Mensa hosts test at Yale

A group of intelligent people gathered in William L. Harkness Hall on Saturday to take a test. Sounds like a typical Yale morning.

But instead of taking a midterm, Saturday’s test-takers were assessing their intelligence by taking a two-part, roughly two-hour standardized exam — in the hopes of getting into Mensa, a networking organization for the hyper-intelligent.

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Mensa. The organization of geniuses brings to mind one of the nerdy, pimply Harvard graduates gracing the CW’s “Beauty and the Geek” — a Rubiks-cube-acing, pocket-protector-wearing, calculator-toting Anthony Michael Hall in-the-’80s type.

But the eight people in the room — two men, one college-aged male and one high school girl taking the test, and four Mensa members — did not fit that description. And only one of those eight — an organizer — was a Yalie.

“[Mensans] can sometimes be hard to find at Yale,” Hans Anderson ’10, a Mensa member, said. “It’s a number of conspiring factors working against us … but we could start a social Mensa community at Yale for people who are already in Mensa.”

Anderson told the News it was the idea of David Collier, a technology attorney and the proctor Saturday, to bring the test to Yale — not necessarily in hopes of recruiting Yalies to Mensa but to become more visible on campus. When asked why they thought no Yalies showed up, Collier and Anderson, who met through the Connecticut chapter of Mensa, said that they put up fliers last spring advertising sign-ups for the club, but no one responded. Collier said he thinks people did not want to sign up for a club to which they had not yet gained admission.

Collier, especially, is no Anthony Michael Hall. He was lively, enthusiastic about Mensa and infectiously energetic as he bounded around the room distributing test papers and picking up pencils.

And with this introduction, the testing room started to feel less like the SAT. After Collier’s comments, the first part of the test was handed out — the Wonderlic Personnel Test, which is also taken by football players before the NFL draft. The test consists of 50 questions to be answered in 12 minutes.

“I’ve been doing this for five years, and I’ve never seen anyone finish,” Collier warned. “Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t.”

The questions were logic puzzles, and they measured the test-taker’s ability to read patterns as well as his or her response time. The questions varied between identifying types of words that do not belong in a set to noticing patterns in geometric shapes or numeric sequences. It was not terribly difficult, test-takers said, but there was not much time.

After a short break, the proctors handed out the second part of the test, which was very similar, again measuring pattern abilities, mental math and response time. There were seven four-minute segments, and test-takers had to fly through the questions, finding “which one does not belong?” at the speed of lightning.

“Was that as bad as you all thought it would be?” Collier asked as he picked up the papers. The room tittered a bit — the consensus seemed to be that it was not.

Mensa, Collier told the group, is a social organization, interested in the nature of intelligence. It provides a forum for intelligent people to network with each other, make friends and have a place to challenge each other.

“If there is a difference of two standard deviations above the norm [of intelligence] — it’s been shown — it’s hard to communicate with others,” he said. “All Mensa is going to do is guarantee that everyone is on your playing field.”

Mensa sponsors a wide variety of groups, from architecture appreciation groups to travel networks to a motorcycling club. Collier is a member of the latter, he said as he lifted his beige sweater up to reveal a black motorcycle T-shirt.

The four test-takers Saturday were from diverse backgrounds — from Mark D’Onofrio, a Hartford resident who works in information technology, to Nora Habboosh, a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., to Chris Stevens, a student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, to Bridgeport resident Robert Lopez. Habboosh and Lopez said they may choose to join Mensa if they qualify, while Stevens and D’Onofrio were noncommittal about joining and said they were curious to see if they would qualify.

Habboosh has her plate full with the school paper, Model UN, field hockey and lacrosse, but she said she likes the idea of being part of an intellectual organization that lets its members socialize and network.

Stevens said he has found himself bored and lacking intellectual stimuli most of his life.

“When I was younger, I tested with an exceptionally high IQ, but in high school I had a low GPA of about 2.5,” he said. “I got As in the subjects I liked, but otherwise I’d just barely pass stuff.”

Like Stevens, Lopez, who is currently between jobs, said he could use a dose of intellectual activity as well.

“I mean, I live in Bridgeport,” he said, slightly dolefully.

He said his friend, a Mensa member and a police officer in Orange, Conn., encouraged him to take the test so he could have a buddy to accompany him to gatherings.

Lopez, who writes fantasy and horror stories and used to be the state chess champion (he was also the Bridgeport champion three times), laughed and added, “I can also chug a 12-pack.”

The four Mensa hopefuls in WLH on Saturday will receive their results in four to six weeks, after the main test center in Texas grades them, Collier said.

But it may take longer than that for Mensa to find its place at Yale. Anderson explained that he has found it hard to reach fellow Mensans on campus.

“It’s not: Does Yale need Mensa? But: Does Mensa need Mensa?” Collier told the News, explaining that it is more important for Mensans to seek each other out

Anderson agreed that creating a chapter at Yale would not be necessary on an already intellectual campus. But he said participating in trivia events or networking as part of the greater organization would be a fun way for students to be involved.

“The group offers something for everyone … We have every range of opinion and belief,” Collier said. “Water seeks its own level … You want to be able to talk to people who get what you’re saying.”


  • Recent Alum

    Mensa is not a club for “hyper-intelligent” people. Anyone who scores above the 98th percentile on a test can join. Yale is far, far more selective, since far fewer than 1 out of 50 people can get in.

    If you want a society for the truly “hyper-intelligent,” try the Prometheus Society — only 1 out of 30,000 can join, as opposed to 1 out of 50 for Mensa.

  • Yale ’08

    Societies like Mensa are examples of social engineering projects at their finest. According to Hall. its been ‘shown’ that communication break down when there are two or more standard deviations between people. So in response Mensa aims to isolate and class ‘intelligence’ further, and separate these people from society. Sounds like a group of self-flattering people who need some kind of empirically-verified status to have self-esteem. Its pretty sad when you really think about it.

  • Alum ’08

    The reason Yalies don’t care about Mensa is because Yale students have had to combine intelligence AND hard work. Lots of it at that. How does the saying go… genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

    The Mensa candidate who took the test summed up the Mensa-aspiring attitude: I scored exceptionally high on an IQ test in childhood, but only had a 2.5 GPA in high school because I only did well in subjects I liked.”

    Come on, seriously?! So your high IQ explains why you simply were not intellectually challenged?? Why you did not try that hard??

    Please! Mensa needs to get over itself. Its a stupid test that measures potential, and a very weak potential at that. Your achievements count waaaay more, and that is part of the reason why few Yalies even bothered to show up: who cares what your IQ is! And do you honestly need a society of ‘like minded’ people that badly to stroke your own ego and corroborate your narrow-minded, one-dimensional definitions of intelligence?

  • Hounie

    Recent Alum… the chances of getting into Yale are not far fewer than 1 in 50! More like 1 in 13.

    But based on the many other non-genetic/non-intelligence components that determine acceptance (mainly hard work, individual thought, and leadership skills), the whole Yale admissions process certainly makes for a far more interesting selection system. Thank God

  • Alum

    I can see Mensa’s appeal for smart people from working class backgrounds who don’t usually get to interact much with other smart people day-to-day. But Yalies or people who work in fields where most Yale grads work (e.g., Wall Street, consulting, major law firms, Washington, journalism, academia) already interact with people who are in the smartest 2% (or better) every single day, both at work in socially, so simply meeting smart people wouldn’t be a reason to join.


    Mensa used to serve a purpose back when old crotchety men were into the trendy science of the time – eugenics.

    Now, it’s just a way to pat one another on the back for a test that any self-respecting Yalie should be able to pass in his or her sleep.

  • anthro

    Also, intelligence tests are an outdated concept. They can be a useful heuristic when separating people for tasks in the military, for example, but here that premise falls apart. Anyone who has read much on the topic knows that they’re not taken very seriously anymore. This “society” is just a haven for the truly insecure.

  • Logorrhea

    I’d much rather hang out with people who had to pass a rationality test. The variance in intelligence in the population is much narrower than we like to pretend and whatever differences are there are frequently uncorrelated with desirable social attributes.

  • @ Yale 08

    “its (sic) been ‘shown’ that communication break down when there are two or more standard deviations between people.”

    No matter how you subdivide your sample, you’ll continue to have “standard deviations.” Your statement of the problem makes absolutely no sense.

  • An actual Mensa member

    So many authoritarian comments, and so few people that actually appear to know anything about Mensa. That speaks poorly for Yale IMHO.

    Mensa is a social organization. People get together for food, conversation, activities, and networking. It is whatever you make of it. Opinions held by people in Mensa range as widely as you would expect anywhere. Certainly there are some self-flattering people, but no more or fewer than you’d find anywhere else; and I have never heard eugenics as a topic of conversation in Mensa (though it does seem a popular smear to claim against it by people that have never been in the organization.)

    Yale is well represented in Mensa among its faculty and graduates, it just doesn’t seem as well represented by those currently attending. Maybe Alum had it right. The students have an adequate social network of intelligent people while in school, and won’t be motivated to join Mensa until after they leave Yale. Their loss.

  • @@ Yale 08

    I’m paraphrasing from the article. Perhaps you would like to read it: “If there is a difference of two standard deviations above the norm [of intelligence] — it’s been shown — it’s hard to communicate with others,” he said. All Mensa is going to do is guarantee that everyone is on your playing field.”

    Keep in mind that a normal IQ is about 100 so there are quite a few deviations above the norm. As #8 astutely notes, variance in intelligence in the population is quite narrow. Apart from identifying huge orders of difference (i.e. between those who qualify as mentally impaired and those with 180+ IQs), the test has little empirical significance or real social utility. Again, that’s not me talking, its [oops, I forgot, sic] scientists who study IQ tests.

    Finally, you completely missed my point, or hammered it home further. It’s the act of social stratification, as a construct of social engineering, that makes Mensa so stupid and quasi-eugenics.

    So, actually, what I said makes perfect sense. Like I said, it pays to read and think before writing. FAIL.

  • Yale ’08

    #10, give me a serious break! Social organizations with diverse interests and opinions can be based on so many other determinants that transcend essentially genetic ones. That is what is meant here when people deride the idea of a ‘quasi-eugenics’ or socially ‘engineered’ organization; you are talking about a group of people that cross-cut socioeconomic brackets (to a limited extent) and educational lines (again to limited extent) but don’t necessarily earn the status of ‘intelligent’ through original thought, creative output, or more achievement-based indicators of intelligence. Rather they rely on a test of questionable repute that tells them they are of superior intellectual potential. According to normative definitions of IQ, there is nothing one can do to change it: you are born with it. Just like skin color. hmmmmm

    If you want networks, interesting conversation, etc., etc. go join a book club or something. Don’t be an apologist for glorified social stratification by genetic proxy.

  • An actual Mensa member

    Dear @@ Yale 08,

    Please don’t take everything you see on the internet personally. It will save you some aggravation. Also, take your own advice to read and think before writing. That might help too. My comments were directed at the general negativity of the replies, not the fact that “[we]’ll continue to have “standard deviations.” ”

    Yes, there are further standard deviations above the +4th, and for them there are organizations like Prometheus, Triple 9, or Mega, among others. However, that represents a VERY small segment of the population, which makes it tough to get a scrabble game going over some nachos and drinks. Mensa is a social organization after all. If you have no need for a social organization, then you have no need for Mensa. (There’s a corollary to that too: if you are anti-social, then social organizations don’t really need you either.)

    Two English barristers met on a train in 1946 and had a great conversation. They decided that they liked talking to smart people and founded an organization to do just that. Mensa’s purpose is to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members, to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, and encourage research into the nature, characteristics and uses of intelligence. Mensa does not hold an opinion or position politically, religiously, economically or for any other purpose. It welcomes people from all ages, genders, orientations, backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, beliefs, and walks of life.

    The effort being made here to make that into something sinister and negative is frankly disappointing. Especially given the level of ignorance about what goes on in Mensa and what it really is all about. That reeks much more of prejudice than the fact that intelligence may be genetically heritable.

    Thank you for your comments though. It is always good to have an opportunity to dispell the misconceptions others have about Mensa.

  • Old Blue

    “But Yalies or people who work in fields where most Yale grads work (e.g., Wall Street, consulting, major law firms, Washington, journalism, academia) already interact with people who are in the smartest 2% (or better) every single day, both at work in socially, so simply meeting smart people wouldn’t be a reason to join.”
    I don’t know about the other categories except academia, but if you’re looking for “the smartest 2%” you will sorely disappointed by major NY law firms. At such a place, I found myself spending time with fellow Yale Alums, strangely enough. Likewise in the Ph.D. programs in which I was enrolled. For the issue is not so much intelligence, but a commonality of values and world view. These, I’ve found most often with other Yale grads (and occasionally other Ivy grads — though never, ever Harvard grads ;) .) In this sense, MENSA may seem like a poor fit for many Yalies.