"Do you enjoy putting things in boxes?"
— Actual Career Aptitude Test Question
Kids take an aptitude test, supposedly showing what job they'd be suited for. 99% of the time, their results do not agree with what they expect and/or want.
Sometimes, it's blamed on faulty testing computers, some action that one of the kids did screwing up the results, or mixed-up test results. It is rare for anyone to blame it on the idea that aptitude tests in general, or the particular test in question, can be flawed and overrated, even though this would be a perfectly valid argument to make in Real Life
. Other times, it's just left as a Because Destiny Says So
that the characters must either fight or accept.
Compare the Achievement Test Of Destiny
, a test that determines intelligence and is equally fate-bound.
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Anime & Manga
- Katekyo Hitman Reborn!'s "Ranking Fuuta" is a human aptitude test since he can rank anything (including a person's most likely future career). The inept part comes in that his rankings become inaccurate whenever it rains. This causes the child-hating Gokudera much distress when Fuuta incorrectly ranks him as most likely to become a kindergarten teacher.
- Variation in Demolition Man. Cowboy Cop John Spartan is imprisoned as a Human Popsicle, where his rehabilitation is helped along by having him subliminally taught a skill for which he is genetically predisposed to help him relax and (hopefully) be less violent upon release. His skill, he discovers with some consternation, is knitting. Interestingly, this seems to work out pretty well.
- Isaac Asimov's short story Profession takes place in a world where every individual is given a profession and the knowledge (from tapes) to perform it after some brain scanning aptitude test. The main protagonist's scan reveals that his brain is unable to take in any form of prerecorded tape knowledge at all, and he is given no profession as a result and sent in a special dedicated institution for "weak-minded people". It turns out he is a person capable of genuinely creative and original thought, the only variable they can't fully quantify or implant, and the reason he will not gain access to prerecorded knowledge is that his job will be to come up with the original discoveries which then get recorded for everyone else.
- The short story Up In Flames from the world of A.L. Phillips's The Quest of the Unaligned features one of these screwing over the hero.
- Early on in Jack Blank, it is revealed that Jack once took one of these tests and ended up with the result "toilet brush cleaner". Jack didn't even think such a career existed, thinking people would just throw out old toilet brushes.
- James Herriot was given one of these while in the RAF in World War II. The result indicated that he had an "outstanding mechanical aptitude". When he told the aptitude board that, in reality, even the thought of "wheels, pistons, cylinders, cogs" made his brain leak out of his ears, they were completely at a loss.
Live Action TV
- Happens in an episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, where lazy, Book Dumb Zack scores as a successful businessman and straight-A student Cody's scores qualify him to be more of a garbageman. Later their mother finds that the man who scores the tests (which were nothing more than a random test Cody found online and not at all presented as official or valid) just chooses a career at random for each result. The lesson is somehow learned that tests can't tell you what you will or won't be.
- Nick Freno Licensed Teacher: Freno avoids getting his license revoked for not administering an aptitude test (the principal had to do it himself) because one of the panel members judging him got this job on her test, and she wanted to be a ballerina. Meanwhile, one of the students has postman as his top choice.
- Dennis the Menace (B&W live-action series from the 1950s) had a variation on this trope. Dennis takes a standardized IQ test in school which reveals him to be a genius; but it turns out a wad of gum he left on the underside of the paper screwed up the scoring.
- The Facts of Life, "I.Q.": The trope as used here was fairly weak, because as it was only the fourth episode of the series, we didn't know Sue Ann was supposed to be the smartest one until this episode told us so.
- The Scoobies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer went through a career day that placed Xander as a prison guard. Played straight and subverted when neither Oz (whose Brilliant but Lazy) nor Willow (who's a straight-A student) ever got a result back because a very prestigious software firm was scouting them. Also subverted in that Buffy gets the surprisingly accurate result of law enforcement...and double-subverted when she is horrified by it, if only because of the bad fashion of the uniform.
- Malcolm in the Middle saw Malcolm distressed because, while he was hoping the test would provide him some direction, he turned out to be equally qualified for any career he chose to pursue. The testing guy is not amused by Malcolm's disappointment in his own Jack-of-All-Trades-esque perfection.
- In Radio Free Roscoe the group takes an aptitude test, and Travis spends the whole time making a donkey out of the bubbles. When he gets lawyer he complains about how that's not even donkey related. When they talk about it on the radio, other students call in to question the purpose and validity of aptitude tests in general.
- A variation occurs in Sister Sister, where bookish Tia scores low on the SATs and outgoing Tamara scores higher than she ever dreamed possible. Their test scores were accidentally switched, due to being identical twins.
- ...and then they took 'em again a year later, with some Smart Guy as their tutor.
- In Teachers PE teacher Brian takes the same career test as his pupils and his stereotypically gay results - florist or hairdresser - do nothing to help the crisis of sexuality he's going through. It turns out his friends switched the results as a practical joke.
- Junior surprises his parents on My Wife and Kids by getting a perfect score on the SAT. Of course, the results were those of another student with the same last name, and Junior actually got an impossibly low score for misspelling his own name.
- Played with in Eureka where the 99% certain test that Zoe takes says she should be in engineering when she wants to be in medicine. The playing comes when she tries her hand at engineering and does okay, but decides she prefers medicine anyway.
- On The Steve Harvey Show Romeo is told that he did quite well on the SAT's and he starts to act and dress like a genius, frustrating the overachieving Lydia and alienating Bullethead in the process. Steve and Regina realize that it's all a mixup and Romeo (who is actually quite smart but doesn't really try) goes back to being his regular, dumb self.
- In the season finale of The Middle, Axl's score suggests that he's Brilliant but Lazy, so Frankie and Mike try and push him harder. It turns out that some results were switched, but because of his hard work, Axl gets the best score he's ever gotten- a B minus.
- On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Tommy tested as an astronaut. August, not knowing he was an alien, laughed at how absurd this was: "Imagine you flying around in space!"
- In an episode of Step by Step, it is revealed that the people running the test (at least in this particular universe) determine the results by throwing darts at a dartboard covered with career choices.
- Chandler from Friends once, as an adult, quits his data processing job and takes a series of tests to determine what he should actually be doing with his life. The result he got back was "You are ideally suited for a career in data processing at a large multinational corporation."
- Pie in the Sky. Crabbe tries to engineer this by swapping his aptitude test with his Pointy-Haired Boss Fisher. It backfires because Crabbe's results lead to Fisher being praised (Fisher's actual test implied that he seek psychiatric help) causing Fisher to rethink his desire to leave the police force.
- Subverted in one Monty Python sketch. A man takes a series of tests to determine the best job for his personality, and they unanimously declare him to be a natural for chartered accountancy. Except he already is a chartered accountant, and desperately wants to do something else, like lion taming. Unfortunately, what he thinks of as lions are better known as anteaters...
- One episode of That's So Raven had an aptitude test with faulty results. In the end they find the real results were exactly what they wanted in the first place.
- Inept Aptitude Tests being used for character creation purposes is a Running Gag in Bethesda games:
- Morrowind had one of these as an option presented to you at the Census & Excise Office at the start of the game, ostensibly because he needs a character class for your release forms. Due to being fairly inaccurate due to unintuitive questions, and totally out-of-character (why does an immigration official need to know what you would do if someone stole your sweetroll?), most players choose to skip this and create a character directly.
- Subverted in Skyrim. One character is about to ask all the questions when another cuts him off, noting that it's pointless since your character is scheduled for executon.
- During the prologue of Fallout 3, the player character takes a Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test (or G.O.A.T.) to determine what sort of job they would be best suited to (and which tag skills they should choose). The suggested job and suggested Tag Skill usually match up (like Marriage Counselor and Speech, or Pip-Boy Programmer and Science), but not always (like Pedicurist and Energy Weapons... um, they use lasers to remove bunions?).
- One of the rare examples where the test is admitted to be useless. The teacher giving the test will openly change the results if you don't like them (or just skip the test altogether).
- Local bully and greaser Butch DeLorea gets the result "hairdresser". Hilariously, he actually resigns to this fate (though he calls himself a more manly-sounding "barber") and will later cut your hair on demand.
- Fallout: New Vegas starts with an elaborate personality test (complete with word association, personality, and Ink Blot Test questions) to help you get your bearings after being shot in the head - with about the same level of effectivness as the previous game. This is Lamp Shaded mercilessly as well.
Vit-O-Matic Vigor Tester: "Adjust your score, it ain't cheating!"
Doc Mitchell: "Well, that's all she wrote. I guess I'll let you look at the results - I ain't got nothin' to compare it to."
Doc Mitchell: "Before you go, I've got a form for you to fill out - so I can get a sense of your medical history. It's just a formality. Ain't like you've got a family history of 'getting shot in the head'."
- All Grown Up!!, "Bad Aptitude": Chuckie Finster's test result is race car driver (Phil DeVille: "Aren't you the guy who thinks escalators go too fast?"), would-be filmmaker Tommy Pickles' result is businessman (Tommy: "I think we ALL know I'm an artist")... the latter, as well as a string of flops (so to speak), prompts Tommy to reconsider filmmaking altogether.
- The Weekenders, "Careers": Carver Descartes does not understand why he has gym teacher as his top choice (cue subverted Imagine Spot!), followed by a job in advertising, and dog trainer, as he's clearly inept at all of them. Meanwhile, The Ditz Lor MacQuarrie thinks she got physicist... turns out she misread the result and she has pro wrestler as her top choice. Unusually for the trope, the explanation for Carver (not so much Lor) is the real-world one: that they're just suggestions and can be flawed or overrated.
- Hey Arnold!!, "The Aptitude Test": This isn't a case of the test being faulty, but rather a mix-up of the collection of the test results that results in perennial dim bulb Harold Berman getting the best scores on the test since Olga Pataki... while Olga's little sister Helga has been saddled with woodsperson. (Mr. Simmons noticed that one test had the same answer to every question while the other test had been marked in purple ink.)
- Invader Zim: "Career Day": An aptitude test pairs Zim's lust for devastation with a job in the fast food industry and pairs Dib with a paranormal investigator for a day. The investigator promptly ignores massive evidence of Zim's extraterrestrial origins to hunt down cereal mascot Count Chocofang.
- Oddly for an example, this test is highly adept and works as foreshadowing. We later find out that Zim's brain-pack has been reprogrammed so that he is a fry-cook.
- The Simpsons: One episode had Bart, after getting "police officer" on his test, becoming a hall monitor and ally of Principal Skinner. Lisa, on the other hand, got "homemaker" and was told she'd never be a musician due to stubby fingers, resulting in her becoming a delinquent. Status Quo Is God hits when Lisa performs an expulsion-worthy offense (stealing all the teachers' guides) and Bart takes the bullet for her, with Skinner toning down the punishment in light of his recent service.
- Also the first-season episode "Bart The Genius", where Bart switches his IQ test answers with nerdy Martin's and gets transferred into a school for gifted children as a result.
- Dexter's Laboratory, "Average Joe": Dexter is dejected after being rated "average" in an IQ test. During the rest of the episode, he tries (and fails) to be an "average" kid doing "average" stuff with "average" friends, with absurdly catastrophic results: he ends up running around in his old baby clothes because they're his only non-scientist outfit, he starts hanging out with a shiftless slacker and trying to use a mish-mash of Totally Radical slang, and he ends up getting caught during a game of Ding-Dong Ditch when he forgets to run away after ringing the doorbell of a crotchety old man. At the end of the show, Dexter's dad gets a phone call saying Dexter is a big freaking genius after all.
- An episode of My Gym Partner's A Monkey had the main character — the only human attending a school full of animals — take a career aptitude test and become depressed when the results indicated his career would be "zoo animal"; the principal later reveals that the tests aren't graded and everyone is given the result of "zoo animal" as that's what they all want anyway.
- In "Doug's Career Anxiety," a testing mix-up by the vapid guidance counselor's computer puts Doug as CEO for the class project, and everyone else lands in similarly mismatched roles, until Doug gets fed up and decides to let everyone choose their own jobs.
- Jane Lane is apparently perfectly suited to be an accountant. Of course, this is because she fills in "C" for every question in order to get it over and done with. Daria is supposed to become a mortician, which may or may not be fitting.
- Arguably, the psychological test Daria and Quinn took in the Pilot which somehow diagnosed Daria with low self-esteem and Quinn with nothing. Daria certainly does not have low self-esteem — as she herself puts it, "I have low esteem for everyone else." Quinn, meanwhile, is insecure under her bubbly exterior — insecure enough to worry about needing plastic surgery just eight episodes later.
- In the Johnny Bravo episode "Johnny Get Your Tutu", Johnny fills out an aptitude test, but accidentally sends Susie's abstract picture instead and gets the result of "ballerina". At the end of the episode, it turns out that his actual result was "cracking rocks with his head".
- Pepper Ann had an episode surrounding it, while Pepper and Milo had no problem with their assignment, their Granola Girl friend Nicky ended up with the result "Butcher", with her screeching that she was a Vegetarian when she read the results. Cue a day of misery at the local butcher shop until the owner explained to her that those aptitude tests were bunk ("Heck, they told me I was going to be a 2nd violinist")
- Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines: In "Sky-Hi I.Q.," efficiency expert I.B. Smartley has the Vulture Squadron take aptitude tests and finds Muttley to be the only pilot qualified to lead the squadron. (I.B. to the other three: "Have you ever thought of taking up plumbing?") At the conclusion, I.B. sheepishly admits he had Muttley's test mixed up with Dastardly's.
- Futurama - on being resurrected a thousand years later, Fry is excited at taking an aptitude test to discern what work he will be fit for and is initially excited at the possibilities. He is less than enchanted to discover he has been assigned - and cannot get out of - being a delivery boy.