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Secret Test of Character

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"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. 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 them 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 themself. The hero says "Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!" and goes to help.

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

The hero seldom rejects the tester, the reward, or the whole situation on the grounds that it was an underhanded trick — and this is 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 their apparent sacrifice to their 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 they are doing exactly what they 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. If another character made a very different choice during the same test, they may be a Mirror Character.

A Sub-Trope of 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.

Old Beggar Test is a Sub-Trope involving a powerful figure disguised in rags testing the hero's moral capacities. If it's not a test of moral character, it's just a Secret Test or a Hidden Purpose Test. The test may involve seeing if the hero can endure great pain, whether physical or psychological.

Example subpages:

Other 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.

  • 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. Examples include John Riley and "Banks of Claudy".
  • Serbian ballad "Wise girl outwits Marko" ("Devojka nadmudrila Marka") is about a poor girl who is asked to be a wife of three folk heroes, Marko Kraljević, duke Janko and Ustupčić Pavle. They all come to her house on the same day to get married, followed by thousand wedding guests each. Marko comes with a test: each hero would put a blanket on the ground in front of himself and put his golden signet ring and a golden apple on it. Whoever's ring or apple the girl picks up she will marry. The girl doesn't touch anything and tells the following "Goodbrother Marko, Godfather Janko, The apple is a child's play, the golden ring is a sign of a hero. I will go with Ustupčić Pavle." Marko gets angry because she didn't choose him and he had failed to trick her. He reveals that if she so much as touched an apple or a ring, he would have cut her head off because she would have revealed herself as a greedy and foolish wife.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin would be given chances to tell the truth, but instead utterly fails big time because of his insistence that everyone will be stupid enough to believe his obvious lies.
    Mom: While your dad is taking Rosalyn home, perhaps you can explain what happened tonight.
    Calvin: Gee, Mom, I don't know what to tell you. At eight o'clock, I brushed my teeth, put on my pajamas, and went to bed. Nothing happened.
    Mom: (pulls out written confession Rosalyn made him write) And this?
    Calvin: Uh... lies! All lies! She made me do that just to get me in trouble! None of that's true! I went straight to bed!
  • Prince Valiant has a case where King Arthur judges between two men by telling them that one of two goblets would refill itself if an innocent man drank from it. The guilty man is the one whose cup was still full — the innocent man drank, whereas the guilty one only pretended to.

    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.
  • "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, even though this time the Fairy is disguised as a woman of wealth and taste.
  • Similarly, the stepdaughter is polite in The Three Little Men in the Wood, sharing her food and acceding to their requests, and the daughter is not.
  • In "The Girl And The Dead Man" here, 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.
  • "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.
  • In one Grimm story ("Choosing a Bride" or "The Cheese Test"), a young man goes courting and meets three girls of appropriate age and social status, and is unable to choose between them. His mother suggests serving each cheese with the rind still on, and watching how they eat it. The first girl eats the cheese rind and all, revealing that she is gluttonous and lazy. The second girl takes a knife and chops off the rind, but also a lot of the good cheese, revealing that she is wasteful and careless. The third trims off the rind without wasting any cheese, proving that she is attentive and hardworking.
  • In one Vuk Karadžić story ("Šljive za đubre" or "Plums for trash"), a man wants to find a worthy bride for his son. So he gathers a full horse cart of plums and moves through the village, shouting "Plums for trash". People hear about the crazy man and start bringing him buckets of dust, trash, wood fillings, and all sort of garbage. Finally, a young girl brings him barely a fist of dust from her house and asks him if it is worth at least one plum. He asks her why she didn't bring him more dust. The answer? I don't have any in my house. She is the one who the son marries because she has proven herself to be hardworking and clean.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the rich Mr. Whitmore gives Milo Thach the Shepard's Journal at his late grandfather's request. Mr. Whitmore considers the idea of Atlantis to be a hoax and the journal useless, with or without Milo's linguistic talents. As he continues to shoot down Milo's ideas of an expedition and points out how no one will help him, Milo explodes and affirms he'll find Atlantis even if he has to do it alone in a row boat. Mr. Whitmore then smiles and congratulates Milo; Seeing his determination convinces Whitmore to go forward with fully funding a large-scale expedition to find Atlantis.
  • In Atlantis: Milo's Return, Milo confronts a Native American wind spirit who can control a bunch of sand coyotes. 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 spirit spares them, saying they understand the importance of keeping a secret, and lets them go.
  • Goofy employs one on Max in A Goofy Movie. The two eventually come to a junction where going left would lead to what Max wants, and going right would lead to what Goofy wants. Max changed the route on the family map to take them to Los Angeles instead of Lake Destiny in Idaho. Goofy discovered this with Pete's influence the night before, so he decides for himself how Max was going to choose. This after proclaiming to Pete that he trusts Max to make the right choice. However, Max chooses to go left. Goofy complies, but he then enters Tranquil Fury as a Rage Breaking Point, knowing that Max failed the test. This results in a Third-Act Misunderstanding.
  • 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, Rainbow Dash agrees to help anyway, saying she just wanted to see how serious Twilight was about challenging Sunset Shimmer: refusing to give up despite being hopelessly outmatched meant that she actually did have the determination needed and wouldn't just back down once things got tough.
  • Implied in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. Early in the short, Billy stands up to some thugs who are harassing a seemingly loopy homeless man; he gets Curb-Stomped, but gives the homeless man a subway token, which he later returns. The token allows Billy to meet the Wizard Shazam. At the end, the homeless man is revealed to be Tawky Tawny, a shape-shifting spirit who works for the Wizard.

  • "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."
  • 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 a building/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."
  • Three candidates are applying for a very important government position (FBI, CIA, or the like) and as part of the process, is handed a gun and instructed to go into a nearby room and shoot the person there. The first goes in and finds to his horror that his wife is tied up there, unties her, then goes back and tells the interviewer that he's not playing along with their sick game. The second goes into his room, finds one of his loved ones, and does the same. The third goes in, and then there's a lot of noise and screaming. Finally he returns and tells the interviewer, "Your stupid gun was loaded with blanks! I had to beat her to death with the chair!"

  • In the Cool Kids Table game Small Magic: Partway through their journey, the party comes across a father and his ill daughter in the middle of the woods and help cure the daughter with some of their supplies. They later find out the house where the family supposedly lived does not exist, and eventually that the two were testing the group to see if they were willing to extend kindness to strangers.

  • 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 
  • Ars Magica: Part of the test to become a member of House Guernicus, the judges and investigators of Magical Society, is an extensive written examination on law... but the real test is that the apprentice has an opportunity to cheat. If they do, they're told that they failed on an unrelated manner but can repeat the test. If they cheat three times, they're permanently barred from any law enforcement position.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • 4th Edition: The Sable Lancers 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 do 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 also 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.
    • The Lawful Goodinvoked god of metallic (good) dragons Bahamut often disguises himself as an old man with canaries (which are really gold dragons), sometimes to test people (especially his followers). 4e even has rules for setting up such an encounter: namely, he would pretend to be a traveling old man asking for the PCs to escort him somewhere, at one point he would set up camp in a place where monsters/bandits, etc are likely to attack. If they do attack and the PCs try to protect him, he secretly helps them with really powerful buffs and healing to make sure they don't die, and typically reveals his true nature and rewards them after they win. If they just chicken out and leave him to die, they fail and he just teleports away with no reward.
  • Mage: The Awakening: The Guardians of the Veil (a sort of wizard intelligence agency) 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.
  • In Warhammer, all the Phoenix Kings of the High Elves of Ulthuan undergo one by stepping into a massive arcane pyre called the Flames of Asuryan, which are said to spare only those who are fated to be the true kings of Ulthuan. Long before the time of the setting, Malekith, the greatest warrior and sorcerer prince among the High Elves and would have been shoo-in for the second Phoenix King except he was really unpopular for his arrogance and for the harsh customs of his home kingdom of Nagarythe, was passed over for another war hero named Bel Shanaar. Morathi, Malekith's mother (also secretly a devotee of Slaanesh and evil as hell) went ballistic about her son not being chosen to be Phoenix King, so together they had Bel Shanaar murdered before the gathered nobles and tried to frame him as a Slaaneshi cultist. When that didn't work, Malekith tried to prove his claim by walking into the Flames. Surprisingly, Malekith was roasted horribly and he only barely survived the experience, and even thousands of years later his burn wounds persist. Malekith now lives on as the Witch King of the Dark Elves and vows to return to be the Phoenix King. Except in Warhammer: The End Times it turns out that Malekith always was the rightful king of Ulthuan - the reason he failed the Flames was that he didn't endure the pain long enough, as his father Aenarion had done. So everything that happened as a result (becoming the Witch King, Naggaroth, and everything else) was another overly elaborate test for him by the gods.

  • At the climax of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a judge must decide whether a child should be returned to his biological mother or remain with the woman who had raised him as her own son. He settles it by drawing a circle with chalk and placing the child in the center of it. He tells the women to pull on the boy and that whichever of them can pull him out of the circle first will be considered the true mother. The birth mother pulls hard, the adoptive mother lets go rather than injure the child. Similar to the Judgment of Solomon story, the judge then reveals that it was a test, and that the adoptive mother has proven herself to be the better mother because she alone put the child's interests ahead of her own.
  • Richard Strauss's 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."
  • Even William Shakespeare used this trope from time to time.
    • In The Merchant of Venice, Portia's deceased father leaves behind a test for her suitors. They are presented a room with three chests, each one made of gold, silver, or lead, and told that one of the three contains a painting of Portia; whoever finds that painting will win her hand. Choosing the expensive chests ends in failure — the leaden chest is the correct option, as it shows that the suitor is not motivated by greed. In an interesting twist on the trope that foreshadows her brilliant mind, Portia takes action when Bassanio, a man she actually likes, comes to try the test. She arranges a song that contains a clue to the answer ("Tell me, where is fancy bred? / In the heart, or in the head?", and so on) to play while Bassanio is in the room with the chests — after all, her father only said she couldn't outright reveal the trick, so hinting at it is perfectly OK.
      • The same play later subverts the trope for comedy. Portia and her servant Nerissa, who have dressed themselves as a male lawyer and clerk, respectively, to save Bassanio's friend Antonio from his contract with Shylock, decide to play a trick on their husbands, who don't see through their disguises. Lawyer!Portia demands that Bassanio reward "him" with his wedding ring, which he had previously promised to never give away under any circumstance; Clerk!Nerissa asks the same from Gratiano, her own spouse. Both men hand over the rings (albeit with much reluctance), and when they meet their undisguised wives, the women make a big show of accusing their husbands of being lying, cheating jerks for giving up the jewelry — it's all clearly stated to be a joke, though, and they're not actually judging Bassanio and Gratiano, just having some fun at their expense. Portia and Nerissa then drop the ruse and reveal the truth, much to the men's surprise.
    • Macbeth has a meeting between Malcolm and the recently-defected Macduff. Malcolm acts the part of a Card-Carrying Villain whose rule would be even worse than Macbeth's, after which Macduff bemoans Scotland's prospects and refuses to join his cause. Then Malcolm reveals that he's far better than he presented himself as; he wanted to determine if Macduff can be trusted to have Scotland's best interests at heart.

    Visual Novels 
  • The entire plot of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney comes off as a deconstruction. It all begins because Zak Gramarye, in an act he picked from his mentor Magnifi, liked to play poker with other people, not to see how they played, but to see how they acted. He happened to have an Excellent Judge of Character with this method, as he quickly picks up that Kristoph Gavin is untrustworthy and was willing to cheat, whereas Phoenix Wright, while attempting to bluff his way out of things, played honestly. Thus, Zak Gramarye fires Kristoph on the spot after playing poker and hires Phoenix after playing with him. However, since he never revealed the reason behind the poker game, Kristoph Gavin spent seven years thinking he missed the chance to defend a famous client because he lost at poker (while Phoenix won). This causes his descent into paranoia, engineering Phoenix's disbarment (with forged evidence he was planning to use by himself), intending to kill the person that made the forgery, and later killing Zak himself. By the time Kristoph discovers the reason behind him being fired, he's too insane to find reason in it.
  • Basically everything Nagito does in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is framed as something similar to this. From trying to get Teruteru to kill him by pretending he was going to kill somebody to saying he'd be willing to help Peko with her murder plan and to repeatedly helping Hajime during the investigations and trials, even after Hajime no longer considers him a friend, it's all so he can see whose hope is stronger; the killer's or the other students'.
  • Harvest December contains several examples:
    • Mashiro Towada, one of the main heroine's mother, has the hero, Masaki, spar with her daughter in the family dojo, not to see if he would win, but to ascertain how he thinks while under pressure.
    • Shiro, one of the main heroines and a god, gives one to Masaki to see if he would succumb to temptation to leave her. Also a triumphant example because Shiro wiped the fact that she was the test-giver from her memory!
    • In the penultimate chapter, Masaki gives one to both heroines simply by asking a shocking question. He asks Shiro and Yuki that he'll only stay with the girl that would abort their unborn child. Shiro, desperate not to lose a husband again, agrees. Meanwhile, Yuki is furious and slaps Masaki, refusing to be with a man who would her child. After another slap from Yuki's mother when he tells what happened, Masaki would reveal to her that the test was seeing if the girls would be able to make their own decisions regardless of their love for him. Shiro failed and Yuki passed because her love for her child was stronger than her love for him. Of course, because of his callous statement, Yuki is disgusted with him and Masaki has to spend the next chapter making things right for both her and their child.
  • Discussed Trope in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. With the reveal that there are TWO doors number 9, which means all nine players can leave the ship (only up to 5 people can go through 1 numbered door) Junpei suspects that the whole Nonary Game might've been this. Without knowing about two doors players might attack others to increase their own chances of survival, rather than cooperate, only to find out that in the end bloodshed was completely pointless. Ultimately Zero's goals have nothing to do with this trope.
  • There are several examples in Seven Kingdoms: The Princess Problem:
    • If you attract Lord Clarmont's interest enough to earn an invitation to dinner with him during the first week, on the way there you're met with a secret test in the form of one of the Isle's servant girls. How you treat the servant when you think no one else is watching, and what you reveal about your sense of compassion and ethics in the process, determines whether or not Clarmont will be willing to risk opening up to you on any kind of personal level.
    • It's hard to tell how much was arranged in advance and how much is simply opportunism, but Prince Zarad is certainly watching to see what the Player Character will do when Avalie tries to bait her into getting jealous, and if she can't see through the attempt or proves too willing to jump to conclusions, he'll lose interest in getting to know her better.
    • Almost everything the Matchmaker does is some kind of test, from the way she verbally eviscerates you during your first meeting onwards.

    Web Animation 
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device:
    • The Emperor convinces Karamazov that his order to disband the Inquisition was him testing whether the man would stay loyal even if it meant disobeying orders. Double subverted, as the Emperor wasn't testing that -– he was checking which Inquisitors have to be gotten rid of. The good Inquisitors would either obey the order or disobey it and continue to do good for the Imperium. The bad Inquisitors would assume the letter was heresy and go to Terra to root it out.
    • In the same episode, Decius passes his test when he remained faithful to the Emperor even when Emps had just disbanded the Ecclesiarchy. Because he still tries to protect the Emperor and warn him about Karamazov's invasion of the palace, he gets to remain leader of the reformed Ecclesiarchy.
  • The No Evil episode "Tlaloc's Test" is built around one of these, using the setup from the Kingston Trio's song "Desert Pete": there's a dry-looking pump in the desert and a jar of water to prime it, and the note left encourages you to use the water on the pump and not just chug it. In the episode, Ichabod supports just drinking the jar, but Calamity uses it as suggested... and the handle snaps off and reveals itself to be Tlaloc's magical, water-controlling tuning fork.

    Web Comics 
  • The Achewood arc with Cartilage Head. He proved himself a coward who would desert a dying man.
  • City of Reality, as a standard part of the entrance exam for anyone seeking to immigrate into Reality, presents applicants with scenarios that test their willingness to help others; failing these is an automatic disqualification. The trick is that they don't know they're being tested until told the results.
  • Freefall:
    • Dr. Bowman pulls this on Florence by offering her a puppy from a cryo-frozen embryo to be the first of the second generation of her (genetically engineered) species. She declines because the situation is chaotic and she doesn't want a puppy until she can offer it the stable home it deserves.
      "I needed to see if you would choose based on your needs or the needs of your species. The correct answer was to choose what was best for your species. Instead, you chose on what was best for the pup. There's a funny thing that happens when you know the correct answer. It throws you when you get a different answer that's not wrong."
    • Tess is a Transhumanism enthusiast with a large handlebar moustache. She calls it her speech filter: if someone gets hung up on the moustache, they definitely can't handle a conversation about genetic engineering, so she sticks to light chit-chat.
  • In Girl Genius Gil's father gives him a lot of these to prepare him for rule. His introduction is a two-part one: To see if he's intelligent enough to notice that his father's theory is fundamentally flawed and to see if he has the ability to confront his father when he is wrong.
  • In General Protection Fault, Nick chats on IRL with someone named "Pookel," while developing feelings for his coworker, Ki, unaware that the two are one and the same. Ki continues messaging him as Pookel until he breaks him off, as an apparent test of his loyalty, unaware that he's already figured out Pookel's identity. Unfortunately for Ki, she doesn't work up the nerve to tell him until Trudy maliciously gives Nick a clue about Pookel's identity. Nick angrily calls Ki out over the entire stunt but ultimately forgives her.
  • In Infinite Leveling Murim Cheon Gija poses as a drunk old beggar passed out on the road. Many candidates for the Dragon and Phoenix Exam ignore him, but Yuseong Dan is the only one to reach out to him... which earns Cheon Gija's approval of the lad.
  • In Joseph & Yusra, Mary tested whether Yusra (and later Joseph) has supernatural power.
  • In Juathuur, as those disillusioned by the petty conflicts in the backstory started leaving the Raft, Meidar began concocting one of these for each of the higher ranking juathuur. Such tests typically involved killing a dangerous friend or relative or committing usually unethical acts for the good of the Raft. All these do is further foment disgust among the juathuur.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: Inverted when the legendary Master Swordsman Meti orders a prospective student to shave their head with a rusty sword. Instead, the supplicant spends fourteen years trying to prove themself worthy of her instruction, only for a random street urchin to grab the sword, bloodily cut his own hair, and be accepted on the spot.
    Meti: ...You cannot follow simple instructions. Did you not hear me the first time, all the way back then? I do not train idiots.
  • In MeatShield, Jaine performs her thesis recital to become a fully-accredited Bard. Her performance is rejected out of hand by the three-judge panelnote  because they didn't care for the subject matter (a record of the adventures Jayne and her party had had thus far) and they tell her to resubmit next year with "more suitable subject matter". Jaine leaves in tears... Before turning right back around and telling the judges off: She was a Bard, diploma or no. Storming out, she runs into Dr. Tunny, the head of the College of Lore — the one who sent the intern. He informs Jaine that the real test was whether she'd simply accept such an unfair judgement or would she persevere regardless.
    Dr. Tunny: You were absolutely right in there: You are a bard. [hands her a gold coin with a Bard's insignia] This just makes it official. Well done, Ms. L'Vallis. Well done.
  • A college-age Wonderella fails her entrance exam to Bob Jones University this way in The Non-Adventures of Wonderella. The test was multiple choice, with an automatic failure to anyone who darkened the perfectly pure, white ovals. ("Racial purity must never be compromised!")
  • An impromptu one occurs here in Questionable Content. Steve accidentally bumps into a waitress (Ellen), and knocks a couple beers she was carrying all over himself. After "jokingly" asking for her number by way of apology, Ellen just politely declines and says that Steve's and Marten's meals are on the house. Steve humbly accepts that. On the way out of the diner, Ellen gives Steve her number and says that if he had made a fuss, she wouldn't have given it to him. Steve is in shock.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal parodies this in one comic, when a man tells his girlfriend that he's going to die soon, and wants her to take a pill that will convince her she never liked him so that she won't be burdened by this loss. She initially refuses, but eventually she caves, at which point the man yells "Aha!". Cut to a bar scene, where the same man explains to a different woman that that's why his girlfriend failed the relationship test.
    • In "Humans 2," aliens demand 100,000 humans as mates to see if humanity will sell out or protect their own in the face of a perceived threat. The human leaders post the request on a fetish site and have more than enough willing volunteers in minutes including the Earth representative herself, in the votey. The aliens are at a loss since no one had even taken a third option before.
  • In this Slimy Thief strip, the thieves guild tasks Aisha with escaping from a prison cell with her hands and head locked in a pillory. It's supposed to be an impossible task to test Aisha's self-control, but thanks to her body being merged with a slime creature she simply makes her body extremely slippery she ends up completing the task anyway.
  • In Spinnerette, Dr. Universe, an Objectivist, proposes to do research on Spinny's Power Incontinence that he claims could help billions, at the cost of her life. When she refuses, he congratulates her on her selfishness and gets down to their real business.
  • In S.S.D.D. CAS Diplomatic Adviser Krutz dressed his much-shorter bodyguard in his official uniform before interviewing for an assistant, he hired Johnathan Andrews immediately after he offers to shake hands with the right one. Later, Krutz sent Johnathan and his bodyguard to pick up a sandwich just before the Citadel went into lockdown, forcing them to jump over a closing blast door and get apprehended by security, whom Krutz bribed to keep locked up. After John got out he tossed the sandwich in Krutz's face and tendered his resignation, only to be immediately promoted.
  • Star Power: Danica is greeted by a king who recognizes her as a Star Sentinel and offers the kingdom's hospitality. However, when the subject of a Plot Device she is seeking comes up, he grimly states that he is under a duty to protect it, then puts her at spear-point and demands to know how she plans to take it. Answer: she asks for it. Politely. Apparently this is a very Star Sentinel thing to do.
  • Done by jurors at the final Tribal Councils in Seasons 2 and 8 of Survivor: Fan Characters along the lines of "Would you still be willing to be friends with me even if I don't vote for you?" More specifically, Bitsy tells Ellise that she won't be voting for her and then asks her if they can still be friends after the game even if her vote costs her the million, and Johnny does something similar with Matt in Season 8. Of course, it turns out that both jurors had always been planning to vote for their respective friends and just wanted to make sure that their friends didn't view them as just a jury vote. Ellise passes Bitsy's test with flying colors, but Matt bombs Johnny's test in spectacular fashion, effectively screwing himself out of the only vote he could ever have gotten.
  • Sweet Home (2017): When Hyuk sent Hyun and Wook to get Dusik, Sook, and Yeong, he whispered to Hyun to focus on Dusik, even at the price of the kids, to see if Hyun was the callous type of person who could sacrifice children.
  • Unsounded: In a prose side story detailing Lysa and Duane's first meeting, it's revealed that Lysa wore a glamor to give herself a cleft palette, lazy eye, and other features not traditionally considered beautiful and went to meet him. Challenging him to answer questions about violence in his past, and when he answers truthfully and agrees to marry her she reveals the ruse as a further test saying she'd not have had him if he'd been shallow.
  • Wapsi Square: The golem girls think the decision to summon them perpetually drunk was one of these. It was actually just a stupid mistake by Tepoz.
  • In Chapter 2 of Zeldanime, Link's second test is to drink from a blessed fountain filled with the "water of judgement". According to Zelda, a pure-hearted person will be rejuvenated by drinking the water, but a corrupt person "will meet a very slow and dreadful fate." She tells him to leave if he doesn't want to take the test, but he stands his ground. He hesitates for a few moments given a few past minor misdeeds, but takes the risk and drinks the water... and nothing happens. Zelda then reveals that it was ordinary water all along and an evil person wouldn't have drank the water, so Link passed.

    Web Original 
  • 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 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 has 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".
  • In this Not Always Working story, the submitter's boss uses one of these to weed out scammers pretending to be IT personnel — when asked for user ID, he also gives out a fake password (he got as far as 'g-o-f-u-' before being interrupted). When the person at the other end yells at him to never give out his password, he knows that's the real IT guy.
  • In This "Pea Soup For The Cynic's Soul" story is about Brent Smith, a soldier in the Persian Gulf War who's matched with a pen pal named Julie Farmington, whom he's never met before. After the war ends, Brent's set to meet Julie in an airport, with only a single clue to her appearance — a white carnation — since Julie doesn't know if he's only interested in her looks, or because he doesn't have anyone else. He sees an unattractive woman with the carnation and asks her out on a date, at which point the woman shows him to the real Julie, who apologizes for the deception. Brent isn't put out, but he's disappointed that she's apparently even uglier than the woman she had pose as her, and cuts ties with her.
  • In Tower, we see a "Jump off a Tower" secret test that isn't exactly pass/fail.
  • 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.

    Web Videos 

    Real Life (allegedly) 
  • The Milgram experiment had you and another subject enter a room for an experiment on learning only to learn it was about obedience. A summary is in the note below (fair warning, this is not for the squeamish).note 
  • 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.
    • A variant that is likely an urban myth: when selecting an NCO candidate, the command simply tells the candidates they want a trench 30 feet long, six feet wide, and six inches deep. Of course no one knows why they were given these instructions and everyone complains or has questions. The best candidate is the one who first confirms they have correctly understood what command wants, then immediately yells at the others, "Alright, boys, grab the shovels. Who cares what it's for? Let's knock this out so we can get out of here!"
      • In other words, the best NCO candidate has enough sense to make sure he or she has correctly received an order (especially when it makes no sense) and having confirmed that it is a valid, legal order and it has been received correctly, sets about to its immediate execution without complaint or hesitation. It doesn't have to make sense; it's legal, it has been correctly received, so salute and execute.
  • 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 start carrying out the instructions before reading all of them 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 the attacker. In order to pass you have to prove you can overcome preexisting social assumptions by not assuming the attacker is (among other things) male.
    • Tests like this one can go very "meta" at times. One variant rates as a double subversion: the students are brought to a basketball practice session and told to count how many times the players pass the ball, as a test of their observation skills. As they're taking their seats, a door to the locker room "accidentally" swings open to reveal someone dressed in an unlikely combination of colors, pulling on an equally-odd-colored hat/sock/jacket. Thus forewarned, the students start watching for this figure, who darts onto the court yelling and then dashes away, just as expected. When the students return to their classroom to complete a quiz on their observations, prepared to relate every detail of what they'd seen, it consists of only one question: "What did the person dressed in [long detailed list of the figure's clothing] say?"
  • 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.
  • If you saw a young girl — let's call her Talie — wandering around a city, saying that she lost her mother, would you help her or walk away? If you answered the former, you may be in the minority. The experiment shown here shows rather shocking results. The most disturbing part of this experiment is that one man who did offer her help was a known pedophile who was not allowed to be around children. (Thankfully, two actual Good Samaritans became suspicious of his aggressive behavior and called the police.)
  • 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 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.)
    • Those stories have nothing on medieval judges according to research into trial by ordeal that is discussed by Freakonomics authors Steven Dubner and Stephen Levitt. Let's suppose you have some sort of tort — say, Rolf is accusing Wilhelm of using crooked scales last week at market — and you're a medieval judge who has fifty such cases before him. Good luck getting any evidence to resolve this case. So you send Wilhelm off to grab a red-hot iron bar before the congregation under the supervision of the clergy. We expect Wilhelm to get crispy, right? The research looked at 308 similar cases. In 100 cases, the defendant refused to undergo the ordeal, settling the matter nicely. In the remaining 208, only one in three ordeals resulted in injury to the defendant. This requires modest speculation, but it seems that the priests would tamper with the trial by ordeal. This accomplished several things:
      • Anyone willing to undergo the trial clearly had a lot of reasons to back out if they thought they were guilty, since they believed God would know the truth and they knew many people were spared but many others were not.
      • It made a public spectacle of justice, reinforcing the belief of the people in this legal system (and belief in God's justice).
      • Priests are only human, and so they may combine a mix of belief that God is truly willing to bless their judgment with a belief that a nice bribe could determine the outcome of the trial by ordeal.
      • If Wilhelm comes out of the trial alright, Rolf certainly has a strong reason to let the matter drop now. God has exonerated Wilhelm. The authorities might prefer that feuds and hatreds are dropped rather than allowed to fester due to a lack of evidence.
      • The remaining 1/3 of people who were hurt by trial by ordeal may be either due to failure to rig the ordeal, priestly tampering to cause injury because they believed the party was guilty, priestly tampering in line with their own interests, or even a sort of "necessary evil" to keep the system in place.
  • Apparently, Vlad the Impaler did this when a foreign merchant reported that he'd been robbed of a bag of gold while traveling through Vlad's kingdom. Vlad asked him how many gold pieces he had lost, then told the merchant he would send for him if found the gold. A few days later, the merchant was called to the castle and Vlad handed him a bag of gold. Opening it up, he counted the gold pieces and then handed it back to Vlad, saying the gold wasn't his because there was one more gold piece in the bag than what he had lost. Vlad told him to take the gold because it was just a test of his honesty and the merchant passed. Vlad also made it very clear what would have happened if the merchant had not admitted that the gold was not his.
  • 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, Liar's 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 1980s investment banking. Even then, applicants weren't offered jobs. They had to 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 Reb Eisele Charif challenging 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 correct 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 Reb Eisele's original intention, he decided that someone so dedicated to knowledge should be the one to 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. For perspective, the band usually travels with up to nine eighteen-wheelers full of complicated, heavy equipment that all needs to be set up to very specific standards. Brown M&Ms (or, worse, no M&Ms at all) indicated that corners were being cut/the rider wasn't read in full, meaning that the equipment would have to be double-checked by the band's crew; according to David Lee Roth, if the M&Ms demand wasn't followed, they inevitably found something much more consequential wrong with the production setup that needed to be fixed before the show startednote . The concern wasn't for a substandard show either; they were using so many lights, flying harnesses, and so much pyro, that people (band members, crew, or audience) could be crippled, burned, or killed if their equipment was set up incorrectly.
  • 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. How fair this is to the students who could not or chose not to attend the review session is up to you.
  • Another one was used by Jane Elliot to explain racism to a class. In the "brown eye/blue eye experiment" in 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.
    • Like the Stanford Prison Experimentnote , the test became a lot more controversial over time. Critics like Stephen J. Bloom claim that there were students who objected strenuously, that Elliot enforced eyeism by separating groups of students and telling them not to interact with the other groupnote  even if they were already friends, discussed the ethics of manipulating children, and asked whether the small-scale experiment can even be used to extrapolate to society at large. Especially in a world that's much more progressive than it was in the 80s.
  • A positive example: In the aftermath of the October 2014 Parliament Hill shootings in Ottawa which were perpetrated by a Muslim extremist, three students performed a social experiment on the street in which one of them would dress in a typical Muslim attire while another one would verbally harass him and blame him for the shootings. The video shows many Canadians standing up for and defending the Muslim guy from the other guy's bigotry; one of them at the end even punches him in the face when he has enough of his prejudice.
  • One common experiment is to leave a wallet or purse in a public place and see how many people return it with the cash inside. Variants include adding pictures of children or a well-worn bus pass to suggest the wallet's owner is poor.
  • Secret shoppers routinely employ this, to make sure that store clerks are providing decent service and to make sure that they aren't breaking any laws (e.g. selling alcohol/tobacco to minors). In some cases, young adults will even be employed to persistently insist on being sold alcohol/tobacco without a photo ID — to see if the cashier, eventually, caves in. Some do take it a bit too far, though — and will persist until the cashier threatens to call security (or even the police).
    • In some jurisdictions, the police will have a minor doing community service enter an establishment and ask for a pack of cigarettes and/or alcohol, also to see if any laws are being broken.
    • In stores that don't sell age-restricted products, secret shoppers are still hired by head office.note  While secret shoppers are supposed to leave sales assistants blissfully unaware of the secret shopper's task, even first-time sales assistants (presuming they've been warned) will often easily tell them apart from regular shoppers within the first minute or so and remember exactly which shopper wrote the report later on. What gives the secret shopper away? The secret shopper will almost always either ask or use the assistant's name at some point — something unusual enough for even the friendliest, most long-term customers familiar with the staff to do, let alone a new face. note 
  • An executive takes a prospective employee to lunch at a restaurant. If he puts salt on the food before tasting it, he's clearly someone who jumps to conclusions without investigating the situation and is unfit for the position. Because it's impossible that he's eaten there before and knows how they cook the food. This story is often associated with Thomas Watson of IBM or United States Admiral Hiram Rickover, the father of the "Nuclear Navy", both of whom were hiring people for technically demanding, detail-oriented work.
  • When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the script for Good Will Hunting, they included a gay porn scene about 60 pages in. Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax at that time, was the only executive who read enough of the script to notice. They gave him the movie.note 
  • "Dude he said he doesn't care that means he's a real punk".
  • The Freakonomics authors discuss a beautiful example of this. They designed an algorithm that looked at terrorists' bank habits and gave it to the government of the United Kingdom. The algorithm was very effective at turning in suspected activity, with a very low chance of flagging an innocent person and a very high chance of snagging a terrorist (in statistics, a sensitivity and high specificity - see note). However, because the innocent so greatly outnumber the guilty, many innocent people still wound up on a list thanks to the algorithm (in statistics, there was a low positive predictive value - see note). So the authors and the government went to press to discuss their project and revealed one of the algorithm's most powerful predictors: terrorists are young enough with enough family to justify life insurance, but they don't buy it (as it wouldn't pay off if they died in an attack). Naturally, the press was outraged that this secret would be revealed. The foolish Americans were excoriated by the British media - "How dumb are those Yanks? And how dumb is our government?" Despite the guffawing, the now in-place algorithm was watching that list of suspects to see who suddenly ran out to buy insurance... note 
  • An escape room puzzle in the United States, unnamed here to preserve the secret for people who might play it (if you're dying to know, it is "Summerfield Place", a game in Toms River, New Jersey) features this in its ending. The game has players trying to solve the mystery of a family's inexplicable disappearance from their home. It's eventually revealed they were abducted by aliens, and a page of the mother's diary reveals that the beings are planning some kind of "experiment" with the human captives. To complete the experiment, the aliens need a chalice that has been hidden on their ship, which must be placed on one of two pedestals in the room when found. If the players choose to put the chalice on the left pedestal, the captured family will go free in exchange for the players themselves becoming prisoners. Putting it on the right pedestal releases the players, but sentences the family to death. If the group chooses to sacrifice themselves, an alien appears on a TV screen and congratulates them: the experiment wasn't scientific, but ethical, and the extraterrestrials were trying to see if humans were empathic enough to give themselves up for total strangers. By choosing this option, the players are rewarded with their freedom.
  • According to legend, when Adolf Hitler made a personal visit to Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim to encourage him to increase Finnish resistance to the Russians, Mannerheim casually lit a cigar during their private conversation. The famously tobacco-averse Hitler made no reaction to smoking in his presence. Mannerheim recognized it as a sign that Hitler was in a weak position, so he felt free to refuse Hitler's requests.
  • The demonstrators of the laser exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre occasionally like to spring one on the guests. The centerpiece is a giant chemical laser that can be filled with many different types of gases, leading to lasers with different colors and properties. When the demonstrator fills the tube with carbon dioxide, they will ask if anyone can see the laser beam. There will always be one or two people who claim they can. The demonstrator then informs them that a CO2 laser is infrared, so only lizards would be able to see it.
  • One common test given to someone cleaning a house or other building is to simply hide a bit of money under a rug or similar fixture. The rationale goes something like this: if the money is still there after they perform their service, then they're sloppy. If the money isn't there but isn't returned to the person who hired them, then they're untrustworthy. But if the money is found and returned, then they're honest and reliable.
  • A viral social media post relates a "traditional" Chinese test of values posed to a toddler in the form of trinkets: to choose between wealth (a coin), pleasure (a toy), and knowledge (a picture book). In the described incident, the toddler ignores all three and runs to his parents instead.
  • The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles has an exhibit at the beginning before people enter where they show a video with a long list of groups people are prejudiced against, starting with common targets (such as other races or LGBT people) and going on to more obscure targets. At the end the visitors are invited to enter through one of two doors, one marked "prejudiced" and one marked "unprejudiced". the "unprejudiced" door is locked, in order to show no one is without prejudice. That said, some people still bang on the locked door and demand to be let through.
  • Anna of Cleve's failure of Henry VIII's test was a disappointing start to a disappointing marriage.
    "(Henry VIII and his men), being disguised with mottled cloaks with hoods so that they should not be recognized, came secretly to Rochester, and so went up into the chamber where the said Lady Anne was looking out of a window to see the bull-baiting which was going on in the courtyard, and suddenly he embraced and kissed her, and showed her a token which the king had sent her for New Year’s gift, and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him, and so he spoke with her. But she regarded him little, but always looked out the window... and when the king saw that she took so little notice of his coming he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet."
  • The Oakland Raiders NFL team was so disappointed with the poor performance and apparent lack of effort from quarterback JaMarcus Russell that they at one point gave him a DVD supposedly of plays to study at home that was actually just a blank disc — something which would have become obvious the moment he tried to play it. When he came in the next day and said that he had liked "all of" the plays on the disc, they knew he hadn't even bothered to look at it.
  • An urban legend tells of a college journalism professor who promises his class that he will never give an unannounced test. He also tells them that they are required to read the daily local newspaper every day from cover to cover. One day the students arrive in class and most of them are surprised to find out that there will be a test. They protest that the professor promised he would never give them an unannounced test. The professor informs them that the test was a classified ad in the newspaper that they were supposed to be reading cover to cover. (If the newspaper delivery happened to miss that day, too bad.)
  • One study conducted at Princeton University in 1970 had actors posing as people in need of help ask seminary students for assistance while said students were in a hurry to complete an assignment that had been concocted for the purpose of the experiment. In this case, they weren't just testing character, but also the impact of perceived available time on one's willingness to help and how an assignment's topic can affect somebody's mindset.
  • Back in the 1970s, Heathrow Airport would screen new hires for honesty by putting envelopes full of cash in their lockers. Those who reported what they found were considered trustworthy and would be allowed to handle valuable packages with less supervision.
    • The 1978 book Airport International by Brian Moynahan says this was the other way around; '70s baggage handlers at Heathrow were extremely bent. If the newbie turned in the envelope, he'd end up working hard jobs and crappy shifts. It's possible one side - or both - heard the story and remembered it wrong.


Video Example(s):


Left or Right? (A Goofy Movie)

Depressed over discovering that Max changed the route of his map, Goofy decides to give one last chance to Max to redeem himself at a junction. Sadly for him, Max sticks with his plan

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / SecretTestOfCharacter

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