What I learned from failing Mensa


What I learned from failing Mensa - title image

Taking the Mensa admissions test had seemed like a good idea at the time. With the high-IQ society offering the test free for a promotional period, in recognition of World Intelligence Day, taking advantage of the opportunity had seemed like a no-brainer. (Ironic, that.)

It wouldn’t cost me anything. The practice test on Mensa’s website had reported I had a ‘good’ chance of passing. I’d scored highly on international tests before. And if I didn’t pass, I’d be no worse off than I’d been before. I’d learn my IQ percentile, either way. Seemed a win-win, to me.

It wasn’t.

I took the test, and by the end of the day I’d realised just how much of a bad idea it was. My feelings of stupidity, embarrassment, and humiliation compounded with my every recollection of the gruelling 17 minute mental sprint.

By the next day, it was even worse.

I hadn’t given due credence to the impact collateral factors—psychological factors—would have on me. I’d gone into the testing room feeling nervous, but excited. I came out at the top of an unstoppable decline into despondent doom.

Intellectually, I can recognise that what a test will say about a person will be measuring just a particular facet of them, at a particular time. It’s not an encompassment of the whole. (I noticed my Mensa test was also measuring a specific processing methodology—as the test assessed me, I assessed it—and if a person has another processing type it will work against them…but that’s a topic that would lead me on a digression the length of a blog post on its own.)

So, yes, I know the limitations of testing. Intellectually.

But all I could think about was how stupid I felt. I hadn’t realised how much self-validation I’d placed on the test, once my idea to take it was rolling.

Frequently, I’ll say or do something inept. Something incompetent. Something really, really daft. Like voicing my understanding that ‘trimming a Yucca plant’ was just snipping the ends of the leaves off. Or telling someone about a barista who had “no grasp of physics” (because they’d put a small chocolate on top of my hot coffee’s takeaway lid, where of course it melted because I had no hand free to take it off)…and only realising after I’d left the conversation that I should have said ‘thermodynamics’. (Or played it safe and just said, ‘science’.)

I find the recurring foot-in-mouth disease embarrassing and frustrating. My driver’s licence says I’m a grown up, but I can collate plenty of evidence for that being a premature assertion.

As the date of my Mensa test had drawn nearer, the fantasy of a Mensa membership had housed the comforting reassurance that, despite social faux pas, I would still have merit. Even if I didn’t know what it meant to trim a Yucca (though I do, now), I’d surely find security and validation in knowing I’d qualified for Mensa.

But I didn’t.

I was in the 86th percentile.

I was told this would still earn a ‘high distinction’ in a university context (this said by someone who has a First-Class Honours degree, so I presume he’d know about such things), but it’s still a far cry from the 98th percentile bar that Mensa membership requires.

It frustrates me that the feelings of failure were so strong and effectual, even though I knew Mensa’s diagnosis made no material difference. I didn’t feel stupid the day before the test, and my abilities hadn’t changed since then, had they?

My torment was…irrational. And I hate irrationality. It’s a particular peeve.

I’d expected the test wouldn’t cost me anything. But it did, for a time. It didn’t cost me $45, but it cost me confidence (the very thing I’d intended to gain by it), emotional stability, contentment…all the good things that I hadn’t realised were at risk by the exercise. Which, on balance, are worth more than $45.

And what did I gain? Well, there’s knowing my IQ percentile as it’s recognised by Mensa methodology, but with that curiosity thus sated, I’m not sure when I’m meant to do with the information.

And, in wild straw-grasping, I can also recognise the contribution to my repertoire of blog post topics.

Was it worth it?

Hell, no.

So then, what did I learn? (There has to be something, if only for the comfort of compensation.)

1) Do not sit the Mensa entrance test. Granted, that horse has bolted.

2) I’m not immune to irrationality and emotional landslides, after all. (This is actually a momentous and rather unsettling acknowledgement for me. I typically pride myself on the absence of both.) So, I’ve lost faith in my intellect and in my stoicism. Refer to Point 1 above.

3) The third thing I learned… The third thing…

No. Sorry. I have nothing. I just really like lists of three.

But I know what’s in a Mensa test now, so there’s that. I know more than I did before.

I also know how to trim Yuccas, which is pretty cool.


(3) Comments

  • Deborah Makarios
    14 Oct 2016

    First Class Honours degrees are not necessarily that hard to come by – even I have one, and I am quite certain that a) Mensa would sneer at my IQ and b) their idea of a good time and my idea of a good time probably don’t overlap that much.
    On the plus side, you now know that 85% of the world’s population is dumber than you (according to a certain methodology), and there are days when that will explain a lot.
    I myself have no idea how to trim a yucca. If it doesn’t smell good or taste good, I don’t grow it. (If it does, I try to grow it but accidentally kill it with either neglect or overwatering.)

    • Eve
      15 Oct 2016

      “…even I have one…” That doesn’t constitute as much of an argument as you’d think. For as long as I can recall, you’ve struck me as particularly amazing! So if you were going for a response of, “Oh, I see it’s not a big deal, then,” you missed. 🙂

      Before I sat the test I’d expected I wouldn’t enjoy Mensa company so much. (I imagined I’d get in by the skin of my teeth, and who likes being the dumbest one in the room?) I just wanted the card in my wallet, for self-esteem purposes. But when I met our Mensa proctor, and she talked about what their meet-ups were like, it suddenly sounded much more appealing. Just hanging out with people. People who didn’t in fact stroke their beards and talk about the insipidity of normal people. People who would chat about normal things, be comfortable with polysyllabic conversation, and understand things the first time. It would’ve been nice…

      I expect that my last-minute intrigue in actually enjoying the company of Mensa members was a significant contributing factor to my fallout, when I failed so spectacularly.

      PS: Are you SERIOUS?! In a post about intelligence, I was spelling yucca wrong the whole time?! I have to fix it! I have to fix it all now! Before anyone sees! (On the plus side, y’know those examples I gave of how I make myself look ridiculous? Well, now I have a third example — and I do like a list of three!)

      • Deborah Makarios
        15 Oct 2016

        “People who would … be comfortable with polysyllabic conversation, and understand things the first time.” I can see the attraction! In fact, I think that’s what first attracted me to my Dearly Beloved.
        I am totally boggled to find that you have ever considered me particularly amazing, except perhaps in a “I never made Who’s Who but I got a sidebar in What’s That” kind of a way.

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