MENSA is known throughout the world as the elite group for people with an IQ in the top two per cent of the population. It holds regular tests, open to anyone, to gain membership. DAN ROBINSON sat a test at St Gregory the Great School in Oxford to see if he had what it takes to join the geniuses
STARING at the most mind-boggling puzzle I’d ever seen, I felt embarrassment was just around the corner.
I had signed up to a Mensa test alongside potentially some of Oxford’s finest minds.
So it was a genuine shock to be invited into the exclusive Mensa group, the High IQ Society, having achieved a score in the top two per cent of the population in one of the two categories.
The last time I had sat an IQ test was on some website when I was at school and equipped with a far more fresh and rounded knowledge of maths, science and English.
This was probably the first time I had seen a Venn diagram since I was 16, yet here was a list of them mixed with shapes and dots that – apparently – contained some logic.
There were two parts to this paper, the first called the Culture Fair Scale, in which I was given just five-and-a-half minutes overall to work out about 30 different things.
They got progressively more difficult, beginning with a task to complete the pattern of a shaded square. But it ended with an image that looked more like a radar graphic from a war zone with dots splattered randomly across the page.
Already I could feel my brain hurting and this was just the beginning.
The sight of words in the longer second section, called the Cattell III B Scale, was a relief.
I’m trying to build a career on my grasp of the English language, after all.
Again it started easily enough with some straightforward synonyms. But then it seemed to get a bit ridiculous. Is ‘separate’ the equivalent of ‘unconnected’ or ‘unrelated’?
Or how about the word ‘evade’ – is it the same as ‘avert’, ‘elude’ or ‘escape’?
From this point on there was no let-up as I strained my mind to identify obscure word opposites, analogies and the odd word in five.
I was then given a passage with about seven words missing and yet more multiple choices to input the correct one.
Choose the wrong one and it could have changed the whole meaning of the sentence.
Undoubtedly the hardest area is the final section, a list of extensive riddles that the already tired brain must try to unravel with the minutes ticking away.
Mensa doesn’t seem to care too much about political correctness, mind.
I am asked why a depressed man with financial troubles goes to a bridge to commit suicide, but doesn’t follow through with his plans.
Is it because he finds out he is no longer in financial trouble, gets talked out of it or becomes ill and unable to do it? I honestly don’t know, I wasn’t there and haven’t spoken to him, so I just had to guess.
As time eventually ran out and the test drew to a close, my brain was exhausted and I remained bewildered at some of the questions. Others seemed a lot more relaxed and I found out afterwards that they actually found it fairly enjoyable.
They seemed like ideal Mensa candidates, while I was just there to find out what it’s all about.
So as I received my test results through the post saying I had been successful, I couldn’t quite believe I had been asked to join their ranks.
Dan’s results: Culture Fair Scale – 133 IQ (top two per cent) Cattell III B Scale – 140 IQ (top four per cent)
Only qualification is a high IQ
MENSA was founded by barrister Roland Berrill and Dr Lance Ware, a scientist and lawyer, in 1946.
They wanted to form a non-political society for intelligent people, where the only qualification was a high IQ.
Its aims are to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members, identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity and encourage research into the nature, characteristics, and uses of intelligence.
There are 21,000 members in British Mensa, with more than 110,000 worldwide.
They meet for networking and social events, lectures, seminars and conferences, as well as receiving a monthly magazine and regional newsletters.
SO HOW DO YOU RECOGNISE A MEMBER?
PICKING out someone with a high IQ on the street is a difficult task, says Mensa member Cindy Treble.
She said there are some members at meetings who conform to the ‘geek’ stereotype but many are just normal people.
Headington resident Ms Treble, 28, said: “Some people fall into the category of what an intelligent person is expected to be but the people I’ve met are entirely normal and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from any other person in the street.
“They are normal, lovely people. It’s really a sort of society where you can get to know other like-minded people.”
Ms Treble, a civil servant, who is in the top one per cent with an IQ of 154, said: “In terms of securing my job and being promoted, there has been no indication that I have been treated favourably simply because I am a member of Mensa.
“However, in terms of actually carrying out my job, being a member of Mensa would naturally put me in good stead to be a stronger competitor than my colleagues.
“On a more practical level, because I am able to actualise a concept really very speedily I have the spare time to mentor colleagues, to sit on a number of committees and to take on pro-bono work, which I quite like.”
She is also a Mensa test administrator in Oxford – where exams take place every two months by about a dozen people each time – and has become familiar with the different types of questions.
There are 234 active Mensa members in Oxfordshire.
'You have to think on your feet'
HE may be more intelligent than 99 per cent of the population, but Chris Chew does not want to brag about it.
The 22-year-old Iffley Road resident achieved scores of 155 in both tests, putting him in the top one per cent of the country.
But while he said it will help him meet like-minded people in the area, he will not be shouting from the rooftops about his achievement.
Mr Chew, a visiting Oxford University student of ethics and experiments psychology, said: “I thought the test was pretty hard so part of me can’t believe it’s actually true.
“It will help me meet other people in the area who have similar interests and may help professionally in terms of networking, but I won’t be putting it on my CV because it seems pretty pretentious to me.”
Mr Chew took the test after doing well in an IQ test when he was 13.
He said: “It’s all about logical reasoning. With the time you have to do it you have to think more on your feet rather than regurgitating what you’ve learned.
“It was sort of fun.”
TOP TWO PER CENT
- A SCORE within the top two per cent on either scale is required to join Mensa.
The supervised test is split into two sections, the Cattell III B Scale and the Culture Fair Scale, each testing different skills.
British Mensa chief executive John Stevenage said: “There are lots of different IQ tests, each measuring IQ in a different way and using a different scale to record the results.
“So to quote an IQ of, say, 150 without saying which test was used is meaningless.”
He added: “The Cattell B III test relies more on verbal reasoning to test IQ. The Culture Fair test is more of a test of spatial recognition skills. Both test intelligence but using different methods.
“Using both tests recognises that different people have different skills, all of which contribute to their intelligence.
“On the Culture Fair test, a score of 132 places a candidate in the top two per cent (the average IQ is taken as 100). On the Cattell B III, a score of 148 or above would be required.”
Joining up currently costs £54.95 per year for a standard membership.
ONE FOR THE CV?
- MENSA membership is an achievement but is not a sure route into top employment, according to an Oxford recruitment agency boss.
But Kate Allen, managing director at Allen Associates in East Point Business Park, admitted it would make her want to meet someone who put it on their CV.
She said: “In my 29 years in recruitment I’ve only ever seen a handful of CVs that mentioned Mensa on them and what their scoring is.
“When I see it then on a personal level I feel intrigued to meet that person to find out more about their background, but I wouldn’t screen on that basis.
“What’s more important is to see a logical CV that’s well written and thought out, academic and vocational qualifications and with a good variety of work experience”
She added: “You can get candidates who are highly academic and score highly in Mensa, but have very poor work experience and may also lack strong interpersonal skills.”
Mrs Allen said a high IQ is not the be all and end all but encouraged Mensa members to put it on their CV.
Mensa does not confirm nor deny membership of famous people without their consent. But stars rumoured to be in the group include:
- Former Abingdon Town, Oxford United, and Bletchingdon Reserves player Joey Beauchamp
- TV presenter Carol Vorderman
- Actress Geena Davis
- TV presenter Rev Lionel Fanthorpe
- Author Zoe Barnes
- Journalist Garry Bushell
- Late sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov
- Swimmer Adrian Moorhouse