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When the heroes know they're being tested, but the purpose of the test isn't what they think it is. Subtrope of False Crucible
This is commonly done in Real Life
psychological tests, to get round people giving the answers they think the tester wants to see. It's harder to do that if you don't know the true purpose of the test. Unlike secret tests
, the hero does know he's being tested, so there's less need to go to elaborate, and unsafe, lengths to fake danger.
This is related to Danger Room Cold Open
, since in both cases the heroes know they're being tested, but that trope applies when the viewer doesn't know it's a test, irrespective of whether the test has a hidden purpose. Compare and Contrast with Kansas City Shuffle
, where characters know they are being tricked, but have the wrong idea about what the con is. Often overlaps with Wax On, Wax Off
and When You Snatch the Pebble
, especially when an Old Master
sets a bizarre test whose true purpose is to encourage a specific type of training. May also overlap with Secret Test of Character
in cases where an apparent test of skill is actually an evaluation of the subject's moral fitness.
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Anime and Manga
- Naruto loves doing this.
- Hatake Kakashi sets up a test where three fresh ninja recruits have to steal bells from him... which is totally impossible. The day before, he told them to skip breakfast without explaining the exercise, under the premise that it'd make them throw up otherwise, so they'd be hungry during the test, and then busts one of them trying to sneak food. The game is actually to see whether they will break the rules and feed their starving team mate, since ninja who fail missions are trash, but ninja who don't look out for each other are "lower than that!"
- The first stage of the Chuunin Exam is just finding the room for it by seeing through an illusion technique. The final question is given at the end with the condition that once you've heard the question, if you get it wrong you instantly fail and can never take the exam again. However, you can quit and try again next year, but this also makes your teammates fail. There is no question, it's just a test to see if you'll risk yourself for your teammates' benefit.
- During a filler episode, its revealed that the dreaded "final question" in the chuunin exam one year was subtly different. In this version, if you get the question wrong, you're still fine but your team mates are stuck as genin forever. Agreeing to continue means you fail, as once again, the purpose of the question is to determine who will sacrifice their teammates for their own benefit.
- The first nine questions are themselves a hidden purpose test of skill: The questions are too difficult for most Genin to know, but there are two fake candidates taking the test. There are proctors watching the candidates, and any genin caught cheating five times is automatically failed, along with their team. The key to passing the test is to figure out how to get the answers without getting caught, as a test of the ninja's information-gathering skills. The proctors merely pretend not to notice some of the cheating (Ibiki notices that Gaara is up to something, but gives him a pass as he can't figure out what), but presumably give penalties for what they consider to be substandard information gathering.
- In YuYu Hakusho, Genkai makes the interested applicants for her Spirit Training play video games. One is a karaoke machine, another a punching bag, and another a "rock-paper-scissors" type of game. The bag tests Spirit Energy, the karaoke machine tests how well they can sync up with the supernatural and the rock-paper-scissors game tests spiritual awareness.
- "What's the Tetris and Pac-Man for?" "They're just for fun."
- Prior to this, Genkai weeds out potential students from rejects by way of a lottery. Each candidate receives an envelope with a piece of paper. Those with blank paper strips are sent home, while those with red strips advance. In truth, all of the strips start out blank. They only turn red if the candidate has a certain minimum amount of spirit energy.
- In Honey Honey No Suteki Na Bouken, Honey thinks she has to run over hot coals as a ritual for a nomadic tribe's people, but in truth she has to remove her shoes because they are looking for a rose-shaped birthmark that represents royalty on a young girl's foot.
- The last chapters in the Touhou manga, Strange and Bright Nature Deity, had Yukari testing the three fairy protagonists via danmaku to see if they were fit to live in the very special tree they were planning to move in. After the three fairies were shot to hell and back and were ready to give up on the tree, Yukari revealed that she wasn't testing how strong they were, she was testing how weak they were. Yukari didn't want anything powerful and potentially troublesome inhabiting the tree because it was important to the border around Gensokyo. Since the three fairies proved themselves to be utterly pathetic in terms of power, they passed with flying colors.
- In Million Dollar Kid, a tycoon gives one hundred million yen to each of his three sons and tells them the one who best uses the money will succeed him. What the youngest son (a gambling addict who happens to be the protagonist) doesn't know is that his father is using this as an excuse to cast him off from the family.
- Eyeshield21 had Hiruma staging a test to eliminate the many people who want to join the team. The test is to carry a bag of ice to the top of Tokyo Tower within a day. However, Hiruma set it so it was very difficult (but not impossible) to reach the top. Such as adding sugar to the ice to make it melt faster, certain floors have the temperatures raised to alarming levels and being chased by Hiruma's vicious Angry Guard Dog. When asked about the unfairness of the test, Hiruma stated that he was looking for those with determination who can make it to the top, regardless of how difficult or challenging the test was.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fan Fic Hell Hath No Fury, the hero agrees to face three tests, of body, mind and spirit. Only after going through all three does he discover what he thought was a test of body was actually a test of mind, the test of spirit actually a test of body, and the test of mind actually a test of spirit.
- To be admitted to the eponymous Princess Sparkle's School for Eccentric Unicorns, Twilight challenges applicants to do what only she has in a thousand years: create new magic. Only four unicorns pass the test, by simply trying any spell, instead of just giving up or raging.
- Technically the test was "show her a spell she has never seen before", it's just that she's seen so many spells, even ones she didn't know how to cast, that the only way to guarantee winning was to invent a new spell.
- Also a slight subversion as we learn that none of the ponies that passed, Lyra, Trixie, Vinyl, and Fleur, succeeded for the reason Twilight thought a pony would (determination in the face of certain failure). Lyra passed because the musical spell she cast was to relax her nerves and she kept casting afterwards in a panic. Trixie cast her spell just to spite Twilight for giving her an impossible test. Fleur didn't want to disappoint her husband and so cast the most obscure spell she had in desperation that Twilight hadn't seen it before. Vinyl wasn't taking the whole test seriously at all and just cast something for fun.
- There was an Andromeda fanfic where Ione (an Avatar like Trance) and Harper argue over who should marry Trance. It is stated that the matter should be decided in a battle. Naturally, Ione beats up Harper badly... after which it is announced that Harper is the winner, since he was more honorable (Ione refused to fight as an equal) and more determined (by refusing to surrender). There could never be any doubt about who's stronger.
- This trope is the entire foundation of the 2004 movie D.E.B.S, in which a secret test is hidden in the American S.A.T.s which measures the students aptitude for spying. All those who pass the hidden test are given the opportunity (which nobody, it seems, turns down) to become a D.E.B. It is not shown where the boys who pass the test are sent, or why there is a Frenchgirl taking the S.A.T.s.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan's Kobayashi Maru test, the hidden purpose was to test how trainees would deal with an unwinnable situation.
- In Men In Black, potential recruits are shown taking a marksmanship test, with a mix of both alien and human targets in a street scene. James Edwards ignores the aliens, putting a single shot in the forehead of a little girl, and invokes this trope when ordered to explain his choice, claiming she was the most suspicious target since she was carrying quantum physics textbooks and looked too young to be out by herself at night surrounded by said aliens. The movie leaves it up in the air as to whether Edwards is right or whether it's his other qualities - quick outside-the-box thinking, attention to detail, and willingness to challenge authority, among others - that lead Agent K to select Edwards as his replacement; the novelization (which deviates from the film in some areas) presents his reasoning as correct.
- Another possible one (again, the movie doesn't confirm either way): Earlier, when presented with a multiple-choice test on paper with no flat surface to write on, he very noisily drags a table over to his chair while everyone else stays where they are and struggles with the difficulty of penciling in their answers on the floppy paper test sheets.
- In The Recruit, the protagonist is captured, beaten and tortured by men who demand he tell them the name of his CIA handler. Eventually he does, immediately after which it is revealed to be a test. He is made to leave the training facility on the pretext that he failed the test, but is later told that the other recruits were made to believe that because he's been selected for covert assignments. The test was in fact to see how long he could hold out and wasn't going to stop until he gave in. He actually lasted longer than any recruit in a long time.
- Parodied in Starsky & Hutch, when Starsky and Hutch try to infiltrate a biker bar while in disguise as members of a local gang. When the owner asks them to answer a question to prove that they're really members, Hutch assumes that it's a trick question and attempts to think around it. It's not.
Jeff: Tell me, if you two are Jesters: what's our credo?
Hutch: The credo? You almost got me—there is no credo!
(Jeff gives him a weird look)
Hutch: ...other than the secret credo!
Jeff: That ain't no secret. It's written right on our damn crest!
(Hutch looks up and sees the crest hanging over the bar in plain sight)
- Robert A. Heinlein's Space Cadet: Matt Dodson has to pass a series of tests to get into the Space Patrol. One of them requires him to stand over a milk bottle and drop beans into the bottle with his eyes closed. Dodson ends up with only one bean in his bottle and sadly turns it in. He notices while standing in line that several people got many beans in their bottles, and after turning his in, he asks the examiner what would keep people from cheating by peeking. The examiner says, "Nothing at all", much to Dodson's disappointment. Then the book says about Dodson: "It did not occur to him that he might not know what was being tested."
- The Westing Game: Heirs to a dead man's fortune think that they're supposed to find out who killed him. They're actually supposed to find out that he isn't actually dead; it was all a trick.
- In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a rebellion occured in Cao Cao's capital city of Xu Chang, coupled with much burning. When it was over, Cao gathered all the officials in the city. Those who left their homes to put out the fires were told to stand under a red flag; those who stayed in their homes were told to stand under a white flag. This was a trap: Cao assumed that all of the people who left their homes were really assisting the rebellion and would use the idea of "putting out fires" as an excuse.
- In The Mysterious Benedict Society a group of children take an entrance exam for a gifted program. The exam is 40 multiple-choice questions that are absurdly complicated and deal with information no child would know (except Sticky, who becomes the Society's Smart Guy). The purpose of the test is not to see what the children know but how well they follow directions. At the start they're told to read every question before answering. Main character Reynie decides to take the instructions literally and reads the whole test without trying to answer any questions. He discovers that question 21 told the answer to #1 and vice versa, #22 and #2 contained each other's answers, etc. Thus he finished the test while everyone who tried to do one question at a time ended up confused and frustrated.
- In The Wheel of Time novel The Gathering Storm, Aviendha is training to become a Wise One. The other Wise Ones keep commenting that she is "learning too slowly" and assign her a variety of ridiculously pointless punishments, such as carrying heavy rocks from one side of a field to the other and back again. She obediently carries out her "punishments" but can't figure out what lesson she's supposed to be learning. When she finally stands up to the Wise Ones and refuses to accept her punishment, they accept her as one of their own.
- Aviendha learns at the same time the real problem with this kind of test (which the Wise Ones are well aware of): by acknowledging those and only those who claim they deserve to be acknowledged, the women who least deserve to be treated as Wise Ones are often the quickest to gain the title. And unsurprisingly (for this series and an all-female group), they don't want any rumor that Wise Ones ever disagree about anything - which means at least publicly supporting the actions of the more foolish or shortsighted "Wise Ones" to preserve their mystique.
- Parodied in the Discworld novel Mort. Death ordered his new apprentice to muck out the stables. After the task is done, Death asks Mort why he had been given this task. Mort correctly comes up with the following reason: Because the stables were filthy and needed to be mucked out.
- Mention is made of the "Monks of Cool", a sect of monks who believe in being cool at all times. To test initiates, they are brought into a room containing every imaginable type of clothing and asked which outfit is the coolest. The correct answer is "Whichever one I put on".
- The children's book The Empty Pot is all about this. To find a worthy successor, the aging Emperor of Ancient China distributes seeds to his realm's children, promising that the boy that can grow the most beautiful flower will become the next Emperor. A boy named Ping, who's known for his skill with botany, is heartbroken when he finds out that he can't make his seed grow at all, and is even more dismayed when he brings his empty pot before the Emperor and sees all of the other boys bringing gorgeous flowers. To his surprise, Ping is selected to be the next Emperor. It turns out that the seeds that the Emperor handed out were cooked, and thus incapable of growing into flowers at all. The Emperor was actually testing the children's honesty, not their skill at growing flowers.
- In the Xanth novel Ogre, Ogre, Smash goes through several of these with the Night Horse (ruler of the Night Mares). He dies or seems to fail in all of them, but the real point of the tests is whether or not he gives up, despite how hopeless they are.
- The Star Trek novel Kobayashi Maru has an example that does not involve the famous no-win scenario. One section is the story of Chekhov when he was a cadet and his class were taken to a training area, assigned stunners, and told that one of the cadets had been secretly designated as a hostile traitor who would, if given the opportunity, attack the others. All the cadets immediately start hunting one another down, with Chekhov being the last survivor. The officer reveals that the cadets had all failed, and told Chekhov what his hero, Jim Kirk, had done. Kirk had organized the cadets into a single group with everyone present, all the weapons were confiscated and placed under guard, and the only cadets armed and allowed to be out of sight were the ones paired on guard duty at any given time. Kirk's reasoning was that if someone not assigned to guard duty tried to grab a weapon or sneak away form the group, they'd out themselves as the traitor. Since the guards were in pairs, if only one of a pair returned from duty, that person would also out themself as a traitor. After telling Chekhov how Kirk did it, the officer then revealed that, of course, that no cadet had secretly been The Mole at all.
Live Action TV
- Murder, She Wrote episode "Test of Wills": Jessica Fletcher is called in by a wealthy man to find out which of his heirs is trying to kill him. When he suddenly dies, she tries to discover the murderer. In the end it turns out that the man only pretended to die, in order to smoke out the killer.
- On Xena: Warrior Princess, an arrogant new warlady wants to replace Xena as Ares' favored human, so he lets the two of them fight it out in a special isolated dimension. Ares says that either of them can just call his name at any time if they need his help. Eventually the other warlady does so, and Ares appears only to reveal that by being the first who had to call for help, she's lost. "I said you could. I didn't say you should."
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- When Wesley is taking the Starfleet entrance exam his final test is "facing his biggest fear." While he's waiting for the test to start, a fire breaks out in a nearby lab and he can only save one of the techs working there. It turns out that that was the test, his fear was having to make a decision like that (since his father died in the exact same scenario). He knew there was going to be a test but he didn't know that the test was happening when it was happening.
- In the episode "Lower Decks", Worf teaches his fellow crew members the Mok'bara, and has an advanced class that you must test into. The test consists of defeating master Worf while blindfolded. Which of course means that the test really consists of removing the blindfold and standing up to Worf. (Worf gets bonus points for straight-facedly claiming that this is an ancient Klingon ritual, when actually he made it up on the spot to teach that particular Ensign the lesson about standing up for herself in an unfair test.)
- In the episode "Thine Own Self", Deanna Troi repeatedly takes—and fails—the bridge officer's test, unable to come up with Technobabble fast enough to keep the ship from exploding during the holodeck simulation. She's only able to succeed when she realizes that the test is not whether she can memorize minutiae about the ship's operation but whether she can order someone who has the necessary knowledge to do the task knowing they'll die doing so.
- In the Covert Affairs episode "Bang and Blame", the heroine Annie returns to The Farm to complete her CIA training ... and discover who's leaking cadets' names to terrorist web sites. In one exercise, an instructor shows cadets a table full of various firearms, and tells them they can take one item to help them escape through a door at the other end of a maze. Each cadet picks a gun and blasts away at targets that pop up in doorways and windows. Annie uses the butt of a gun to break glass and remove a map of the maze. After studying it for a minute, she sneaks through the maze, ducking out of sight of the targets as they pop up. Because it's this trope, and that sort of show, only Annie passes the test. Firing a gun even once betrays the presence of an agent, who's supposed to slip in and out unnoticed.
- On one episode of MythBusters, various staff members were asked to take part in a observation test, identifying what item of Adam or Jamie's clothes changed each time they disappeared and reappeared behind a curtain. It actually was an observation test, but the point was to see if anyone noticed that the figure wasn't actually Adam or Jamie, but one of them posing as the other by wearing their clothes and a realistic latex mask of the other's head.
- A similar test was performed earlier in the episode on members of the general public (requirements: they'd watched the show, but didn't know Adam or Jamie personally). Their test was to shine a laser at a target, with Adam or Jamie standing off to the side of that target taking notes. Of course, it was actually Jamie or Adam disguised as the other, and the purpose of the test was to see if the test subjects would see through the disguise.
- In an episode of Lie to Me, one of the Lightman group believes a witness to a crime has "change blindness" - that is to say that if she looks at something, then looks away and then looks at it again, she is unaware of anything that has changed since she first looked. Torres and Loker play her a video and ask her to describe it. She describes it perfectly to Torres and a man she had never seen before who took Loker's place while she was watching the video.
- The Joe Schmo Show was, to its star Matt Gould, a Big Brother style experiment in which he had to use his charisma to stay on his housemates' good side and call upon potentially any skill in the challenges to increase his chances of winning by securing immunity from eviction. The premise was in fact that he thought he was in a reality show when in fact his housemates were all actors and the point was to see how he would react to a series of bizarre scripted scenarios.
- On Community, a group of students, including Troy and Abed, sign up for a psychological experiment by Professor Duncan, and are told to wait to be called. What they don't know is that waiting for the experiment is the experiment; Duncan is testing them to see how long it takes for each one to lose their patience and storm out. One by one all the subjects snap and leave - all except Abed, who just sits there calmly. Eventually Duncan is the one who cracks waiting for Abed to crack.
- There was a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode where Elliot must pretend to be a paedophile to help weed out another, and Huang is coaching him on how to fake a psychological test where they will show them various images and ask them to rate them. Elliot starts saying that it's obvious, then realizes that, no, an actual paedophile wouldn't rate the kids higher, then pauses. Then Huang tells him that the scores they give are irrelevant, the test measures how long you spend watching each image.
- The Utnapishtim section of The Epic of Gilgamesh is subtly implied to be this. Utnapishtim offers to share the secret of immortality with Gilgamesh if Gilgamesh can stay awake for seven nights straight. Gilgamesh falls asleep almost immediately, then, upon waking up, lies and claims to have been awake the whole time. If you're reading closely enough, the hint is pretty tough to miss: why did Gilgamesh fall asleep so fast? Because Utnapishtim somehow caused him to; the real test was to see if Gilgamesh would tell the truth.
- The Milgram experiment.
- Pretty much any psychology experiment, because if people know what the experimenters are studying, they won't behave naturally.
- Many psychological scales such as the MMPI contain a hidden "Liar" aspect which measures how much the respondent is either lying or trying to look good. These questions get slipped in during the exam and generally take the shape of a question which almost everyone has to answer in a way which shows off a negative characteristic if the question is answered honestly. And now that you know about that scale, the test may be invalid for you.
- Officials wanting to become civil servants in the Imperial Chinese Bureaucracy often had to pass extremely difficult and esoteric exams requiring precise forms of answer on irrelevant subjects. They weren't looking for your knowledge of the useless subjects—they were looking for your ability to master and apply a technical skill. This was so they could slot you in wherever you were needed—for China's famed bureaucracy was not very large at all (contrary to stereotype.)
- And to be fair to the Chinese, fairly large portions (but not all) of the test do involve matters relating to civil/military administration and political philosophy.
- The British came across this technique in their Civil service exams. They couldn't actually care less whether you could translate, sight unseen, large slabs of Latin or Greek—what they did care about was your ability to master a technically difficult body of knowledge from scratch and apply it with precision and skill. To explain how well this worked- approximately one thousand Indian Civil Service clerks governed 250 million people in the Raj, and by all accounts did quite creditably well.
- Part of leadership training in some military forces often involves this: trainees are given instructions to carry out some task, often involving something that they couldn't be reasonably expected to know (such as planning and executing an ambush before having received any infantry tactical training). The importance isn't necessarily in being successful in the task itself, but in learning how to craft orders, issue instructions, and coordinate groups of people.
- A common test for officers in the military may involve a menial task such as digging a trench. The test is to see if the officer understands to delegate the task to an enlisted man rather than do it themselves.
- And a combination of the two often happens: the testee is instructed to have something done and is marked on whether they have the common sense to check if any of their personnel have experience in doing the task already before spending the time in coming up with instructions on how to do it, instead of simply ordering it done or tapping the existing experience.
- When a doctor or nurse is giving a basic physical examination, they'll pay a great deal of attention to the sphygmomanometer (the squeezy blood pressure cuff). While they are measuring systolic and diastolic blood pressure, at the same time they're gauging the patient's breathing rate - because people tend to involuntarily alter their breathing when you tell them you're measuring it. If you remember this at your next physical, you stand a good chance of screwing up the trick.
- What about the people who hate getting their blood pressure taken? Their breathing will speed up, screwing up the results.
- It's informally called White Lab Coat Syndrome, and a health care provider who isn't aware of it isn't worth their scrubs. That's why so many physicians and nurses ask odd questions that make patients wonder what in heck the practitioner is thinking. "Why is my cardiologist asking me if I have a ringing in my ears or having nose bleeds or headaches? Why is he looking in my eyes if I have heart problems?"Answer Likewise, the physician will check on nail beds and squeeze fingers or just examine the patient's hands and feet on some pretext to see if there is a sign of poor oxygenation or circulation, or use a device which gives the pulse and oxygen content of the blood to check for it, or examine the mucosa of the mouth, etc. Really, your physician sees a lot more of what's happening than you might ever guess if (s)he's any good at all as a clinician.
- Averted in Experimental Economics; on the contrary to Experimental Psychology and for a number of reasonsnote , the commonly agreed methodology in Experimental Economy forbids from any sort of deception towards those participating in the test and any economist doing so would pretty much have no chance of being able to publish their results... in an economics journal, at least.
- Trent Reznor asks guitarists auditioning for Nine Inch Nails to play the main riff to "Terrible Lie," which is only two notes long. The reason he makes them play such an easy song is that he's not testing their technical proficiency, but their attitude on stage. According to him, the riff isn't really "B — C#," it's "Fuck — you."
- Van Halen had a doozy. Back in their heyday, they would sneak a clause into their contracts which in essence let them keep all the money and cancel a show if there wasn't a bowl full of M&Ms with all the brown ones taken out in their dressing rooms at a venue. This wasn't just pop-star preening - the clause was buried in a massive contract full of safety specifications for the band's legendary flying harnesses, pyrotechnics, and lights. The safety specs were exacting and far beyond what any other band was doing at the time. If a place didn't have the bowl full of M&Ms in the dressing room; or if the bowl was there, but all the brown ones hadn't been removed, it was the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Van Halen would know they had to send out their own technicians and crew to double-check the safety of the entire rig, and they would almost invariably find oversights. With shows as big and elaborate as Van Halen's, someone could easily be injured or killed.
- That one test where you watch a clip showing a group of people passing basketballs between each other. The purported purpose is to count how many times the basketballs are thrown. The real purpose is to see whether you notice someone dressed in a gorilla suit walking between the players.
- There was one university lab experiment where the students were given some equipment and asked to calculate the value of gravity. One of the pieces of equipment was a metre ruler that was actually only 90cm long but falsely marked to appear as though it was a full metre long. Given that, there was no way of correctly calculating gravity and getting the expected result (approximately 9.8 m/s/s). Of course, since the students knew what value they should be getting there was much fudging of results and justification in their written report as to why their results seemed to be off.
- Sometimes disaster training scenarios will throw something in that has nothing to do with the disaster itself but to see if it can throw the participants off their game or alter their response. A common one is at an accident scene to have someone loudly make it clear they are a Very Important Person, to see if the first responders dealing with rescue and injuries treat them any differently.
- Earthdawn supplement The Way of War. Sky Raider trainees are ordered to unload and reload barrels until they complain about doing something so tedious. This is done because Sky Raiders don't want their crew to be robots: they want people who know what they're doing and why they're doing it.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the quest to join the Dark Brotherhood involves being told to figure out which of three people has a contract out for his or her murder, then fulfill that contract. After you've finished the job, you learn that there was no right or wrong answer; your new employer simply wanted to find out whether you would commit murder on her orders.
- Whateley recently had its own version of the Kobayashi Maru. However, the test's purpose is the same. Teach Team Kimba that they cannot win everything. They were hit with a Total Party Kill.
- The BrainBashers website offers an online intelligence test as one of its fun features. The first page of the test has questions similar to what you'd expect from Mensa, but clicking on the Next button only leads to an error page. The trick is that the error page is a fake and that buried among the error messages is an instruction to click on a link to pass the test; blindly hitting the Back button and going somewhere else on the website brings up a page telling you that you failed the test because you weren't observant enough. This trick isn't as convincing nowadays as it used to be, due to the look of error pages changing over time, but less than 10% of the test-takers apparently catch on to it.
- This Micro SF/F story.
- In the season 3 premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Princess Celestia tests Twilight Sparkle to aid Princess Cadance in protecting the Crystal Empire from King Sombra, and specifically instructs her to fulfill this task by herself. When Twilight walks into a trap that renders this impossible, she passes the duty of saving the empire to Spike, who she only brought along on the condition he not lift a finger to help her. When Twilight comes back thinking she's failed her test, Celestia reveals the real test was to see if she was willing to sacrifice her self-interests for the needs of others, which she naturally passed.
- In My Little Pony Equestria Girls, Rainbow Dash is willing to help Twilight Sparkle win the crown... on the condition that she get five soccer goals before Rainbow does. It goes about as well as you'd expect, considering it's Rainbow vs. Twilight, and a Twilight who has no magic and isn't quite used to human locomotion, to boot. Rainbow helps her anyway, because the true test was if Twilight would try to the very end, even if it seemed—and in this case, was—hopeless, a trait that had already been tested in Equestria, and would stand her in good stead through the rest of the adventure.
- Avatar The Last Airbender contained one for Aang in "The King of Omashu". Aang believed he needed to complete three trials in order to save Sokka and Katara. It turned out that King Bumi was just messing with him in order to teach him that things aren't always what they seem.
- On Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a group of Jedi younglings is taken to a cave on Ilum to find their lightsaber crystals, and given until the ice wall that normally blocks the cave reforms to accomplish the task. As each Jedi discovers, the true challenge is not finding the crystal and making it back on time, but that they have to overcome some sort of character flaw (impatience, fear, etc.) to get their crystal. The last to return even proves the ice wall isn't as firm a time limit as they had been led to believe by breaking through it before it can freeze too thickly.
- Parodied in a Manatee Gag on Family Guy where Peter, in college, wads up an exam paper and throws it at the instructor's feet. The instructor informs him that was the real test, and he passed.