One or more heroes are put through a False Crucible
, without any warning they're being tested. This is particularly popular with trickster mentors
Compare Hidden Purpose Test
(where the hero knows he's being tested but not what he's being tested on), Unwinnable Training Simulation
(where the hero doesn't know there's no way to beat it), and Danger Room Cold Open
(where the audience
doesn't know the hero's being tested).
Secret Test of Character
is the common special case where the character may think they're being tested about one thing, but what's actually being tested is the strength of the hero's moral conviction. Other common cases include secret tests of skill, intelligence, supernatural powers and true love.
When the hero initially knew they were being tested, but is falsely told the test has ended, it's a Training Accident
(military) or The Game Never Stopped
(civilian). Either way, the hero end up thinking they're facing a real situation, with no idea it's still just a test.
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Anime and Manga
- The origin story for Dr. Droom in Amazing Adventures #1 (1961). Doctor Anthony Droom is summoned to the Himalayas (probably Tibet) to treat an ill lama. He is told he won't be paid for his work and is required to walk over hot coals and face a gorlion (half gorilla, half lion). He faces these challenges bravely and finally meets the lama. The lama tells him that he isn't really ill: he put Dr. Droom through all that to find out if he was worthy to take the lama's place in fighting sinister occult forces. Droom decides to accept the lama's offer to replace him. Eventually the character Doctor Droom became Doctor Druid.
- Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck stories
- In "Some Heir Over the Rainbow", Scrooge McDuck wanted to test his potential heirs (Donald Duck, Gladstone Gander and Huey, Dewey and Louie) without them knowing they were being tested so he picked up three pots, placed one thousand dollars within each of them and placed them at strategic places where his relatives would find it. Scrooge planned to choose his heir based on how they'd use the money. He chose Huey, Dewey and Louie.
- At an earlier story, Scrooge gave Donald and Gladstone one business venture each while planning to see which one was best suited to take over Scrooge's business empire. As a stroke of luck helped Gladstone and ruined Donald, Scrooge couldn't make an evaluation.
- The Traveler. While looking for a job, a man arrives at an apparently deserted castle. Its dining hall is full of sumptuous food and its luxurious rooms have everything ready for hosting guests. Since he believed that he had not yet performed any job worthy of those luxuries, he is content with eating a simple piece of bread, drinking a glass of water, and sleeping in the cellar. That night, he dreams of a white swan who speaks to him, telling him to put the castle's crown on. The next morning, he does so, and the swan appears and transforms into a beautiful princess. She tells him that, because of his temperance and humility, he has broken the castle's curse and hers; and that, if he wishes, he can become the lord of the castle with her as his wife.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Fan Fic Eternal, Twilight treats the wedding preparations for two of her friends as one, hoping to prove to Princess Celestia that she's perfect. Celestia is horrified when she realizes that's how her Faithful Student's treating it... but doesn't have the heart to correct her, instead offering the praise she hoped for.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Lemony Narrator believes that Celestia is leaving out hints of her conspiracies for ponies smart enough to see them to find. However, she is almost definitely incorrect on all fronts, and is really cherrypicking connections based off tremendous leaps in logic. She doesn't notice her mistake though, probably due to her Conspiracy Theorist nature.
- The Princess Bride. Westley returns and discovers that Buttercup, his True Love, is about to be married to Prince Humperdinck. After he rescues her from her kidnappers (under an alias of the Dread Pirate Roberts), he doesn't reveal his true identity, in the hope of finding out whether or not she still loves Westley, whom he claims to have killed.
- In The Avengers (1998), Steed invites Mrs. Peel to meet him inside the Boodles club, but doesn't tell her that women aren't allowed inside. He's testing her on her initiative. Note that Mrs. Peel figures out that it's a test.
- Disney's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Nemo tells Professor Aronnax that he can stay on the Nautilus, but Ned Land and Conseil will be left topside when the ship submerges, leaving them floating on the ocean. Professor Aronnax decides to remain with his friends. Nemo has the Nautilus partially submerged, but then surfaces again and tells his second in command "I found out what I wanted to know.". Later he talks with Professor Aronnax.
Arronax: I am still curious as to the reason you spared our lives.
Nemo: In your case, I wanted to test your loyalty to your companions. I may have use for such misplaced devotion...It comforts me to know that your life was not too dear a price to pay for the love of your fellow man.
- V for Vendetta. V tests Evey's resolve by putting her through starvation, torture and death threats in what appears to be a government concentration camp but is really his basement. Subverted when he reveals the truth and she responds by packing her bags.
- The Back Story of the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast involves a rare failure of such a test. The prince was turned into a beast as punishment for refusing to shelter an old beggar woman (actually a beautiful sorceress in disguise) on a cold night.
- Undercover Brother. Sista Girl confronts the title character in his apartment and points a gun at him to test his courage. He says "If you're going to shoot me, shoot me", thus passing the test.
- In Men In Black, J's idiosyncratic responses to the entrance tests earn him the scorn of the other applicants and appear to be ruining his chances, but in the end he's the only successful applicant, with the implication that initiative and out-of-the-box thinking were what the tests were looking for all along. The novelisation has K explicitly saying that J's decisions in the target-shooting test were the correct ones.
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Dr. Erskine tests Rogers by asking him if he's trying to join the Army so he can kill Nazis. Steve catches on, asking if this is a test, to which Erskine simply says "yes." Rogers, unable to guess what answer Erskine is looking for, just tells him the truth (he doesn't really want to kill anybody, but the Nazis have to be stopped), which is the answer Erskine wants to hear.
- The Colonel throws a grenade into the middle of the group of soldiers. The group scattered, except for Steve Rogers, who threw himself on the grenade to protect everyone else. It turns out to have been a dummy grenade, causing the Colonel to grudgingly admit that he was the right choice to receive the Super Soldier Serum.
- Flash Gordon (1980). Emperor Ming puts the entire human race through one of these.
Ming: Every thousand years I test each life system in the universe. I visit it with mysteries, earthquakes, unpredicted eclipses. Strange craters in the wilderness. If these are taken as natural, I judge that system ignorant and harmless. I spare it. But if the hand of Ming is recognized in these events, I judge that system dangerous. I call upon the great god Dyzan. And for his greater glory, and our mutual pleasure, I destroy it utterly.
- In Willow, the High Aldwin tests his potential apprentices by holding up his hand and asking them to choose which finger contains the power to control the world. Each hopeful, including Willow, chooses one of the High Aldwin's extended fingers; all of them choose incorrectly, and the test ends with no new apprentice selected. Later, before leaving on the expedition to deliver baby Elora Danan to the crossroads, Willow admits that his initial impulse was to choose his own finger, which the High Aldwin tells him was the correct answer.
- Robert A. Heinlein liked this kind of thing and used it in several stories.
- In the short story "Space Jockey", spaceship pilots are monitored to make sure they are psychologically stable. A space pilot is bothered by a "stupid tourist" who is secretly a psychiatrist to determine his state of mind before a flight.
- In the novella "Gulf", Joseph Briggs is being trained so he can join a secret society of geniuses. His teacher tests his personality in several ways, including not letting him eat or sleep, inflicting intense pain and subtly trying to goad him into irrational actions. He passes with flying colors, continuing to act rationally and reliably.
- In Farmer in the Sky, William Lermer wants to emigrate to Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. When he goes in to talk to a psychiatrist for a psych test, he's kept waiting and two clerks harass and insult him, but Lermer manages to keep calm. He later finds out that the clerks were psychometricians and there were a camera and microphone on him recording what happened. He was being tested to see whether he could keep his temper when provoked.
He does lose his cool at the very end, by angrily demanding to see what they find so funny, and then leaving in a huff when they refuse. When he gets home, he tells his father about the incident, and both agree that he probably just blew his chances of becoming a colonist. They're both rather surprised when it turns out he was accepted. In an interesting twist on this trope, William never finds out he was being tested, and since he's the novel's narrator, the book never flat-out says it was a test, though the implication is pretty blatant to anyone paying attention.
- Exactly the same thing happens to the hero of John Scalzi's Old Man's War as he "waits" for his military enlistment psych exam. There the purpose is actually to gather his emotional states in preparation for the body-swap process. (The test administrator is trained in unarmed combat in case of emergency.)
- The Mysterious Benedict Society recruits children using a pencil-and-paper test combined with a series of Secret Tests. For example, the test requires everyone to bring exactly one pencil. On the way to the test, each child meets a girl who has dropped her pencil down a grating. The main characters each try to help her in different ways: Kate manages to MacGyver a way to retrieve the pencil, while Reynie simply breaks his own pencil in half and sharpens the broken end. This is combined with a Secret Test of Character when the girl (who's actually a plant working for Mr. Benedict) offers each of them a cheat sheet.
- The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester has one of these. Potential telepaths are told to wait in a room for an interview. The minder at the front is a telepath broadcasting the thought "If you can hear this, go through the door on your left..." (or right, or whatever it was).
- In Lords of the Bow, Chen Yi once paid a boatman to offer Quishan safe passage away from Baotou, shortly after Quishan became a slave to Chen Yi to pay off a debt. Quishan refused out of honour - good thing too, as he would have had his throat slit if he said yes.
- In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Talon Karrde has a green new crewmember stationed on deck when he comes out of hyperspace next to his ally Booster Terrick's ship, Errant Venture. The Errant Venture is a captured Star Destroyer revamped into, basically, a luxury liner, but there's no way to tell just by looking at it that it's not part of a trap. After she realizes that no one's preparing for combat and that this really isn't a trap, she gets angry at her boss, telling him that she does not like to be made into a human joke. Karrde indirectly tells her that this is a way of testing how she reacts to sudden shocks, and she passed - she froze for a moment, her fur puffed out, but she recovered quickly. Karrde's new bodyguard observes after she's gone that he probably does this a lot, and this crewmember left something that the others probably didn't - claw marks.
- In Lord of the Clans, Thrall finally meets the surviving members of the Frostwolf clan. They treat him badly, refuse to train him as a shaman and assign him menial and degrading tasks. When he eventually objects loudly, they explain that true orcs refuse to be slaves and accept him as their heir.
- In The Confidence Man, every conversation the eponymous character has with another passenger on the steamboat is this. He challenges their morals and confidence while conning each one of them out of money... and he's either God or Satan testing them.
- In Isaac Asimov's short story "Profession", the main character George is put in a House for the Feeble-minded in a future where everyone is assigned a job and Educated (that is, their minds are filled with information from learning tapes) except for the "feeble-minded". It was really a test - if he protested being labelled feeble-minded and tried to escape the House, it proved he was gifted with the ability of original thought and therefore a cornerstone of human society.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Abbey Grange", Holmes learns that the murderer was acting in self defence, and to protect the victim's wife. He offers to give the man time to escape before telling the police, to which he angrily refuses, because that would leave the woman in the lurch. Holmes then says "I was only testing you, and you ring true every time," and doesn't tell the police at all.
- On the Warrior Cats series' official iOS app, it mentions that when Squirrelflight and Leafpool were kits, Squirrelkit put fire ants in her sister's bedding. Their mother, Sandstorm, knew she'd done that, and that night she announced that the two would be switching nests. She really meant for Squirrelkit to say she didn't want to switch nests, to confess to what she'd done, but Squirrelkit didn't say a word, choosing instead to spend the night being bitten by ants. Sandstorm, while disappointed that Squirrelkit didn't confess and apologize, admired her daughter's stubbornness and determination.
- An issue of MAD Magazine once posted a parody ad: "Psychic Wanted: If you are for real then you already know who I am, what I want, and what number to call me at."
- A Song of Ice and Fire. In order to demonstrate the difference between looking and seeing, Syrio Forel tells Arya Stark how he was chosen as the First Sword of Braavos. The ruler of Braavos (a trading kingdom) invited all the candidates to admire the latest beast brought back by his merchant ships — a large cat-like creature with no ears. Syrio was the only one to correctly identify it as an ordinary male (despite being told "Isn't she magnificent?") cat which had lost its ears in a fight and been fed too much as a pet.
- In the short story "Test" by Theodore Thomas, as part of the test to obtain a driver's license, a man was hypnotized into believing that he was driving along the turnpike with his mother as his passenger. When his car crashes violently with another, apparently resulting in the death of all involved, including his own mother and the girl sleeping in the other car, the vision ends. Afterwards, when he doesn't hesitate to sign the final forms for his license, two men in white coats drag him away. The logic was that, after experiencing an event like that, nobody should want to drive again for at least a month, therefore he is sick and needs treatment.
- Fridge Logic: How does anyone ever actually get a driver's license?
- Aviendha's final test before she could become a Wise One in The Wheel of Time: The Wise Ones supervising her kept giving her humiliating punishments without telling her what she'd done wrong. Finally, she decided she was sick of it and declared that she'd done nothing wrong, she was as good as any of them, and they ought to be the ones who were ashamed of themselves. The willingness to declare herself a Wise One and stand up for herself even in the face of hostility from the others was what her teachers were looking for.
- Anatov is very fond of doing this in Akata Witch. He sends his students to meet sorcerers hoping to get them apprenticed, though he sends them into these situations blind.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Reveal at the end is that the tour of Wonka's Factory is actually this. Willy Wonka wanted to find "a good sensible loving child" to become his heir, and that turns out to be Charlie, the only kid who doesn't meet a bad end due to misbehavior during the tour. Several adaptations put twists on this which allow Charlie to have more of a hand in his triumph:
- In the 1971 movie all of the children misbehave at some point. Charlie drank Fizzy Lifting Drinks after being told not to - though, unlike the others, he and Grandpa figured out how to escape the dangerous side effects. But it's not over yet — the purported competitor offering even greater riches to the kids for one of Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers is a secret test to find a person who won't succumb to such a temptation. Charlie is strong enough to resist, partially out of regret for his misbehavior, and this proves to Mr. Wonka that he's a worthy heir. Incidentally, it's possible that the fake offers to buy the Everlasting Gobstoppers has its practical side — if a child decided to sell the candy, it would go back to Mr. Wonka! Unless, of course, the child or their parents got the idea of auctioning it off to the highest bidder instead...
- The 2005 stage musical Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka uses the songs from the '71 film and rethinks this subplot. The lifetime supply of chocolate turns out to be a booby prize, and Charlie's test is a situation in which he gives in to temptation and never gets caught or called on it. It's when he confesses to drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drink of his own accord that he is rewarded for his honesty with the factory.
- The 2013 West End musical puts a whole new twist on things. It comes to its climax when Charlie is instructed not to touch Willy Wonka's precious idea notebook while the remaining adults are in another room. But Charlie can't help taking a look at it and even adding to it. This is what wins him the factory, for while his good behavior during the tour proves him to be a virtuous kid, this proves to Mr. Wonka that he is also a kindred spirit — someone whose imagination and creative drive are so strong that he's willing to break rules to use them.
Live Action TV
- The Outer Limits TOS episode "Nightmare". A group of soldiers invading the planet Ebon are captured and tortured for information by the Ebonites. They eventually learn that the situation is a set-up by their own superiors to test their ability to resist interrogation, with the cooperation of the Ebonites (who eventually protest the unethical nature of the test).
- This is a fictional depiction of the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training U.S. troops go through, but in Real Life the troops know it's simulated.
- The Remake redoes this episode, except they never left Earth, and their job wasn't to invade, but to plant a bomb, which since they were the builders of the bomb had to be the real one. So They Win.
- The Twilight Zone TOS
- Episode "The Hunt". A man and his dog both drown. They then find themselves walking down a path. At one point, they meet a man who says that they've reached Heaven, but dogs aren't allowed. The dog's owner says any Heaven that doesn't allow his dog can count him out. Further down the road, he found it was a test, as an actual angel tells him the previous man was Satan and the place he wanted the dog's owner to enter was Hell. The angel warmly invites the man and his dog into the real Heaven. Also see Mythology below.
- Episode "Valley of the Shadow". A newspaper reporter learns too much and is taken prisoner by the inhabitants of the title valley. An attractive woman sets him free and he takes advantage of this to steal their secrets, killing several of them in the process. After he escapes with the girl, she turns on him, revealing that the whole set-up was a test of his worthiness to know the information. He failed.
- LOST episode Hearts and Minds features Locke knocking Boone out and then feeding him some self-made drugs in order for him to have a spiritual journey. Boone isn't exactly pleased with it at first, but eventually comes to understand the purpose.
- Star Trek
- Star Trek: The Original Series
- "The Corbomite Maneuver". Balok allows the Enterprise to break free of his control and sends out a fake distress signal to determine their real intentions, as the information in the Enterprise's memory banks could have been faked.
- "Patterns of Force". The Ekosian Resistance sets up a fake Nazi attack to make sure the Enterprise crew members aren't Nazis.
- "Catspaw". Korob tells Kirk, Spock and McCoy that they have passed his tests of loyalty, bravery and immunity to bribery.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- There's a minor example in the pilot "Encounter at Farpoint". Picard questions Riker in an unfriendly fashion about an instance where he refused to let his previous captain beam down into a dangerous situation. Evidently he just wanted to know if Riker would continue to stand his ground; a later episode establishes that he picked Riker as his first officer because of his willingness to stand up to his captain in that incident.
- He did it again in "Lower Decks", to minor character Ensign Sito Jaxa. During her time at Starfleet Academy, Sito was involved in an piloting stunt that resulted in the death of one of her classmates. When Picard meets with her he gives her a strict dressing down, telling her she should have been kicked out of Starfleet and doesn't deserve to serve aboard the Enterprise. When she tries to say she's paid for her mistake and deserves a second chance, he merely responds that her actions showed a lack of character. Initially she is too afraid to stand up to him, but after a talk with Worf she realizes Picard's judgment was unfair and calls him out on it. Afterwards, Picard revealed that he was actually considering her for a dangerous mission and wanted to test her resolve. He also tells her he specifically requested she be assigned to the Enterprise after she graduated to ensure she would get a second chance.
- In "Sins of the Father" a Klingon officer named Kurn becomes first officer of the Enterprise as part of an exchange program. He treats all of his subordinates harshly except for Worf, which (under Klingon custom) is an insult to Worf. When Worf confronts him over this, Kurn reveals that he is Worf's brother and was testing him to determine if he is a true Klingon.
- "Coming of Age". 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 own father died in a similar situation when Picard chose the other guy.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Let He Who Is Without Sin": A group of terrorists burst into a room on the planet Risa and threaten the occupants. Shortly thereafter it's revealed that the whole attack was a hoax carried out by members of the New Essentialists Movement, who are trying to test the Risans' reaction to violence and prove the Federation's lack of preparedness.
- Doctor Who
- In the episode "The Big Bang", the Doctor refuses to take the time to save Amy because, he says, she "isn't more important than the whole universe." The plastic Rory punches him and insists that she IS more important, whereupon the Doctor welcomes him back and helps revive Amy. Apparently his callous refusal to rescue his companion is a test to ensure that Rory is completely on his side.
- In "The End of the World," Cassandra makes a hilariously hasty attempt to invoke this trope after her villainous plan is exposed to the people who were supposed to have been killed by it. "So! Well done, you've passed my little test, bravo. This makes you eligible to join the, the, uh, uh, the Human Club."
- In the Caprica episode "Blowback," Lucy Rand and a bunch of STO recruits are sent off to a training camp when the shuttle is attacked and hi-jacked by anti-STO zealots. They threaten to kill everybody who doesn't renounce the "one true God." But, lo and behold, it was actually a Secret Test, and those who hold onto their monotheistic beliefs in the face of death pass. Lucy takes the third option and fights off her captors. This impresses her Mentor.
- Scrubs. Early in the series, after the Janitor removes a penny from an elevator door that prevented it from closing, he accuses J.D. of dropping the penny. In the Series Fauxnale of Scrubs, the Janitor claims that when he first met J.D. he knew he accidentally dropped the penny. The Janitor was testing him to see if he'd admit it, and he has been tormenting J.D. for eight years, not because he was mad about the actual penny but because it was a test of character that J.D. failed, thus causing him to lose the Janitor's respect. Of course, this is the Janitor, so he's probably just lying out his ass again.
- In Firefly, at the end of the episode "Ariel." Jayne tried to sell Simon and River out to the Feds, which Mal figures out. He knocks Jayne unconscious and threatens to throw him out the airlock, but relents at the last second, because Jayne, accepting his fate, asks him just not to tell the crew why he's dead. Mal hadn't intended a Secret Test, but it turns out that caring what the crew thinks of him changes how Mal sees him enough to save his life. This is helpfully explained by Book at the beginning of the next episode, when quoting the words of the Warrior Poet Xiang Yu.
Book: Live with a man for forty years. Share his meals, and speak with him on every subject. Then, tie him up, and drag him to the rim of the volcano. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.
- In the second season of The Wire, Stringer Bell sends some guys to go get a rental car that supposedly has a shipment of drugs in it. After the guys pick the car up, there are no drugs and the guys must report to Stringer on what happened. The guys go to Stringer and tell him their stories. Stringer then reveals that it was a test to see how they would react, which seems meaningless after it's put into perspective.
- Utterly subverted and parodied to hell and back by this Monty Python sketch called Silly Job Interview.
- In Emergency Couple, a woman named Ji-hye shows up in the ER demanding Demerol (an opiate) for pain relief, and insisting she is allergic to any other pain reliever. Dr. Chang-min is reluctant, but he finally caves and agrees to prescribe her some Demerol—and thus fails the test, as she is really a doctor, testing the ER doctors and how they react to patients seeking drugs.
- An unusual example in Saving Hope. Maggie leaves her surgical boards early to help Alex who is well into her labor even though it's already been established that there is no way to reschedule them (other than taking them again the following year.) Maggie delivers the baby in the ambulance on the way to the hospital despite complications. When they arrive at Hope Zion, Dr. Katz asks Maggie to explain what happened with the birth and how she solved the problem. Dr. Katz then reveals that she had the surgical board folks on the phone and they agreed to use Maggie's impressive baby-delivering experience as her final board question (and she passed!)
- The classic folk song trope - girl and lover part before war. He finds her after, bewailing that her love has gone to war and not returned. She doesn't (for plot reasons) recognize him, tells him her sad tale, swears she'll go to her grave unwed. Cue joyful reunion. See "Claudy Banks", "Plains of Waterloo" and a whole slew of others
- A very different plot between the same characters is presented in a Russian military shanson song. A soldier writes a letter to his girl saying he was crippled and lost his legs. The girl's answer is very rude, she tells the soldier to forget about her. He finds her after, she sees that he's all right and not crippled at all; it was a test for her, to tell if she loves him for real.
- Kate Bush's "Babooshka", though this isn't as clear cut as might seem as the song implies that the wife is deliberately avoiding intimacy with her husband before constructing the "Babooshka" character to tempt him into unfaithfulness.
- Older Than Feudalism. At the end of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira arrives at the gates of heaven, accompanied by a dog. He is told that he can enter, but the dog must be left behind. During the journey to said gates, all of Yudhisthira's siblings had perished, presumably for being not worthy to enter heaven, except the dog. After all that they'd been through together, Yudhisthira refuses to abandon the dog, and turns away from heaven, then the fact that it was a Secret Test is revealed.
In a variation on the story, Yudhisthira rejects paradise and chooses the underworld; with the Secret Test being the realization that both paradise and the underworld are illusions, and rejection of that illusion is the final step toward Nirvana.
- The Swedish folk tale Which Is Which? has a King discover his long-lost son, who with another boy survived a ship wreck and was raised by a fisherman. The wisemen debate how to discover the true prince, and give both boys fine robes and send them off to enjoy the city for a week. One boy gets his robe muddy, soaked, burnt, and torn while helping people; the other boy locks himself in his room for the week. Back in court, the wisemen declare that the one boy obviously thought of nothing but himself and his fine clothes, while the other boy thought of other people and would make the better king. The king accepts the better boy with the words "My son, my son!" This may seem like Values Dissonance (royal blood is automatically noble?), but then again, the Q&A section asks whether he found the true Prince, or merely selected the one who would make the better King.
- Lost princes and princesses raised by other people being identified as lost royalty by their looks or manners, even if they went missing right after birth, isn't a wholly unknown concept in folk and fairy tales. Many of which can probably be traced back to times when people would have readily agreed that yes, royal blood should automatically make you noble (in both senses of the word, Real Life evidence to the contrary notwithstanding). See, again, Values Dissonance.
- Portrayed in the Arabian Nights miniseries (and hence, probably, the source material), the Sultan swaps places with an unwitting beggar who, once he gets over the shock of his new identity, takes earnestly to ruling all of Araby, rather than doing stupid practical jokes like the regular Sultan. For about a week, every time the man falls asleep, the Sultan transforms him back and forth between a beggar and king just for the Mind Screw. When the true Sultan is accidentally slain (by the beggar thinking he has gone mad and stabbing a curtain that the king is behind laughing at him), his advisers perpetuate the ruse indefinitely, favoring the newer and more responsible regent.
- In The Iliad, Agamemnon tests the Greek army by pretending to be weary of fighting and ordering them to pack up and leave.
- In The Nut-Brown Maid, her lover tells her that he's been outlawed and outlines his perilous life ahead; she persists in saying that she will go with him, "For, in my mind, of all mankind/I love but you alone."; finally, he reveals that he made it up and is, in fact, an earl's son.
- The Bible. One interpretation, popular among military historians, gives this as the true lesson behind the story of Gideon (Judges, ch. 7). Faced with a superior opponent, Gideon starts with a host of 32,000 men. He begins by asking for volunteers only, which drops him down to 10,000 men. Then he puts them through a grueling march across the desert, at the end of which is an oasis. Most of the men put their faces down to the water, but 300 men scoop up the water in their hands so that they can keep watch while they drink. Those 300 are selected as the most spirited, most disciplined, and most well-conditioned of all his men, and with them Gideon conducts the first Special Forces raid in recorded history: they infiltrate the enemy camp with trumpets and clay jars, surround their sleeping opponents, and proceed to blow their horns and smash their jars. Their opponents are understandably scared to all hell by the utterly weird nature of the attack and rout immediately, where they are slaughtered to a man by a separate blocking force of Israelites. The Bible credits Divine Inspiration for the whole thing, but whether or not you believe it, it's hard not to see the parallels between Gideon's method and modern Special Forces selection.
- Dangerous Journeys - Mythus main rulebook, adventure "High Time at the Winged Pig". The PCs go to an inn to interview with a merchant for jobs. It's actually a setup: all of the occupants in the inn are there to play out various scenarios to test the PCs and find out if they have appropriate personalities to be the merchant's employees.
- Top Secret/SI adventure The Final Weapon. The PCs are relaxing in a hospital while undergoing their annual physicals or recuperating. Suddenly the hospital is attacked by commandos and the PCs can't find find any weaponry to fight them. They must overcome the attackers and disarm a bomb, only to have their boss appear and tell them it was just a training exercise. The Admininstrator (game master) is told to cheat to make sure that none of the NPC "commandos" is killed by the PCs during the session.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation Tabletop Game. According to the Starfleet Academy supplement, applicants to and cadets at the Academy are regularly given Secret Tests to determine if they belong in Starfleet, including being lied to by Academy personnel. In Real Life, even reasonable people in that situation would either:
- start worrying that everything that happened was such a test,
- stop trusting anything they were told by Academy personnel unless they could verify it,
- get so annoyed at being regularly lied to by people they're supposed to trust that they quit, or
- decide that a life-threatening situation was "just another test" and not take it seriously, causing people to get killed.
- Dungeons & Dragons Basic D&D adventure X11 Saga of the Shadowlord. The cloud giant Azor gives a PC a potion which he claims is a potion of Animal Control. If the PC drinks it in hope of charming the giant's guard wolves, he'll discover that it's actually a powerful sleeping potion.
- Marvel Super Heroes supplement Uncanny X-Men boxed set "Adventure Book". In chapter 2 "Lunch Break", while the PCs are eating lunch with the Beast they're attacked by a Spider Tank with six 12-foot long Combat Tentacles. It turns out to be a test arranged by the Beast to find out if the PCs are worthy to be superheroes.
- In Macbeth, Malcolm claims he might be a worse king than Macbeth, because he is so full of lust and greed. Macduff reacts with consternation, but then Malcolm tells him it's all a lie and in fact he's the most virtuous Boy Scout in Scotland. It's not completely clear, but it is possible Malcolm is testing Macduff to make sure his first allegiance is to the benefit of Scotland.
- Malcolm suspects that Macduff may be an agent of Macbeth trying to lure him back to Scotland and into a trap. If that were the case, he would expect Macduff to respond along the lines of "It doesn't matter how bad you are; come back anyway." Instead, Macduff exclaims, "Alas, poor Scotland!" signaling to Malcolm that Macduff's goal is to save his country, not simply to bring back Malcolm.
- According to one interpretation, Macbeth himself may have been subject to such a test. The witches' prophecy told him that he would first become Thane of Cawdor, and then king hereafter. However they didn't tell him how or when he would become king. They did not convince him to plot with Lady Macbeth to murder king Duncan, they did not place daggers into his hands, and they did not force him to commit the deed and cover it up. He did all that on his own, out of his own free will. If the prophecy had been truly inevitable, Macbeth could just as easily have sat back and rested on his laurels until it happened on its own. Needless to say, he failed the test of character. Big time.
- Another interpretation is that he actually did expect to be named Prince of Cumberland (Duncan's heir): that's why he acts so shocked when Duncan actually names his son, Malcolm. (In Real Life, the throne of Scotland was not hereditary: the king was expected to pick a successor from the senior noblemen of the kingdom. As a victorious general, Macbeth would have expected to be in the running. Being passed over for the king's young son must have been a huge shock.)
- Rossini's opera La Cenerentola, which is a much fleshed-out re-telling of the Cinderella story. Alidoro, the tutor of the prince, dresses himself in rags and comes to the house of Don Magnifico. His two daughters send him away, but his step-daughter Cenerentola takes pity on him and offer him food. Alidoro thinks this girl is right for the prince, and so offers to doll her up for the royal ball.
- In the "Merlin's Crystal" quest in Runescape, there's a portion where the Player Character visits the Lady of the Lake in a quest to find Excalibur. She instructs you to visit a jewelry shop. On your way, you're approached by a beggar who asks you for food. If you give him a loaf of bread, he reveals himself as the Lady of the Lake in disguise and tells you that you've proven yourself to be generous and pure of heart and thus worthy of wielding Excalibur.
- In Baldur's Gate 2, Korgan Bloodaxe will constantly berate Aerie, who will eventually bail out of the party. In the Expansion Pack, Aerie will eventually insult him straight back, at which point Korgan tells her that he was trying to see if she'd develop a backbone and now that she has, he's OK with her.
- Dark Cloud 2
- Max has been looking forward to the circus for a long time. He treasures his ticket and finishes all his chores at the workshop just to make it on time! But then a filthy, shoeless street urchin steals his ticket! After chasing the kid all over the town square, he finally catches up and gets his ticket back... only to give it back to the child, because he can see just how much that poor, homeless kid wants to see the circus too. Turns out, this was actually Monica Raybrandt, princess from 100 years into the future, testing Max's heart as the wielder of the Earth Atlamillia.
- The official fanbook pokes fun at this by having Max Take a Third Option... and photocopy the ticket. Monica sulks away, dejected at this turn of events.
- In the end of the last Dark Brotherhood story arc quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion The Night Mother reveals that she knew who the traitor was all along but refrained from telling anyone because she wanted to see if her followers could figure it out on their own. They failed the test. Badly.
- The Isis Corporation in Immortal Souls is very fond of tricking the main character John into being in harm's way, or even attacking him, then claiming they were testing him to see if he'd be strong enough for their missions. In the latter case it's not clear if they're telling the truth, or if they really wanted to kill him and just figured that since he lived they might as well put him to use. Turns out it's the latter, as the agents who actually attack him are only pretending to be working for Isis Corp.
- In the original Thief, Garrett is hired partway through the game to steal a sword from eccentric rich guy Constantine. After succeeding at this, it turns out that Constantine himself was the one who hired Garrett: the whole job was a test of Garrett's thieving skills, which he passed with flying colors. Constantine then gives Garrett his real job: a considerably tougher caper that takes the next six missions to pull off.
Constantine: Oh, and, as for the sword, keep it. You've certainly earned it, and it may prove useful to you.
- Bioshock Infinite. When Booker is about to enter the Good Time Club the villain Fink tells him over the PA system that "The best kind of interview is one where the applicant doesn't know he's being evaluated." When Booker enters the audience area he attacked by a series of opponents. After the end of the fight he learns that Fink was testing him for the job of Head of Security for Fink.
- In Mother of Learning, the second meeting between Zorian and Detective Haslush Ikzeteri turns out to be one of these: Haslush combined a disguise and a compulsion spell to make Zorian think he was in the wrong place. Haslush explains afterwards that part of his motive was emphasizing the importance of perceptiveness for divination.
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu". The Megans tell Captain Kirk that Lucien, the Megan who helped the Enterprise crew earlier, must be punished for betraying his people. Captain Kirk risks death to help Lucien, after which the Megans tell him that they were testing him to make sure humans could be trusted.
- One Family Guy episode has Peter grilling a potential boyfriend of Meg's, asking a series of personal questions. The final question he asks is whether the boyfriend has ever done a particular masturbation technique (the stranger). Since the boyfriend answers honestly, Peter responds, "Not anymore you don't, you're dating my daughter!"
- Parodied in an episode of American Dad!, where Stan's boss Bullock claims that all his Jerkass behavior was just a test to see if Stan could stand up to him. In truth, Bullock really was just a huge Jerkass and came up with the whole test thing at the last minute to keep Stan from killing him.
- In Recess, the episode in which the cast found a note worth a large amount of money on the ground (for a child, that is; remember ever finding a $20, $50, or even a $100 bill as a kid?). Rather than keep it like they all initially wanted to, they decided to try to find the real owner of the bill. They do, and T.J returns it, only to be apparently told to leave. Assuming they made the wrong decision by giving it back to someone who didn't seem that appreciative of it, he comes back and tells them, only for the person to come out on a jet-pack and explain he did it all the time. And of course, the gang was the only one to actually return it to him.
- On The Simpsons, when Marge reacts with horror to Dr Hibbert suggesting she could sell one of her children, he says "That was a test. If you had responded in any other way, you'd be in jail now." He isn't totally convincing.
- A job for a telegraph operator opens up. Many people come in to apply, but nobody ever calls them in for an interview, so they just sit in the waiting area listening to the tap-tap-tap of Morse code in the background. Finally, one man comes in, sits a few minutes, then gets up and goes to speak with the staff on his own. The other applicants are then told to go home, the position has been filled. The Morse code in the background? It was repeating the message "If you are able to understand this, come and speak to us, the job's yours." This story is most likely apocryphal since, naturally, even in the early age of communication, management would frown on workers trying to eavesdrop on what could be private customer communications.
- Van Halen
- One of the most famous real-life examples is Van Halen's way of making sure the technical specifications of their performance contracts were being read and followed: it also called for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl (or if there was no bowl), it was a quick sign that the venue didn't take the other specifications seriously, and they would always find other problems.
- To elaborate: Van Halen's shows had flying harnesses, enough pyrotechnics for a small war, and unprecedented lighting. Their rigs were immense and very dangerous if they collapsed. Early in the band's career, they and their roadies suffered so many near-misses due to substandard preparation that it's a miracle no one died on tour. Their contract not only specified all the safety standards, but if the M&Ms weren't there, Van Halen could simply leave with the money. They never did, but did use the "candy clause," which was buried deep in the technical portion of the rider (backstage amenities are normally put in the courtesy rider) as a canary in a coal mine.
- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover USN, "Father of the Nuclear Navy," once went out to lunch with a prospective Naval Reactors officer. When the meal arrived, the prospect started adding salt to the food, at which point Rickover told him to leave. Why? Because anyone who would put salt on his food without checking that it needed salt was clearly not someone with the attention to detail necessary to work with nuclear reactors—particularly not naval reactors, and most particularly not US Naval Reactors (which is so anal about procedure that it has the lowest accident rate of any nuclear operator in the world: Zero).
- The old joke, told in the first person: "I was coming over to meet my fiancee's family for dinner, but as soon as I got in the door I ran into her gorgeous younger sister wearing a towel. She told me that she had always found me hot and wanted to make good on her last chance before I married her sister. Then she dropped the towel and left for her room, motioning for me to follow. I immediately turned to exit the front door and ran into the rest of her family on the front porch. They told me that they had to be sure I wouldn't stray. Now they could feel totally comfortable letting me marry their daughter. Moral of the story: Always keep your condoms in the glove box."
- Zhao Gao, the corrupt/evil prime minister of the Qin dynasty once brought a deer before the Emperor and began to describe it as the most wondrous stallion in all of China. Most of the officials played along, but a few continued to call the deer a deer. Zhao Gao then had everyone who told the truth executed for being too honest and not pliable enough. The story was referenced in a Chinese idiom (指鹿为马 "pointing to a deer and calling it a horse") to describe a ludicrously transparent and brazen lie. This is also the origin (at least, a very similar tale) for the word "baka", which if you were to look at the kanji, are the symbols for "horse" and "deer".
- There is an old joke like this. It starts off saying "a man and his talking donkey are going to X location." Then it just repeats "after 10 miles, the donkey says 'are we there yet?' and the man replies 'patience, jackass, patience.'" Obviously, if somebody asks when the joke ends, you say "patience, jackass, patience."
- Honest Tea did an experiment in major U.S. cities where they would place cases of their products out with a sign saying $1 each (a great price for it too). They set cameras on it and left it out on the honor system. At the end of the day they counted the money against the amount of product taken. Boston (93.3%) and Washington DC (93%) were the "Most Honest" while Chicago (78%) and Los Angeles (75%) were the worst.
- A small company in Washington, D.C. left bagels with cream cheese and cash boxes out in various businesses with a little sign asking people to pay one dollar per bagel. They owner made quite a profit. He kept extensive records of how different companies treated him, and they were reviewed extensively by the economist Stephen Levitt in his academic papers and his book Freakonomics. In general, the stats showed: 1) small companies were more honest than large ones, 2) certain holidays (like Christmas) drove up theft, while others (July 4th) drove it down, 3) executives stole more than lower-ranked professional employees, 4) 9-11 caused a large decrease in theft, especially among defense-related companies, and 5) overall, payment hovered near 90%. So when faced with the Secret Test, about 90% of the time, a Washington office worker is good for a buck.
- Some TV programs/groups/magazines have done an "honesty test" by leaving wallets out in the open and seeing if the person who finds it returns it or not. The magazine Reader's Digest did this once worldwide, and commented that people who looked like they needed the money often returned the wallet (the most notable case being a person so poor that he went through dumpsters to find bottles to sell who nonetheless returned the wallet, saying that he thought it might have belonged to a handicapped person who needed the money more than he did) whereas people who looked rich enough to not need the money often didn't return the wallet. One such Secret Test candidate passed with flying colors by returning a wallet... but only after replacing the money someone else had stolen from it with his own.
- In his autobiography About Face David Hackword mentions how he selected members of a raiding company by throwing a grenade in among them. If they threw themselves on the grenade they lost, because they were stupid. If they didn't freeze up or do something stupid, but instead got the hell out of the tent, they passed.
- In order to become a member of the SCP Foundation site, it's a requirement that you read all rules before submitting an application. Nestled deep within the rulebook are passwords and instructions that you must insert those passwords in your application as well. All applications without passwords are denied.