One or more heroes are put through a False Crucible, without any warning they're being tested. This is particularly popular with Trickster Mentors.
- Secret Test of Character: The common special case where the character may think they're being tested about one thing, but what's actually being tested is the strength of the hero's moral conviction. Other common cases include secret tests of skill, intelligence, supernatural powers and true love.
- Old Beggar Test: The hero's moral capacities are being tested by a powerful figure disguised in rags.
- Secret Test of Thieving Skill: The hero thinks he's stealing treasure, but it's actually just a test to evaluate him for the real heist.
- Hidden Purpose Test: The hero knows he's being tested but not what he's being tested on.
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: The hero doesn't know there's no way to beat it.
- Danger Room Cold Open: The audience doesn't know the hero's being tested.
When the hero initially knew (s)he was being tested, but is falsely told the test has ended, it's a Training "Accident" (military) or The Game Never Stopped (civilian). Either way, the hero ends up thinking (s)he's facing a real situation, with no idea it's still just a test.
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- A New Zealand advert for Mainland cheese had a group of job applicants at a cheese factory waiting to be interviewed. All but two lose patience and leave, and when one of the last remaining applicants asks the other if he's applying too, he turns out to be the HR manager, who hires him on the spot after being impressed with his patience. The advert ends with, "Good things take time".
Anime and Manga
- In ARIA, the test to go from Pair (apprentice) to Single (journeyman) is known to everyone in the city except Pair undines. It consists of rowing through a narrow canal without difficulty.
- At the beginning of the anime's Bount arc, our heroes are confronted by a trio of mod souls that kidnap them and a number of innocent schoolchildren, apparently as part of some bizarre game with their lives at stake. Later they discover that the mod souls were created by and are under the control of Kisuke Urahara, who is using them to test the main characters' abilities and teach them teamwork.
- Ichigo gets one when he needs his zanpakuto reforged. He is rejected by the sword smith and sent back to the world of the living. After he converses with his father, it's revealed to be a test, and he's taken back to regain his sword.
- Blue Exorcist has the trainees locked in a building while Yukio is out and get attacked by a Ghoul-type demon. After they narrowly manage to defeat it, Mephisto reveals that it was a test, and a bunch of Exorcists emerge from the walls where they'd been keeping an eye on the fight. Later it turns out that one of the people running the test really was trying to kill Rin.
- In Chrono Crusade, after Chrono loses his temper and causes severe collateral damage during a fight with the Big Bad, including several civilian casualties, Father Remington is ordered to execute him. He takes Chrono and Rosette out to a remote location, then gives Chrono a sword, telling him of the execution order before challenging him to a duel. During the fight, he taunts Chrono about how his contract with Rosette is killing her, which causes Chrono to begin to fly into a rage yet again. However, between help from Rosette and hints through Remington's dialogue, Chrono learns that he has to control his rage—and does so, winning the duel. Remington then reveals he was testing Chrono all along, writes a false report claiming that he succeeded in executing Chrono, and gives Chrono and Rosette supplies before setting them back on the right path to complete their quest.
- In Digimon V-Tamer 01, Lord HolyAngemon pulls Yagami Taichi and Zeromaru, who are undefeated in battle, into the Digimon World to see if their strategies in the human world translate (they don't, but Zero is well disciplined, Taichi is a quick learner and both are studious). Seeing they're capable of surviving, he sends a scout, Gabo, to guide them to his palace so he can personally ask them to kill Lord Demon, the leader of the belligerent forces. At any time Lord HolyAngemon was prepared to send them back home, including if they met all his expectations but turned him down.
- This plot is repeated in Digimon Frontier with Ophanimon and the Ensemble Cast of humans. The main difference here is that Ophanimon's test was much more irresponsible than Lord HolyAngemon's. Even though his forces were slowly losing ground to Demon, Lord HolyAngemon still had extensive reconnaissance and control over most of the continent, so he could ensure Taichi's relative safety until he and Zero had proved ready for real battles. Ophanimon had effectively lost, and though the kids could be sent back home, they had nothing but a a couple weak guides and a single Angemon to protect them if they weren't up to the task and somehow missed their train ride home. Still, if she hadn't done this she would have completely lost. There's a bonus chapter of Digimon V-Tamer 01 that highlights how less competent most of Ophanimon's warriors are than Taichi and Zero (without Koji Minamoto they'd all be dead).
- Done in a strange way in One Piece. In the Jaya arc, Luffy and Zoro help an apparently feeble and sickly old man, Doc Q, onto his equally feeble and sickly horse. As thanks, he offers some apples, which Luffy eagerly accepts. It turns out some of the apples contain detonators which would blow up once bitten into. Luckily, Luffy's apple wasn't a "bad apple." In reality, the doctor had been testing Luffy's luck.
- In Good Luck! Ninomiya-kun, Ryoko does this to her brother Shungo, Mayu, and Reika. While the three are relaxing at a beach, some heavily armed soldiers show up and tie them up. Shungo manages to escape with the two girls and later has Mayu take Reika away somewhere to hide while he tries to slow down the soldiers. In the end, he ends up fighting a masked fighter, and manages to break the mask, which turns out to be his sister, who tells him the whole thing was a test and also for Candid Camera.
- Hunter × Hunter:
- The people taking the Hunter Exam gather in a subterranean tunnel, and their guide, Satotz, leads them to where they need to go. Satotz then starts walking faster and faster, telling the crowd behind him to simply follow him—as people fall behind and are unable to catch back up, the rest of the examinees realize the exam has already begun, and Satotz is testing them on their speed and physical endurance.
- The Hunter Exam itself supposedly ends with the Chairman handing each person who passes their very own Hunter License. The truth is that there is one more phase after that: each person then must learn and become adept at Nen, a means of harnessing life force and channeling it into special powers, as their fellow Hunters will not take them seriously without having done this. That being said, this portion has a high pass rate, as the Hunter Association sends someone to each person to teach them.
- Macross Delta: When Freyja auditions to join the tactical sound unit Walkure (whose job involves putting on concerts in the middle of combat zones to calm berserkers out of their rages), she is told that she failed and is sent home on a tram car. Partway though, the Var Syndrome alarm goes off and one the passengers begins to turn psychotic. Freyja starts singing, and the guy calms down... then the other passengers are revealed to be the Walkure in disguise. It had all been staged to see how Freyja would react to a life-and-death situation, and was part of her audition. She passed.
- In Naruto, part of Gaara's backstory revolves around Gaara being told by his uncle that he was hated by his mother, that the same uncle only pretended to love him, and that he will never be loved by anyone for as long as he lives, all because of the One-Tailed Beast inside him. Turns out they're all complete lies arranged by Gaara's father (who was the one that Yashamaru really hated and, as being the the loving uncle he was, actually objected to it but was forced to go along) to see if Gaara could control the beast while "psychologically cornered." Of course, Gaara failed miserably. The kid was six, had a shitty childhood, and all this really did was make Gaara into a near pathological serial killer until Naruto got to him. Gaara wouldn't know of any of this until the Fourth Great Shinobi World War, when his father was revived via Edo Tensei by Kabuto and admitted the truth during the end of their fight.
- In Sensual Phrase, Sakuya agrees to date Aine's "friend" Sakura-chan few after she dumps Aine's friendship over him. He actually wants to see if Sakura can handle the heavy pressure of dating a mega-famous Idol Singer like him... and well, she can't hack it, so Sakuya dumps her and returns to Aine's side.
- Early on in Soul Eater, Maka, Soul, Tsubaki, and Black*Star are one star meisters/weapons who are tasked with capturing an undead three star meister and then battling against the strongest meister to graduate the academy. If they fail, they will all be expelled. Even Kid, who isn't a student yet, is incredulous that such a dangerous assignment would be given to such low level students, and attempts to intervene. It turns out that it was a test, but with Sid's zombification and Stein...in general being entirely true.
- Vampire Hunter D. In the 1985 film version, Doris Lang confronts D as he travels. She challenges and attacks him to find out if he's a tough enough vampire hunter to take on the vampire noble Count Magnus Lee. After he proves himself:
Doris: I apologize for attacking you without just cause. I had to make certain you weren't a coward like so many of the others.
- YuYu Hakusho: After the Dark Tournament, Yusuke is kidnapped and his friends have to engage in challenges other than the physical confrontations they have in the past. It turns out to have been staged by Genkai and her students, to keep Yusuke from becoming too cocky after his victory.
- The origin story for Dr. Droom in Amazing Adventures #1 (1961). Doctor Anthony Droom is summoned to the Himalayas (probably Tibet) to treat an ill lama. He is told he won't be paid for his work and is required to walk over hot coals and face a gorlion (half gorilla, half lion). He faces these challenges bravely and finally meets the lama. The lama tells him that he isn't really ill: he put Dr. Droom through all that to find out if he was worthy to take the lama's place in fighting sinister occult forces. Droom decides to accept the lama's offer to replace him. Eventually the character Doctor Droom becomes Doctor Druid.
- Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck stories:
- In "Some Heir Over the Rainbow", Scrooge McDuck wanted to test his potential heirs (Donald Duck, Gladstone Gander and Huey, Dewey and Louie) without them knowing they were being tested. He picked up three pots, placed one thousand dollars within each of them and placed them at strategic places where his relatives would find it. Scrooge planned to choose his heir based on how they'd use the money. He chose Huey, Dewey and Louie.
- At an earlier story, Scrooge gave Donald and Gladstone one business venture each while planning to see which one was best suited to take over Scrooge's business empire. As a stroke of luck helped Gladstone and ruined Donald, Scrooge couldn't make an evaluation.
- Hans Christian Andersen's The Princess and the Pea. A prince wants to marry a princess but can't know whether a woman who claims to be a real princess actually is. When one woman claims to be a princess, his mother decides to test her by putting a pea beneath her mattress, which has 20 more mattresses and feather beds between it and the pea. The woman says she spent a sleepless night because of something hard in her bed. The prince realizes that she must be a princess because of her highly sensitive nature, and they get married.
- The Traveller. While looking for a job, a man arrives at an apparently deserted castle. Its dining hall is full of sumptuous food and its luxurious rooms have everything ready for hosting guests. Since he believed that he had not yet performed any job worthy of those luxuries, he is content with eating a simple piece of bread, drinking a glass of water, and sleeping in the cellar. That night, he dreams of a white swan who speaks to him, telling him to put the castle's crown on. The next morning, he does so, and the swan appears and transforms into a beautiful princess. She tells him that, because of his temperance and humility, he has broken the castle's curse and hers; and that, if he wishes, he can become the lord of the castle with her as his wife.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Fan Fic Eternal, Twilight treats the wedding preparations for two of her friends as one, hoping to prove to Princess Celestia that she's perfect. Celestia is horrified when she realizes that's how her Faithful Student's treating it... but doesn't have the heart to correct her, instead offering the praise she hoped for.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Lemony Narrator believes that Celestia is leaving out hints of her conspiracies for ponies smart enough to see them to find. However, she is almost definitely incorrect on all fronts, and is really cherrypicking connections based off tremendous leaps in logic. She doesn't notice her mistake though, probably due to her Conspiracy Theorist nature.
- Haigha: After Katsuki impulsively attacks Shinsou after losing their match, Principal Nedzu calls him and his parents into his office and repeatedly asks Katsuki to explain his reasoning. While Katsuki dismisses this as pointless, Nedzu's gentle prodding gets him to actually think about the incident, spurring him to question his own behavior and why the teachers at Aldera enabled him so much. This proves to be exactly what Nedzu was looking for, encouraging him to transfer Katsuki to Gen Ed rather than simply expelling him.
- In Trials, it's revealed that the mission to stop Valentine's plot in Kingsman: The Secret Service was actually a test for Eggsy specificallynote . While Eggsy had been told that he did superbly in the king trials (to find the next Arthur), he wasn't aware of further trials. As Arthur explains, a knight is meant to follow orders but a king has to do what's right.
Films — Live-Action
- Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Nemo tells Professor Aronnax that he can stay on the Nautilus, but Ned Land and Conseil will be left topside when the ship submerges, leaving them floating on the ocean. Professor Aronnax decides to remain with his friends. Nemo has the Nautilus partially submerged, but then surfaces again and tells his second in command "I found out what I wanted to know.". Later he talks with Professor Aronnax.
Arronax: I am still curious as to the reason you spared our lives.
Nemo: In your case, I wanted to test your loyalty to your companions. I may have use for such misplaced devotion...It comforts me to know that your life was not too dear a price to pay for the love of your fellow man.
- The Avengers (1998): Steed invites Mrs. Peel to meet him inside the Boodles club, but doesn't tell her that women aren't allowed inside. He's testing her on her initiative. Note that Mrs. Peel figures out that it's a test.
- Captain America: The First Avenger:
- Dr. Erskine tests Rogers by asking him if he's trying to join the Army so he can kill Nazis. Steve catches on, asking if this is a test, to which Erskine simply says "yes." Rogers, unable to guess what answer Erskine is looking for, just tells him the truth (he doesn't really want to kill anybody, but the Nazis have to be stopped), which is the answer Erskine wants to hear.
- The Colonel throws a grenade into the middle of the group of soldiers. The group scatters, except for Steve Rogers, who throws himself on the grenade to protect everyone else. It turns out to have been a dummy grenade, causing the Colonel to grudgingly admit that Rogers was the right choice to receive the Super Soldier Serum. This is actually a subversion as the hard-bitten Col. Phillips was trying to prove to Erskine that what a soldier needs is "guts"; the test was supposed to be of the trainees' clear-headedness and reflexes. The point still stands, though.
- Flash Gordon: Emperor Ming puts the entire human race through a test of its powers of perception. Unfortunately, being perceptive is very dangerous.
Ming: Every thousand years I test each life system in the universe. I visit it with mysteries, earthquakes, unpredicted eclipses. Strange craters in the wilderness. If these are taken as natural, I judge that system ignorant and harmless. I spare it. But if the hand of Ming is recognized in these events, I judge that system dangerous. I call upon the great god Dyzan. And for his greater glory, and our mutual pleasure, I destroy it utterly.
- The Matrix Reloaded. Seraph, the Oracle's bodyguard, attacks Neo to test his combat abilities and make sure that he is the One. He only tells Neo why he did it after he ends the fight.
- Men in Black: J's idiosyncratic responses to the entrance tests earn him the scorn of the other applicants and appear to be ruining his chances, but in the end he's the only successful applicant, with the implication that initiative and outside-the-box thinking were what the tests were looking for all along. The novelisation has K explicitly saying that J's decisions in the target-shooting test were the correct ones.
- The Princess Bride: Westley returns and discovers that Buttercup, his One True Love, is about to be married to Prince Humperdinck. After he rescues her from her kidnappers (under the alias of the Dread Pirate Roberts), he doesn't reveal his true identity and claims to have killed Westley in the hope of finding out whether or not she still loves him.
- Shogun Assassin. Ogami Ittō has to go on the run when the Shogun sends ninja assassins after him, killing his wife instead. His baby son is still alive, but a Roaring Rampage of Revenge is no place for a child.
Ogami: I have decided to escape, to defy the Shogun. Today I will begin walking the Road to Hell, but you must choose your own path. (picks up a ball and sword) So, soon you may be seeing Heaven. Choose the sword, and you will join me. Choose the ball, and you join your mother in death. You don't understand my words, but you must choose.
- Spies Like Us. Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Millbarge are sent to a Special Projects Training facility to learn how how to be spies. After they parachute in, they are surrounded by sword-armed ninjas who threaten to attack them. After this goes on for a few seconds, a military officer named Colonel Rhombus appears. He tells them that it's how he welcomes new trainees, because he must know right away what he's got to work with. In this case his assessment is: "Pussy".
- Undercover Brother: Sista Girl confronts the title character in his apartment and points a gun at him to test his courage. He says "If you're going to shoot me, shoot me", thus passing the test.
- V for Vendetta: V tests Evey's resolve by putting her through starvation, torture and death threats in what appears to be a government concentration camp but is really his basement. When he reveals the truth, she responds by packing her bags, but eventually comes to see the purpose of the test.
- WarGames. At the beginning of the film, a U.S. ICBM base receives orders to launch its missiles. One of the officers refuses to participate in the launch, apparently preventing the missiles from launching. It's later revealed that the situation was a nationwide test of the officers' willingness to launch on command. 22% of the bases failed to try to launch their missiles, causing serious dismay in the political and military leadership.
- In Willow, the High Aldwin tests his potential apprentices by holding up his hand and asking them to choose which finger contains the power to control the world. Each hopeful, including Willow, chooses one of the High Aldwin's extended fingers; all of them choose incorrectly, and the test ends with no new apprentice selected. Later, before leaving on the expedition to deliver baby Elora Danan to the crossroads, Willow admits that his initial impulse was to choose his own finger, which the High Aldwin tells him was the correct answer.
- Robert A. Heinlein liked this kind of thing and used it in several stories.
- In the short story "Space Jockey", spaceship pilots are monitored to make sure they are psychologically stable. A space pilot is bothered by a "stupid tourist" who is secretly a psychiatrist to determine his state of mind before a flight.
- In the novella "Gulf", Joseph Briggs is being trained so he can join a secret society of geniuses. His teacher tests his personality in several ways, including not letting him eat or sleep, inflicting intense pain and subtly trying to goad him into irrational actions. He passes with flying colors, continuing to act rationally and reliably.
- In Farmer in the Sky, William Lermer wants to emigrate to Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. When he goes in to talk to a psychiatrist for a psych test, he's kept waiting and two clerks harass and insult him, but Lermer manages to keep calm. He later finds out that the clerks were psychometricians and there were a camera and microphone on him recording what happened. He was being tested to see whether he could keep his temper when provoked.
He does lose his cool at the very end, by angrily demanding to see what they find so funny, and then leaving in a huff when they refuse. When he gets home, he tells his father about the incident, and both agree that he probably just blew his chances of becoming a colonist. They're both rather surprised when it turns out he was accepted. In an interesting twist on this trope, William never finds out he was being tested, and since he's the novel's narrator, the book never flat-out says it was a test, though the implication is pretty blatant to anyone paying attention.
- 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. Possibly both interpretations are correct — cheating in such an obvious manner doesn't say much for one's ethics or intelligence.
- 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.
- Exactly the same thing happens to the hero of John Scalzi's Old Man's War as he "waits" for his military enlistment psych exam. There the purpose is actually to gather his emotional state in preparation for the body-swap process. (The test administrator is trained in unarmed combat in case of emergency.)
- Her Crown Of Fire: Upon arriving at Stanthor, Rose is subjected to a test without any warning or instruction. She first believes it to be a dream, but the wounds acquired during the test remained when she woke up. What the test told her teachers about Rose is not made clear.
- The Mysterious Benedict Society recruits children using a pencil-and-paper test combined with a series of Secret Tests. For example, the test requires everyone to bring exactly one pencil. On the way to the test, each child meets a girl who has dropped her pencil down a grating. The main characters each try to help her in different ways: Kate manages to MacGyver a way to retrieve the pencil, while Reynie simply breaks his own pencil in half and sharpens the broken end. This is combined with a Secret Test of Character when the girl (who's actually a plant working for Mr. Benedict) offers each of them a cheat sheet.
- The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester has one of these. Potential telepaths are told to wait in a room for an interview. The minder at the front is a telepath broadcasting the thought "If you can hear this, go through the door on your left..." (or right, or whatever it was).
- In Lords of the Bow, Chen Yi once paid a boatman to offer Quishan safe passage away from Baotou, shortly after Quishan became a slave to Chen Yi to pay off a debt. Quishan refused out of honour — good thing too, as he would have had his throat slit if he said yes.
- In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Talon Karrde has a green new crewmember stationed on deck when he comes out of hyperspace next to his ally Booster Terrick's ship, Errant Venture. The Errant Venture is a captured Star Destroyer revamped into, basically, a luxury liner, but there's no way to tell just by looking at it that it's not part of a trap. After she realizes that no one's preparing for combat and that this really isn't a trap, she gets angry at her boss, telling him that she does not like to be made into a human joke. Karrde indirectly tells her that this is a way of testing how she reacts to sudden shocks, and she passed - she froze for a moment, her fur puffed out, but she recovered quickly. Karrde's new bodyguard observes after she's gone that he probably does this a lot, and this crewmember left something that the others probably didn't - claw marks.
- In Lord of the Clans, Thrall finally meets the surviving members of the Frostwolf clan. They treat him badly, refuse to train him as a shaman and assign him menial and degrading tasks. When he eventually objects loudly, they explain that true orcs refuse to be slaves and accept him as their heir.
- In The Confidence-Man, every conversation the eponymous character has with another passenger on the steamboat is this. He challenges their morals and confidence while conning each one of them out of money... and he's either God or Satan testing them.
- Isaac Asimov's "Profession": The story begins with George living in "A House for the Feeble-minded" despite a future where everyone is assigned a job and Educated (that is, their minds are filled with information from a computer) except for the "feeble-minded". It was really a test — if he protested being labelled feeble-minded and continued to learn and create on his own, it proved he was gifted with the ability of original thought and therefore a cornerstone of human society.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Abbey Grange", Holmes learns that the murderer was acting in self defence, and to protect the victim's wife. He offers to give the man time to escape before telling the police, to which he angrily refuses, because that would leave the woman in the lurch. Holmes then says "I was only testing you, and you ring true every time," and doesn't tell the police at all.
- On the Warrior Cats series' official iOS app, it mentions that when Squirrelflight and Leafpool were kits, Squirrelkit put fire ants in her sister's bedding. Their mother, Sandstorm, knew she'd done that, and that night she announced that the two would be switching nests. She really meant for Squirrelkit to say she didn't want to switch nests, to confess to what she'd done, but Squirrelkit didn't say a word, choosing instead to spend the night being bitten by ants. Sandstorm, while disappointed that Squirrelkit didn't confess and apologize, admired her daughter's stubbornness and determination.
- An issue of MAD Magazine once posted a parody ad: "Psychic Wanted: If you are for real then you already know who I am, what I want, and what number to call me at."
- A Song of Ice and Fire. In order to demonstrate the difference between looking and seeing, Syrio Forel tells Arya Stark how he was chosen as the First Sword of Braavos. The ruler of Braavos (a trading kingdom) invited all the candidates to admire the latest beast brought back by his merchant ships — a large cat-like creature with no ears. Syrio was the only one to correctly identify it as an ordinary male (despite being told "Isn't she magnificent?") cat which had lost its ears in a fight and been fed too much as a pet.
- In the short story "Test" by Theodore Thomas, as part of the test to obtain a driver's license, a man was hypnotized into believing that he was driving along the turnpike with his mother as his passenger. When his car crashes violently with another, apparently resulting in the death of all involved, including his own mother and the girl sleeping in the other car, the vision ends. Afterwards, when he doesn't hesitate to sign the final forms for his license, two men in white coats drag him away. The logic was that, after experiencing an event like that, nobody should want to drive again for at least a month, therefore he is sick and needs treatment.
- Aviendha's final test before she could become a Wise One in The Wheel of Time: The Wise Ones supervising her kept giving her humiliating punishments without telling her what she'd done wrong. Finally, she decided she was sick of it and declared that she'd done nothing wrong, she was as good as any of them, and they ought to be the ones who were ashamed of themselves. The willingness to declare herself a Wise One and stand up for herself even in the face of hostility from the others was what her teachers were looking for.
- Anatov is very fond of doing this in Akata Witch. He sends his students to meet sorcerers hoping to get them apprenticed, though he sends them into these situations blind.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Reveal at the end is that the tour of Wonka's Factory is actually this. Willy Wonka wanted to find "a good sensible loving child" to become his heir, and that turns out to be Charlie, the only kid who doesn't meet a bad end due to misbehavior during the tour. Several adaptations put twists on this which allow Charlie to have more of a hand in his triumph:
- In the 1971 movie all of the children misbehave at some point. Charlie drank Fizzy Lifting Drinks after being told not to — though, unlike the others, he and Grandpa figured out how to escape the dangerous side effects. But it's not over yet — the purported competitor offering even greater riches to the kids for one of Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers is a secret test to find a person who won't succumb to such a temptation. Charlie is strong enough to resist, partially out of regret for his misbehavior, and this proves to Mr. Wonka that he's a worthy heir. Incidentally, it's possible that the fake offers to buy the Everlasting Gobstoppers has its practical side — if a child decided to sell the candy, it would go back to Mr. Wonka! Unless, of course, the child or their parents got the idea of auctioning it off to the highest bidder instead...
- The 2005 stage musical Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka uses the songs from the '71 film and rethinks this subplot. The lifetime supply of chocolate turns out to be a booby prize, and Charlie's test is a situation in which he gives in to temptation and never gets caught or called on it. It's when he confesses to drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drink of his own accord that he is rewarded for his honesty with the factory.
- The 2013 West End musical puts a whole new twist on things. It comes to its climax when Charlie is instructed not to touch Willy Wonka's precious idea notebook while the remaining adults are in another room. But Charlie can't help taking a look at it and even adding to it. This is what wins him the factory, for while his good behavior during the tour proves him to be a virtuous kid, this proves to Mr. Wonka that he is also a kindred spirit — someone whose imagination and creative drive are so strong that he's willing to break rules to use them.
- Journey to Chaos: Team Four is told that their first mission is to determine what snacks their respective captains like in time for their Captain's Meeting. This involves going to each lounge and meeting every person in each Squad. Nolien works out that this is not a mission at all, but more of an orientation; the true purpose was to familiarize themselves with the guild and the people that compose it. It's implied that this is why Nolien becomes the team's corporal.
- Andre Norton's Uncharted Stars. Murdoc Jern infiltrates the criminal hideout Waystar by pretending to be his father Hywel Jern, a trusted Thieves Guild appraiser and expert on Forerunner artifacts. A Waystar Veep (leader) decides to test him.
- An alien Faltharian who once met Hywel Jern is brought in to identify him. He makes a false statement designed to trick Jern but Jern corrects him, which helps to prove himself to be Hywel Jern.
- The Veep asks him to evaluate several items to determine which is the most valuable. He recognizes one of the items as a Forerunner star map, which would be priceless. He tells the Veep that another item is worth the most, but realizes too late that he's been set up - they knew that the star map was the most valuable item and were just testing him to determine if he would tell them the truth. As a result he has to fight his way out of Waystar.
- The premise behind Ernest Cline's Armada is that certain popular video games turn out to be training simulations for an alien invasion, identifying elite pilots for recruitment and teaching the populace at large soon to be needed skills. A few "game" missions even turn out to be actual combat operations against the aliens.
- In Too Many Magicians, a children's puzzle-toy on display at a sorcery convention has the secondary function of testing kids for magical Talent. The spell that keeps the toy operational is designed to wear off within a year: by that time, a non-Talented child will have outgrown their interest in it anyway, but a Talented one will unconsciously substitute their own ability for the expired spell. If the toy still works a year later, the parents will know to enroll their kid in sorcery school.
- In The King's Avatar, Ye Xiu does this to the Tyrannical Ambition guild players while he was infiltrating the guild. The guild was fully aware Ye Xiu was up to something but could not figure out what. It turns that Ye Xiu was trying to scout and recruit a Cleric for Team Happy.
- In Raising Steam, when Dick Simnel takes his plans for the railway to Harry King, he says that whatever Harry thinks they're worth will be fine with him. Harry explodes, insisting that Dick gets a lawyer to fight his side of the deal. Dick then explains that his mother told him to act a bit simple and see how people treat him, and Harry passed.
- The Sovereign of the south in Wax and Wayne was apparently fond of these, to the point where nobody is sure if The Bands of Mourning are meant to be a test, or what it's supposed to mean. His priests said he hid them in a faraway temple for safekeeping until he returned for them, but the Hunters at least think it's a test of temptation that they must overcome by destroying them, and Allik's crew think it's a straightforward test of worthiness.
- The Outer Limits (1963): In the episode "Nightmare", a group of soldiers invading the planet Ebon are captured and tortured for information by the Ebonites. They eventually learn that the situation is a set-up by their own superiors to test their ability to resist interrogation, with the cooperation of the Ebonites (who eventually protest the unethical nature of the test). This is a fictional depiction of the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training U.S. troops go through, but in Real Life, the troops know it's simulated.
- The Outer Limits (1995):
- In the final scene of "Afterlife", Dr. Ellen Kersaw realizes that humanity was secretly being tested by the aliens to determine whether or not they should make contact with them. They failed.
- In "Nightmare", the crew of the United World Forces spaceship Archipelago are under the impression that they have been captured by the Ebonites but it turns out that they were being subjected to a test to assess how they would react if the Ebonites were actually to capture them.
- In "Abduction", five Eden Park High School students, Cody Phillips, Jason, Ray, Brianna and Danielle, are abducted by aliens and find themselves in an exact replica of their school. An alien soon appears and tells them that in five hours' time, they will be forced to decide which of their fellow students will die. If they refuse to vote, all of them will be put to death. When the time comes, Brianna, who is convinced that it is some kind of test, refuses to vote and, with some reluctance, Jason, Ray and Danielle follow suit. However, Cody doesn't want to die and votes for Brianna. The alien fires an energy bolt from his staff and Brianna is killed. When a furious Ray attacks Cody, a gun falls from his belt. Ray then has Jason go through Cody's backpack and he finds that Cody has torn pages out of the yearbook and circled the faces of the other four students. Cody admits that he resents all of them for different reasons but denies that he was planning to shoot any of them. Jason, Ray and Danielle soon disappear. Now left all alone, Cody cradles Brianna's body and apologizes for voting for her, saying that he did not realize what he was doing and wishes that he could take it back. The alien reappears and tells Cody that it was a test for his benefit. Their observations indicated that the day would soon come when Cody would act on his desires, and they wanted to see whether he could take a different course. Cody is returned to school and finds all of the other students, including Brianna, alive and well. He then goes to the principal's office and places the gun on his desk, meaning that he will get the help that he needs.
- The Twilight Zone (1959):
- In "The Hunt", a man and his dog both drown. They then find themselves walking down a path. At one point, they meet a man who says that they've reached Heaven, but dogs aren't allowed. The dog's owner says any Heaven that doesn't allow his dog can count him out. Further down the road, he found it was a test, as an actual angel tells him the previous man was Satan and the place he wanted the dog's owner to enter was Hell. The angel warmly invites the man and his dog into the real Heaven.
- In "Valley of the Shadow", a newspaper reporter named Philip Redfield learns too much and is taken prisoner by the inhabitants of Peaceful Valley, New Mexico. An attractive woman named Ellen Marshall sets him free and he takes advantage of this to steal their secrets, killing several of them in the process. After Philip escapes with Ellen, she turns on him, revealing that the whole set-up was a test of his worthiness to know the information. He failed.
- The Lost episode "Hearts and Minds" features Locke knocking Boone out and then feeding him some self-made drugs in order for him to have a spiritual journey. Boone isn't exactly pleased with it at first, but eventually comes to understand the purpose.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- In "The Corbomite Maneuver", Balok allows the Enterprise to break free of his control and sends out a fake distress signal to determine their real intentions, as the information in the Enterprise's memory banks could have been faked.
- In "Catspaw", Korob tells Kirk, Spock and McCoy that they have passed his tests of loyalty, bravery and immunity to bribery.
- In "Patterns of Force", the Ekosian Resistance sets up a fake Nazi attack to make sure that the Enterprise crew members aren't Nazis.
- "The Empath". The Vians can save only one planet when the sun goes supernova and wanted to see if Gem's people were worth saving, all based on her decision to save another's life.
- "Spectre of the Gun". Revealed to be the Melkotians' real purpose in setting up the landing party to fight the Earps. Kirk and company pass the test by trying to avoid violence and, when that proves to be impossible, limiting themselves to non-lethal self-defense. As a result, the Melkotians greet them in friendship.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- There's a minor example in the pilot "Encounter at Farpoint". Picard questions Riker in an unfriendly fashion about an instance where he refused to let his previous captain beam down into a dangerous situation. Evidently, he just wanted to know if Riker would continue to stand his ground; a later episode establishes that he picked Riker as his first officer because of his willingness to stand up to his captain in that incident.
- In "Coming of Age", when Wesley is taking the Starfleet entrance exam, his final test is "facing his biggest fear." While he's waiting for the test to start, a fire breaks out in a nearby lab, and he can only save one of the techs working there. It turns out that that was the test, his fear was having to make a decision like that, since his own father died in a similar situation when Picard chose the other guy.
- In "Sins of the Father", a Klingon officer named Kurn becomes first officer of the Enterprise as part of an exchange program. He treats all of his subordinates harshly except for Worf, which (under Klingon custom) is an insult to Worf. When Worf confronts him over this, Kurn reveals that he is Worf's brother and was testing him to determine if he is a true Klingon.
- Picard does this again in "Lower Decks", to minor character Ensign Sito Jaxa. During her time at Starfleet Academy, Sito was involved in a piloting stunt that resulted in the death of one of her classmates. When Picard meets with her he gives her a strict dressing down, telling her she should have been kicked out of Starfleet and doesn't deserve to serve aboard the Enterprise. When she tries to say she's paid for her mistake and deserves a second chance, he merely responds that her actions showed a lack of character. Initially, she is too afraid to stand up to him, but after a talk with Worf she realizes Picard's judgment was unfair and calls him out on it. Afterwards, Picard revealed that he was actually considering her for a dangerous mission and wanted to test her resolve. He also tells her he specifically requested she be assigned to the Enterprise after she graduated to ensure she would get a second chance.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Let He Who Is Without Sin...", a group of terrorists burst into a room on the planet Risa and threaten the occupants. Shortly thereafter it's revealed that the whole attack was a hoax carried out by members of the New Essentialists Movement, who are trying to test the Risians' reaction to violence and prove the Federation's lack of preparedness.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Doctor Who:
- In "The End of the World", Cassandra makes a hilariously hasty attempt to invoke this trope after her villainous plan is exposed to the people who were supposed to have been killed by it. "So! Well done, you've passed my little test, bravo. This makes you eligible to join the, the, uh, uh, the Human Club."
- In "The Big Bang", the Doctor refuses to take the time to save Amy because, he says, she "isn't more important than the whole universe." The plastic Rory punches him and insists that she IS more important, whereupon the Doctor welcomes him back and helps revive Amy. Apparently, his callous refusal to rescue his companion is a test to ensure that Rory is completely on his side.
- In the Caprica episode "Blowback", Lucy Rand and a bunch of STO recruits are sent off to a training camp when the shuttle is attacked and hi-jacked by anti-STO zealots. They threaten to kill everybody who doesn't renounce the "one true God." But, lo and behold, it was actually a Secret Test, and those who hold onto their monotheistic beliefs in the face of death pass (the ones who don't are later executed). Lucy takes the third option and fights off her captors. This impresses her Mentor.
- Scrubs: Early in the series, after the Janitor removes a penny from an elevator door that prevented it from closing, he accuses J.D. of dropping the penny. In the Series Fauxnale, the Janitor claims that when he first met J.D. he knew he accidentally dropped the penny. The Janitor was testing him to see if he'd admit it, and he has been tormenting J.D. for eight years, not because he was mad about the actual penny but because it was a test of character that J.D. failed, thus causing him to lose the Janitor's respect. Of course, this is the Janitor, so he's probably just lying out his ass again.
- Firefly: At the end of the episode "Ariel", Jayne tries to sell Simon and River out to the Feds, which Mal figures out. He knocks Jayne unconscious and threatens to throw him out the airlock, but relents at the last second, because Jayne, accepting his fate, asks him just not to tell the crew why he's dead. Mal hadn't intended a Secret Test, but it turns out that caring what the crew thinks of him changes how Mal sees him enough to save his life. This is helpfully explained by Book at the beginning of the next episode, when quoting the words of the Warrior Poet Xiang Yu.
Book: Live with a man for forty years. Share his meals, and speak with him on every subject. Then, tie him up, and drag him to the rim of the volcano. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.
- In the second season of The Wire, Stringer Bell sends some guys to go get a rental car that supposedly has a shipment of drugs in it. After the guys pick the car up, there are no drugs and the guys must report to Stringer on what happened. The guys go to Stringer and tell him their stories. Stringer then reveals that it was a test to see how they would react, which seems meaningless after it's put into perspective.
- In Emergency Couple, a woman named Ji-hye shows up in the ER demanding Demerol (an opiate) for pain relief, and insisting she is allergic to any other pain reliever. Dr. Chang-min is reluctant, but he finally caves and agrees to prescribe her some Demerol—and thus fails the test, as she is really a doctor, testing the ER doctors and how they react to patients seeking drugs.
- An unusual example in Saving Hope. Maggie leaves her surgical boards early to help Alex who is well into her labor even though it's already been established that there is no way to reschedule them (other than taking them again the following year.) Maggie delivers the baby in the ambulance on the way to the hospital despite complications. When they arrive at Hope Zion, Dr. Katz asks Maggie to explain what happened with the birth and how she solved the problem. Dr. Katz then reveals that she had the surgical board folks on the phone and they agreed to use Maggie's impressive baby-delivering experience as her final board question (and she passed!)
- Played with in a flashback scene in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Peggy Carter leaves Werner Reinhardt in an interrogation chamber and intentionally leaves a pen on the table. He comments that she obviously wanted to see what he would do with it, since a pen can have so many uses, "Escape, confession, homicide... suicide." She agrees:
Agent Carter: It's true. I wanted to find out what kind of man you were. You didn't use the pen, so now I know.
- The 4400:
- In "Carrier", Maia becomes concerned that her aunt April only likes her because she tells her things that are going to happen, allowing April to place several successful bets on sporting events. April assures Maia that winning doesn't matter and she loves her for who she is. In order to test her aunt's love for her, Maia tells her to bet on Chicago even though she knows that New York City is going to win. The sport is not specified. April bets her mother's engagement ring on the Chicago team and is very upset when they lose. As such, she fails Maia's test.
- In "Terrible Swift Sword", Jordan Collier tells Shawn that he intends to launch an attack on the US Army base containing the promicin procured from Isabelle's system. Shawn thinks that going to war with the US government is insane and suicidal and warns NTAC about what Jordan is planning. When Tom and Diana confront Jordan in Shawn's presence, Jordan reveals that he had never intended to attack the base. It had merely been a test for Shawn. He wanted to see whether Shawn would betray him at the first sign of trouble. Suffice it to say, Shawn failed. It turns out that Jordan wasn't entirely honest with them. While he was never going to attack the base outright, he planned to infiltrate it by taking advantage of Boyd Gelder's ability to Lie to the Beholder.
- In Black Lightning (2018), when Police Chief Henderson wants to recruit Intrepid Reporter Jamillah Olsen as the Voice of the Resistance, he first threatens to arrest her. Once she's told him that she will keep telling the truth even if she's put in jail for it, he knows he's made the right choice.
- In Taxi, at Latka and Simka's wedding, as part of the custom for their country, they had to undergo a series of questions first, and if they answered a question wrong they could not be married. The last question was there was "There's a bull charging at your wife and child, and you only have enough time to save one. Who do you save?" Latka got the answer wrong, but Simka demanded they go on with the ceremony. Turns out it was a trick question. Both answers were wrong, and someone had to demand they still get married anyway in order for the wedding to continue.
- In the second episode of Chernobyl, a couple at the hotel bar asks Professor Legasov if they should worry about the accident at the nuclear plant. After a moment of consideration, he lies and says there isn't. Later on, he learns that they're actually the KGB agents assigned to keep tabs on him—and had he done the right thing and told them to go, he probably wouldn't still be part of the containment effort, illustrating that the state's obsession with saving face is almost as toxic as the reactor pumping out lethal radiation.
- The classic folk song trope - girl and lover part before war. He finds her after, bewailing that her love has gone to war and not returned. She doesn't (for plot reasons) recognize him, tells him her sad tale, swears she'll go to her grave unwed. Cue joyful reunion. See "Claudy Banks", "Plains of Waterloo" and a whole slew of others
- A very different plot between the same characters is presented in a Russian military shanson song. A soldier writes a letter to his girl saying he was crippled and lost his legs. The girl's answer is very rude, she tells the soldier to forget about her. He finds her after, she sees that he's all right and not crippled at all; it was a test for her, to tell if she loves him for real.
- Kate Bush's "Babooshka", though this isn't as clear cut as might seem as the song implies that the wife is deliberately avoiding intimacy with her husband before constructing the "Babooshka" character to tempt him into unfaithfulness.
- Older Than Feudalism. At the end of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira arrives at the gates of heaven, accompanied by a dog. He is told that he can enter, but the dog must be left behind. During the journey to said gates, all of Yudhisthira's siblings had perished, presumably for being not worthy to enter heaven, except the dog. After all that they'd been through together, Yudhisthira refuses to abandon the dog, and turns away from heaven, then the fact that it was a Secret Test is revealed.
In a variation on the story, Yudhisthira rejects paradise and chooses the underworld; with the Secret Test being the realization that both paradise and the underworld are illusions, and rejection of that illusion is the final step toward Nirvana.
- The Swedish folk tale Which Is Which? has a King discover his long-lost son, who with another boy survived a ship wreck and was raised by a fisherman. The wisemen debate how to discover the true prince, and give both boys fine robes and send them off to enjoy the city for a week. One boy gets his robe muddy, soaked, burnt, and torn while helping people; the other boy locks himself in his room for the week. Back in court, the wisemen declare that the one boy obviously thought of nothing but himself and his fine clothes, while the other boy thought of other people and would make the better king. The king accepts the better boy with the words "My son, my son!" This may seem like Values Dissonance (royal blood is automatically noble?), but then again, the Q&A section asks whether he found the true Prince, or merely selected the one who would make the better King.
- Lost princes and princesses raised by other people being identified as lost royalty by their looks or manners, even if they went missing right after birth, isn't a wholly unknown concept in folk and fairy tales. Many of which can probably be traced back to times when people would have readily agreed that yes, royal blood should automatically make you noble (in both senses of the word, Real Life evidence to the contrary notwithstanding). See, again, Values Dissonance.
- Portrayed in the Arabian Nights miniseries (and hence, probably, the source material), the Sultan swaps places with an unwitting beggar who, once he gets over the shock of his new identity, takes earnestly to ruling all of Araby, rather than doing stupid practical jokes like the regular Sultan. For about a week, every time the man falls asleep, the Sultan transforms him back and forth between a beggar and king just for the Mind Screw. When the true Sultan is accidentally slain (by the beggar thinking he has gone mad and stabbing a curtain that the king is behind laughing at him), his advisers perpetuate the ruse indefinitely, favoring the newer and more responsible regent.
- In The Iliad, Agamemnon tests the Greek army by pretending to be weary of fighting and ordering them to pack up and leave.
- In The Odyssey, Penelope administers one to the scruffy beggar she suspects is her husband Odysseus; she tells her servant to pull the bed out from her bedroom. Since one of the posts of the bed is a tree Odysseus planted and told only Penelope, she knows it must be him when he flies into a rage that she cut down the tree.
- In The Nut-Brown Maid, her lover tells her that he's been outlawed and outlines his perilous life ahead; she persists in saying that she will go with him, "For, in my mind, of all mankind/I love but you alone."; finally, he reveals that he made it up and is, in fact, an earl's son.
- The Bible. One interpretation, popular among military historians, gives this as the true lesson behind the story of Gideon (Judges, ch. 7). Faced with a superior opponent, Gideon starts with a host of 32,000 men. He begins by asking for volunteers only, which drops him down to 10,000 men. Then he puts them through a grueling march across the desert, at the end of which is an oasis. Most of the men put their faces down to the water, but 300 men scoop up the water in their hands so that they can keep watch while they drink. Those 300 are selected as the most spirited, most disciplined, and most well-conditioned of all his men, and with them Gideon conducts the first Special Forces raid in recorded history: they infiltrate the enemy camp with trumpets and clay jars, surround their sleeping opponents, and proceed to blow their horns and smash their jars. Their opponents are understandably scared to all hell by the utterly weird nature of the attack and rout immediately, where they are slaughtered to a man by a separate blocking force of Israelites. The Bible credits Divine Inspiration for the whole thing, but whether or not you believe it, it's hard not to see the parallels between Gideon's method and modern Special Forces selection.
- Dangerous Journeys — Mythus main rulebook, adventure "High Time at the Winged Pig". The PCs go to an inn to interview with a merchant for jobs. It's actually a setup: all of the occupants in the inn are there to play out various scenarios to test the PCs and find out if they have appropriate personalities to be the merchant's employees.
- Top Secret/SI adventure The Final Weapon. The PCs are relaxing in a hospital while undergoing their annual physicals or recuperating. Suddenly the hospital is attacked by commandos and the PCs can't find any weaponry to fight them. They must overcome the attackers and disarm a bomb, only to have their boss appear and tell them it was just a training exercise. The Administrator (game master) is told to cheat to make sure that none of the NPC "commandos" is killed by the PCs during the session.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation Tabletop Game. According to the Starfleet Academy supplement, applicants to and cadets at the Academy are regularly given Secret Tests to determine if they belong in Starfleet, including being lied to by Academy personnel. In Real Life, even reasonable people in that situation would either (a) start worrying that everything that happened was such a test (b) stop trusting anything they were told by Academy personnel unless they could verify it (c) get so annoyed at being regularly lied to by people they're supposed to trust that they quit, or (d) decide that a life-threatening situation was "just another test" and not take it seriously, causing people to get killed.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Basic D&D adventure X11 Saga of the Shadowlord. The cloud giant Azor gives a PC a potion which he claims is a potion of Animal Control. If the PC drinks it in hope of charming the giant's guard wolves, he'll discover that it's actually a powerful sleeping potion.
- 1st Edition Dragonlance adventure DL12 Dragons of Faith. The PCs encounter a group of rebels (who oppose the Dragonarmies) wearing Dragonarmy colors. If the PCs fight them, the rebels know the PCs oppose the Dragonarmies as well and will offer to take the PCs to their chief, who may give them aid and advice.
- 2nd Edition Dark Sun boxed set rule book. When elves encounter a stranger, they will set up tests of the stranger's friendliness and trustworthyness. These tests range from leaving out a valuable object to see if the stranger steals it up to a life-threatening situation.
- 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms supplement Code of the Harpers.
- When a person first asks to join the Harpers, they are asked to stay at the Running Stag Inn overnight. While there, a number of retired Harpers (who don't identify themselves as Harpers) will try to draw the applicant into a discussion of adventuring and what it means to be a Harper. Hidden Harper spellcasters cast spells to read the applicant's mind and find out their Character Alignment and true intentions (such as whether they're spies for the Harpers' opponents).
- If a candidate to join the Harpers acts suspiciously or shows unusual ability, Senior Harpers will try to disrupt missions they're sent on to see how they react.
- After a candidate has become a veteran member of the Harpers, they are given a secret test of loyalty as part of a regular mission. If they pass, they become a True Harper.
- 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual supplement. When a Talking Owl first encounters a party of PCs, it will pretend that one of its wings is broken and see how they react. If they try to kill it, it will know that they're evil and therefore enemies.
- Dungeon magazine:
- Issue #11 adventure "The Wooden Mouse". The guildmaster of the local Thieves Guild sets up a little test for a prospective member. Using a false identity, he hires the thief to infiltrate a mansion and steal the title item. The mansion is filled with opponents prepared for the thief's arrival.
- Issue #38 adventure "Things That Go Bump In The Night". While traveling through the Brettonwood the PCs will find an owl lying on the ground, apparently with a hurt wing. This is actually a trick by the (intelligent, talking) owl to find out if the PCs are friendly and worthy of its help. If they try to heal it, the owl will speak to them and offer to be their guide through the forest. If they don't (or worse, if they try to kill it) then they will lose this potentially valuable source of assistance.
- Issue #67 adventure "Training Ground". During the adventure, the Player Characters will meet a ranger named Rogart who serves the kingdom of Cormyr. If the PCs successfully defeat the evil Zhentarim, Rogart will consider offering them jobs serving Cormyr. However, he will test them first to make sure they are worthy of such an honor.
- Polyhedron magazine
- Issue #35, adventure "The Undead Bole". The priestesses of Mielikki believe that the Player Characters may be Evil, so they decide to test them to make sure. They tell the PCs that one of them is Evil and command the rest to kill him. If the PCs do so, they have acted in an Evil manner and fail the test. If they refuse, they have proved themselves to be Good and the priestesses will aid them.
- Issue #39, article "Fun in Games". After a fighter applies to join the Fellowship of Moot, they will be secretly tested (without their knowledge) by one or more Fellowship members. If they pass the test, they will be allowed to join.
- Issue #73, Monstrous Manual entry for Bahamut the Platinum Dragon. When one of Bahamut's gold dragon attendants needs to be replaced, Bahamut secretly applies elaborate, dangerous and challenging tests to all gold dragons old enough to be eligible for service. The most worthy (courageous, noble and loyal) candidate gets the job.
- GURPS (3rd Edition) supplement Illuminati. Conspiratorial groups (such as the Illuminati) secretly test prospective applicants to determine whether they're worthy to join. After an applicant has joined, the secret testing continues to determine whether they remain worthy of membership.
- Imagine magazine #29, Traveller/Star Frontiers adventure "The Sarafand File". One of the adventure possibilities involves the starship Sarafand's main computer malfunctioning (much like the HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey). The crew must figure out how to fix the computer before it kills them. In fact, the whole situation is a set-up by the crew's superiors to test how they respond to the stress of impending death.
- Marvel Super Heroes supplement Uncanny X-Men boxed set "Adventure Book". In chapter 2 "Lunch Break", while the PCs are eating lunch with the Beast they're attacked by a Spider Tank with six 12-foot long Combat Tentacles. It turns out to be a test arranged by the Beast to find out if the PCs are worthy to be superheroes.
- Supplement Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets. The Denver Kid is asked by a fixer named Slim to handle some of his duties while he's out of town. He does a good job, and another fixer named Mr. Cajun asks him if he'd like to act as fixer full time. The Denver Kid tells him that he will have to wait until he can talk to Slim before he can give an answer. Mr. Cajun is pleased - he replies "Loyalty can never be bought, only earned. You have passed."
- Ka•Ge magazine Vol. 1 Issue 4 (2nd quarter 1992), adventure "The Retching Rat". The PC shadowrunners are hired to retrieve a spirit focus (magic item). If they astrally scan the focus after they retrieve it, they discover that it's specifically used to summon and control toxic (evil) spirits. If they tell the fixer who hired them what they've discovered, he congratulates them and pays them a bonus, as well as promising them a larger payment for their next job.
- Supplement Face in the Smoke Volume One: The Secret Masters. A person being considered to join the Silencius secret society is given a mission to track down and kill a renegade magic user. What the potential recruit doesn't know is that the "renegade" is actually a member of the Silencius leaving false clues for them to follow. If the recruit tracks down the "renegade" successfully, they can join.
- Supplement Face in the Smoke Volume Two: Shadows and Steel. When a member of The Adventurers' Society is under consideration to become a Watchbearer (special agent) of the organization, the member will be asked to deal with some evil situation or entity. If there is no existing evil problem currently available to act as a challenge, the Society will set up a false enemy (made up of Society members and actors) to test the member.
- Ars Magica: In the Order of Hermes, the conflict-obsessed House Tytalus constantly challenges its members, with and without their knowledge — sometimes, identifying the test is part of the test. It's actually possible for a non-Tytalus magus to pass an entrance test they weren't aware of, much to their confusion when Tytalus magi start speaking of them as one of their own.
- Rossini's opera La Cenerentola, which is a much fleshed-out re-telling of the Cinderella story. Alidoro, the tutor of the prince, dresses himself in rags and comes to the house of Don Magnifico. His two daughters send him away, but his step-daughter Cenerentola takes pity on him and offer him food. Alidoro thinks this girl is right for the prince, and so offers to doll her up for the royal ball.
- Malcolm claims he might be a worse king than Macbeth, because he is so full of lust and greed. Macduff reacts with consternation, but then Malcolm tells him it's all a lie and in fact he's the most virtuous Boy Scout in Scotland. It's not completely clear, but it is possible Malcolm is testing Macduff to make sure his first allegiance is to the benefit of Scotland.
- Malcolm suspects that Macduff may be an agent of Macbeth trying to lure him back to Scotland and into a trap. If that were the case, he would expect Macduff to respond along the lines of "It doesn't matter how bad you are; come back anyway." Instead, Macduff exclaims, "Alas, poor Scotland!" signaling to Malcolm that Macduff's goal is to save his country, not simply to bring back Malcolm.
- According to one interpretation, Macbeth himself may have been subject to such a test. The witches' prophecy told him that he would first become Thane of Cawdor, and then king hereafter. However they didn't tell him how or when he would become king. They did not convince him to plot with Lady Macbeth to murder king Duncan, they did not place daggers into his hands, and they did not force him to commit the deed and cover it up. He did all that on his own, out of his own free will. If the prophecy had been truly inevitable, Macbeth could just as easily have sat back and rested on his laurels until it happened on its own (which he actually notes at one point early in the play). Needless to say, he failed the test of character. Big time. Another interpretation is that he actually did expect to be named Prince of Cumberland (Duncan's heir): that's why he acts so shocked when Duncan actually names his son, Malcolm. (In Real Life, the throne of Scotland was not hereditary: the king was expected to pick a successor from the senior noblemen of the kingdom. As a victorious general, Macbeth would have expected to be in the running. Being passed over for the king's young son must have been a huge shock.)
- In Baldur's Gate II, Korgan Bloodaxe will constantly berate Aerie, who will eventually bail out of the party. In the Expansion Pack, Aerie will eventually insult him straight back, at which point Korgan tells her that he was trying to see if she'd develop a backbone and now that she has, he's OK with her.
- Bioshock Infinite. When Booker is about to enter the Good Time Club the villain Fink tells him over the PA system that "The best kind of interview is one where the applicant doesn't know he's being evaluated." When Booker enters the audience area he attacked by a series of opponents. After the end of the fight, he learns that Fink was testing him for the job of Head of Security for Fink Enterprises.
- Dark Cloud 2:
- Max has been looking forward to the circus for a long time. He treasures his ticket and finishes all his chores at the workshop just to make it on time! But then a filthy, shoeless street urchin steals his ticket! After chasing the kid all over the town square, he finally catches up and gets his ticket back... only to give it back to the child, because he can see just how much that poor, homeless kid wants to see the circus too. Turns out, this was actually Monica Raybrandt, princess from 100 years into the future, testing Max's heart as the wielder of the Earth Atlamillia.
- The official fanbook pokes fun at this by having Max Take a Third Option... and photocopy the ticket. Monica sulks away, dejected at this turn of events.
- In the end of the last Dark Brotherhood story arc quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion The Night Mother reveals that she knew who the traitor was all along but refrained from telling anyone because she wanted to see if her followers could figure it out on their own. They failed the test. Badly.
- The Isis Corporation in Immortal Souls is very fond of tricking the main character John into being in harm's way, or even attacking him, then claiming they were testing him to see if he'd be strong enough for their missions. In the latter case it's not clear if they're telling the truth, or if they really wanted to kill him and just figured that since he lived they might as well put him to use. Turns out it's the latter, as the agents who actually attack him are only pretending to be working for Isis Corp.
- Lunar: Walking School: When Ellie, Lena and the rest of the new freshmen first arrive at Iyen, it appears to be completely deserted. While they set out to secure food and shelter, the boys immediately turn condenscending, and steal all of the girls' food and extra clothes, prompting the heroines to kick their butts. None of the students face any consequences after the truth is revealed.
- In the original Thief, Garrett is hired partway through the game to steal a sword from eccentric rich guy Constantine. After succeeding at this, it turns out that Constantine himself was the one who hired Garrett: the whole job was a test of Garrett's thieving skills, which he passed with flying colors. Constantine then gives Garrett his real job: a considerably tougher caper that takes the next six missions to pull off.
Constantine: Oh, and, as for the sword, keep it. You've certainly earned it, and it may prove useful to you.
- The entirety of World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King expansion was this, apparently. The Lich King actually wanted the world's greatest champion's to try and defeat him, knowing that they would fail. The idea was to kill them all, and then raise them into undeath under his control. Had he managed to succeed, the world really would have been screwed because the player characters have already proved capable of killing dragons and subduing Old Gods. He does actually kill the players at the end of the fight, but another character intervenes before he can complete his plans. his one mistake was underestimating the power of the Ashbringer. What he doesn't know is that the Ashbringer is probably powered by the heart of a Naaru, and as such it can break his sword Frostmourne. Since Frostmourne is a soul-eating sword, all the souls come out when it is broken and they're pissed off for obvious reasons. The souls of his victims are what ultimately defeat the Lich King.
- Mach in SC2VN gets invited to play some practice games, but it's really to try out for a new team.
- In City of Reality, an immigrant has to pass a test in order to be accepted into the City of Reality. The test, however, is actually made while the immigrants are queuing and waiting for the test to begin. Will they help the crying child? Are they polite when speaking to strangers etc. (thecityofreality.com - Chapter 5-2: Do You Believe in Magic? Part 2)
- College Roomies from Hell!!!. When it's clear that Dave won't become Vernon's assassin, Vernon tries and fails to convince him of the morality of killing "evil" people in cold blood. This is a test to make sure Dave is Not Worth Killing; Dave, however, sees through it, gives the "right" answers… and incinerates Vernon the minute he gets loose.
- In Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, Delilah explains that she wouldn't tell if she was evaluating him because then it wouldn't be a fair evaluation.
- In Dominic Deegan, the titular seer's cruise vacation turned out to be one of these. Rilian tested Dominic and Luna through their interactions with the different people they met with, and if Dominic had failed any of the tests, Rilian was prepared to kill him on the spot rather than risking Dominic going through a psychotic Mindbreak.
- Ki of General Protection Fault contacts Nick, whom she has a crush on, under the alias Pookel and starts a brief cyber-relationship with him, setting up a date at the movie theater with his online alias and claiming to have been stood up by her date when she meets him. She eventually gets together with him in real life without telling him about Pookel, and contacts him as Pookel to see if he's loyal to her, and he tells Pookel that they should be Just Friends, showing that he is. He later finds out that she is Pookel, and is initially angry that she did not tell him, but forgives her.
- Girl Genius:
- Baron Wulfenbach enjoys using these on his son, the first one we see involving an analysis of an apparently important but ultimately non-working invention of his to see if Gil was sure enough of his own skills as a Spark to point out that his overlord father made a mistake. He gives these often enough that Gil tends to asks his father with an annoyed tone if an unexpected occurrence was actually one of his little tests for him.
- When Agatha first meets Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, she asks him incredulously about some of his past accomplishments. He mentions the last one doesn't ring a bell to him, to which Agatha answers that she made it up.
- In MegaTokyo, when Meimi calls out to Yuki that Kobayashi is on the phone (she specifically calls him her boyfriend), protective father Masamichi goes absolutely nuts, grabs the phone, and begins to verbally thrash, threaten, and overall act just plain nasty to the poor guy. Over the course of three pages, he covers everything from how closely he could have Kobayashi monitored to asking the boy if he knows how much concrete Masamichi buys a month. He may not look too pleased in the end, but he finally begrudgingly heads up to Yuki's room and hands her the phone.
Masamichi: He didn't hang up.
- Misfile, Ash's father has Rumisiel re-roof his house and dig a new leach field for the septic tank as a test of how long it would take Rumi to blow it off. If Cassiel had not distracted him by claiming a threat to Ash's life then Rumi would have completed those tasks. A possible more meta example is that Rumisiel's handling of the misfile itself may be a secret test by his superiors in heaven, but this remains a fan theory pending Word of God either way.
- In Mother of Learning, the second meeting between Zorian and Detective Haslush Ikzeteri turns out to be one of these: Haslush combined a disguise and a compulsion spell to make Zorian think he was in the wrong place. Haslush explains afterwards that part of his motive was emphasizing the importance of perceptiveness for divination.
- Parodied in an episode of American Dad!, where Stan's boss Bullock claims that all his Jerkass behavior was just a test to see if Stan could stand up to him. In truth, Bullock really was just a huge Jerkass and came up with the whole test thing at the last minute to keep Stan from killing him.
- One Family Guy episode has Peter grilling a potential boyfriend of Meg's, asking a series of personal questions. The final question he asks is whether the boyfriend has ever done a particular masturbation technique (the stranger). Since the boyfriend answers honestly, Peter responds, "Not anymore you don't, you're dating my daughter!"
- King of the Hill: When Hank Hill is forced to take an anger management class, the actual final test is that everyone is given a diploma with a typo for their name. Hank points out that his diploma reading "Hink Hall" would make it difficult to prove that he passed, but because he did not get enraged, he passes. Chuck Mangione on the other hand responds to his reading "Chick Mangione" with "I'm not a chick, I'm a dude!" and hitting his instructor in the head with his trumpet.
- In Recess, the episode in which the cast found a note worth a large amount of money on the ground (for a child, that is; remember ever finding a $20, $50, or even a $100 bill as a kid?). Rather than keep it like they all initially wanted to, they decided to try to find the real owner of the bill. They do, and T.J returns it, only to be apparently told to leave. Assuming they made the wrong decision by giving it back to someone who didn't seem that appreciative of it, he comes back and tells them, only for the person to come out on a jet-pack and explain he did it all the time. And of course, the gang was the only one to actually return it to him.
- On The Simpsons, when Marge reacts with horror to Dr Hibbert suggesting she could sell one of her children, he says "That was a test. If you had responded in any other way, you'd be in jail now." He isn't totally convincing.
- SpongeBob SquarePants has the episode "Treats!". When Garry's favorite snail treat is discontinued he hounds SpongeBob to scour the world to find the treats. When there are none to be found anywhere, SpongeBob takes Patrick's advice to tell Garry "no." Garry then goes to bed happy to know SpongeBob can finally say "no."
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu". The Megans tell Captain Kirk that Lucien, the Megan who helped the Enterprise crew earlier, must be punished for betraying his people. Captain Kirk risks death to help Lucien, after which the Megans tell him that they were testing him to make sure humans could be trusted.
- A job for a telegraph operator opens up. Many people come in to apply, but nobody ever calls them in for an interview, so they just sit in the waiting area listening to the tap-tap-tap of Morse code in the background. Finally, one man comes in, sits a few minutes, then gets up and goes to speak with the staff on his own. The other applicants are then told to go home, the position has been filled. The Morse code in the background? It was repeating the message "If you are able to understand this, come and speak to us, the job's yours." This story is most likely apocryphal since, naturally, even in the early age of communication, management would frown on workers trying to eavesdrop on what could be private customer communications.
- One of the most famous real-life examples is Van Halen's way of making sure the technical specifications of their performance contracts were being read and followed: the document called for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed, and included a clause that they could cancel the show and walk away with the money if this was not followed. This was not Van Halen being a bunch of divas; rather, it was their way of making sure the venue was actually paying attention and reading everything in full. Van Halen's shows had flying harnesses, enough pyrotechnics for a small war, and unprecedented lighting. Their rigs were immense and very dangerous if they collapsed. Early in the band's career, they and their roadies suffered so many near-misses due to substandard preparation that it's a miracle no one died on tour. The potential consequence (which they never enforced) ensured that no venue would knowingly fail to comply with this directive, so if the directive was violated, it could only be by pure carelessness or oversight, which meant there were likely to be problems elsewhere. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl (or if there was no bowl), it indicated to the tour staff that they needed to personally check the setup for other, more serious mistakes.
- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover USN, "Father of the Nuclear Navy," once went out to lunch with a prospective Naval Reactors officer. When the meal arrived, the prospect started adding salt to the food, at which point Rickover told him to leave. Why? Because anyone who would put salt on his food without checking that it needed salt was clearly not someone with the attention to detail necessary to work with nuclear reactors—particularly not naval reactors, and most particularly not US Naval Reactors (which is so anal about procedure that it has the lowest accident rate of any nuclear operator in the world: Zero). note
- This story has also been associated with Thomas Watson, the long-time chief of International Business Machines, and for the same reason, that a single wrong wire or character in code can make a multimillion dollar System/360 into a bunch of furniture.
- The old joke, told in the first person: "I was coming over to meet my fiancee's family for dinner, but as soon as I got in the door I ran into her gorgeous younger sister wearing a towel. She told me that she had always found me hot and wanted to make good on her last chance before I married her sister. Then she dropped the towel and left for her room, motioning for me to follow. I immediately turned to exit the front door and ran into the rest of her family on the front porch. They told me that they had to be sure I wouldn't stray. Now they could feel totally comfortable letting me marry their daughter. Moral of the story: Always keep your condoms in the glove box."
- Zhao Gao, the corrupt/evil prime minister of the Qin dynasty once brought a deer before the Emperor and began to describe it as the most wondrous stallion in all of China. Most of the officials played along, but a few continued to call the deer a deer. Zhao Gao then had everyone who told the truth executed for being too honest and not pliable enough. The story was referenced in a Chinese idiom (指鹿为马 "pointing to a deer and calling it a horse") to describe a ludicrously transparent and brazen lie.
- There is an old joke like this. It starts off saying "a man and his talking donkey are going to X location." Then it just repeats "after 10 miles, the donkey says 'are we there yet?' and the man replies 'patience, jackass, patience.'" Obviously, if somebody asks when the joke ends, you say "patience, jackass, patience."
- Honest Tea did an experiment in major U.S. cities where they would place a case of their products out with a sign saying $1 each (a great price for it too). They set (hidden) cameras to watch it and left it out on the honor system. At the end of the day they counted the money against the number of products taken. Boston (93.3%) and Washington DC (93%) were the "Most Honest" while Chicago (78%) and Los Angeles (75%) were the worst.
- A small company in Washington, D.C. left bagels with cream cheese and cash boxes out in various businesses with a little sign asking people to pay one dollar per bagel. They owner made quite a profit. He kept extensive records of how different companies treated him, and they were reviewed extensively by the economist Stephen Levitt in his academic papers and his book Freakonomics. In general, the stats showed: 1) small companies were more honest than large ones, 2) certain holidays (like Christmas) drove up theft, while others (July 4th) drove it down, 3) executives stole more than lower-ranked professional employees, 4) 9-11 caused a large decrease in theft, especially among defense-related companies, and 5) overall, payment hovered near 90%. So when faced with the Secret Test, about 90% of the time, a Washington office worker is good for a buck.
- Some TV programs/groups/magazines have done an "honesty test" by leaving wallets out in the open and seeing if the person who finds it returns it or not. The magazine Reader's Digest did this once worldwide, and commented that people who looked like they needed the money often returned the wallet (the most notable case being a person so poor that he went through dumpsters to find bottles to sell who nonetheless returned the wallet, saying that he thought it might have belonged to a handicapped person who needed the money more than he did) whereas people who looked rich enough to not need the money often didn't return the wallet. One such candidate passed with flying colors by returning a wallet... but only after replacing the money someone else had stolen from it with his own.
- In his autobiography About Face, David Hackworth mentions how he selected members of a raiding company by throwing a (dummy) grenade in among them. If they threw themselves on the grenade they lost, because they were stupid. If they didn't freeze up or do something stupid, but instead got the hell out of the tent, they passed.
- Joining websites
- In order to become a member of the SCP Foundation website, it's a requirement that you read all rules before submitting an application. Nestled deep within the various rules pages are passwords and instructions that you must insert those passwords in your application as well. All applications without passwords are denied.
- When Das Sporking first opened up for other members to become sporkers, the instructions for how to apply had hidden within them the requirement that your application must contain the phrase "Cram it with walnuts, ugly" somewhere in it.
- The Secret Test is a vital component of countless psychological tests (since it involves human subjects, it has to go through a special ethics board first, of course). For example, Asch's conformity experiment told subjects that they were part of a "perception" test and put in a group, each member of which was supposed to answer aloud which line in a row was the longest. In actuality, all but one of the "subjects" were actors. The true purpose of the test was to measure to what degree the subject would conform to the other participants' obviously incorrect but unanimous answers.
- Many upper managers will take a prospective applicant out to lunch if they've passed everything up through the interview. Based on how the applicant acts towards the wait staff, they can blow their chances. The test here being how they will treat those they view as beneath them. If you're willing to verbally abuse the waiter, they have an idea of how you'll treat those under your supervision and on down the line. Lower-level positions or those coming in for their initial interview have the similar front desk test, where the receptionist is taking notes on their conduct; candidates who are rude, disrespectful, or dismissive to the front desk staff, or who are openly hostile and defiant when asked to carry out tasks before the interview (such as signing in on a visitor log, or donning a mask in the COVID era) will have their behavior documented and mentioned to the interviewers. Like the waitstaff test, how a candidate treats people who they perceive as beneath them, as gatekeepers, or who are in charge of enforcing rules that apply to everyone is a solid glimpse into how they will treat coworkers and subordinates, and how much respect they have for workplace rules and customs.
- The story has it that when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were shopping around their script for Good Will Hunting, they used a secret test to see which producers had actually read the script instead of just skimming it: on page 60 of the script, the two main characters, Will and Chuckie, have a completely out-of-nowhere sex scene. None of the producers they spoke with mentioned the scene, until they met Harvey Weinstein, who said, "I only have one really big note on the script. About page sixty, the two leads, both straight men, have a sex scene. What the hell is that?" Needless to say, they chose Weinstein as their producer, and the rest is history.
- Former ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson recounted in his memoirs, Hold On, Mr. President!, how before he began his journalism career he had the opportunity to be interviewed by oilman Nelson Bunker Hunt for a job with him. It went pretty well, he asked, and at the end Hunt asked him what sort of salary he was looking at; Donaldson demurred. On the way out, Hunt's secretary asked him about how the interview went, and he told her, including the end. She told him right away he'd lost the job opportunity with that one, since Hunt believed that any man worth hiring would have no problem saying how much he thought he was worth.
- In Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis recounts how it was not uncommon for Wall Street firms hiring new college or business school graduates in the early 1980s to sometimes use a stress-interview technique where the interviewer would walk in a few minutes after the interviewee had arrived, then ignore him/her completely for, potentially, even longer, taking/making phone calls, doing other work. The idea was to test the interviewee's ability/willingness to take control of the situation. According to Lewis, one interviewee grew so frustrated at being treated this way that he threw a chair out the window ... of a Lower Manhattan high-rise, many stories up.note