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Secret Test of Character
"If this has been a test, I cannot see the reason, but maybe knowing I don't know is part of getting through."

The character is undertaking a challenge of courage, strength or skill for some important prize. However, at a critical moment, the hero is confronted with doing something that is morally unacceptable (or not — this is a fairly common victim of Fridge Logic). Despite being warned about a forfeit if the reprehensible act is not done, the hero reluctantly stands by the decision and accepts that the challenge is lost, expecting no credit for the deed, often not expecting anyone to know.

Alternately, the hero may be faced with a task outside of the challenge that is noble, but doing that task will force him to lose the prize—an innocent stranger to save during a heated race, for instance, or helping a competitor who had become injured rather than just running to the end himself. The hero says "Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right" and goes to help.

However, the hero is then told that that forfeiting the challenge in this way is exactly what was needed to triumph. It was actually a test of character, and the hero has passed with flying colors.

Oddly enough, the hero seldom rejects the tester, the reward, or the whole situation on the grounds that it was an underhanded trick — and this not only when the other character was a Mentor, Threshold Guardian, or otherwise an authority figure, but between equals (such as a Fidelity Test.) More often, the hero is profoundly relieved and/or pleased that his apparent sacrifice to his conscience has been rewarded after fearing they have lost everything.

Watch for Exact Words. When a character is told that the prize depends on the "results" or "outcome" rather than the success, it will be phrased in such a manner that no one would, at first glance, take it to mean anything but success, but the character saying it can point out that he is doing exactly what he said. (If more than one character tried, and one succeeded in the ostensible goal but still failed the test, expect bitterness.)

Sometimes, instead of refusing or doing the act, the hero will Take a Third Option.

This will sometimes occur in the context of a Training Accident or The Game Never Stopped. A reversal of Threshold Guardians. A Career Building Blunder operates on a similar principle.

A subtrope of both Sweet and Sour Grapes and Secret Test. Contrast If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten, which is this trope applied to villainous behavior. Angel Unaware, A Chat with Satan, Honest Axe, Leave Your Quest Test, Nice to the Waiter, and Unwinnable Training Simulation are related types of tests. What You Are in the Dark is related as well: Most Secret Tests involve putting you in the dark to test you.

If it's not a test of moral character, it's just a Secret Test or a Hidden Purpose Test.

Examples:

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  • In this commercial for Trojan condoms which was banned (for good reason, it seems) a young woman tests her boyfriend by convincing her sister to try seducing him. She only thinks he passes the test; the commercial seems to have been based on the first entry under "Jokes" below.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto has one of these during the first part of the Chuunin exam. An extremely difficult written exam is given. Before the final and supposedly most difficult question is revealed, the contestants are given a chance to quit the exam. Anyone who gets it right passes by default. Get it wrong, and you fail and can never take the test again, effectively stonewalling your ninja career. If you quit, however, your whole squad fails (but may try the test again next year). Many forfeit and leave, but the protagonist stays even though he couldn't answer even one of the other questions. It turns out that not giving up (along with putting your team's interest before your own) is the Aesop, and everyone who didn't walk out passes. note  The aim of the exercise was to weed out those who would betray their teammates for their personal interests.
    • Fridge Logic sets in a bit when you consider how severe the punishment is though. Had the test gone through to the end, Naruto would have surely failed since he already was unable to answer any of the previous questions. Naruto essentially put his entire ninja career on the line just so Sasuke and Sakura wouldn't have to wait a year and retake with better teamwork (Most of the other people who couldn't cheat got help from teammates, Naruto's team was too unprepared to help him this way). So the analogy becomes, Naruto signs up for a suicide mission under the best interest of his team so they don't need to wait a week for better weather where they could try the same mission but with a chance they ALL make it. Team interests mean the WHOLE team not only yourself and not just everyone else but the entire unit.
    • That's not the only Naruto variant. In the Tea Country arc, we learn that Idate Morino (the brother of the proctor for the exam Naruto took) once took a different version: one where the team learned that right before the tenth question, the person on their team with the lowest grade would never be allowed to be a ninja again (and if anyone on your team quits at this point the whole team fails normally). In that case, everyone who stayed failed, because the inherent Aesop was to not sacrifice a teammate for personal gain.note 
    • And then there's the earliest example, the bell test given by Kakashi. Kakashi had two bells and claimed only those with a bell would pass the test (there were three people attempting). This would naturally prompt people to attempt to grab the bells by themselves, allowing Kakashi to easily defeat them in a one-on-one fight. The actual test was to see who would propose to the others that they all work together to get the bells for the good of all. If that test was failed, he had another one in which he explained the purpose of the original test, then offered to give them a second chance, but would leave them with one teammate receiving no food and a warning to not feed them. If they were willing to put the welfare of their team ahead of their leader's rules, they passed. (Kakashi states that as low as ninjas who do not follow the rules are, those who do not support their comrades are even lower)
    • It's worth noting that Kakashi was notorious for rejecting every prospective team of Genin in the past. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura are the only students who ever passed his test.
  • A few of the Gym Leaders do this in Pokémon, which makes sense as their job is to test trainers in a multitude of ways.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Yusuke's mentor Genkai tells him that the only way he can master her ultimate technique, which he absolutely needs to do if he wants to survive the coming battles, is by killing her. Yusuke spends some time agonizing about it, then tells Genkai that he can't do it. It turns out he did exactly the correct thing, because by refusing to kill her he proved that he was a moral person and by not rejecting her request immediately proved he wasn't too wimpy to try to master it.
    • Also appears during an earlier episode of the series, when Yusuke is a ghost. His girlfriend Keiko rushes into a fire to save his body, which he can't come back to life without, and he is given the choice to throw his MacGuffin into the fire and save her from almost-certain death, but in exchange, the MacGuffin wouldn't be able to perform the task for which it was intended; namely bringing him back to life. Yusuke does throw the MacGuffin save Keiko, and at the end, Koenma reveals that if he hadn't done that, the MacGuffin would have eaten him instead of helping him. Since he saved Keiko, which was the real solution to the test, Koenma decides to resurrect Yusuke personally as a reward. And later in the series, the MacGuffin turns out to still be intact and hatches, revealing a cute, little mascot-like demon named Puu.
    • In the manga, Yusuke sacrifices all his accumulated "virtue" to save Keiko. Koenma comes into contact with Yusuke's virtues and determines that Yusuke has both good and bad qualities and above all else, acts without thinking. He decides that as it's too difficult to pin down Yusuke's character while he's a ghost, he should let Yusuke back into his body.
  • In Planetes, the trope is subverted when Hachimaki is trying to get on the Von Braun's crew, and has to repair a simulated life support failure in a large tank of water as part of a test. Several other applicants are doing the test simultaneously, and Werner Locksmith, who is in charge of the Von Braun mission, lied to them that if a dangerous accident occurred, no divers would come in to save them. When one of them accidentally cuts her air tube and starts losing air and sinking, Locksmith doesn't send in the divers straight away, because he wants to see how Hachimaki would react. While the other applicants swam down to save her, Hachimaki simply continued with the test. He passes while the others all fail from running out of time, and Locksmith reveals that he is impressed by Hachimaki. The logic is that, while Hachi's behavior seems ruthless at first glance, if the event had occurred for real during the Von Braun mission, saving the ship, the mission, and everyone on board would have taken preference over saving one crewmate.
  • Subverted in Mahou Sensei Negima!: Evangeline decides that Setsuna has become "too soft", to prevent another failure in protecting her charge Konoka— she may not be able to Shoot the Dog if she needed to. So Eva tries to force Setsuna to choose between her "sword or ordinary happiness". Setsuna takes it a different way...
    Setsuna: The choices you gave me — it wasn't that I needed strength to defeat you, but what I did need to break through was to truly realize the power of my own will! That was the answer, wasn't it?!
  • In Black Cat, after Kyoko does her Heel-Face Turn, Sephiria offers her either death or a position among Chronos' Erasers. Kyoko refuses, and Sephiria reveals that it was all a test of her vow to train to never kill again.
  • In the Tsukihime manga, Ciel tests whether Akiha has it in her to be a murderer by... threatening her and her brother and then fighting her to the death. What Akiha doesn't know is that Ciel cannot be (permanently) killed/injured, so Ciel is free to test Akiha's power with impunity. She also tries this in the original Visual Novel with Shiki, who is afraid that he is the murderer who has been stalking the streets in his dreams. Shiki has Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. Depending on your decision, things don't go quite as planned.
  • Inuyasha
    • Inuyasha is trying to get a new ability for his sword from a demon in the underworld. His friends are in danger, and though the demon warns him that he'll never be able to get the upgrade if he turns away to help his friends, he does. If you've already read this far, you know what happened next.
    • Sesshoumaru's entire journey turns out to be a secret test of character beginning with his father arranging for Inuyasha to inherit Tessaiga and Sesshoumaru to inherit Tenseiga, not only because Tessaiga is Inuyasha's Restraining Bolt, but also because Sesshoumaru needs to learn a massive lesson about compassion. Tenseiga's secret weapon attack can only be unlocked when Sesshoumaru's heart grieves for the death of someone he deeply cared about, Kagura. Tenseiga and its attack can only be strengthened through him learning to put the lives of others before his own personal ambitions Rin's second death is overturned when his mother is satisfied he's learned the lesson. Then he learns that he has been training the weapon attack to give it to Inuyasha all along, which is a test designed to put an end to his obsession with Tessaiga and accept Inuyasha for who and what he is. Lastly, in a battle where he ends up openly protecting everyone in both his group and Inuyasha's group, his true power finally manifests. Turns out the point of all these tests was that, when Sesshoumaru finally discovered he was a Chain Reaction Destruction One-Man Army with a More Than Infinite Weapon of Mass Destruction, he'd have accepted the importance of Comes Great Responsibility
    • Kouga goes through a test of character that ensures he knows that he must use his great power only for the sake of his people. When he proves he's learned that lesson, he's given the Goraishi, an ancestral wolf tribe weapon.
  • The movie They Were 11, based on a short manga by Moto Hagio, features several people taking an entrance exam for Cosmo Academy: surviving for a set number of days on a derelict spaceship. Upon arriving, they find that instead of the expected 10 people, there are 11 of them, and after several unexplained incidents they suspect one of them to be a saboteur. Turns out the 11th person was an instructor who had been deliberately placed to cause trouble as a test of character. Several incidents, however, were not planned, and the entrants are commended for still attempting to last as long as possible in spite of this.
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, every time the Power Trio met up with a Masshin, the girl who should interact with him is taken away to speak to the spirit of the Humongous Mecha directly. As this happens, the other girls are attacked and quickly subdued. The third one wants to help but the Masshin says she must stay with him and proceed with the awakening ritual even if the others die, or she will NOT succeed and the whole mission will crumble. Inevitably, the girl chooses her friends over the mecha... and not only he lets her go help them, but congratulates her because had she chosen to stay, she wouldn't be able to get the Masshin by sacrificing her companions, agreeing to be bound to her.
  • Just about every Dark Game in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga was an example of this before it became focused on Duel Monsters. When Yami Yugi emerged and took over Yugi's body because someone was bullying him or his friends, he'd declare a Dark Game on his tormentor. The games were usually made up on the spot and were rather simple affairs, but the catch was if the opponent tried to cheat in any way, the game would end and he'd be subjected to a "penalty game" (which is less of a game and more of a prolonged torture). Of course, in this case, his opponents would almost always cheat and end up caught on fire, seeing the world as pixels, thinking trash was money, and other gross fates.
    • In the second anime, in Doma arc, Yami betrays the Yugi's pleas to not use the Seal of Orichalcos in a duel. When Yami loses, Yugi sacrifices his soul in his place. Later, Yami meets with Yugi again, but this time, Yugi turns his back on Yami, claiming that Yami's soul should have been taken away instead. Yugi recreates the same situation as the last time the Orichalcos was used, but reversed; this time, it's Yami who pleads to Yugi not to activate its dark powers. As expected from this trope, Yugi reveals that his Jerkass Façade was merely a test to see if he learned from his lesson to escape the Orichalcos's temptations.
  • Manjyome's A Day in the Limelight episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX — he is told at the end that the abridged The Hero's Journey he's just undergone was more of a test to Break the Haughty than of his dueling skills.
  • During the Neo-Nazi arc in Black Lagoon, it turns out the Lagoon Company's client hired them as a secret test of character for a group of Neo-Nazis. They failed.
    • It was more a test of power than of character; the Nazi's sponsor (and Lagoon Company's employer) wasn't interested in supporting a group of wannabes who couldn't even beat a mere black man and half-Chinese woman. Not to mention the Jew also in the Black Lagoon company, though he's more of a Non Action Jew.
  • In the One Piece Amazon Lily arc where after Luffy's Berserk Button was pushed when the Amazons that helped him were turned to stone by Boa Hancock, he proved to be a formidable opponent and defeated the champions of Amazon Lily by almost revealing their darkest secrets, the empress offers him a choice: he may either take a ship and leave the island to reunite with his nakama or she will release Luffy's friends from her powers. He immediately chooses the latter and bows in gratitude before her. This convinces her to reveal her and her sisters' Dark and Troubled Past and the reason for their cruel behavior, earning her respect/love for Luffy and allowing him the use of a ship.
  • In Death Note, L does this to Aizawa, to see if he'll go back to the police or not. Watari renders it useless, though, by inadvertently giving it away.
  • In Detective Academy Q, during entrance exams Dan Morihiko pretends to need rescue due to being trapped on a rock ledge and injured. Kyu finds out that he only pretends and ignores it, alas comes back later when emptying dam puts Dan in real danger (Kyu had deducted that Dan was crippled and unable to walk, having seen that his shoes were new despite his explorer gear and clothes), which causes him to come late for the last part of the exam. He still passes.
  • Muhyo And Roji has some for each of the titular characters. In Muhyo's case, he fights against the Hades Lord, but can't quite win. He refuses to give up and manages to convince Yoichi and Biko to do the same, impressing the Hades Lord, who allows him to make a contract with him in exchange for controlling his fear, noting that he had killed the others who had tried to summon him and fled. Roji gets one in the competition against Goryo and Ebisu, as Muhyo holds back, wanting to see what Roji can do in a situation like this- but Roji still hasn't gotten over his feelings of inadequacy compared to Muhyo, and is thus put on leave and sent to train at the Magical Law Society. At the end, Page offers him a position as assistant with the promise of helping him improve his skills, but Roji refuses, stating that he wishes to work with Muhyo, impressing Page with his "kind, unwavering heart."
  • Monster: Nina Fortner/Anna Liebert was supposed to forgive him.
  • Optimus Prime stages an impromptu one in Transformers Energon when the other Autobots decide to have a race. With Hotshot and Ironhide neck and neck on the home stretch, Optimus suddenly jumps into the middle of the path and challenges them to get past him. Eventually, Ironhide grapples with Optimus and tells Hotshot to go on and win - at which point Optimus tells him that he is the real winner, because he has learned that a commander must put his troops ahead of his own glory. Oh, and as for who crossed the finish line first? Misha and Arcee.
  • In Pokémon Special, Erika has Red catch an Eevee before accepting his Gym challenge. During the battle, Erika goes to let the Eevee out of its Poke Ball, noting that Eevee is too badly hurt to survive if she does, and if Red has Pika stop her he'll lose his opportunity to defeat her Vileplume. Of course, Red has Pika stop her anyway and earns the Rainbow Badge.
  • In Code Geass, a game of Chess between Schneizel and Lelouch (as Zero) ends when Schneizel deliberately moves his King into check, within range of Zero's King. Zero responds by moving his King, allowing one of his "lesser" pieces to attack instead. Schneizel says that in the same situation, the Emperor would have taken King with King, and Zero's action gives him a good measure of what kind of man he is. Of course, most people ignore this in favor of fixating on the fact that Schneizel made an illegal move.
    • The issue with taking an illegal move is that Lelouch doesn't need to make a move - Schneizel just forfeited, and taking his king is an unnecessary formality. The test is whether or not Lelouch would accept his prize of one shiny new captured enemy Ace, despite not having actually achieved anything worthy of it - a test of Lelouch's pride. By framing it in the context of chess, and then getting it wrong, it loses a degree of impact.
  • The whole thing with summoning the Beast Gods in Fushigi Yuugi is this. You get 3 wishes, but there's a catch: you have to be strong-willed and pure enough not to let the Beast God you summon consume your soul, if you're the priestess. Typically, this means using the wishes to help others, not for your own happiness (the exception, of course being, perhaps a wish to get home safely.) Oh, and then there's the whole Virgin Power thing in a Cast Full of Pretty Boys, where the priestess almost inevitably has feelings for at least one of the guys and, whether she's loved back or not, there's always drama (and others may be trying to either get her to lose her Virgin Power so they can achieve their own ends without her in the way, or manipulate her so she'll make her Wishes to their benefit.) This is seen pretty clearly in the evolution of Miaka Yuuki's would-be wishes: at the start of the series they're all selfish (and comically so), then she switches to both self-serving and selfless possibilities (like using one to help the world of the book, another to restore her ruined friendship with fellow Priestess Yui, and another to bring her beloved Tamahome with her to the real world), and by the Grand Finale the wishes she actually makes are all for others (Reviving Yui who had been devoured by Seiryuu, giving Tamahome enough power to defeat Nakago, and restoring both the world of the book and Earth to what they were before they collided in the story and havoc was unleashed.)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist. Ed and Al's entire adventure ends up resulting in one of these. In order to defeat Father, Al sacrifices his soul to give Ed his arm back. After the battle is won, Ed immediately starts desperately thinking of a way to get Al back again. He's offered the use of a philosopher's stone, but he refuses. What price could he possibly pay to even out the Equivalent Exchange, then? He gives up the ability to perform alchemy, which turns out to be the correct answer.
  • In one story of Petshop Of Horrors, there was a man Roger running for president. Though charismatic, he was also arrogant and ungrateful, in contrast to his kind assistant Kelly who lacked Roger's charm. Kelly was in love with Roger's fiance Nancy but they couldn't be together. But then Roger received a Kirin, a powerful beast that could grant wishes. On the ride home, Kelly saw a bus full of children in danger and quickly stopped the bus from going over the cliff, but at the cost of his car going over. That was when the Kirin asked Kelly his wish. For a moment, Kelly thought of wealth, power and fame, but remembered Nancy and simply wanted to see her smile again. When he woke up, he was confused why Nancy was calling him Roger and telling him that Kelly was dead. Then he found out that he was in Roger's body. Because of his Heroic Sacrifice, he was guaranteed to become president and Nancy was technically now his fiance. The Kirin saw that he passed the test and granted him everything.
  • One of the first tests that the heroes in Hunter × Hunter were given dealt with them choosing between two paths, one to their destination and the other to their deaths. Their answer to the question the elderly woman gave them would determine where they would go. The question given to the heroes was whether they would save their son or daughter. One character complained at the unfairness of the question before another character quickly silenced him. Once the time was up, the elderly lady promptly declared their answer (which was silence) was correct. It would be impossible to choose between these two answers and it was an answer that shouldn't be taken lightly, unlike the contestant before them who casually gave his answer thinking it would please the elderly woman.
  • One of the stories in Warcraft Legends is about Thrall's mother, Draka, trying to become a powerful warrior despite appearing sickly and weak. She goes to a shaman for help, who tells her that a totem with the power to make her into a warrior can be made, but she must collect the necessary materials by hunting several dangerous animals by herself. Draka manages to successfully hunt all of the animals and returns, and the shaman tells her that no such totem exists. Draka's quest was the actual test, where she proved that she could hunt down Outland's most dangerous wildlife by herself without the aid of magic.
  • In Claymore, Galatea threatens to attack Jean and Clare in order to make sure they both know the prices of their actions. Once she is sure that they know it, she let them go and covers their escape.
  • In Soul Eater, one of the Great Old Ones puts Kid through this in the Book of Eibon to see what he would do with 'power'. Shinigami did something similar - although with much lower stakes - with Black Star and Maka's assignment fighting Sid and Stein (so effectively Kid was convinced not only it was real but that his father would let them die, leading to him joining Shibusen). Could be argued Shinigami did the same with all three of the debut episodes/chapters for the main groups.
  • The entire subplot/main plot concerning Mikael from Tenshi Ni Narumon is based on this. Mikael, who believed that he was sent with a mission of making Noelle (and Silky) angels and in the process become one himself, failed at it and none of them became an angel in the end. And that was in fact Heaven's desired outcome all along - because if Noelle, Silky and Mikael did become angels they would have fuse into one angelic being, in other words, they would die as individuals. Mikael believed that he was testing Noelle when in fact Raphael (and Heaven) were testing him - and the entire point of this test was to make Silky and Mikael redeem and accept themselves for who they are, to bring their fallen halos back above their heads and to promote Mikael to a position of an angel teacher.
  • Horribly played with in a case of Detective Conan, where a rich man tries to test his two daughters and potential heiresses' love for him by pretending to have a heart attack and see how they react, while paralelly hiring Kogoro to keep an eye on them as well. His doctor, who also happened to be the son of his dead and ruined business partner, got PISSED and killed the old man instead - he had been able to withstand the crisis coming from his dad's ruin, but lost it when the person who ruined his family told him about his plans and decided to murder him for being a sonuvabitch who thought he could test people's love. It really didn't help that one of the daughters was planning to kill him already.
  • The Code: Emperor of Code:Breaker is fond of giving these to Ogami to ensure he is an acceptable host. For example, Ogami is presented the chance to give the Emperor a personality change. Naturally, he refuses, accepting the Emperor as his usual, difficult self.
  • Employed in the fifth Queen's Blade OVA, where Nanael steals a sacred grape and is booted out of heaven and down to the Swamp Witch's lair. Down below, she eats the grape and becomes a fallen angel, using her powers to blow up the Witch's castle. In somewhat of an Ass Pull, the whole course of events was revealed to be a Secret Test of Character, but the more incredulous part is that Nanael's actions caused her to pass.
  • Heartcatch Precure has one. In order to unlock the full power of the Heartcatch Mirage, the girls must undergo a Final Ordeal, which involves them fighting themselves... or rather, the negative aspects of themselves: Tsubomi's insecurities and leaning on others, Erika's hangups over her older sister, Itsuki's conflicts between wanting to be a girl and preparing to take over her grandfather's dojo and acting like a boy, and Yuri's insistence in doing things alone. Once the girls finally realize that and admit they can grow past it, they're asked one last question: "Do you need me anymore?" All four girls say "Yes."
  • Sakuya Ookochi subjected a girl named Sakura to one of these in Sensual Phrase. Sakura had befriended Sakuya's love interest Aine, but dumped her once she learned that she was Sakuya's girlfriend. Sakuya then asked Sakura out and apparently dumped Aine... but shortly afterwards he dumped Sakura as well, revealing that he only dated Sakura to see if she'd resist the massive pressure of going out with someone famous as him. Since Sakura didn't "pass" his test, Sakuya left her and got back with Aine.
  • In Space Battleship Yamato, once they finally reach Iscandar, Queen Starsha reveals that their entire journey was this. She could have sent the Cosmo Cleaner D ("Cosmo DNA" in the Star Blazers dub) to Earth right away, but wanted to test humanity's will to survive, an act that she regrets. This was largely left out in the aforementioned dub.
  • During the "Five Day Mark Curse" episode/chapter in Natsume Yuujinchou, Natsume was cursed by a vicious spirit that would eventually drain his life, though with the help of his spirit allies, he was able to break the curse. It turned out that one of his contracted spirit allies deliberately orchestrated the event to test if Natsume would abuse his power over having his name in the book. Since Natsume was proven worthy, the spirit was content to leave his name (hence his power) in Natsume's hands.
  • In Attack on Titan, Marlow was put through one to see if he was trustworthy enough to join Levi's squad and help rescue Eren and Historia. He was made to believe that he and another teammate would be murdered and Jean intentionally dropped a knife. Instead of fighting, Marlow tried to let his teammate escape and dropped the knife as an act of willingness to trust Jean.

    Ballads 
  • Child Ballad
    • In The New-Slain Knight, a man tells a woman of a dead knight; when she complains that her child will be fatherless, he offers to marry her, and she rejects him; he reveals that he is her love.
    • In The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington, she tells her love that she is dead to test his love. He declares he will go into exile to avoid the place, and she reveals the truth.
  • The English ballad "Sovay" tells of a highway robber who demands, at gunpoint, a man's ring; the man refuses, because it was a gift from his fiancee, and is surprised when the robber just leaves. The next day, the fiancee reveals that she (in disguise) was the robber and would have shot him if he'd handed over the ring.
  • A lot of "broken token" ballads work like this: Hey lovely, your boyfriend is dead and he gave me this thing. How about having some fun together? Of course, a Genre Savvy girl should flat down refuse him.
    • Examples include John Riley and "Banks of Claudy".

    Comic Books 
  • One story in Sonic the Comic had Tails meet up with an anthropomorphic unicorn who grants him a wish for saving him from the Badniks. True to his nature, Tails's wish is for Mobius to be free from Robotnik's rule. The Unicorn then takes Tails to a room looking down on Robotnik as he drives along in a parade. Tails is given a gun and told that if he shoots Robotnik Mobius will be free. Being who he is Tails throws the gun down and yells that it's wrong. The unicorn tells Tails that he made the right choice, and as long as he follows his good nature, one day, his wish will come true.
  • The first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes was the test they gave to Superboy to see if he was fit. He failed all three challenges they put to him, but when he did not make excuses, they explained that their history clearly showed his powers were strong enough, they had actually tested his character by sabotaging the trials.
  • On the day of his sixteenth birthday, Tim Drake/Robin III received a message from the future warning him that one of the members of the Batfamily had turned into a Knight Templar and giving him the task to prevent it, driving Tim to isolated paranoia for several weeks. Then it turned out it was all a test orchestrated by Batman, who wanted Tim to be prepared and ready for such an eventuality. Tim was not amused and quit being Robin, until he came to terms with Batman's actions.
  • In one issue of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comics, the tyrant Zed puts Picard in a situation where the only way to save his crew is to kill Zed, who's behind a force field and armed. This is partly a test of Picard's courage, which he passes by charging Zed, having correctly guessed that the force field is one-way. Picard now has Zed's gun, but this too is a test, as it isn't charged. Zed wants to prove that Picard is willing to kill and thus no better than he. A debatable point, but Picard isn't fooled — and he uses the "useless" weapon to set up a test of his own.
  • During The Making of Baron Fel, Director of Imperial Intelligence Ysanne Isard gives the Ace Pilot a Forceful Kiss followed by a We Can Rule Together. He adamantly rejects both, and she smiles and said that she'd told the Emperor that he was utterly loyal and incorruptible. Whether this was a test, as she claimed, or a bit of Xanatos Speed Chess depends on who you ask.
  • In a Marvel Transformers Generation 1 story, Optimus Prime, having heard about the trouble that happened when he was in limbo, decides to fake his death to force the other Autobots to learn to operate without him while still being able to jump in if things get out of hand. Unfortunately, due to the actions of the Predacons, Optimus (and Megatron) end up on Cybertron, forcing Optimus' team to operate without him for real.
  • Occurs several times in American Born Chinese, most notably with the ungrateful vagrants treated by Wong Lai-Tsao, and Chin-Kee's embarrassing visits to Danny.
  • In Judge Dredd, when Dredd was overseeing Giant's final exam, Giant messed up but managed to persuade Dredd to give him a second chance. Later on, they caught a pair of perps and Dredd was about to execute them, when Giant ordered him to stop, as the penalty for their crime was imprisonment, not death. Dredd threatened to fail Giant if he went ahead with this, but Giant insisted — at which point Dredd congratulated him on passing the most important part of the exam, which is that a judge must be devoted to the law above even his own career.
  • In Carl Barks story "Some Heir Over the Rainbow", Scrooge McDuck wanted to test his relatives to know who deserves to inherit his fortune. Believing the best way to do it was giving them money without them knowing it came from him, Scrooge picked three pots and placed each one of them with a thousand dollars. He then hid the pots at the ends of three rainbows and set his relatives into finding them. Huey, Dewey and Louie found the first one, Gladstone Gander found the second one and Donald Duck found the third one. A few days later, Scrooge called his relatives to know how they used the money. Donald spent it as the down payment of a new car and was now one thousand dollars in debt, prompting Scrooge to disqualify him as heir. Gladstone, not seeing any immediate use for his thousand dollars, hid the money somewhere. While Scrooge was disappointed Gladstone hasn't tried to invest the money, the fact Gladstone still has it saved him from disqualification. When Huey, Dewey and Louie told him the gave the money to finance a search for a buried treasure, Scrooge believed they had been conned out of the money and decided to name Gladstone his sole heir, despite considering this an awful injustice to the world. However, it turns out the man they gave the money did find a treasure and the boys got a good share of it. Scrooge then named them his heirs.
  • The entire first issue of the 2011 relaunch of Suicide Squad is a giant secret test of character.
  • Doctor Strange started out as a Jerk Ass surgeon whose hands were crippled in a drunk driving accident, ending his career. He went to the eccentric Ancient One after hearing rumors that the man could work miracles, but the old sorcerer refused to cure him because of Strange's selfish heart. However, he did offer to teach him magic instead, which Strange refused. Confined in the Ancient One's retreat because of a snowstorm, Strange witnessed Baron Mordo, one of the sorcerer's trusted disciples, plotting against him. He tried to warn the master but was magically silenced. He realized Mordo could not be stopped except by magic, so he asked the Ancient One to teach him as well — whereupon the old master revealed he had known about Mordo's treachery for some time and merely wanted to see if he could reach "the real Doctor Strange." He then made the offer openly, which Strange accepted.
  • When Golden Age super-speedster Max Mercury was put in charge of teaching Impulse (Bart Allen) some sense, he had his work cut out for him; Impulse had been raised in a consequence-free virtual reality video-game, and as such tended to act without thinking. After multiple attempts to make him slow down and consider his actions failed, Max took him camping, claiming that some relaxing time in the woods might calm him down. Then Max pretended to get his foot caught and caused a rock-slide, calling Impulse for help. Naturally, Impulse rushed to his aid, smashing the falling boulders before they could get to Max. But when asked why he went for the rocks instead of simply freeing Max and taking him to safety, the only reason Bart could come up with is "the rocks are worth more points". Max realizes he still has a lot of work to do.
  • Rare villainous example: In one of the Sin City short stories, Schlubb and Klump are sent to dispose of what they think is a body rolled up in a carpet (it has a pair of boots sticking out of one end) and are told not to look inside. It actually turns out to be a test of whether they can follow order, and the carpet blows up when they try to steal the boots.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The Serpent and The Three Sisters, the king has promised that who cures the prince may marry him. He is cured by a woman but refuses because he is already married. The delighted woman reveals that she is his wife.
  • In Bearskin, the youngest daughter agrees to redeem her father's promise and marry a filthy, hairy man wearing a bearskin without knowing he will be able to take it off and clean up once his Deal with the Devil is done. Her sisters, who refused him, are so envious they commit suicide, and the devil happily makes off with their souls.
    • Some versions add a second part of the test where the suitor, after cleaning up nicely and collecting on his deal with Satan, returns and courts the youngest daughter to see if she will keep her promise or renege it in favor of (she thinks) a new and much more appealing match. She passes, of course.
  • In Diamonds and Toads, the younger daughter is willing to give an old woman (a disguised Fairy) a drink from the well; even warned, her older sister is unable to be polite.
  • In The Girl and the Dead Man, all three girls are offered the choice between a whole bannock (flattened loaf of quick bread) and their mother's curse, or half and their mother's blessing; the older two opt for the curse, and the youngest for the blessing, and only the last succeeds.
  • In Jesper Who Herded the Hares, Jesper's older brothers lie about the pearls they are carrying and find they are transformed into what they claimed them to be; Jesper tells the truth and is given a magic whistle.
  • In The Three Little Birds, two brothers tell a fishing woman that she won't catch fish where she is, and end up failing their quests; then, their sister tells her "May God help you with your fishing," and receives a magic wand and advice.
  • In "The Invisible One", an invisible god and his sisters come up with a test for a prospective bride. Girls are brought to his dwelling place, and whoever can actually see him is worthy to be his wife. Many girls (including the protagonist's wicked older sisters) try, some even lying. But the only one who can actually see him is a kindhearted and shy girl who goes by Oochigeaskw ("Little Burnt One," or "Rough-Faced Girl," because her sisters pushed her face into the embers of their fire.)
    • The secret test of character is more apparent in versions of this tale where all the prospective suitors before Oochigeaskw claim that they can see the invisible god and are sent away for lying, but Oochigeaskw herself admits that she cannot see him and the invisible god then shows himself to her as a reward for her truthfulness.
  • In The Golden Goose, the little old man who asks for food will determine whether they succeed or fail.
  • In another of Grimms' fairy tales, some kids have watched the adults slaughter a pig, think this is worth imitating, and slaughter a younger kid. (That's why smart farmers send their kids on a Snipe Hunt, but we digress.) All the adults are upset, of course, but they can't agree whether the kid is really guilty or not. Then, one wise man comes up with a solution: He offers two gifts to the kid, an apple and a golden coin, and tells the kid to choose one of them. The kid immediately takes the apple, and he explains: The kid is still naive, and thus innocent; but if the kid had taken the coin instead, this would have proved the guilt, since the kid must have had enough experience with the world to know that killing is wrong.

    Fanfic 
  • A drabble for Tin Man starts with the Mystic Man giving Wyatt Cain a promotion to full Tin Man status (the Tin Men are an Ozian law enforcement organization). The confused Cain questions the Mystic Man's decision after all, he let a petty thief get away in order to tend to a sick old beggar in the streets. The Mystic Man simply explains that prioritizing compassion over strict interpretation of the law IS the mark of a Tin Man, and the whole thing was a test.
  • In a Discworld fan fic Moving Pictures II Vimes suggests to a prospective member of Cable Street Particulars that torture is still a a part of their methods. When the candidate absolutely refuses to take part in it, he is hired.
  • Luso had to go through one so a shopkeeper is satisfied that Luso is mentally and emotionally prepared to be a Fighter before the shopkeeper will sell him the necessary equipment in The Tainted Grimoire.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic "Civil Disobedience" (published in Strange New Worlds I ), Q is ordered not to interfere with the Borg's assimilation of humanity, after Picard is turned into Locutus and the Enterprise is destroyed trying to stop him, as part of Q's probation since regaining his powers in Deja Q. Q believes that disobeying his orders and interfering anyway will result in his powers being taken from him again, or even in his immediate execution... but because Picard and the Enterprise saved his life in Deja Q, and because Picard becoming Locutus is arguably his fault, he decides he would rather be killed/made mortal than bear the guilt of not interfering. So he causes the Enterprise's weapon to short-circuit and destroy itself rather than the ship, which leads eventually to the defeat of the Borg before they can assimilate Earth (in canon, La Forge warns Riker that the use of the weapon could well destroy the ship; Riker orders it done anyway, because it seems their only hope, but it destroys itself before it has any effect on the Borg. This leads the crew to have to solve the problem creatively, by kidnapping and de-assimilating Locutus, which wouldn't have happened if their ship had blown up.) It turns out that Q's willingness to defy the Continuum in order to do the right thing was the final test required to get him off probation. Q is somewhat pissed off that his fellows were actually willing to let the Borg destroy humanity to teach him a lesson, but mostly he's just happy he passed. It's not like he's got a lot of room to complain, given the stuff he's been willing to allow to teach mortals a lesson.
  • Daniel Jackson faces this trope in Stargate SG-1 fanfic What You Already Know Pt 7: Resolutions (part 7 of a fanfic series). The people of Earth are negotiating with an alien world inhabited by humans for the right to set up a colony on the alien world. Daniel, who is representing Earth in the negotiations, is called to a private meeting with a woman who is one of the alien world's leaders. The woman comes on to Daniel, implying that if he doesn't sleep with her, she'll convince the other leaders of her world to refuse to let Earth have its colony on their planet. Daniel refuses to sleep with the woman despite that, refusing to sacrifice his morals just to get Earth a colony. Later on, it's revealed that the leaders of the alien world wanted to know that they were negotiating with a honourable man, so set the whole thing up as a test of Daniel's character. Since he passed, they agree to let Earth build a colony on their world.
  • The Bound Destinies Trilogy has two different examples:
    • In Wisdom and Courage, The golden goddess (specifically Nayru) decide to test the princess's wisdom by initially presenting a Sadistic Choice to her: to use the Triforce to restore the lands of Hyrule and Termina, as well as their inhabitants, to the way they were before Veran razed both lands, or to bring Link, whose spirit had been destroyed in the final battle against Veran, back to life. Zelda declares that she cannot choose between them, stating that she loves them both too much and would rather die than to have to pick one. The goddesses approve of her choice and agree to restore both.
    • It's revealed in chapter 36 of Blood and Spirit that much of the plot was one for Link. They had foreseen that Majora would try to corrupt Link, and used it to their advantage to see just how strong Link's Heroic Spirit was. In the final phase, after Link and Zelda are killed, they claim that only one of the two can return to life and stop Veress; when Link unhesitatingly agrees to do so even if he must live without Zelda, he passes, thus letting them both return to life.
  • A Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic called the "Fifth Light" has Q watching helpless as Picard is tortured by the Cardassians. The Q Continuum are fed up with his fraternizing with the humans and henceforth set up Picard to be captured and tortured as seen in the episode "Chains of Command", since Picard is Q's favorite human. Q is not allowed to rescue Picard or else he will get in trouble, but he does provide moral support to Picard, and gives him peaceful visions to alleviate the pain of his brutal torture. Eventually the Q Continuum confronts Q about his assistance towards Picard, and they tell him in no uncertain terms that they will banish him permanently if he does anything more to help Picard... and this time he won't get to "go on exciting adventures with your favorite Captain, should he survive. We'll find a nice isolated planet for you to rot on." Ultimately Q muses over how special Picard is to him and decides that a universe without Picard wouldn't be worth living in anyway, and so he decides to help Picard one last time. Q arrives to see Picard suffering at the climatic conclusion of Chains of Command, where he defiantly refuses to admit there is a 5th light, and so manifests himself as the 5th light so Picard won't be tortured anymore. Picard notices the 5th light but he hesitates to admit its existence, and Q is internally begging Picard to call out that there are 5 lights. Then the Enterprise arrives to rescue Picard, leaving Q to realize his assistance was unnecessary and he stops showing the 5th light, leaving Picard to defiantly utter out his famous "there are four lights." Q is then confronted by the Continuum and Q defiantly says that he is welcome to whatever fate they have in store for him, and he regrets nothing and that he would do it again... only to be told by his fellow Q that he passed their test. Apparently Q's family wasn't truly convinced that he had been reformed, or that he truly cared about others, but by showing that he was willing to sacrifice himself for Picard they accept that he has been redeemed.

     Film - Animated 
  • In the little-known sequel of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo confronts an old man who can control a bunch of shadow wolves. He says that as Milo, Kida and their group know about him, he must kill them so they never give away his secret. He says he will spare them if they tell him one of their own secrets (Atlantis), but Milo decides not to. The wolfman spares them, saying they understand the importance of keeping a secret, and lets them go.
  • A secret test of character kickstarts Beauty and the Beast with a prince being asked for shelter from the cold by a beggar woman who's actually an enchantress in disguise. The prince refuses, even after she warns him "not to be deceived by appearances", and she curses him to be a beast until he learns how to love and grow out of his selfishness.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In Pan's Labyrinth, the final part of a trial needed for Ophelia to get to her magical kingdom is a drop of blood from an innocent (her newborn brother). Ophelia steadfastly refuses, which itself completes the test. This is Writer on Board to some degree, as this one bears quite a bit of influence from the ideas Guillermo del Toro learned at his high school, the Instituto de Ciencias.
  • In the opening scene of In the Line of Fire, the undercover Clint Eastwood is told to shoot another agent, who is actually his new partner. He does it and it turns out the gun is empty. Later the partner says he's figured out that Eastwood could tell the gun was empty from its weight. Eastwood replies that there still could have been a bullet in the chamber; that's how far he's willing to go. Though that might be just Eastwood's sense of humor.
  • The film The Box focuses on a box with a large button. Push the button and get $50 million, tax free. But, someone you don't know will die. We find out the reason the test is being run. Aliens are looking for altruistic behavior. Otherwise, all humanity will be killed. The father making a Heroic Sacrifice satisfies them.
  • In Fight Club, Project Mayhem selects for stubbornness: new applicants who come to Tyler's house are yelled at for being too fat, too old, too young, or too something and told to go away. If they refuse to leave for three days, ignoring the abuse and with no food, shelter or encouragement, they're allowed in. The narrator bends Tyler's rules for Bob, though.
  • In Saw III, Jigsaw seems to set up one of his usual traps, involving Lynn Denlon keeping him alive in order for Jeff Reinhold to finish his Unsecret Test of Character. However, Jigsaw was actually testing his apprentice Amanda throughout the film about her will to keep someone alive. Amanda was blind enough to kill Lynn even after her 'test' was over, thus failing and earning her own death at the hands of Lynn's husband Jeff. Nice going Jigsaw.
  • In the first Men In Black film, the recruits, the future J among them, are given a series of tests. The first is a written exam, but the recruits are stuck in egg-shaped chairs with no suitable writing surface. All the military guys make do, while J is the only one sensible enough to give up and drag the nearby table to his chair, despite the hellacious noise it makes. Next is a standard shooting range. The military guys immediately open up on the aliens, while J carefully analyzes the targets and picks the one he feels was a threat: a eight-year-old girl. By his reasoning, the aliens weren't doing anything wrong (one was sneezing, another doing pull-ups, etc.). The girl, on the other hand, was wandering through an alley full of monsters in the middle of the night and carrying advanced science textbooks (only in the film; in the book, she just had a basket).
  • Used hilariously in I Spy, where the civilian partner Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy) is "kidnapped" and is taken somewhere, where they attempt to get information from him by threatening to cut off his you-know-what. He panics and gives all the info he can remember on his partner, then the illusion is dropped and he is complimented on giving vague info and acting well.
  • In The Golden Child, Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) is The Chosen One, fated to rescue the titular child, but he's a Jerk Ass and skeptic, and must be taught to accept the supernatural world. This is accomplished by the "Old Man", a Trickster Mentor who puts him through quite a few secret tests of character — the first being to see how he responded to a street vendor trying to cheat him. Needless to say, Jarrell fails quite a few times at the start.
  • In The Usual Suspects, Agent Kujan tells Verbal that the best way to catch a criminal is to arrest five guys for the crime and put them in a cell overnight. The next morning, whoever is asleep is your man. An innocent man will stay up all night worrying, while a guilty one will realize he's been caught and relax. This is actually relevant in the scene with the suspects in a cell together after their lineup. The one who is lying down turns out to be the one who committed the hijacking.
  • In Exam, what initially looked like an 80-minute written exam was in actuality a test of conscience, patience, and attention to detail. It didn't help that the exam room itself had exploitable points of interest, and the rules just a little bit obscure. In the end, all those perks just happened to be a complete waste of time.
  • Subverted in Training Day. Alonzo puts Hoyt through all manner of situations to test him for suitability as a narcotics officer working on the street. It later turns out that it's all been an elaborate façade to set Hoyt up as an accomplice.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, during training, Colonel Phillips tosses a (dud) grenade at the trainees. Without thinking, Steve immediately jumps on the grenade as everyone else scatters. This implies that his selflessness is a main contributor to him being chosen for the Super Soldier program.
  • Used in the film version only of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. All five children to find Golden Tickets are approached by Wonka's sinister rival Slugworth and asked to steal him one of Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers to study. Wonka gives them all one during their tour. At the end, Charlie gives it back to him rather than sell it to Slugworth, even though Wonka had just chewed him out revoked his lifetime's supply of chocolate. Turns out that "Slugworth" was working for Wonka and it was a secret test to see who was worthy to run Wonka's factory after him.
  • The Princess Bride: The Man in Black concealed his true identity from Buttercup to find out if she still loved him.
  • One of the last scenes in Courageous.
  • In the German movie Männer ("Men..."), the protagonist tells his "student" to fold a paper hat, put it on his head and climb on a desk. The other guy does it, and is corrected: "You failed, a manager never would do that." (The protagonist, a manager himself, discovered that his wife cheats on him with a drop-out. So he develops the plan to turn The Rival into a copy of himself, as a strange kind of revenge.)
  • Luke Skywalker fails one in The Empire Strikes Back. After being told by Obi-Wan Kenobi to go to Dagobah to find Yoda, a great Jedi Master, Luke heads there after helping the Rebellion evacuate from Hoth. However, the only sentient life he finds is a really small creature who has a habit of searching through his things, and speaking in riddles. Luke gets flustered when the creature seems to continue wasting his time in search of Yoda, who then reveals himself to be the Jedi Luke was searching for in the first place.
    Yoda: "I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience."
    Obi-Wan "He will learn patience."
    • He fails a second time when, at the Tree of the Dark Side, he takes his weapon with him, not trusting in Yoda.
  • Pitch Black: Debateable if Riddick is giving one to Fry with his offer.
  • Willow has the wizard of the village run a test to find an apprentice. He holds out his hand and asks each applicant to chose the finger that holds the most power. Everybody fails, even Willow, who was going to pick his own finger, but backed out at the last moment. The wizard later confides in him that it would have been the right answer.

    Jokes 
  • "I was a very happy person. My wonderful girlfriend and I had been dating for over a year, and so we decided to get married. There was only one little thing bothering me... It was her beautiful younger sister. My prospective sister-in-law was twenty-two, wore very tight miniskirts, and generally was bra-less. She would regularly bend down when she was near me, and I always got more than a nice view. It had to be deliberate because she never did it when she was near anyone else. One day her "little" sister called and asked me to come over to check the wedding invitations. She was alone when I arrived, and she whispered to me that she had feelings and desires for me that she couldn't overcome. She told me that she wanted me just once before I got married and committed my life to her sister. Well, I was in total shock, and couldn't say a word. She said, "I'm going upstairs to my bedroom, and if you want one last wild fling, just come up and get me." I was stunned and frozen in shock as I watched her go up the stairs. I stood there for a moment, then turned and made a beeline straight to the front door. I opened the door, and headed straight towards my car. Lo and behold, my entire future family was standing outside, all clapping! With tears in his eyes, my father-in-law hugged me and said, "We are very happy that you have passed our little test. We couldn't ask for better man for our daughter. Welcome to the family!" The moral of this story is: Always keep the condoms in your car"
    • This one was once used as a commercial (for condoms, of course).
  • An applicant to a law firm is given a test: "Imagine three people in a shark-ridden sea. One of them is unarmed as he is not afraid of sharks. Another one has a huge badass knife. The third one has a harpoon gun. Who do you associate yourself with?" "Well, the third one, of course," - responds the applicant. "I'm sorry,"- says the interviewer, - "you are not the right kind of person for us. Our employees should associate themselves with the sharks."
  • Another old joke goes that a young Navy Seal recruit is brought in for his final test. He is led into a room, where his wife is gagged and bound to a chair, and handed a gun. His teacher tells him that, to prove his loyalty, he must shoot his wife. The teacher leaves the room. He hears a gunshot, and a few minutes later the young man emerges from the room, saying, "Sorry it took so long; some idiot loaded the gun with blanks so I had to beat her to death with a chair leg."
    • In some versions of the joke it's three different men and the first two pass by refusing to kill their wives while the third gives the answer above. (Often the men are from the FBI, CIA and NSA or Marines, Air Force and Army, in whatever order the teller prefers.)
      • And in another version, the first two, the ones that refused to kill, were male. The third, the one that went through with it using the chair, was female.
    • Another military joke where you [insert branches of choice here]. Three officers (in different units, say Army, Navy and Marines) are arguing about whose soldiers are the bravest while standing on building/a ship. The first two each call up a private/seaman/other "grunt" and tell him to jump off. The soldiers say "Yes Sir!" and jump. The last officer smiles, calls up a private from his unit, and tells him to jump. The private stands up straight, salutes, and says "Fuck you" before leaving. The officer turns to the others and says, "That, my friends, is true bravery."

    Literature 
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Bible is full of these.
    • The famous Solomon "splitting the baby" story from The Bible.
    • Solomon himself had one when God offered to give him one blessing, and instead of material wealth or military might Solomon chose wisdom; pleased with this, God gave him the other things as well.
    • Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors) pulls one on his brothers in the Book of Genesis. Jacob's older sons, jealous of Jacob's love of Joseph (11 of 12), sold him to a slave-trader and told their father he had been killed by a wild animal. Through some strange circumstances, he wound up serving Pharaoh, who made Joseph a minister. When drought hit the region, Egypt rode it out due mainly to Joseph's ordering the granaries to store the surplus from previous years. Jacob's tribes were less fortunate and the elder sons went to Egypt to beg the minister (not knowing) for assistance. He agreed to aid them, and invited them to dine with him, only to accuse the youngest son Benjamin of stealing from him. When the other brothers defended Benjamin, ultimately confessing their previous misdeeds, Joseph revealed himself to them, saying that they had passed his test, and permitted the tribes of Israel to live in Egypt.
    • Also, Jehovah ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abe would have done it had Jehovah not told him to stop because it was just a test of loyalty.
  • Somewhat utilized in Fearless when Loki kidnaps Sam Moon to see what Gaia will do in order to save him In this case, however, the criteria for her having passed the test is to prove that she will do bad things rather than that she will not.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.
    • In Lords & Ladies, an arrogant young witch challenges Granny Weatherwax to a contest in staring at the sun. When Nanny Ogg's grandson runs into the magic circle controlling their power and cries out, Granny looks away from the sun to help him, and Nanny declares that this is a test of witchcraft, not power, and a true witch would drop a silly contest to help a child. Afterward, it's revealed that Nanny waved a bag of sweets to lure Pewsey, knowing he wouldn't really be hurt. Subverted, in that this wasn't meant to be how the test worked, but you can't argue with public acclaim (and indeed, the original challenge was meant to discredit Granny Weatherwax).
    • Granny Weatherwax is a fan of these, as you'd expect from a Discworld witch that honestly believes everything is a test. These range from being as simple and obvious as asking what you'd take out of your house during a fire — Nanny Ogg answering that she'd rescue her cat that could escape itself to appear kindly — to a complex plan to see whether a witch was worth her training by getting a rival placed above her.
    • There's a quick example in Wyrd Sisters. The witches need to hide a baby and so try to have Vitoller, leader of a traveling theater, adopt him. Vitoller and his wife have always wanted a baby, but muse that money is tight and they may not be able to afford it. Nevertheless, they decide they can stretch their budget if it means having a child, whereupon Granny produces a big bag of coins for them. When asked why she didn't mention the money beforehand, she responds "If I had to buy you, you wouldn't be worth the price."
    • Completely averted in Mort. Death takes a titular character as his apprentice and the first job he gives him is to clean the stables of his horse, Binky, which takes hours (he has that horse for a looong time and cleaning its stable is a demeaning job for Death). The whole time doing the job, Mort entertains the thought of the job being this. Maybe Death wants to see if he will argue against his treatment? Maybe he wants to teach him his place? Maybe he wants to get him used to repeatability of moves he will have to face when wielding Death's scythe? After Mort is finally done cleaning the stables, Death asks him why did he have to do it. Mort's answer: "Because you were up to your neck in horseshit." Death is very pleased by that answer, because it is completely true.
    • Averted once again in Thief of Time, where Lobsang becomes an apprentice to the History Monks' Head Sweeper, Lu Tze. He keeps thinking that all this sweeping is meant to be a test of some sort, but when he confronts Lu Tze about it, he says "The only thing I think I've learned is that people are generally messy and inconsiderate." Lu Tze replies "Not a bad lesson, all the same."
    • Played straight in Raising Steam. Dick Simnel takes his mother's advice, which is to "make out that you're simple and see 'ow they treat you. If they treats you properly, simple as you are, then it's likely you can trust them."
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire there is an inversion, in that there was absolutely no secret test to begin with, but Harry managed to pass it anyway. The challenge was a race to rescue hostages at the bottom of a lake with one hostage per contestant. Harry sacrifices his place in the lead to make sure every hostage gets rescued, even rescuing an extra one personally. The judges, while it wasn't what they were looking for (and while the hostages weren't actually in any danger), gave him points for "moral fibre".
  • Subverted in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. Harriet Vane was convinced to go against her principles of no sex before marriage to have a relationship with a man who said that marriage was against his principles (why his principles were more important than hers, despite the fact that she bore all the costs and he had all the advantages, was not made clear). When he did offer to marry her, saying that the sex before marriage was a test of her devotion, she immediately dumped him for making her betray her principles and treating marriage as 'a bad conduct prize'.
    • This happened to Sayers in Real Life as well. Small wonder that she killed off the Expy of the guy that did it to her in the above novel.
  • In Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat novels, a story circulates about Vlad the Impaler. Vlad invited to dinner two monks who had been traveling through Vlad's principality of Wallachia. Vlad habitually punished the lightest crime with impalement. He asked the monks what his reputation really was among the people. One monk replied with what he thought Vlad wanted to hear, that the people saw him as a firm but just prince; the other replied with the truth, that the people thought Vlad was a sadistic tyrant. Vlad then ordered one of the monks impaled, but the story does not say which one. This is presented as a test of the listener's character: Libertarians or persons generally suspicious of authority assume Vlad must have executed the truth-teller, authoritarians or persons who tend to have faith in authorities assume he must have executed the liar. What Wilson never mentions is that the story is in fact an inversion of reality; Vlad actually did have a very good reputation among the common people, who appreciated that his ferocity came down hardest on the predatory nobles.
  • In Paulo Coelho's, The Alchemist, the boy seeking his treasure is confronted by a man on a white horse, the Alchemist. The Alchemist threatens him and asks him why he read the omens of the flight of the birds, and places the tip of his sword towards the boy's head. When the boy answers truthfully, the Alchemist removes the sword point from his head and says "I had to test your courage."
  • In The Canterbury Tales:
    • "The Clerk's Tale" is the retelling of a Secret Test of Character that a man puts his wife through, including claiming to have killed both of their children. The clerk himself lampshades this by pointing out it's a very bad Aesop.
    • "The Wife of Bath's Tale" has a wife gives her new husband a choice: she can be ugly but faithful to him, or she can become beautiful but be unfaithful. The knight can't decide and tells her she can choose. The wife considers this to be the correct answer and says that she will be beautiful and faithful.
  • The Heroes of Olympus series:
    • Percy thinks "June" is trying to put him through one in the beginning of Son of Neptune.
    • Hazel thinks it's a test too - she orders Frank not to fire, because she thought Percy was a god in disguise.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society
    • Kids are told to bring one, only one, Number Two pencil to take the big test, or automatically fail. Outside the test building is a girl begging for help because she dropped her pencil down a sewer grate. Several kids pass the test of character in creative ways, including a girl who reaches into her Bag of Holding for assorted items that enable her to fish the pencil out of the grate, and the protagonist, who breaks his pencil and gives the girl half. As an additional test, the girl then claims to have a cheat sheet, which she offers to share.
  • There is a story where the final road test to get a driver's license takes place in an elaborate simulation. During the test, no matter how well the student drives, even if he makes no mistakes, something will go wrong and he will kill his family. If he passes the test in terms of skill, he's offered his license after exiting the simulation. Accepting the license bars him from driving forever. The problems with this should be fairly obvious.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novels
    • In The Killing Ground, Uriel and Pasanius's third ordeal is to fight Leodegarius, and they are defeated — Pasanius unconscious, and Uriel unable to rise. Uriel tells him to Get It Over With. Whereupon Leodegarius tells him that the ordeal is to lose, because the only way they could have defeated him was the use of warp-based powers. Failure proves they are untainted.
    • Ultramarines seem to like this a lot. In one comic, a group of recruits have a race across the rocky mountain range barefoot, the two that came in last pass because they helped each other finish the race. Space Marines are supposed to work together as brothers.
  • In Philip K. Dick's short story "The Exit Door Leads In", the protagonist turns out to be in a Secret Test Of Character. The title would give this away, but Dick cleverly includes a Title Drop early on that appears to explain it.
  • A Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel features the Real Life Shoot the Dog example outlined below; a young soldier seconded to UNIT from the Marines was forced to do this by her previous commanding officer to be allowed to join the regiment. She admits that she initially felt proud of herself for having the 'character' to belong to the regiment after she did it, but cried herself to sleep later that night. It's used to provide a counterpoint to The Brigadier, a much more humane and honourable soldier, who condemns the test and her previous commanding officer as a bastard.
  • Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novels
    • In Summer Knight, the Gatekeeper urges Dresden to give up because the task is far too large for him; the Council would never send a single wizard to do it. When he refuses to give up, the Gatekeeper promises him his vote. And says had he walked away, the Gatekeeper would have killed on the spot, since it would be the same effect as voting against him—-the Gatekeeper was the tiebreaking vote as to whether or not Dresden would be stripped of his title as a wizard, which would have caused him to be given to the Red Court—to be killed—as a peace offering.
    • A couple more show up in Cold Days.
      • When Harry tries to summon Mother Winter, she yanks him into her domain instead and starts preparing to cut him up for dinner. He figures out how to break her power over him, which was her objective all along. Of course, if he hadn't passed her test, she probably would have eaten him.
      • The other, more long term one has to do with how Harry handles the Mantle of the Winter Knight. When he stares down Mab and threatens to have Demonreach imprison her, she actually shows approval.
      Mab:Finally, a Winter Knight who is worth the trouble.
  • One of these is used on Aviendha in The Wheel of Time series. She thinks she is almost ready to take the test to become a Wise One, but her trainers assign her more and more degrading punishments (well, degrading to an Aiel) for some offense she doesn't even know she committed. She's very reluctant to ask what she did wrong, and when she finally breaks down and asks, it turns out that was the test - a Wise One needs to be able to stand up for herself and deal with other people being unreasonable.
  • In Mickey Zucker Reichert's The Last of the Renshai books, Ra-khir has to pass two of these during his examination for knighthood. First he concedes defeat in a duel, pointing out that he'd been struck a 'killing' blow that his opponent had apparently missed. His testers confirm that this was the right thing to do, as acting honourably is more important than winning. Then, just before he is about to pass the examination, a messenger rushes in and tells him that his estranged mother is threatening to kill herself if he doesn't go to her immediately. Leaving means that he will fail the exam (which lasts for two days nonstop), but he doesn't hesitate to go. The messenger then explains that it was all part of the test, and he is now a knight.
  • In C.S. Goto's Blood Ravens trilogy, Sturnn tells Gabriel that his Imperial Guard forces killed Ultramarines; Gabriel asks why and deduces (after he learns that they were disguised Alpha Legion) that Sturnn told him to find out whether he would just attack or ask questions.
  • In John C. Wright's Titans of Chaos, Amelia is told that if she speaks the word, her people will destroy the world of Saturn, a.k.a. our universe. When she does not speak, they proclaim that despite being raised as a human and thinking as a human, she nevertheless came to the moral conclusion, thereby proving the world.
  • The Fountainhead: Invoked and then rejected. Wynand offers to let Roark build him the house of his dreams, but only if the latter agrees to become the former's personal architect. Roark would have no input into the plans and would have to execute whatever design Wynand has in mind. After Roark tells him no, Wynand backs down, but explicitly says the offer was not a Secret Test Of Character. He badly wanted Roark to give in, because Wynand enjoys making talented, idealistic people betray their principles. Roark points out, however, that he trusted Wynand's morals from the beginning, and was, in effect, testing his character.
  • Robert A. Heinlein was a fan of these. In Space Cadet, the aspiring Space Patrol candidate is given a test where he must drop beans into a small bottle at his feet - with his eyes closed. He's disappointed that he only managed to get one bean, where others had many more. Afterwards, the examiner heavily implies that what they're actually testing is trustworthiness; only the cadets that kept their eyes closed pass. The hero's roommate thinks it's actually a secret test of intelligence, to weed out the cadets who don't figure out that getting a good score would be proof that you cheated; he trusts that there'll be other tests to weed out the dull-but-honest candidates. Of course, he has it backwards—there are other ways to weed out the clever cynics. Although, both interpretations are probably right — cheating in such an obvious manner doesn't say much for one's ethics or intelligence.
  • Another Heinlein example. In Starman Jones, the eponymous character is working on a spaceship in the cargo bay. Ships are run by guilds with very strict entrance rules, so Jones had to use fake paperwork to get on board. When he's being considered for a promotion, he's called to a superior's office. The man has read over his file, which is full of fake posts Jones had supposedly served on before. He asks Jones if it's an accurate accounting. Jones, deciding he's sunk anyway, admits that the whole thing is a pack of lies. The superior informs Jones that he knew that the whole time, and if Jones had tried to lie, he would have thrown him in the brig.
  • In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, when Phaethon points out to Ironjoy that he could eliminate the effects of his punishment on his mind, Ironjoy demands to know if it's some kind of test. Despite his loathing of what he had done (induced by the punishment), he is this person and wants to be no one else.
  • D. C. Poyer and David Andreissen's short story "If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute". A man is chosen to represent Earth in a marathon race with a representative of an alien species. Before the race he's given cocaine by one of the human organizers and told to take it during the race (which is legal under the race's rules). He eventually decides not to and helps the alien when he gets in trouble during the race. He ends up losing, but the alien tells him that he won a greater victory in the aliens' eyes by showing sportsmanship and honor.
  • In Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart, the Oriki try a few on Spock, though he quickly sees what they're doing. One test involves them offering meat, the Oriki being anxious to see if he sticks to his vegetarian ideals or takes the meat so as not to "offend" them. Spock politely remains true to himself, despite potentially insulting the Oriki, and thus passes their test.
  • An unintentional one from the Star Trek novel The Vulcan Academy Murders. A flashback shows Spock's test of manhood, a trek through the Vulcan wilderness during which he was not allowed to speak to or accept help from anyone. During the trek, however, Spock saw that one of the other young men taking the test had fallen and injured himself and would probably die without help. Spock stopped to help, even though doing so meant he would fail his own test. The Vulcan elders ruled that, while it hadn't been an intentional part of the test, Spock's judgement that saving a life was more important than passing a test meant he was ready for manhood, while all of the students who walked by the injured man and didn't help had failed.
  • Don Quixote: Deconstructed in the Novel Within A Novel ''"The Ill-Advised Curiosity"'' where Anselmo asks his best friend Lotario to test the fidelity of his wife, Camila. In any other story before Don Quixote, Lucinda would have passed the test and everyone would have lived Happily Ever After. In the novel, Lucinda and Lotario became lovers ensuring the tragic deaths of the three.
  • Violet Eyes is a retelling of " the Princess and the Pea" wherein nearly all of the 'princess' tests are kept secret (although the prince tells his beloved what they are so she can fake them, as she wasn't raised as a princess) however, in this version, the King and Queen aren't as dumb/ superficial as in the fairy tale, and each of the tests as a hidden, secret test, so that even when the girls are told of the test, they still have no idea what the real test is. For example, one test is to test how 'sensitive' the princesses are, and the girls believe it is based on the pain they feel at loosing a single hair. In reality, the test is how they react to the death of a servant.
  • In The Pale King, applying for the IRS involves listening to a lengthy, mind-numbingly boring presentation. The recruitment office is closely monitored to see how would-be applicants react to the dull, tedious nature of the work.
  • In Brewster's Millions, when Montgomery Brewster told his bride about the seven-million-dollar inheritance his uncle left him, she had initially believed he was testing her love when he proposed to her before telling about the inheritance but he explained he wasn't allowed to tell about it until he reached the age of 26.
  • Hilariously subverted in The Name of the Wind. Kvothe wants Elodin to teach him Naming, and Elodin tells him to jump off a building. Kvothe assumes that this is a Secret Test of Character, and that Elodin will use Naming to stop his fall. Instead he hits the ground and breaks some bones, and Elodin tells him that he is too reckless to learn something as volatile as Naming.
    Elodin: Congratulations. That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Ever.
  • The Idiot features a possible example, because it's left unclear how much (if any) of the proceedings were actually planned by the tester. Nastasya Fillipovna, having heard that Gavrila Ardalionovich would “crawl to Vassilievsky Island for three rubles”, takes a package of ten thousand rubles and throws it in a fire. She tells Gavrila that he can have the money if he'll pull it out of the fire with his bare hands. Gavrila refuses and then faints, so Nastasya grabs the fire tongs, pulls the money out herself, and gives it to Gavrila anyway.
    Nastasya: So his vanity is still greater than his lust for money. [...] I grant him full possession of it as a reward for... well, for whatever!
  • At the end of Destiny's Star by Elizabeth Vaughan, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Wild Magic prepares to teleport Ezren and his girlfriend Bethral home, and offers Ezren a chance to alter reality. Erzen, who had a hard life and has long been ashamed of being short and scrawny compared to Bethral the Action Girl, answers, "Change nothing. Bethral loves me as I am, and those events made me as I am now. Change nothing." The Wild Magic calls him wise and says he made the right choice, then returns them safely.
  • Described in the Frederick Forsyth novel Icon:
    (General-of-Police Valentin) Petrovsky then ran a series of covert will-they-take-a-bribe tests on some of the senior investigators. Those who told the bribe offerers to get lost received promotions and big pay hikes.
  • In the Leo Tolstoy fable "The Raven and his Young," a raven carries each of his children across the ocean from an island to the mainland. Midway, he asks each son whether he will feed and carry his father when he's too old to fly. The first two sons say they will and the father drops them in the ocean. The third one says he won't because he'll have his own children to feed and carry. The father says this is the right answer and takes the last son to the mainland.
  • In the German novel Liegen lernen, a history professor looking for a new assistant asks several applicants to define history. Some of them try and fail ("history means... written down events..." - "That's historiography!"), while the protagonist sits there and says nothing. When the professor demands a definition from him, he feigns ignorance, stating that even the greatest minds haven't agreed on what history actually means. Which is exactly the answer the prof wanted. (And the protagonist had help from a woman who wanted him to get the job.)
  • In The Odyssey, one of the purposes of Odysseus pretending to be an old beggar on his return to Ithaca is to test the character of his servants. The way they treat the beggar and talk about Odysseus and Penelope enables him to determine whom to use as allies in the final battle and who will be punished (i. e. killed). He even tries to warn one of the suitors who behaves decently to the beggar.
  • In A Desert Called Peace, in reaction to a surprise attack by the Sumeri army, Manuel Rocabertinote  runs away in fear from the unit he was supposed to lead. When the fight is over he's brought before Dux Parilla and Carrera. Parilla asks what to do with a Private from Rocaberti's century that had ran away in the attack. Assuming that the Private was the only other survivor, Rocaberti says to execute the Private, in order to conceal his own cowardice. Parilla was actually giving Rocaberti one last chance to admit he ran away. Having failed the test, Rocaberti himself was executed for cowardice in the face of the enemy.
  • In the Alistair MacLean novel The Satan Bug, the Private Detective hero Pierre Cavell is approached by a shifty character who claims to be "Henry Martin" from the Council for World Peace. He tries to pay Cavell a rather large amount of money to smuggle a vaccine he claims was stolen from the Mordon Microbiological Research Establishment. After the deal is concluded, Cavell pulls a gun on the man, revealing that he suspects the "vaccine" is actually a virus, and furthermore that he knows Henry Martin, who looks nothing like him, and that he intends on turning him over to the police along with the pilfered virus. Enter Superintendent Hardanger and Major-General Cliveden to reveal the whole deal was a test to see whether Cavell could be bought, the fake Martin is a police inspector, and the "virus" is a fake, too.
  • In The Privateer, General Scaragoglu assigns Commander Raeder and his group of ersatz pirates to train for their infiltration under a professional spook. After the spook injures one of Raeder's men as an object lesson in when they should and should not take off their spacesuit helmets after breaching an airlock, Raeder hits the roof and threatens to resign his commission. Turned out Scaragoglu wanted to see how much Raeder cared for his subordinates, and the commander passed with flying colors.
  • A minor example from Eldest, the second book in The Inheritance Cycle. Eragon begins his first lesson with his mentor by sitting across from him, doing nothing. After twenty minutes of silence, his instructor says he's glad to see that Eragon has already learned how to be patient.
  • In Don Pendleton's "Mack Bolan" series, in one of the early books, Mack is infultrating a crime ring. One of the mob bosses takes him in to a hallway and tells him to wait for further instructions, then leaves. Within a few minutes, an attractive woman approaches Mack and offers him sex. After Mack refuses, the mob boss returns and tells him he's passed the test.
  • In the WarCraft novel WarCraft:Lord of the Clans, two of these on Thrall. The first being to test whether Thrall was both humble enough to not demand to be treated by his brethren like their superior by birthright, and [[Proud Warrior Race Guy proud enough not to be treated like a slave]]. The second was to test Thrall and show Orgrim Doomhammer whether or not the young shaman had the will and fortitude to free their orc brethren from the interment camps.

    Live Action TV 
  • This is how The A-Team frequently chooses their clients. It usually goes like this: Client has problem. Client tries to contact A-Team and doesn't seem to be having any luck. Client meets someone who offers them a chance to gain something in a rather unethical way. Client refuses. Person reveals himself to be Hannibal Smith in disguise, and agrees to take the case. Happened way more often in the earlier episodes. Somewhat toned down as time went by. Not that it wasn't done well, mind you.
  • Carter goes through one of these in an early episode of ER. While he was interviewed for the surgeon position he was told to tie a knot through a magnetized paperclip in the bottom of a metallic cup - apparently symbolizing sewing around a vein. Lifting the paper-clip from the bottom of the cup symbolized severing the vein. After a half-dozen failures, they ask him what he would have done if this were an actual operation. He answered that he would fix the damage and move on. They accept this and tell Carter that it is fact impossible to do what they asked him to do. However, they liked his answer and that he kept his cool during his "failures".
  • NewsRadio had the folllowing scene between Dave and Mr. James:
    Dave: I wanted to let you know that I understand now that what you put me through today was a test.
    Jimmy: Could be. Or, could be I'm just making it all up as I go along.
    Dave: Which is it?
    Jimmy: You'll never know.
  • On Big Brother Australia, one weekly task involved pretending to be police. They had to run the assault course twice. They were told that they would pass the test if the time of their second run was greater than that for their first. When they were quicker the second time around, they failed. They were then informed of the original instructions, they had to go slower on their second run. This was a test to see if they fully understood their instructions, and did not confuse a greater time (being a larger amount of time, or a longer time) with a better time (being a shorter time achieved by a faster rate).
  • LOST pulls a subversion, when the Others bring Locke his own father, who was responsible for his parapalegic injuries, and instruct Locke to kill him. When Locke decides it's a secret test and refuses, the Others turn away, disgusted that he failed the task.
    • Locke ends up getting back in their good graces by taking a third option and allowing Sawyer to do it for him, and taking the credit by bringing the body back to the Others' camp.
    • Actually, the only way Ben said he'd be allowed back was if he brought his father's body back. Ben never said that John had to kill him.
  • Used in various forms throughout the Star Trek series:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series
      • In the episode "Arena", Kirk passed a Secret Test of Character by refusing to kill his Gorn adversary. This happens all the time in Star Trek: "The Corbomite Maneuver", "Specter of the Gun" and "The Empath," to name a few.
      • Errand of Mercy had an example that Kirk failed; right along with the Klingons, it should be noted.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation
      • Both Worf and Picard challenge Ensign Sito to Secret Tests of Character in the episode "Lower Decks." Picard has been judging Sito's failure unfairly, but she doesn't stand up for herself. Worf helps her along by giving her a martial arts examination in which she's instructed to defend herself while blind. She eventually objects to the test's unfairness. Worf reveals that this was the true nature of the test and implies that she should give the same response to Picard.
      • In "A Matter of Honor", the episode puts Commander Riker (as part of a "Officer Exchange Program") on a Klingon vessel. Long story short, because of space barnacles (again, they used fancier terms), the Klingon captain thinks the Enterprise is out to destroy them and demands that Riker tell them anything that could be used to help destroy the Enterprise. Riker refuses, citing his oath to Starfleet, as well as his oath to Captain Picard. The Klingon captain (after several seconds of bristling anger), points out that, if Riker had said anything, he would be considered both a traitor (to Starfleet) and too cowardly to serve on the vessel, and thus promptly killed. Moral lesson: never volunteer for the Klingon Officer Exchange Program.
      • In a more humorous example from the same episode, his Klingon shipmates test his reaction to two female Klingons openly flirting with him in the ship's mess. Riker passes with style that would make James T. Kirk proud:
      Klingon Officer: They want to know how you would endure.
      Riker: Endure what?
      Klingon Officer: Them.
      Riker: (After an appraising look at the females) One, or both?
      • In "Coming of Age", Wesley wrings his hands over a certain portion of the Academy entrance exam where he'll have to face his worst fear. (Starfleet informally calls this the "Shock Test".) Right before the exam is supposed to start, he hears an explosion coming from another room; he's only able to save one occupant. Of course, the test was to see if he could make such decisions. It should be noted that Wesley's father died in this exact scenario and that the test places him in Picard's shoes when he wasn't able to save Wesley's father. Pretty sadistic actually. (Although, this was not a Sadistic Choice because it was obvious which man Wesley had to save – he was only able to save the injured one. The test was to see whether he could muster the courage to even act.) Another interpretation is that Wesley failing the entrance exam the first time was his greatest fear — that of failure. Mainly to see if he has the persistence and belief in himself to re-apply. (Picard admitting to him that he failed it the first time probably helped a great deal.)
      • Troi takes a similar bridge officer's test in "Thine Own Self", in which the only way to save the ship is to send Geordi to his death. She mistakes it for a test of technical knowledge at first, then realizes it's to see if she can make the best decisions for the good of the ship.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Inquisition", has one of these, where Bashir was covertly put into a holodeck simulation to see if he was a spy, by Section 31. Subverted slightly in that Bashir didn't so much prove his innocence as spot a flaw in the program which exposed the ruse, but his performance was good enough that they figured he was on the level anyway. He was offered a position in the organization as a result, which he vehemently declined, though they left the offer open should he ever change his mind.
    • A Voyager episode had a brainwashed Chakotay giving Tuvok a phaser and asking him to shoot the captain. Tuvok shot her without hesitation, but the phaser didn't work. He later rationalized that Chakotay wouldn't give someone of questionable loyalty an active weapon, though Janeway didn't seem convinced.
  • An episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years featured Zack & company in an ethics class, in which the first session involved the professor stating that only half of the class would pass. After being a hardass all semester and playing up the difficult final, the professor releases the real final as a Secret Test of Character by dropping copies of what look like answer keys. Between Zack's discovery of a fake "key" and The Reveal, Hilarity Ensues. Zack points out the professor's own behavior was unethical, and he admitted Zack may have a point but he wanted to use to whole thing to get the class to be seriously thinking about and have a real discussion of ethics which they start on as the episode ends. Most interesting perhaps is that Zack decided for once that cheating would be wrong.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Episode "Thor's Chariot". The Asgard use a holographic series of puzzles to determine if the Cimmerians were advanced enough to meet them. They had outside help, but there was also a test of character, which showed in their actions when one of them was dangling over a chasm.
    • The 'foothold situation' in "Proving Ground," and 'the radiation attack' on the stargate that tests Lt. Elliott's ability to not leave a man behind.
    • When Vala is being considered for the SGC, she is approached by the IOA. They offer to ease her entry in return for her spying on the SGC. It was, of course, a Secret Test of Character, as the SGC has to be able to count on the loyalty of its people.
  • An episode of the The George Lopez Show has the manager forcing George to fire one of the two teams he's in charge of. One of them has his mom on it, but he fires that team anyway since the other team has been working better. Turns out the manager was merely testing if he'd fire his mom.
  • Used quite often in Who Wants to Be a Superhero?:
    • In the first episode, prospective superheroes are challenged to change to their secret identity without being seen and then race to the finish line. However, right before the finish there's a little girl, crying that she's lost and can't find her mommy; the true test is to see who would stop and help the little girl. (Only four of the ten contestants actually did.)
    • The third episode pulls the same trick again, by asking the contestants to each choose a contestant that they would eliminate, and then explain why. In truth, this was a test of self-sacrifice; the correct response to the question was for each contestant to nominate him- or herself to be eliminated. Four of the six remaining prospective heroes passed this test.
    • The second season had a scenario where the heroes are stopped by an adoring fan who wants a picture while they are supposed to be on a mission. The lesson was "humility".
  • An episode of Will and Grace had Will take a job at a very prestigious law firm. The senior partner then ordered Will to defeat Grace in arbitration. Will obeys, but then immediately quits the job, saying that he can't work for a firm that would require him to betray his friend. The partner then pays Grace the money she was owed and gives Will a promotion, saying that he has all the coldhearted bastards that he needs.
  • In the Taxi episode "The Wedding of Latka and Simka", the lovers undergo an old-world ceremony per their religion. It climaxes with a question-and-answer test. The final question asks Latka: if a charging boar were going to attack Simka and a baby, and he could only save one, who would he choose? He chooses Simka, but is informed it was the wrong answer; thus, they cannot wed. Simka announces she will marry Latka even if they must defy their religion, and the reverend reveals that they have passed the real test - she's proven how much they truly love each other by putting that above all, and thus are worthy of marriage.
  • An episode of Perfect Strangers had a similar situation, where Balki puts his cousin Larry and his fiancee through a series of ludicrous trials as a "Mepeot Marriage Test" to test if they are romantically compatible. Once the two have gone through this torture, Balki announces that the tests show they are completely incompatible, and their marriage is doomed to failure, to which they say Screw Destiny, they're getting married anyway and they'll make it work. Balki's response? "Congratulations. You passed the Mepeot Marriage Test with flying colors."
  • An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch featured Sabrina and her twin Katrina, who are informed that one of any given pair of twin witches is good and one is evil. After it is determined which is which, the good twin must push the evil one into an active volcano - one of the few ways to destroy a witch, according to the episode. After various tests, Katrina is chosen as the good twin, and when they get to the volcano, she pushes Sabrina in without a second thought. Oops, turns out that was the final test, and Katrina just failed. (Fortunately for Sabrina, she managed to grab the rocky ledge on the way down.) And it turns out they were lying about the whole "lava being fatal to witches" thing, too. It also noted that this was the first time the one considered the good twin ever pushed off the bad twin, though one of Sabrina's aunts did come close to doing it.
  • The magician Derren Brown once did a TV special where at the end of the episode, a volunteer would load one bullet into a revolver and Derren would predict which slot was used, firing five (hopefully empty shots) at his head and the bullet into the wall. The episode up to this point consisted of multiple secret tests of character to narrow the volunteers down to someone with the right mentality such that he was confident of pulling this off. For example, when the group was invited into an auditorium, the whole front row was dismissed for being too eager, later on they were split into groups of three and asked to vote one person out - that person went through to the next round.
  • Babylon 5:
    • When Lyta accepts Ambassador G'Kar's invitation to help the Narns get a hand on the telepath gene years after he had asked (and after which he had done a full Heel-Face Turn). G'Kar answered that he had to add another request to her list: That she and her fellow telepaths would be willing to spy on the other ambassadors. She refuses, starts to move away and G'Kar stops her and inform her that that was his last test. Had she answered yes, he could never trust her.
    • G'Kar has been on a receiving end of such a test himself. In one scene in "Comes the Inquisitor", Garibaldi found out that G'Kar was smuggling weapons for the Narn Resistance through the station. So he confronts G'Kar. G'Kar, knowing that Garibaldi would never confront someone without proof, decides to save time by admitting it outright. Garibaldi rewards his honesty by providing an alternate way to smuggle weapons without involving Babylon 5 in it. When G'Kar asks why, Garibaldi replies:
    "Like you said, I never start a conversation unless I know where it's going, but I always leave a little room for someone to disappoint me. Thanks for not doing so."
    • Played with in the main plot of "Comes The Inquisitor". Delenn is told that the Vorlon are sending an Inquisitor to the station to test her resolve for the coming war. The Inquisitor turns out to be an apparently psychotic sadist who tortures her while telling her how worthless she is. Eventually, Sheridan comes in to stop it, and the Inquisitor turns around and starts torturing Sheridan instead. Delenn, full of righteous indignation, demands that the Inquisitor stop, and let her die in Sheridan's place. Sheridan likewise says that he'll die in her place. The Inquisitor informs them that they have passed the test. The Vorlon didn't want a pair of glory hounds, drunk on the power they would have being leaders in the coming war. They proved that they were ready to die, alone and in the dark, without anyone ever knowing of their sacrifice.
  • During a second-season episode of The Mighty Boosh, Rudi gives his long-time partner Spider tickets to Rio de Janeiro and backstage passes to a Carlos Santana concert. When Spider refuses, and rips up the tickets, Rudi reveals that it was just a test. Parodied in a season one episode, where the tests involve returning a magic flute ("Many men would've kept the flute, for it is worth well over thirty-five Euros.") and not kissing Rudi's balls when he asks. ("Many men would've kissed my balls, for they are worth....")
  • In Heroes, Hiro and Ando are searching for Usutu, an African who can see the future. The problem, obviously, is that Usutu knew they were coming and kept whacking Hiro with a shovel. Hiro finally decides that Usutu would be unable to handle two guys at once, at which point Usutu lets them get him, because Hiro decided to use his head instead of relying on his powers.
  • In the reality TV series, Rebel Billionaire, the first episode featured the contestants moving from their hotels to Richard Branson's home, with Richard Branson himself posing as the limo driver. Several of the contestants helped Branson load their luggage, and were very polite to him. Others, well... weren't. When Branson revealed himself, the polite people had a good laugh. The ones that weren't had the expected reaction. Branson picked the two contestants who were (in his opinion) the worst of the lot, and they were removed from the show. Two contestants down, and it was only fifteen minutes into the first episode.
    • And in the end the 2 finalists were 2 of the people who failed the test.
  • In The West Wing, the treatment that Will Bailey was subject to when he started working with the President's senior staff seemed to be a mixture of this trope (in order to determine whether he was of suitable stuff to work in the West Wing) and hazing, to the extent that it was frequently difficult to see where one ended and the other began. In one example, he was tricked into attending a meeting alone with the President to see whether he would 'tell the truth to power' and was considered to have failed in that he ended up stammering nervously for a few moments and then excusing himself in embarrassment. Will, who was under the assumption that his current post was a glorified temp job at the time and that he'd mistakenly been ushered unprepared and alone into the Oval Office with the President, responded to this particular example with understandable resentment at being tricked and humiliated, and to the rest with a mixture of firm resolve and paranoia (since he never knew when he was being tested and when he was being pranked).
  • One first season episode of Merlin ("The Labryinth of Gedref") has Arthur required to pass some tests to remove a curse on Camelot caused by Arthur's arrogant killing of a unicorn. The last test is that he is told he and Merlin have to each drink from a cup, one of which holds poison. He passes by distracting Merlin, pouring one cup into the other and drinking both, thus sacrificing himself. By being willing to sacrifice his own life to save another, Arthur proves his true moral fibre, something that would only absolve him for having taken the life of a creature so pure and innocent.
  • The reality show True Beauty runs on this trope: it's a reality show that made its contestants think it's a Next Top Model rip-off, but it judged their "inner beauty".
  • This seems to be Robbie Ray's default method of parenting in Hannah Montana. He routinely gives his kids enough rope to either prove themselves, or hang themselves. In the former case he's proud, in the latter he's usually ready with either an embarrassing punishment (like announcing to all of Miley's friends who think she can drive that he's dropping her off because she failed her driving test), a heartfelt speech containing the word 'bud', or a new, and suspiciously plot-relevant song.
  • On The IT Crowd, Douglas uses this as an excuse to pretend that his painfully obvious and feeble attempts at trying to seduce Jen after making her his assistant, which she has rejected at every turn, are one of these to prove that she really does want her job and doesn't just want to sleep her way up the ladder. Relieved, Jen takes the opportunity to explain — at length — that Douglas really isn't her type. Douglas isn't pleased.
  • In The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg, Prince Garrett undergoes a trial by combat to prove himself as the Fifth Knight. When he is overwhelmed by multiple opponents he cries for help and ends the trial. Thinking he has failed, the Fairy King reveals to him that pride is his greatest weakness, and that a display of humility was what was required to pass the trial.
  • Used in Smallville when Clark meets Lois' dad for the first time since he and Lois got together. He acts like a complete asshole and has an insane list of things that Clark needs to do in order to prove his love for her. Clark completes the task to the letter thanks to his powers, but the general is still not satisfied. He leaves and orders Lois to follow him. Lois explodes and demands that her father must respect the man she is in love with. Turns out the real test was on Lois, since her dad figured that if she let him treat her boyfriend like that, like she had with her earlier boyfriends, then it meant that she didn't really love him.
  • Farscape has one in "Look At The Princess" with a rather different moral than the usual. You pass the test by getting pissed and trying to kill the arsehole who claims to be tormenting you for the good of the universe.
    • Technically, Kahaynu, Moya's creator, was testing Zhaan to see if she would protect Moya from exploitation (ie, being used to breed an army of gunships to terrorize the galaxy.) Zhaan just demonstrated her devotion by going a little homocidal on him.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place
    • In the story arc between the end of season 3 and the beginning of season 4 of , FBI agents nab the Russos and place them in an interrogation area, after it is revealed that they were spying on them for being wizards. They escape, but not before Justin, under duress and being convinced that the agents want them to track down aliens, reveals magic to the agents. Alex does the same later to reporters in an attempt to bring peace. It is later revealed that Professor Crumbs conjured up the agents and reporters to test the Russos' character. As both Alex and Justin failed by revealing magic, both are demoted to Level 1 status as wizards after a Kangaroo Court trial, while Max, who gave the agents incomprehensible answers, improbably takes the lead by default in the wizard competition, to everyone's shock and frustration.
    • Professor Crumbs seems fond of this. in the Series Finale, the Wizard Competition is "interrupted" by Alex accidentally letting a dragon out of a storage unit that she was to have plucked a body part for to make a potion. It snatches Harper and Zeke, who were accidentally transported to the Wizard world, to its lair atop a mountain. Crumbs gives the Russos a strict time period to rescue Harper and Zeke, which they must follow lest they lose the competition and their powers. The three rescue Harper and Zeke, but not in time. They learn they are disqualified and the Wizard World was abandoned, and they must turn in their wands. The three Russos must learn to live without their powers and live a normal life working at the sandwich stop. Justin and Max blame Alex for making them late getting back, which complicates matters in the shop as they take their frustrations out on Alex, scaring customers in the process. Their parents close the shop as a result of the bickering, all three of them are in despair and are further divided, but then they reconcile, learn to work with each other, and the shop re-opens, making more money. Eventually, they are whisked back to the Wizarding world, finding out that Professor Crumbs was testing their character and family bonds in such a scenario, and everything returns to normal.
  • In the last episode of Total Recall 2070, Farve's creator simulates an attack by good guys over a communications failure to force Farve to choose between self-preservation and greater good. Farve succeeds, but his creator itself admits it would have failed.
  • This is one interpretation of The Booth at the End. People who decide not to follow through on morally reprehensible tasks tend to get what they wanted anyway.
  • On an episode of The Mentalist, Bosco has Jane jailed for wiretapping his office, so Rigsby and Cho come to him and beg him to drop the charges. Bosco says he will...if they agree to do an illegal favor of an unspecified nature for him at some future date. When they agree, he tells them that their willingness to bend or even break the law in order to get things done is evidence of the corrosive effect Jane's Cowboy Cop antics are having on their team and simply proves that Jane needs to be removed for the good of the CBI as a whole.
  • In the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Dry Run," Art (Robert Vaughn), a small-time crook looking to join The Mafia, is assigned to prove himself by assassinating mob associate Moran (Walter Matthau) while pretending to deliver Moran's cut of some loot. Moran, however, persuades him to instead assassinate the boss (David White of Bewitched), in exchange for $10,000 and becoming The Dragon in Moran's new outfit. In the end, it's revealed that there was no hit on Moran (the gun the boss gave Art wasn't loaded) and Moran's offer was just test of Art's loyalty to the boss. Moran gloatingly reveals this to Art before blowing him away.
  • Angel. Wesley abducts Angel's son Connor (as a result of a false prophecy saying that Angel will kill the child) only to be betrayed and left for dead by vampire-killing vigilante Justine. As a result he's thrown out of Angel Investigations, so evil law firm Wolfram & Hart starts checking Wes out as a possible recruit. Attorney Lilah Morgan sets up Justine to be killed by vampires and invites Wesley to watch.
    Wes: You really don't know the first thing about me, do you? (starts to walk away)
    Lilah: Probably not. [beat] Like, will he go straight to his car, or will he stop to warn her first?
    (Wes stops, but doesn't turn or speak.)
    Lilah: He has to think about it. That's good. That's all I really needed to know. (Turns away from him) You can go.
    Wes: A test, Lilah?
    Lilah: Oh, don't look so grim. I just needed to know whether or not I was wasting my time.
  • The basis behind Red's Parental Marriage Veto against Eric and Donna in That '70s Show. He didn't intend it as a test, but he was impressed by the way Eric held firm no matter what Red did to break up the engagement.
  • Served as Book Ends to Power Rangers S.P.D. - at the beginning of the series, Commander Cruger asks Sky if he would follow Bridge or Syd if Cruger appointed them Red Ranger of B-Squad. Sky, who had dreamed of being a Red Ranger like his father, arrogantly dismisses both of his teammates as incapable of leading anything. This causes Cruger to assign Sky as Blue Ranger and recruit Rookie Red Ranger Jack. At the end of the series, Jack quits S.P.D. and Cruger asks Sky the same question as before. This time Sky states he would follow whoever Cruger believed was worthy of wearing the color red, which is proof to Cruger that Sky is now ready to be the Red Ranger.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang", Rory asks the Doctor to help bring Amy back to life. The Doctor can, and he would, except A, Rory's nothing but a lump of plastic with delusions of being human, so he wouldn't really care if Amy is alive or dead. And B, the whole of existence has just been wiped out; "Rory's" girlfriend is not as important as the entire universe—
    Doctor: Haha! Welcome back, Rory Williams!
  • In an episode of Aaron Stone, Charlie (aka Aaron) was assigned a partner whom he witnessed stealing money. He didn't tell or let on that he knew. She then did it a second time and this time he told the boss. The boss told him that it was a test. Charlie wasn't impressed and stated point blank that he wondered if a guy who would test someone's trustworthiness through deception and manipulation could himself be trusted.
  • An episode of Empty Nest had a new doctor joining the staff of Harry Weston's office. Two other doctors decided to prank her by telling her that they had a bet going and asking her to chip in $20. After handing him the money, she asked what the bet was about only to be told it was "whether we can con you out of $20". Their laughing is abruptly halted when she informs them that they owe HER $20, because, "I just gave you a dry-cleaning coupon", quickly proving herself to be a savvy person not to be messed with.
  • One episode of Community had Pierce pretend to be dying and bequeath gifts to the other study group members. He gives Annie a tiara and she spends the rest of the episode trying to figure out the riddle behind it. Near the end, she gives Pierce a long, complicated answer to what she thinks the hidden meaning is and Pierce congratulates her and tells her she passed. After Annie leaves, Pierce subverts the trope by admitting that he gave it to her because she's his favorite.
  • In The Knights of Prosperity one step in the Knights' plan to rob Mick Jaggar is for one of them to get a job at a security company. The Knight who applies is given a test run, being asked to deliver a large (but not huge) amount of money from point A to point B within a certain amount of time. The Knights consider keeping the money and ending their long-term plan but end up delivering the package. Turns out that delivering the package intact and on time is a test used by the security firm to see if an applicant is trustworthy. (The package actually contains nothing of value, just in case the applicant decides to steal it.)
  • One episode of Doctors had a plotline about a group of church ladies planning to welcome the new vicar. Shortly before he was due to arrive, a homeless man with drug issues came into the church, seeking shelter. While one of the other ladies insisted on sending him somewhere else, Mrs. Tembe took pity on him and let him stay as long as he wanted, and gave him some of the food they had made for the vicar. In the end, the homeless man decided it was getting rather warm and removed his coat and scarf... revealing that he was the vicar all along, and wanted to see what his parisioners were really like.
  • Used in the Arabian Nights miniseries, where the test is (supposed to be) shooting an apple off someone's head while blindfolded. The hero refuses to endanger the person and is told by the challenger that he had passed an essential test of character and won the challenge.
  • In the first episode of Kung Fu, young Caine and three other boys are brought into the temple as potential students and put before Master Kan, the head of the temple. Each is given a small cup of tea and Kan gestures for them to drink. The other three drank and were immediately dismissed. It turns out proper Chinese etiquette is to let your elders drink first.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Turn Turn Turn", HYDRA begins an uprising within S.H.I.E.L.D. One high-ranking Agent corners Simmons and Triplett, claiming to be HYDRA and offering them the chance to join or die. When they refuse, they're told "Right answer. The number of people I trust is now seven."
  • In the miniseries Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, Ian Fleming learns of a "K Protocol" while undergoing commando training, the details of which are kept secret from him. Later in the episode, Fleming's boss hands him a pistol and tells him to go into a nearby building and shoot the man in a specific room - "K" as it turns out stands for killing. Fleming sneaks into the room but finds himself unable to pull the trigger. In an inversion of this trope, Fleming really does fail the test because of this - secret agents are expected to carry out assassinations, after all.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Snow wants to give Regina (The Evil Queen) a second chance. To test her and see if she still has some good in her, Snow and Charming give Regina a knife which was enchanted by Rumplestiltskin. Not surprisingly, Regina tries to kill Snow and fails so is banished

    Music 

    Mythology 
  • One Chinese folktale tells of an Emperor who had no children, and wanted to pass on the throne to someone worthy. So he sent every child in the kingdom a seed to grow, telling him that he would judge the flowers that they grew after one year to pick an heir. One little peasant boy cared for his seed extensively, getting it the best soil and sunlight, but no matter what he did, it didn't grow. Finally, at the end of the year, he went to the palace with his empty pot and was sure that he would lose, since the flowers that the other children had were all magnificent and beautiful, while he had nothing. However, when the Emperor came to his pot, and the boy tried to explain that he had tried to do the best for his seed but it still had not grown, the Emperor stopped and declared him to be the winner. Turns out, all the seeds that he had given to the children were cooked, and would never grow, but only this little boy had the courage and honesty to not replace it with a live seed and admit that he may have done something wrong. The Aesop, of course, is that honesty is required in a leader, even if the consequences may be humiliation or loss of face. The tale was adapted into the children's book The Empty Pot by Demi.
    • This story also appeared as a training test given to young Usagi by his teacher Katsuichi in Usagi Yojimbo.
  • The Arthurian romance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a spoof of this, as The Hero doesn't pass the test but is told it's unreasonable to expect anyone in Real Life to be noble enough to choose doing the right thing over saving his own life anyway.
    • An alternate reading could suggest that the hero almost, but not quite, passes the test. The Aesop was that virtue and right came before courtesy and manners.
    • For those not familiar: while waiting for the day when he must let the Green Knight strike at his neck, Gawain stays at a castle where the lady gives him gifts, on the condition that he give the Green Knight the same gifts when he returns. He does so, except for the last gift, a garter that she says will make him invincible. When the time comes, the Green Knight deliberately stops short twice (for the first two gifts Gawain did indeed return) then gives him a small nick for the last one. Gawain's deep contrition at this failure, by accepting the gift, is indeed treated with some humor.
    • Gawain doesn't know that he's staying with the Green Knight, and his host's wife gives him flowers on the first day, a kiss on the second, etc, both of which he happily passes on to her husband without telling where he got them.
    • Many versions of the story also claim that she attempts to seduce him. Gawain refuses to betray his host by accepting her advances (which would be one of the worst violations of a knight's code of chivalry) so he passes the test for the most part, the girdle being the only flaw.
    • There's a second story about Gawain that features this trope: Ragnell, a hideous hag of a woman, comes to court and demands a favor of Arthur, who agrees. The favor turns out to be marriage to Sir Gawain, who rather reluctantly goes along with Arthur's wishes. After the wedding, Gawain and Ragnell return to their chambers. Suddenly, Ragnell the hag transforms into her true form, that of a beautiful maiden. She gives Gawain a choice: either she can be beautiful during the day and hideous at night, or vice-versa. He returns the choice to her; this was the correct answer all along, and since it proves his chivalry and respect for her, she can remain in her beautiful form all the time. A variation of this tale appears as "The Wife Of Bath's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales.
  • An illustrated riddle book told of two people suspected for a crime each being given a stick and told that they were magical sticks that would grow longer overnight when in the possession of a criminal. The riddle question was: why was the person with the shorter stick arrested for the crime the next morning? The answer: The sticks were not magical, but the guilty person, not knowing this, had cut off part of his stick, while the innocent one didn't bother tampering with his own because he knew he had nothing to fear.
    • A similar story tells of a farmer whose chickens are being stolen, and he knows one of his two hired hands is guilty, so he confronts them and says he'll give them a foolproof test; a black chicken in a box who's a natural lie detector (it will crow loudly when the thief touches it). Reach in there and touch the chicken, the farmer says, and I'll know who's the thief. The first man reaches into the box, then withdraws his hands without a mark on them. The second reaches in, and his hands come out stained black. The chicken doesn't crow either time. But the bird was actually white, with soot sprinkled on it; and the farmer knows the first man is the thief, because only a guilty man would be afraid to test his honesty.
    • And yet ANOTHER variant, from EC comics, at least three short stories (and perhaps even in a book in an Elder Scrolls game), there's an unsolved locked room murder, with only three people who possibly could have done it, but there's no evidence to convict anyone, and they all go free. Sometime later, the deceased's father holds a memorial dinner and invites the three. After dinner, he plops a glass of liquid down and proclaims that he's figured out the murderer's identity, and poisoned his food. The glass contains the antidote. One of the three gulps it down...and collapses, gasping and twitching. The father had no idea who the killer was; the "antidote" was the poison. Most versions of this story have a Cruel Twist Ending where the man who drank the poison wasn't the killer, he just panicked... and sees one of the other two smirking at him as he dies. The Elder Scrolls story is a subversion—it's a test given by a noble to find The Mole, but everyone at the table is guilty—including the narrator. The victim just panicked before the others.
  • In Chinese legend, a magistrate is called in when two identical brides show up at the wedding, and he makes a "bridge of marriage" out of cloth to determine who gets to marry by crossing it. One cries and says she can't, the other crosses, and the magistrate uses his seal of office and a net to catch her as a fox spirit, since no ordinary woman could cross that bridge.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Similar to the above, Prince Valiant had a case where King Arthur judged between two men by telling them that one of two goblets would refill itself if an innocent man drank from it. The guilty man was the one whose cup was still full—the innocent man drank, while the guilty one only pretended to.

    Poetry 
  • Christina Rossetti's poem "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" tells the story of a woman who turns away an old woman, and old man, and a child when each one comes to her door asking for charity. The fourth visitor is Jesus, who tells her,
    Three times I stood beseeching at thy gate,
    Three times I came to bless thy soul and save:
    But now I come to judge for what I gave,
    And now at length thy sorrow is too late.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Guardians of the Veil (a sort of wizard intelligence agency) in White Wolf's Mage: The Awakening have a series of moral tests for prospective members. They are told to do a series of more and more morally questionable actions. In the final test they are asked to do something completely reprehensible. If they obey, they are refused membership and monitored from then on as a potential risk. If they refuse, they are granted membership. The Guardians don't want mindless drones; they want strong-willed individuals who will do what is right.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Dungeon Masters are notorious for doing this to their players playing Paladins, who lose their powers and have to undergo an arduous atonement if they act outside of their code.
    • In 4e canon there is a group called the Sable Lancers that use this on potential recruits (often without their knowledge). The potential recruits are hired to carry a chest to a nearby town, with the stipulation that they not look inside it. Along the way they encounter several moral dilemmas, such as a woman whose child was carried off by goblins, two wagons crashing on a bridge, and an unconscious man in a ditch with a large sum of money on him. If the characters ignore the problems or fail to complete them satisfactorily, they fail. It goes without saying that if they look in the chest, they fail.
    • Module OA5 Mad Monkey vs. Dragon Claw. When the PCs enter Hu Sen's cave to take their final test, they see an illusion of the dead bodies of each PC who entered the cave before them. It's intended to scare them and make them retreat if they aren't mentally strong enough.
    • One well-circulated example of this that went Off the Rails is "the Story of Noh" (NSFW due to Rule 34). A DM presented the players with a magical mail shirt and sword on a stand next to an adorable little girl, who was a spiritual construct programmed to respond to any questions with either "No" or "Please do not take this sword." It was supposed to be a test of the party's worthiness and so forth, but the players weren't sure what to do with her, so the Bard played a song, rolling high enough that the DM let the construct shed a Single Tear. The adventuring party proceeded to take the girl along with them, arguing over who got to carry her, grabbing the magic items for her to hold so she wouldn't keep trying to go back to them, and naming her Noh after her response when they asked what her name was. The DM had planned beforehand that one of the party's magic items would get a spirit bound to it as a reward, and after this episode made the obvious choice.

    Theater 
  • Richard Strauss' fairy-tale opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow) The daughter of Keikobad, king of the spirits, has married the Emperor, a mortal man, but has to gain a shadow (that is, the ability to bear children) or the Emperor will turn to stone. She tries to con a human woman to sell her shadow, but in the end, although the Emperor is turning to stone before her eyes, she will not take the woman's shadow, having seen what misery this will bring the woman and her husband. She then gets her own shadow and the Emperor turns back to flesh and blood.
  • In Rossini's La Cenerentola (his version of the Cinderella story), there are two secret tests of character for Cenerentola and her family:
    • The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince's tutor, Alidoro. Alidoro visits the house of the three sisters disguised as a beggar; the stepsisters send him away, and only Cenerentola is kind to him. He rewards her later by giving her a dress and making it possible for her to attend the prince's ball.
    • Also, the prince and his valet Dandini have exchanged identities so that they can observe the true characters of the women vying for the prince's hand. At one point, the "prince" (Dandini) offers to let one of the stepsisters marry his "servant" (the real prince), and they recoil in horror. Cenerentola, on the other hand, turns down an offer from the "prince" on the grounds that she's in love with his "servant."
  • In the oddly-named play The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a cunning judge asks two women who both claim to be the rightful mother of a child to pull against each other on the child's arms. The birth mother pulls hard, the foster mother lets go so as not to harm the child, demonstrating that she is the worthier mother. The story is presumably based on the Wisdom of Solomon story.

    Video Games 
  • In Breath of Fire II, there is a point where Ryu has to undergo a test to earn the Infinity/Anfini power to defeat the game's Big Bad. The one trial is that he must sacrifice just one of his "most faithful" companions for the power. To pass, he must pick "no one" and stick to it until the very end... despite the fact that it's intimated that you will bite it if one of your party members don't, as the Dragon Clan's vengeance on you for not living up to destiny. Your willingness to kill the universe rather than kill a friend is, in fact, the real test, which Ryu passes with flying colors.
  • Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete has a tower contains a series of character tests. First the party stumbles upon a man who is injured and pretending not to be that needs to be healed. The next area has the main character asked to dismiss his weakest character (in which the answer is to refuse to in the first place). The final puzzle requires the characters to mold something "beautiful", in which the main character is the only one that passes because he makes a statue of the girl he loves.
    • It's worth noting that the tester misunderstands the subject of the statue though... He doesn't think it's Luna but rather the Goddess Althena who supports the whole world and such. Of course Luna IS Althena, so he wasn't wrong.
  • Parodied in Portal. In one test, the character is given a companion to help her solve the puzzles, and is then ordered to incinerate it at the end. The companion? A large inanimate cube with a heart drawn on each side. If you explore the area fully, you can find evidence that several previous test subjects formed a significant bond with this "weighted companion cube"... Several real players apparently feel the same way. Mission Control will then smack you across the face with its words for being such a Yakoff.
    • Also, earlier in the game, GLaDOS starts a test chamber by informing you that it is unsolvable. Then, when you do solve it, GLaDOS says it was all a test to see how you would handle a seemingly hopeless situation. "Fantastic. You remained resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism."
    • Finally, in Test Chamber 19, GLaDOS pretends that her incinerator trap was one of these, and congratulates you for solving "the final test, where we pretended we were going to murder you". Naturally, it doesn't work.
  • The ending in Disgaea actually turns out to be a Secret Test of Character. Seraph Lamington, ruler of Celestia, turns Love Freak Flonne into a flower as punishment for harming other angels in the process of defeating Archangel Vulcanus, in order to see how Demon Prince Laharl reacts. (The game has Multiple Endings, so whether Laharl "passes" depends on the player.)
    • It's way too easy to fail that one, Guide Dang It! If you get so much as a single teamkill during the game, even an accidental one you have to settle for second best.
    • Sapphire pulls one of these on Almaz in chapter 4 of the third game.
  • Quest for Glory III had an interesting example. You engage in a series of contests with the chief's son, to see which one of you will get the title of a warrior. During the race, he easily outruns you regardless of your stats, and manages to fall into a trap. You can either gloat and keep racing, or help him out. The karma reward is swift and obvious. However, unlike other secret tests, you can win the title even if you fail in this particular instance.
    • Subverted in the second game. If the character is a Fighter, they can join the Eternal Order of Fighters. The initiation ends with the player defeating one of the members, while the others order you to kill the now-helpless opponent. Turns out the EOF is really a bunch of Jerk Jocks, and you only pass if you try to flat-out murder the guy. A Double Subversion occurs in the ending; if you refused to kill the guy, he joins the choir praising the hero.
    • This is just one of several Secret Tests of Character during the game, all pointing towards becoming a paladin by the end. Thieves will find it remarkably difficult to succeed, but it IS possible.
    • Quest for Glory I had another possible Secret Test of Character, as the gargoyle guarding Erasmus' house sometimes asks you what the Thieves' Password is. Erasmus doesn't like Thieves very much, so the correct way to answer the question is to either admit or pretend that you don't know the password. If you do give him the correct password, he'll say "That's RIGHT, but it's also WRONG."
  • This trope is used in the amateur but popular RPG Maker game A Blurred Line. The protagonist, Talan, seeks refuge from an evil Agency in a town known as Paradise, but only those judged of sufficient moral strength are permitted to reside there. He is told he will be tested the next morning. However, that night he hears crying outside and sees a young woman about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. His attempts to stop her ultimately fail and he dives off the cliff after her. The woman lands safely in pool of water at the base of the cliff but Talan lands painfully on the rocks below. As a result of his heroism, the people of Paradise waive his trial and permit him to stay. It is eventually revealed that the woman who jumped was an actress and the entire event was in fact the trial itself. It is implied that Talan is the only person to join the town to actually pass it.
  • This seems to be popular in Star Trek games. The final puzzles of Judgment Rites and Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Final Unity hinge on these.
  • Parodied in the Soul Calibur 4 omake manga, Cassandra (who has been "teaching" Hilde about the game mechanics) talks like a typical instance with lines that wouldn't be out of place in the "kill the mentor" variant like "The time has come to say goodbye" "I don't have regrets for my life" "Now finish me with the secret technique critical finish!!!" and Hilde does so (in tears!), throwing her into the sky and weeps about how she will never forget her. Cassandra then comes out of nowhere, to Hidle's shock.
  • Phantom, one of the Four Guardians in Mega Man Zero, dies in the first game trying to stop Zero, but failed. When he resurfaced in the third game, he fights Zero once again, this time as a Bonus Boss. Turns out he didn't want to kill Zero outright, but only to see if Zero still has what it takes to be a hero, especially since Phantom learned that Zero's using a clone body.
    Phantom: You truly did... have the soul of a hero... Go... Cross blades with Omega, and show what that body can do! Will your blade flinch after you know the truth? Do you have what it takes...to be a hero? You must be the one to determine that!
  • In Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, after you save the king's crown, you're offered one of several rewards. You're actually rewarded with money no matter what you choose, but you get the most money should you tell him to Keep the Reward.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, the heroes are judged by a magic door on their inner character before being allowed through. Mario passes, and the babies, as babies, are judged to be pure enough, but the door doesn't believe Luigi qualifies. It encourages the rest of the team to go on without Luigi, but Mario insists on bringing Luigi along, so the door says that Luigi's worthiness can be proved if he can reach a certain block. As they return after reaching the block, the block asks Luigi to tell him who was the one who did the work, with the options being "Mario", "the babies", or "Me!" Doesn't matter what you answer, the door yells at you, finally insisting that the proper answer (which wasn't even an option) was that everyone contributed. In response to this, Luigi breaks down, but Mario quickly comes to his defense and the babies start hitting the door with their hammers. Then the door settles down and reveals that Luigi's actually plenty worthy, but it wanted to test how they work as a team, so Mario and the babies insisting on staying with Luigi and coming to his defense was exactly what he wanted to see.
    • Also from the Mario series, in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, during one Fetch Quest you are asked by the NPC to pay for the privilege of having his Plot Coupon. You can pay 10 coins, 50 coins, or 100 coins, or you can choose to give him all your money. Doing so leads to him asking to confirm that you're going to give him all your money, making it very difficult to do anything in the future. He'll give you the item, then tell you it was a test to see how much you wanted it, and give you your money back. Doubly subverted in that A) you can get by with paying less than 10 coins, or even no money at all, with this option; and B) he probably would have kept the money if his wife and son weren't standing right next to him.
  • Final Fantasy
    • Final Fantasy IV
      • Cecil, the protagonist, must fight a dark version of himself in order to become a paladin. In actuality, winning the fight entails Cecil only standing still (or Guarding) whilst a series of messages pop up.
      • Quite a few of them pop up in Cecil's Paladin trials, like accidentally breaking a vase and being questioned for it (tell the truth), facing a monster who claims to be a human under a Baleful Polymorph, (spare him), or being asked to find someone's Golden Apple (give it to him). The more right answers the player has, the better the weapon at the end is, and if all of them are right, you get the Infinity+1 Sword.
    • Final Fantasy VIII's SeeD ranking system is a Secret Test of Character that lasts throughout the entire game. Most of the decisions over which one can gain or lose SeeD rank involve demonstrating appropriately high levels of skill and professionalism (complete the Train Job without any mistakes, don't try to violate curfew or cast magic carelessly in the halls), but others are more opaque matters of moral character (make sure to save the dog while running for your life from the nigh-indestructible spider tank).
    • Kain's trial in the GBA/PSP version of Final Fantasy IV, centered around dealing with the darkness in his soul and coming to terms with his unrequited feelings for Rosa, also qualifies, especially the part at the end where he must decide whether to kill Cecil.
  • The Ultima games from IV onward had a test that was unique in that there were no wrong answers. The purpose was to decide what class the player would get.
    • Although there are game mechanic reasons to steer away from picking Humility. The humble shepherd has no magic and very poor equipment options, and Humility is the only virtue that doesn't offer any stat boosts.
  • In Psychonauts the main hero Raz is told to kill 1000 censors before he can get his Marksmanship License. The target dispenser in the test has an intensity dial ranged from one to ten, and then one level beyond marked with crossed bones. Desperate to pass the test as fast as possible Raz sets the machine to the forbidden setting which makes the whole shooting range derail and turn into a combat zone. Which is exactly what his teacher secretly wanted him to do from the very beginning.
    • In case the player fails to get the obvious hint, the machine stops after 20 censors or so.
    • Though, the twenty foot tall mega-censor that stamps him into incoherence was not part of the plan.
  • The entirety of the Chzo Mythos is a Secret Test of Character devised by the Big Bad Chzo to test his Dragon with an Agenda. He fails, and is disposed of - replaced by the Player Character.
  • Dragon Quest VIII has this happen for Prince Charmles following his Rite of Passage. His father sends the heroes as bodyguards to help him retrieve an Argon Heart; Charmles shamelessly exploits this by forcing them to do all the work, then screws the rules even further by buying a bigger Heart at the marketplace. However, his father witnesses this, and after getting the full story from the heroes decides to test his son by seeing how far he'll take the charade while giving him every opportunity to confess. In the end, Charmles utterly fails, and the way he brazenly lies to everyone's face ultimately enrages his father so much that he publicly humiliates him and strips him of his status as heir.
  • Vulpes Inculta of Fallout: New Vegas enacts one of these on the town of Nipton in the form of a lottery. The winner lives, second place gets his legs broken, and everyone else is killed, enslaved or crucified. According to him, no one objects when he starts calling out names, but if you look around town you can see numerous signs of resistance (including the disintegrated corpse of one Legionnaire). Of course, he might have dismissed that one since the fighting likely happened before the lottery plan was offered - in which case, the citizens would be kind of stupid to protest.
    • Then there's Vault 11, which after the door locks, its dwellers are informed that if a dweller isn't sacrificed at regular intervals, the vault computer system will kill everyone in the vault. After its population of one thousand is reduced to five after a long and terrible history, they finally decide to end this and not send any more sacrifices...then the computer congratulates them and the door opens: the purpose of the vault was to see when people would stand up to the computer. Realizing that all the others died for nothing, four of the five commit suicide.
  • About three-quarters of the way through In FAMOUS, Cole is given a decision: save his girlfriend Trish, or five doctors. It's a Secret Test of Character because no matter what you do, Trish dies. The only thing it affects is your Karma Meter. Kessler, the Big Bad of the first game orchestrated the whole thing so that Cole would be ready to fight the Beast, mainly so he wouldn't be burdened by having a family (and not meeting the challenge head-on) in the Bad Future Kessler comes from.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion during the Knights of the Nine quest line, you have to speak to the Prophet. He gives you some basic information on an evil that's plaguing the lands, then when asked about seeking out the relics, he asks if you're worthy. If you say you are, he informs you that you clearly don't need his help finding the relics if you're such a renowned hero already. Only if you answer "no" (bonus points if you admit to being a member of a less-than-noble faction such as the Thieves' Guild or the Dark Brotherhood) does he let you continue the quest chain.
  • Phantasy Star IV has this in an optional dungeon near the end of the game. After a very strange but emotional battle, Chaz is confronted by a creature who asks him to consider the rage and hate he feels, and offers to teach him a technique to turn those feelings into power. The player is then given the choice to accept or refuse. Saying no causes him to reassure Chaz that those feelings are natural and part of the human experience, and he learns the technique; saying yes gets him smacked down like the unworthy bitch he is.
  • League of Legends has the League Judgement, a process in which the character being tested is forced to relive a major event or a nightmarish scenario in their life. This varies from Graves the Outlaw getting thrown into the underground prison of Aregor Priggs, to Rumble seeing his beloved mech get destroyed by his arch-rival Heimerdinger. This is always followed by the questions "Why do you want to join the League?" and "How does it feel, exposing your mind?" Of course this is not even remotely important to the game itself, but adds a lot of depth to the characters for those who choose to indulge in the lore.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Duncan performs this on the City Elf Warden during their Origin story. After noticing his arrival, the City Elf goes to inform him that its not safe in the Alienage for humans at present, to which he refuses to leave. When they politely insist and Duncan once again politely refuses, the City Elf offers to find an acceptable compromise. Duncan then congratulates them on keeping their composure, even when encountering an unknown and armed human.
    • In the Mage Origin, Duncan can question the Mage Warden on their feelings about their powers and how they think they should be used.
  • World of Warcraft featured a layered test in Vol'jin's backstory. While being tested by a loa, he was shown two images: One where he was free and battling for his life, and one where he had everything he could desire but was chained to his throne. Vol'jin laughingly dismissed it as an easy choice of freedom... only for the loa to explain the real test was if he would hesitate in choosing.
  • In 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.
  • Yuka Otowa from Crescendo can subject the main character Ryo to one of these. She leads him to a Love Hotel to see if she can trust him to see beyond her bad reputation as a Hooker with a Heart of Gold. If you make him have sex with her there, it leads to Yuka's Bad Ending. If you refuse the chance to sex her up in these moments, Ryo will later bed her anyway but in better circumstances.
  • In the Sonic Storybook Series game Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic comes across a crying little girl. The girl explains that she's crying because her parents have been captured by a dragon. The problem is, Sonic comes across this kid while on a strict time limit by Nimue, the Lady of the Lake (who looks like Amy Rose); Nimue has promised to help Sonic out only if Sonic can complete a task within three days. If Sonic helps this kid look for her parents, he'll go over the time limit. Sonic chooses to help the kid, of course. And it turns out the kid is none other than Nimue in disguise, who wanted to see what sort of hero Sonic was. So time limit or no time limit, Nimue still decides to help Sonic because Sonic passed her secret test.
  • In The King of Fighters Spin-Off game "KOF:KYO", the main character Kyo Kusanagi is subjected to one of these. His girlfriend Yuki disappears few days before the KOF tournament, and the few leads that Kyo has point to a kidnapping so he goes searching for her through three countries with the help of his fellow fighters. It turns out that Yuki never was abducted, and wasn't even in any danger: Chizuru, the KOF hostess and Kyo's fellow God's Caliber Team member, had taken her in and arranged for her "disappearance", wanting to test Kyo's mental strength and his devotion to his loved ones — which is a good part of Kyo's driving force as a whole.
  • From Dust is one of these, implied by the last level and the resulting ending. Your tribe starts off as a few survivors, resisting disasters and threats thanks to the your ability to adjust and alter the landscape. In the final level, though, you unlock powers greater than you had before, which you (naturally) play around with it to obscene levels. The spirits of nature don't take kindly to that, sinking your paradise into the ocean, causing your tribe to once again be a few survivors.
  • While Trick or Treating in Kingdom of Loathing there's a 15% chance that a certain house will spawn in your block. This house will have a huge bowl of candy and a sign reading: "No one's home, take one, BE HONEST." You can go ahead and take the entire bowl, causing the game to tell you you'll forever look behind your shoulder in guilt. You can alternatively "resist the temptation" and leave which gives you the candy anyways as there IS someone in the house who was testing your honesty. You then leave with your head high and the candy clenched to your pride-swollen chest.

    Web Comics 

     Web Original 
  • As well as being Cool and Unusual Punishment, this is apparently why The Nostalgia Critic captured The Nostalgia Chick and made her do Bratz; so she could be proud of sitting through the worst girly movie of all time. So, uh, yay pointless masochism?
  • In the LOST Alternate Reality Game "Dharma Wants You", the player goes through several flash-based tests supposedly used to test his/her capacity to join a reinstated Dharma Initiative. At the beginning of the test series, head recruiter Hans Van Eeghen warns you about the attempts of someone known as "Black Swan" to "undermine the testing program". Each of the tests themselves have a secret "Black Swan" option allowing the player to cheat. The final test (called the "Honesty and Integrity Test") is a simple video informing the candidates that they already completed the test: Eeghen himself is Black Swan and the cheats were used to test the candidates integrity. Eeghen then congratulates those who didn't cheat claiming "the officials reviewing your results will look very favourably on this outcome"
  • The Orion's Arm short story Yes, Jolonah, there is a Hell features a murderer who is about to be given to the Queen of Pain. First, he is given several chances to earn a quick death, but rejects it. Then, he is told a baby can take his place in the Hell. He jumps on the chance, but naturally, that was the trope. The point, BTW, isn't that the Queen has mercy or has conscience. She merely has no use for anyone but the worst.
  • Fluttershy's father in Friendship is Witchcraft tries to convince her that all his actions in her Hilariously Abusive Childhood were this. It doesn't work.
  • In Case 49 of The Codeless Code, Master Banzen tests a series of monks. He tells them to wait in a room while he studies their source code. In fact, he's testing whether they'll clean up the paper sack he discarded in that room (and by extension, whether they clean up their code without being asked).
  • In Tower, we see a "Jump off a Tower" secret test that isn't exactly pass/fail.

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time, Finn is told to kill a neutral ant; however, he refuses.
  • Partial example in Avatar: The Last Airbender. While not an intended test, Piandao accepts Sokka because he's the first student to come to him who admitted that he was not worthy, and thus proved that he was open enough to learn. He later rewards him with a White Lotus Pai Sho piece for admitting that he lied and was not a Fire Nation Colonist (which Piandao had figured out long ago, due to Aang's presence and Sokka's name). It's stated on the DVD Commentary that everything Piandao did was some kind of test.
  • In an episode of The Land Before Time Littlefoot is tested on his ability to one day become the leader of a herd. One test involves retrieving a red leaf from a small island in the middle of a lava pit. After much deliberating, Littlefoot finally concedes that he can't find any safe way across. He is then informed that that was the test and that the point of leading a herd is to put their safety first.
  • In the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, the turtles, who have been kidnapped along with four other people, are subjected to one of these by their kidnappers, the Ninja Tribunal. The Tribunal states that the kidnappees must fight each other to the death, and that only those who survive would become the Tribunal's students. The kidnappees refuse, attacking the Tribunal instead and therefore passing the test.
  • The end of the South Park episode "Pinewood Derby" reveals that the whole plot of the episode was just one big test of character to decide whether or not to let Earth into the Galactic Federation after they discovered warp travel (Randy enhanced Stan's Pinewood Derby car with a supermagnet from the Large Hadron Collider). Earth fails and is barred from the rest of the universe. As Randy says at the end of the episode "Well, that sucks!"
  • Professor Wizgiz in Winx Club pulled one of these on all the students by saying there would be a pop quiz the next day, and letting them all find envelopes which appeared to contain the answers. In reality, the envelopes contained dust puffs, which let him easily see who was honest enough not to open them.
  • Parodied in an episode of Family Guy, in which Peter refuses to take an ordinary looking college exam, only to learn that refusing to take the test was the test.
  • The Real Ghostbusters had one in the episode "Night Game." Winston's found himself in the crossfire of a battle between the forces of good and evil... which happens to take the form of a baseball game (It Makes Sense in Context). The other three come in to save him, but can't, because he's already in the game and there's no room for more players. All they can do is sit and let the game continue—the stakes are for Winston's soul. If good loses, he becomes the slave of evil. If Ray, Peter, and Egon try to involve themselves, it will be considered cheating, and, as the Umpire says, "evil cheats." Winston revealed in the end that they were playing for Peter's soul. Peter was understandably scared, since he and the others considering interfering with the game.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): In one episode, He-Man and Company had to look for an antidote to save Man-At-Arms and the only one with the needed knowledge was a dragon named Granamyr. Granamyr, who believes that Humans Are Bastards, only agreed on the condition that they destroy an old tree (the stated reason being that Granamyr doesn't like NOT being the oldest living being and the tree was the only one older than him) and threatened to banish our heroes to a realm of demons if they fail. Upon learning about the tree and all living beings that depend on it for sustenance, they decided not to kill the tree. Granamyr then revealed that it was a test of character.
  • Parodied on American Dad!. In "Bullocks to Stan" Avery Bullock (Stan's boss at the CIA) has been sleeping with Stan's daughter and forcing Stan to go along with it by bribing him with a possible promotion. Eventually Stan gets so fed up that he beats the crap out of Bullock. To keep Stan from killing him, Bullock tries to pass off everything he did as a Secret Test of Character to see if Stan would stand up for himself and his daughter. He's clearly making it all up, but is just persuasive enough that Stan lets him go.
    Bullock: You see, before promoting you, I had to be certain that you would stand up for Haley, for if you couldn't stand up for your daughter, how could you stand up for your country?... or something like that.
    Stan: So none of this was real?
    Bullock: No sir!
    Stan: But... you're really hurt.
    Bullock: Ha ha ha! It would appear that way, but no. (spits out one of his teeth) Props will be wanting this back!
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius sets up a game show that citizens of Miseryville unknowingly compete on where they have to keep their promise to stay on a single spot. Unlike most tests, Lucius wants to prove that no one is really good enough to do it, even staking his entire fortune on it. Which means it's trouble when the contestant is Jimmy.
  • In Thundercats 2011, after Lion-O dies and the rest of the Thundercats are captured by Mumm-ra, he's saved by the spirit stone and is told that he has to undergo four trials to prove that he's worthy of being brought back to life. He fails the last one and is told that he cannot return to life, but that the stone can return his soul to his body until sunrise. After the sun rises, however, he will die and his soul will be stuck forever in limbo. Lion-O, of course, chooses to return to life temporarily in order to save the Thundercats. After he rescues the Thundercats and is prepared to die, Jaga appears and tells him that his willingness to sacrifice himself for his people was the last test and he's earned his life back permanently.
  • In the third season premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Princess Celestia tells Twilight Sparkle that she alone has to save the Crystal Empire in order to prove that she is ready for the next level of her studies. Twilight is forced to have Spike save the empire instead after getting caught in a trap, but passes the test anyway because she put the needs of others before her own need to succeed. Celestia would have had difficulty actually planning this all—though it would not be her first Gambit Roulette—but all we really know about the test is that the end result was this, and Celestia's wording was kind of specific.
  • In My Little Pony Equestria Girls, Twilight Sparkle enlists the aid of the alternate-universe counterparts of her friends in Equestria in winning the title of Princess of the Fall Formal (and Twilight's Element of Magic) away from Sunset Shimmer. Human!Rainbow Dash agrees to help, but only if Twilight can beat her in a one-on-one soccer game. Twilight tries her best, but is easily beaten by the more-athletic Rainbow Dash. After the match, Dash agrees to help anyway, saying she just wanted to see how serious Twilight was about challenging Sunset Shimmer.
  • This is The Reveal in the Fairly OddParents episode "It's a Wishful Life". It turns out that the images Jorgen showed Timmy of how much better everyone would be if he never existed were false, and the whole thing was a test on Jorgen's part to make Timmy be more grateful for what he has, rather than having an It's All About Me attitude.
  • In "The Princess Test" on Sofia the First, Fauna disguises herself as Royal Prep's librarian, and asks each princess in turn for help, just before the Princess Test begins. Sofia is the only one willing to put off the test and help, which earns her full marks for displaying a Princess' most important trait: Kindness. Not only this, but the test is rigged with a number of pitfalls specifically designed to test Sofia's resolution to continue helping Fauna; in each instance, she passes.

     Real Life (allegedly)  
  • A disturbing example is the Milgram experiment. Fictional characters, it seems, have a better success rate in Secret Tests of Character than we do.
  • The Asch Conformity Experiment. The test subject was placed in a room with other people where everyone was shown a set of lines and asked which one was the longest. The answer was blatantly obvious, but unbeknownst to the test subject, everyone else was instructed to give the wrong answer. The subject was asked for their answer last. In those situations, they answered wrong much more often.
  • A guide on giving job interviews suggested giving an applicant a piece of cake, but no fork to eat it with, then observing how the applicant reacts. Presumably, the right kind of applicant would ask for a fork while the wrong kind of applicant would sit quietly and not ask for a fork, but the test doesn't take into consideration what happens when the person isn't hungry or a diabetic or something. Or eat it with their hands. Or if they just use the titanium spork they always carry.
  • In the 19th Century, the final exam for British Army officers included the question "How do you dig a trench?" as a test of whether the candidate had an officer's mentality. Candidates who gave an answer involving the actual physical actions required would fail the test. The correct answer was "I say, 'Sergeant, dig me a trench!'" If he was in the Navy, officer candidates would be expected to know what they were ordering the hoi polloi to do- They'd still make the PO do it, but they'd know what would be involved.
  • Some teachers use a simple test to see if the students can follow instructions: At the top of the paper, you are told to read the entire test, and then perform the tasks. The tasks can include anything from simple math, to standing on one foot while singing the national anthem. The trick is of course that one of the last instructions on the page is: "Ignore all the other tasks. All you need to do to pass is to write your name at the bottom of the paper." Most students will ignore the first instruction, and properly look like fools to the few who actually remember what the test was about: following instructions.
  • There is a psych-class test like this. In the middle of class a person dressed in a ski-mask and all black clothing steals the professor's notes and runs out. Then the professor asks the class to describe him. In order to pass you have to prove you can overcome preexisting social assumptions by not assuming the attacker is (among other things) male.
  • Applicants to a position of a newsperson/secret agent are asked to deliver a sealed envelope to some other location. One of them is overcome with curiosity so he hides in a closet and opens the envelope. Inside there is a note saying: "Come back, you are hired."
  • An apocryphal Indian software company would place a precariously balanced cup of coffee next to the entrance to the interview room, in such a way that you were bound to knock it over as you entered. Candidates who tried to clean it up were not hired. The reason? That's not your job!
  • Students in the intelligence school are completing an essay test. While they are at it, their professor is sitting at his desk, tapping nonchalantly with his pen. Suddenly two students stand up, go to his desk, and he gives them both an "A" without even looking at their writing. It turns out he was tapping "Come here, and I'll give you an "A"" in Morse code.
  • Similarly, men waiting for interviews as telegraph operators sit nervously in a workroom. No one has been seen for an hour since the interviews were scheduled to begin. One man strolls up late and sits down for a few minutes, then stands up and walks past the secretary and straight into the boss's office. A telegraph in the workroom had been tapping out a message to barge into the office and claim the job. This variant is near-certainly apocryphal, since, even in the early age of communication, any attempts by workers to listen in on what could be private customer communications was frowned upon by management, at best.
  • A group of similar stories involving guilt:
    • Supposedly this was used as a judging technique in ancient India: the suspects would go into a darkened room containing a donkey and were told to pull its tail; if the donkey brayed, the suspect who pulled its tail was guilty. However, what the suspects weren't told was that the donkey's tail was covered in black powder that wouldn't show up in the darkness. If a suspect came out of the room with powder on his hands, he was innocent, under the idea that a guilty person would only pretend to pull the donkey's tail so it wouldn't bray.
    • A variant is the tale told of John Napier who owned a black rooster. When he suspected his servants of stealing from him, he told them to go individually into a darkened room and stroke the rooster. The rooster would tell Napier who was guilty. In fact, he put soot on the bird's feathers. The innocent servants had no worries about stroking the rooster, but the guilty one only pretended he had, so his hands were still clean.
    • A similar story is told of ancient China: three suspects would be told to plant sticks of equal length into the ground, and are told that by morning, the stick belonging to the guilty man will have grown one inch. The next morning, the authorities arrest the man whose stick is one inch shorter than the others; the guilty man, afraid that his stick would grow, secretly cut an inch off it in the middle of the night.
    • One of the legends of Ooka Tadasuke, the famous samurai judge, has him using the same trick. The mechanism in this case is a dusty old Jizo statue. (This statue was a favourite of Ooka's — he used it as a witness in another case.)
  • Snopes contains a glurgey example that acts as a deconstruction of these tests. The Rose acts as a fairly typical test of character, with the lady of the story telling her penpal that she will be identifiable by the rose on her lapel; when he arrives, he sees an undesirable older woman wearing the rose, but reluctantly approaches her, where she is glad to inform him that a beautiful young woman who had caught his eye earlier, tempting him, had given her the rose to make sure that he would go through with his promise. But this rewrite from the old woman's perspective demonstrates that sometimes, they want their beloved to be happy.
  • It is sometimes said that a way to test a forum or internet community is to join, post a deliberately flawed (though not to the extent of trolling) and controversial argument and judge whether or not to continue your membership from the responses — if people are dismissive and unpleasant, rather than polite and reasonable, don't stay in. Now, even if you're not actually trolling, this is still a very manipulative thing to do and likely to get you ostracised if you're found out, especially if they've happened to "fail" the test. It's also quite likely (unfortunate perhaps, but still likely, given that you're dealing with human beings) that even the most patient and gracious forum membersnote  will show less tolerance towards someone they don't know (see next paragraph for an example), so their reaction to a test like this may in fact not be a sufficiently good measure of their actual character. All in all, a quick test along these lines is probably not a good substitute for getting to know a forum or community (and letting them get to know you) over time.

    An attempt at this that backfired spectacularly was carried out by Matt Dillahunty. He used an anonymous account on a certain forum (where he was already a prominent member) in order to prove to the forum's critics and detractors that the forum members were polite and reasonable people. Unfortunately, they failed his test and his posts were met with disdain and derision by both the members and the moderators: Only when Matt revealed his true identity was he treated more respectfully. But then his anonymous account was banned for going against the "No Sockpuppets" rule, and he was demanded to issue an apology for his experiment. When he refused to do so he was banned altogether from there. The whole affair explained here in detail.
  • Michael Lewis discusses this in his autobiographical story of the Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers, Liars Poker. First, the Brothers used all kinds of job interview stress tests to weed out people who were too "weak" for the kind of environment of 1980's investment banking. Even then, applicants weren't offered jobs. They had get the hint to come take the damn job and tell the interviewer to shove off if he didn't like it. After that, the trainees were thrust into a downright abusive environment full of these little trials. Anyone who wasn't cunning, charming, ruthless, aggressive, and manipulative enough to survive in that kind of environment had no business ripping off customers as badly as the Brothers did in the early eighties.
  • An old Jewish story tells of a rich man (or a prominent rabbi) who challenged all the young yeshiva students with a difficult Talmudic question, declaring that the one who answered correctly could marry his daughter. No one came up with a good answer, so he packed up and left. However, on the outskirts of town he noticed he was being chased by one young scholar, who admitted that despite failing the challenge he still wanted to know the answer to the question. Whether or not this was the father's original intention, he let the young scholar marry his daughter.
  • Van Halen's infamous rider demand for M&Ms with the brown ones picked out was actually a secret test of character. They used the demand (which was buried deep in the technical specs) as a check on how closely the venue had carried out the rest of their rider, which included technical details that were important for the band's performance and safety. Brown M&Ms indicated a slipshod job that would have to be double-checked by the band's crew, and in some cases were grounds for the concert being cancelled.
  • This one is an old favourite of professors. One example is a professor telling the class that the next lecture will have no new material for the upcoming exam or that he/she's hosting an optional review session at some inconvenient time like Friday night. Anyone who is diligent enough to attend regardless gets a massive help for the upcoming exam, such as a list of topics that will most definitely be on it. As for the first example, no lies were told as it was stated that no NEW material would be covered.
  • Another one was used by a teacher to explain racism to her class called the brown eye/blue eye experiment in which she told her class that one group of people with a specific eye color was superior to the other and she was shocked about how quickly the children started believing it and even came up with their own slurs


Secret TestTest And Trial TropesSelf-Imposed Challenge
Hidden Purpose TestPlot TwistShocking Swerve
Secret IdentityFairy Tale TropesSelf-Fulfilling Prophecy
JokesThis Index Is A JokeShrinking Violet
Secret Stab WoundThe Secret IndexSecretly Dying
Secret PathNarrative DevicesSeeking Sanctuary
Secret TestFalse CrucibleTraining Accident

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