of a multiple-choice questionnaire divided into five sections that target a specific area of thinking. The overlying aim is to receive a qualifying score at or above the 98th percentile (that is, a score in the range achieved by the top two per cent of the population.) Failure to qualify will result in your Mensa application being denied.

Unlike university entrance exams, there are no "second chances" at Mensa: with few exceptions, re-sitting the test is not permitted. If you fail to make the grade -- even by a single percentage point -- you are essentially barred from joining Mensa forever. Our advice is to stock up on brain food and get plenty of rest before you attempt to sit the test.

We were asked by Mensa not to give away specifics about the testing process, but if you've ever completed a generic online IQ test you'll have a pretty good idea of what's involved. Many of the questions are diagram-based, or require you to identify the "odd one out" in a sequence of images.

There's also a meaty maths component and an assessment of your vocabulary. (Your general knowledge on history, science, geography and culture is not assessed -- sorry, trivia fans.) Overall, the test takes around 45 minutes.

As you would expect, there's a strict time limit in place that forces participants to think as quickly as possible. Some sections require you to answer as many as 40 questions in under ten minutes; a feat that's nigh-on impossible.

Instead of leaving part of the test blank, I employed a trusty exploit from my high school days -- when time was nearly up, I simply filled out the remainder of the multiple choices at random. Personally, I think this application of logic deserved some extra IQ points.

Now before we continue, I'd like to point out that I underwent the IQ test with minimal sleep due to a furious snot-clogged toddler sharing my bed the night before. I also skipped breakfast that morning because that's how I roll. Could it be that I was deliberately sabotaging myself as a defence mechanism? (If you're reading, Emma, feel free to drop your psychoanalysis in the comments section below!)

In any event, I wasn't feeling supremely confident when I sat down to take the test. A team of roving cameramen were also filming the process, which didn't make for an ideal testing environment. It therefore came as a surprise when I aced every question and was accepted into Mensa. Nah, not really.

I did do pretty well though: my total IQ was 114, which is in the 83rd percentile of the population. I also managed to get a score of 124 for the Crystallized/Verbal section which puts me in the 95th percentile for that category. Not too shabby for a guy who basically eats cheeseburgers for a living.

If you're interested in joining Mensa, you'll need to take a supervised test, which is available in most major cities in Australia. There's an administration fee of $60 and you'll need to bring a form of photo ID. For more information, head to the Australian Mensa website.

Universal Sony Pictures also chose to film the IQ test. You can check it out below. (Best bit: When Mensa's psychologist attempts to explain the "science" behind Lucy. Bless.)

This story has been updated from its original publication.

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Comments

    The irony of a psychologist and Mensa being used to promote a movie which has such gross inaccuracies about the nature of the brain. I'm surprised the psychologist even agreed to it.

    Last edited 04/12/14 5:39 pm

      Money talks/money talks/dirty cash I want you [feel free to join me in 1990 at your leisure]

      Money talks/money talks/dirty cash I want you [feel free to join me in 1990 at your leisure]

        If you want scientists to spend their time correcting every piece of information that is incorrect, advertisements would be an hour long lecture into basic science.

        Most don't usually worry about minor inaccuracies especially when it comes to entertainment (hey, what ever drums up a bit of public interest in the science, if they're really interested they'll look up the proper details in a library)...

        or as my old professor used to say, "I've done my one piece of public service a year. The rest of the time I wouldn't bother even reading the email request."

          You would love US televion. I have watched a little, and they have "if you have [problem X], ask your doctor for [prescription medication proudct Y]. The second half of the ad is imagery like a couple walking along the beach, or a guy running through the surf with a dog while the guy that has the Guinness World Record(tm) for talking the fastest reads out about 100 side effects and other legal information.

          I also saw a similar ad in a magazine. It was on the right page of an open spread. Turn the page. On the back the whole A4ish sized page is full of super small print about the drug. The whole page, minuscule print.

      No irony in this what so ever. It's Mensa. They're not a scientific group in any way what so ever and a psychologist that's associated with the? Yeah, that's all you need to know about her ethics.
      Associating Mensa with Lucy is the perfect match. It's hilarious.

    It has always niggled me that IQ tests have strict time limits. Einstein got the field equations right, but it took him 8 years.
    I guess 4 years would have been better, but the timing pales into complete insignificance beside the magnitude of the accomplishment.

      The time limit ensures the standardisation. There needs to be set limits in place, when presented with the problems Einstein was contemplating, most people couldn't do it in 80 years, let alone 8, if those problems were a part of a standard IQ test (which they wouldn't be, as they require education, not just intelligence), you would be measured against time still, but instead of 40 minutes you'd get, maybe 8 years.

      I think the point is that if you have that certain IQ, then you will be able to finish those in a faster time.

      Also, I think IQ tests are harder to study for. I could be wrong, but they are more of a "general intelligence" test of how your brain works, rather than a knowledge test.

      I'm probably way off, haha, but that's kind of how I see it.

        B0m8 you are absolutely right. You can't study for a Mensa test because it is not about how much you know but about how much capacity you have to learn.

        The test isn't only about knowledge or your ability or capacity to learn, there's an element of testing how your mind works, how it processes the information it's given, There are parts of the test that have no right or wrong answer, some questions are about things that don't actually exist in reality, so you couldn't know what the answer would be. They just want to know what you think the answer should be.

    I was asked to join Mensa as a kid. Turned em down because it would have meant social isolation from all of my friends. I hope that they have changed since then, certainly no way to behave towards children. I am not sure that I would get in today, also not too worried. Mensa is a fine thing I suppose, but I am not certain that I have seen anything come out of the organisation that I would say is fulfilling their mission either.

      Hi Andrew!

      I'm sure that Mensa has changed a lot since you were offered membership as a kid. The good news is that you don't have to re-test. If you're interested in joining, you should be able to just use the same evidence that qualified you in the first place.

      As the Chair of Mensa Hawai‘i, I have opened up our Gifted Youth events to any Mensan, their non-Mensa family members, and any guests they wish to bring. So, our youth are not expected to leave their non-Mensa friends at the door.

      There are many facets to Mensa, and it may not be your thing, but it works for me and many of my friends.

      Aloha,

      Kirsten Wolfford
      Mensa Hawai‘i Chair

        You got his name wrong, it's Ian. Mensa membership revoked!

          That's funny! I not only noticed his name is Ian Drew Martin, but I also made a split-second joke to myself, "Don't you mean 'I am Drew Martin'?". Certainly, such quick name recognition and wit should make me a candidate, right??

        This is interesting to know. I was also asked to join as a kid. My parents thought it best for me to get more social skills keeping me in school (this was 30 years ago, so im sure Mensa has changed a bit since then)

        Like Ian (andrew :)) I feel like i would probably fail now if I had to sit the test again

    There actually are second chances to Mensa membership. Many people have joined by submitting prior evidence, even if they did not pass the Mensa-administered entrance exam.

    If you missed membership by one point (or a few), go dig out your old test scores. You may have already qualified. If not, seek intelligence testing with a psychologist. Some IQ tests don't weigh processing speed as heavily as others (so you don't need to fill in the blanks when you run out of time).

    Lastly, in order to be "asked to join" Mensa, you have to fill out an application and submit your test scores. Mensa does not randomly send out invitations. Once your qualifying test scores have been confirmed, Mensa will send out membership information.

    All in all, it sounds like a fun experience, both in the movie advertising and in the test taking.

      If you almost got in before, can you get in now if general population IQ has dropped?

        Invoking the Idiocracy Clause. Wise move.

    One of the stated purposes of Mensa is "to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members"
    After several years of experience with the organization, I would say that it meets and exceeds that goal.

    pfft, the one thing we know about IQ tests is that they're a really poor way to test someone's intelligence.

    I was tested a long time ago when I was a teenager that spent too much time reading fantasy novels and didn't do much else.
    I got above average.
    On self assessment I suspect I'd probably do better if I was to sit it again, but I have zero inclination to. It means very little to me.

      We *also* know that IQ tests are the best way we've devised to test intelligence.

      This is your cue to demonstrate that you're smarter than the people at Mensa, by demonstrating a better way to test intelligence...

      They also tend to favour the way we are taught as a western culture. I'd love to see an article comparing how other IQ tests are run or how someone from a tribal lifestyle fared on one of these tests.

        Being Dyslexic also negatively skews IQ test results..

          Would that only skew writing/reading/numbers areas? Or would patterns and other things be affected too?

    senectus bragged...

    "pfft, the one thing we know about IQ tests is that they're a really poor way to test someone's intelligence.

    "I was tested a long time ago when I was a teenager that spent too much time reading fantasy novels and didn't do much else.

    "I got above average."

    If, as you say, IQ tests are a really poor way to test someone's intelligence, then you may well have been below average.

    Yes?

    William5119019, procrastination isn't the same as lack of intelligence. My IQ's well above the Mensa requirement and I'm excellent at putting things off as well! (I was eight before I got a birthmark...)

      Ha ha...I'm tickled pink...no...purple...

      ..."Birthmark Purple", in fact.

    Being a member of Mensa doesn't cause any social isolation. It's just a club where the only thing we all have in common is the score on a test. As mentioned earlier, it's not a one-shot entry. There are plenty of legitimate tests whose results grant you entrance to the organization.

    I'm not surprised that the psychologist agreed to it. We always like to see new members, and take advantage of opportunities to tell people what we're all about.

    I've been a member for just a few years, and joined as an adult. I blame the delay on my tendency toward procrastination. What I found was a group of people with varying backgrounds that shared some similar life experiences growing up. Some are the top in their field, with dazzling intellect and pockets full of diplomas, while others are just regular people trying to get by like the rest of us. And one I think lives in a van down by the river...

    I have a career and a family, and not much time for extras, so my membership gets about as much attention as my poker group. But I have met some very interesting people, and made lifetime friends.

    I would advise anyone who thinks they might qualify to check it out. If it's not for you, quit.

    Talking amoung themselves, many Mensans find that they similarly felt isolated growing up--not because they were above the rest, but because they were "different" and didn't blend in. I think what makes us alike is our curiosity. Most of us are lifetime learners who enjoy speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds with diverse experiences. Our meetings provide opportunities for intellectual stimulation in an informal setting-a healthy thing for all.

    Looks like you dodged a bullet not being accepted to Mensa if even half of what's posted on the link below about the American group has any truth to it. The initial post looks like a prank, but the replies are scary.

    http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/American-Mensa-Ltd/Arlington-Texas-76006/American-Mensa-Ltd-Sin-degradation-gluttony-low-living-drunkenness-Arlington-Texas-1022387

    So you know him? Or when presented with three possible interpretations of his user id:

    - I Andrew Martin
    - Ian Drew Martin
    - Ian Drewmartin

    you assume that he goes by 3 names, rather than simply prepending a clever "I" to differentiate himself from other Andrew Martins?

      zactly my point : )
      no reference to wyclef jean's bubblegoose he he

      His name is iandrewmartin!

        I could have sworn his name was Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson....His name is Robert Paulson!

    My mum had me sit an IQ test when I was a kid, but I have no idea if it was a Mensa one or if it was run by someone else. All I know is it wasn't just some home test, and I actually sat in a classroom/testing kind of environment.
    Apparently I scored 142, but I have no idea if mum had any documented proof stashed away somewhere or not. I never thought to ask, and now she's dead, so there's not much chance I'll find out. Oh well.

      142 is top 0.3%, which is impressive.
      At 142 you should have some 'superpowers', e.g. the ability to solve abstract problems such as numeric puzzles in your head.

        I do have a knack for figuring out certain things rather quickly. Sometimes the simple things will stump me though cos I spend too long over analyzing, thinking there must be more to it ;)

          I think you probably do have a high IQ then!
          Use it wisely for the benefit of all :)

            I do my best! Just a damn shame it does nothing to help me avoid getting sick. Been pretty much down and out for a year now with various issues. Seems to be nearing the end at long last though. Fingers crossed anyway ;)

      Nice. I did one about 15 years ago myself, got 146. I suspect the years of alcohol and binge-watching television since has probably dragged that number way down though, I don't feel as sharp now as I did then.

        If you're really that smart it seems a shame that you're choosing to spend your time drinking and watching tv. Homer Simpson does that and he's not supposed to be a smart man.

          Life is nothing if it's not enjoyed.

            I guess. If you're really enjoying it. It's your life. You only get one so make the most of it. A lot of people would give anything to be that smart.

            Isaac Newton spent most of his life deeply depressed, and he died a virgin.
            You think his life wasn't worthwhile?

              I'd rather be happy than influential, if that's what you're asking. Legacies are great, but not at the expense of the life you lead.

                I think we can be grateful that Isaac Newton wasn't a happy moron.

                  I don't see the relevance, really. It's certainly possible to be both happy and smart, I have no difficulty with it.

                  Don't put too much stock in the work of individual scientists, scientific advancement is a very iterative process. If not Newton, someone else would have discovered the same things around the same time - even Newton himself said "if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants".

                My point is that unhappy smart people make our society much more full of happiness than happy morons do, even if they have 'nothing lives' like Newton.

                  I think you have weak premises for that conclusion. Anyone can make society happier, intelligence is no requirement. Entertainment is a massive worldwide industry filled with actors and writers and comedians who are very successful at making people happy, regardless of whether they're smart or not.

                  I stand by my statement, life is nothing if not enjoyed. Accomplishments are laudable by their own merit, but a life devoid of happiness is a hollow tragedy.

                How interesting, you think that your demonstrated unwillingness to commit to the consequences of your claim is a victory rather than a humiliation.

                  You seem to be confusing commitment to my statement with disinterest in engaging an invalid argument.

                  Isaac Newton is only applicable to my value statement if the premise that he didn't enjoy his life is true. You haven't provided any deductive evidence to support that, just two pieces of supposition: that he suffered from depression, and that he died a virgin. Since neither of those premises supports your conclusion, your argument is invalid. And since both premises are speculative, your argument is deductively unsound.

                  There's no need for me to respond to an invalid or unsound argument, certainly not both. If you can find it within your ability to present a cogent argument, I'm happy to listen. But if the way you speak to others here is any indication, I won't be holding my breath.

                Whether Isaac Newton was (as seems to be well documented) an unhappy person is utterly irrelevant, because you hold the position that *if* he was unhappy, his life was a "hollow tragic nothing life".

                So fine, do you have the cojones to state that "If Isaac Newton had an unhappy life (as appears to be the case), his life was a hollow worthless tragedy, despite his huge achievements and contribution to all mankind."

                  Correct. I hold that if Isaac Newton's life was devoid of happiness then it was a hollow tragedy, independent of his accomplishments. It strikes me as a somewhat meaningless hypothetical however, since it's likely that his accomplishments did bring him some happiness.

                So, to be clear, only a person who experienced zero happiness would qualify as having a life 'not enjoyed'?

                You now claim that your comment 'life is nothing if not enjoyed' was intended to apply only to people who experience no happiness at any stage in their life?

                Well I guess that as you reject hypotheticals, you are ready to name a wretch for discussion who others might consider to have worthwhile non-happiness achievements but who you'd reject as having a worthless life?

                  To be clear, I think it's a waste of time to be constantly clarifying a value statement I've made for the one person who feels the need to argue ad nauseum. It's almost a full week now since my comment but you're still trying to argue semantics.

                  I don't believe you're having this conversation in good faith, and I'm not interested in continuing. My statement stands as it was written, you're welcome to disagree with it and move on.

                The reason this is an important, is that your view that personal happiness is vastly more valuable than societal contribution, is incredibly selfish and harmful.

                  Your dissenting opinion is noted, but doesn't change anything.

                It's *not* an opinion, it's definitional:
                Selfish: Concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.

                  I've asked you politely, now I'm telling you bluntly. Stop talking to me. You're arguing in bad faith and it's disturbingly obsessive to argue continuously even after it's been made clear to you that I don't want to talk to you any more. Move on. If you're incapable of that, seek help. I won't tell you again.

                I accept your claim that my challenge to your selfish belief system disturbed you, and empathize with your resulting pain.

                  @chrisjager Could you please intervene here? I've asked this person twice to stop messaging me in this thread but he continues.

                  Let's keep this civil. If someone asks you to stop replying, there's nothing to be gained from continuing the debate.

      What do you mean? You could easily find out. Just do the test again!

        Well, as much as it would be nice to have confirmation, it's not like spending that $60 to find out is going to change my life dramatically. At present, I have other much more productive things I can put that money towards that will benefit me :)

    $60 for the test?
    Some Goop products sell for less

    Just taking the test is proof you are not in the top 2%.

    Seems odd to me that an organisation all about intelligence only lets people try out once to apply. Surely it has been established that your intelligence is something that can be grown, and not just an intrinsic part of you that is measured and unalterable.
    And I may be wrong, but wasnt that the whole point in inventing an IQ test; they wanted to be able to measure the changes in peoples intelligence over time?

      I understand it might seem odd, but I believe it's more about how the brain is wired at a base level. I think the idea of 'growing' intelligence, is more intertwined with memory, where as these tests are more about the kind of logic that your brain applies to situations, rather than relying on past experiences.

    Actually, muffinman, IQ tests were never invented for the assessment of adult intelligence, but of intellectual retardation in children. They had very little science behind them then, and not much has changed. In reality they are a terrible way of assessing intelligence, and suffer from deep cultural and social biases. Much research has been done about this and a number of very good books written. But it's not in Mensa's interests to tell us too much about the reality of IQ testing.

      Let's examine your commitment to this idea.

      Would you wish upon your child an IQ of 80, or 120?

      Bear in mind that our society has virtually no jobs for people with an IQ below 82, they are simply too stupid to be trusted with even the simplest of jobs.

    I see no mention of the emotional component of intelligence.

      Reading of the social and emotional spectrums would be automatic.
      They already know your a person, they just want to find out if you are a smart person.

      As a subject though, I imagine they would be up for the conversation and case, maybe.

      The reason you don't see it is, it was disproven.

      The idea that there are 'multiple intelligences' was an attractive hypothesis, which in subsequent decades was properly studied using multivariate analysis, and discarded when disproven.

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