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.”