Secret Test of Character

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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

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

Oddly enough, the hero seldom rejects the tester, the reward, or the whole situation on the grounds that it was an underhanded trick—and this not only when the other character was a Mentor, Threshold Guardian, or otherwise an authority figure, but between equals (such as a Fidelity Test.)

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

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

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

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

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

Because a big part of a Secret Test of Character is the "secret" part, be warned, Spoilers may be unmarked.

Examples of Secret Test of Character include:

Anime and Manga

  • Naruto has one of these during the first part of the chuunin exam. An extremely difficult written exam is given. Before the final and supposedly most difficult question is revealed, the contestants are given a chance to quit the exam. Anyone who gets it right passes by default. Get it wrong, and you fail and can never take the test again, effectively stonewalling your ninja career. If you quit, however, your whole squad fails (but may try the test again next year). Many forfeit and leave, but the protagonist stays even though he couldn't answer even one of the other questions. It turns out that not giving up (along with putting your team's interest before your own) is the Aesop, and everyone who didn't walk out passes.[1] The aim of the exercise was to weed out those who would betray their teammates for their personal interests.
    • That's not the only Naruto variant. In the Tea Country arc, we learn that Idate Morino (the brother of the proctor for the exam Naruto took) once took a different version: one where the team learned that right before the tenth question, the person on their team with the lowest grade would never be allowed to be a ninja again (and if anyone on your team quits at this point the whole team fails normally). In that case, everyone who stayed failed, because the inherent Aesop was to not sacrifice your team's future over your own.
    • And then there's the earliest example: the test Kakashi gives when Naruto and company are first assigned to him. It's such a web of lies that Kakashi's many past students had all failed it. (The way to pass is to put your team members before not just yourself, but even Kakashi's orders.)
  • Yu Yu Hakusho: Yusuke's mentor Genkai tells him that the only way he can master her ultimate technique, which he absolutely needs to do if he wants to survive the coming battles, is by killing her. Yusuke spends some time agonizing about it, then tells Genkai that he can't do it. It turns out he did exactly the correct thing, because by refusing to kill her he proved that he was a moral person and by not rejecting her request immediately proved he wasn't too wimpy to try to master it.
    • Also appears during an earlier episode of the series, when Yusuke is a ghost. His girlfriend Keiko rushes into a fire to save him, and he is given the choice to throw his MacGuffin into the fire and save her from almost-certain death, but in exchange, said MacGuffin wouldn't be able to perform the task for which it was intended; namely bringing him back to life. Yusuke does save Keiko, and at the end, Koenma reveals that if he hadn't done that, the MacGuffin would have eaten him instead of helping him. Since he saved Keiko, which was the real solution to the test, Koenma decides to resurrect Yusuke personally as a reward. And later in the series, the MacGuffin turns out to still be intact and hatches, revealing a cute, little mascot-like demon named Puu.
    • In the manga, Yusuke sacrifices all his accumulated "virtue" to save Keiko. Koenma comes into contact with Yusuke's virtues and determines that Yusuke has both good and bad qualities and above all else, acts without thinking. He decides that as it's too difficult to pin down Yusuke's character while he's a ghost, he should let Yusuke back into his body.
  • In Planetes, the trope is Subverted when Hachimaki is trying to get on the Von Braun's crew, and has to repair a simulated life support failure in a large tank of water as part of a test. Several other applicants are doing the test simultaneously, and Werner Locksmith, who is in charge of the Von Braun mission, lied to them that if a dangerous accident occurred, no divers would come in to save them. When one of them accidentally cuts her air tube and starts losing air and sinking, Locksmith doesn't send in the divers straight away, because he wants to see how Hachimaki would react.[2]
  • Subverted in Mahou Sensei Negima: Evangeline, something of a Noble Demon, decides that Setsuna is becoming "too soft", especially in the event that something like her past failure in protecting her charge Konoka ever happened again—she may not even be able to Shoot the Dog if she was needed to. So Eva tries to force Setsuna to choose between her "sword or happiness". Setsuna, however, takes it a different way...

Setsuna: The choices you gave me -- it wasn't that I needed strength to defeat you, but what I did need to break through was to truly realize the power of my own will! That was the answer, wasn't it?!
Eva: injured Nhn? Dunno... I s'ppose...

  • In Black Cat, after Kyoko does her Heel Face Turn, Sephiria offers her either death or a position among Chronos' Erasers. Kyoko refuses, and Sephiria reveals that it was all a test of her vow to Train to never kill again.
  • In the Tsukihime manga, Ciel tests whether Akiha has it in her to be a murderer by... threatening her and her brother and then fighting her to the death. What Akiha doesn't know is that Ciel cannot be (permanently) killed/injured, so Ciel is free to test Akiha's power with impunity. She also tries this in the original Visual Novel with Shiki, who is afraid that he is the murderer who has been stalking the streets in his dreams. Shiki has Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. Depending on your decision, things don't go quite as planned.
  • In Inuyasha, the title character is trying to get a new ability for his sword from a demon in the underworld. His friends are in danger, and even though the demon warns him that he'll never be able to get the upgrade if he turns away to help his friends, he does. If you've already read this far, you know what happened next.
    • Inuyasha's Aloof Big Brother Sesshoumaru goes through a similar Secret Test of Character when trying to perfect his sword. When the effort results in the death of his Morality Pet, Rin, he declares that a power which comes at the cost of her life is pointless, a decision which prompts the sword to reward him by upgrading itself. (Sesshoumaru's mother then revives Rin for him.)
    • Kouga experiences the exact same test as the first example while trying to get the Goraishi, an ancestral wolf tribe weapon.
  • The movie They Were 11 features several people taking an entrance exam for Cosmo Academy: surviving for a set number of days on a derelict spaceship. Upon arriving, they find that instead of the expected 10 people, there are 11 of them, and after several unexplained incidents they suspect one of them to be a saboteur.[3]
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, every time the Power Trio met up with a Masshin, the girl who should interact with him is taken away to speak to the spirit of the Humongous Mecha directly.[4]
  • Just about every Dark Game in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Manga was an example of this before it became focused on Duel Monsters. When Yami Yugi emerged and took over Yugi's body because someone was bullying him or his friends, he'd declare a Dark Game on his tormentor. The games were usually made up on the spot and were rather simple affairs, but the catch was if the opponent tried to cheat in any way, the game would end and he'd be subjected to a "penalty game" (which is less of a game and more of a prolonged torture). Of course, in this case, his opponents would almost always cheat and end up caught on fire, seeing the world as pixels, thinking trash was money, and other gross fates.
    • In the second anime, in Doma arc, Yami betrays the Yugi's pleas to not use the Seal of Orichalcos in a duel. When Yami loses, Yugi sacrifices his soul in his place. Later, Yami meets with Yugi again, but this time, Yugi turns his back on Yami, claiming that Yami's soul should have been taken away instead. Yugi recreates the same situation as the last time the Orichalcos was used, but reversed; this time, it's Yami who pleads to Yugi not to activate its dark powers. As expected from this trope, Yugi reveals that his Jerkass Facade was merely a test to see if he learned from his lesson to escape the Orichalcos's temptations.
  • Manjyome's A Day in the Limelight episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX—he is told at the end that the abridged Hero's Journey he's just undergone was more of a test to Break the Haughty than of his dueling skills.
  • During the Neo-Nazi Arc in Black Lagoon, it turns out the Lagoon Company's client hired them as a secret test of character for a group of Neo-Nazis. They failed.
    • It was more a test of power than of character- the Nazi's sponsor (and Lagoon Company's employer) wasn't interested in supporting a group of wannabes who couldn't even beat a mere black man and half-Chinese woman. Not to mention the Jew also in the Black Lagoon company, though he's more of a Non Action Jew.
  • In the One Piece Amazon Lily arc where [5]
  • In Death Note, L does this to Aizawa, to see if he'll go back to the police or not. Watari renders it useless, though.
  • In Detective Academy Q, during entrance exams Dan Morihiko pretends to need rescue due to being trapped on a rock ledge and injured. Kyu finds out that he only pretends and ignores it, alas comes back later when emptying dam puts Dan in real danger (Kyu had deducted that Dan was crippled and unable to walk, having seen that his shoes were pretty much new despite his explorer gear and clothes), which causes him to come late for the last part of the exam. He still passes.
  • Muhyo and Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation has some for each of the titular characters. In Muhyo's case, he fights against the Hades Lord, but can't quite win. He refuses to give up and manages to convince Yoichi and Biko to do the same, impressing the Hades Lord, who allows him to make a contract with him in exchange for controlling his fear, noting that he had killed the others who had tried to summon him and fled. Roji gets one in the competition against Goryo and Ebisu, as Muhyo holds back, wanting to see what Roji can do in a situation like this- but Roji still hasn't gotten over his feelings of inadequacy compared to Muhyo, and is thus put on leave and sent to train at the Magical Law Society. At the end, Page offers him a position as assistant with the promise of helping him improve his skills, but Roji refuses, stating that he wishes to work with Muhyo, impressing Page with his "kind, unwavering heart."
  • Monster: Nina Fortner/Anna Liebert was supposed to forgive him.
  • Optimus Prime stages an impromptu one in Transformers Energon when the other Autobots decide to have a race. With Hotshot and Ironhide neck and neck on the home stretch, Optimus suddenly jumps into the middle of the path and challenges them to get past him. Eventually, Ironhide grapples with Optimus and tells Hotshot to go on and win - at which point Optimus tells him that he is the real winner, because he has learned that a commander must put his troops ahead of his own glory. Oh, and as for who crossed the finish line first? Misha and Arcee.
  • In Pokémon Special, Erika has Red catch an Eevee before accepting his Gym challenge. During the battle, Erika goes to let the Eevee out of its Pokeball, noting that Eevee is too badly hurt to survive if she does, and if Red has Pika stop her he'll lose his opportunity to defeat her Vileplume. Of course, Red has Pika stop her anyway and earns the Rainbow badge.
  • In Code Geass, a game of Chess between Schneizel and Lelouch (as Zero) ends when Schneizel deliberately moves his King into check, within range of Zero's King. Zero responds by moving his King, allowing one of his "lesser" pieces to attack instead. Schneizel says that in the same situation, the Emperor would have taken King with King, and Zero's action gives him a good measure of what kind of man he is. Of course, most people ignore this in favor of fixating on the fact that Schneizel made an illegal move.
  • The whole thing with summoning the Beast Gods in Fushigi Yuugi is this. You get 3 wishes, but there's a catch: you have to be strong-willed and pure enough not to let the Beast God you summon consume your soul, if you're the priestess. Typically, this means using the wishes to help others, not for your own happiness (the exception, of course being, perhaps a wish to get home safely.) Oh, and then there's the whole Virgin Power thing in a Cast Full of Pretty Boys, where the priestess almost inevitably has feelings for at least one of the guys (and others may be trying to get her to lose her Virgin Power so they can achieve their own ends without her in the way.)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist. Human transmutation. The only way to do it without a "price" (including a philosopher's stone) is to give up your ability to perform alchemy for the sake of the transmutation.

God: That is the correct answer, alchemist.

    • On a MUCH more minor and down-to-earth level, we have Miles talking to Edward about his Isvalan heritage. He was expecting pity, since that's what he would normally get, but instead Ed just countered his speech with all of the awful things that the Ishvalan rebels did to his hometown.
  • In one story of Pet Shop of Horrors, there was a man Roger running for president, though charismatic he was also arrogant and ungrateful, in contrast to his kind assistant Kelly who lacked Roger's charm. Kelly was in love with Roger's fiance Nancy but they couldn't be together. But then Roger received a Kirin a powerful beast that could grant wishes. On the ride home, Kelly saw a bus full of children in danger and quickly stopped the bus from going over the cliff, but at the cost of his car going over. That was when the Kirin asked Kelly his wish. For a moment, Kelly thought of wealth, power and fame, but remembered Nancy and simply wanted to see her smile again. When he woke up, he was confused why Nancy was calling him Roger and telling him that Kelly was dead. Then he found out that he was in Roger's body. Because of his Heroic Sacrifice, he was guaranteed to become president and Nancy was technically now his fiance. The Kirin saw that he passed the test and granted him everything.
    • The entire PSOH series is arguably this. Whenever Count D gives someone a magical pet, he's basically testing a persons character. Many pets come with some kind of ability, (like the Kirin) and often times the pet will choose to use their ability after judging an owner as worthy, or the owner will exploit a pets ability with disasterous results. There's also the three-rule contract that each pet comes with, which has three rules that the pet owner MUST follow. Whether or not you break the contract shows a great deal about who you are as a person.
  • One of the first tests that the heroes in Hunter X Hunter were given dealt with them choosing between two paths, one to their destination and the other to their deaths. Their answer to the question the elderly woman gave them would determine where they would go. The question given to the heroes was whether they would save their son or daughter. One character complained at the unfairness of the question before another character quickly silenced him. Once the time was up, the elderly lady promptly declared their answer (which was silence) was correct. It would be impossible to choose between these two answers and it was an answer that shouldn't be taken lightly, unlike the contestant before them who casually gave his answer thinking it would please the elderly woman.
  • One of the stories in Warcraft Legends is about Thrall's mother, Draka, trying to become a powerful warrior despite appearing sickly and weak. She goes to a shaman for help, who tells her that a totem with the power to make her into a warrior can be made, but she must collect the necessary materials by hunting several dangerous animals by herself. Draka manages to successfully hunt all of the animals and returns, and the shaman tells her that no such totem exists. Draka's quest was the actual test, where she proved that she could hunt down Outland's most dangerous wildlife by herself without the aid of magic.
  • In Claymore, Galatea threatens to attack Jean and Clare in order to make sure they both know the prices of their actions. Once she is sure that they know it, she let them go and covers their escape.
  • In Soul Eater, one of the Great Old Ones puts Kid through this in the Book of Eibon to see what he would do with 'power'. Shinigami did something similar - although with much lower stakes - with Black Star and Maka's assignment fighting Sid and Stein (so effectively Kid was convinced not only it was real but that his father would let them die, leading to him joining Shibusen). Could be argued Shinigami did the same with all three of the debut episodes/chapters for the main groups.
  • The entire subplot/main plot concerning Mikael from Tenshi ni Narumon is based on this. Mikael who believed that he was sent with a mission of making Noelle (and Silky) angels and in the process become one himself, failed at it and none of them became an angel in the end. And that was in fact Heaven's desired outcome all along - because if Noelle, Silky and Mikael did become angels they would have fuse into one angelic being, in other words, they would die as individuals. Mikael believed that he was testing Noelle when in fact Raphael (and Heaven) were testing him - and the entire point of this test was to make Silky and Mikael redeem and accept themselves for who they are, to bring their fallen halos back above their heads and to promote Mikael to a position of an angel teacher.
  • Horribly played with in Detective Conan, where a rich man tries to test his two daughters and potential heiresses' love for him by pretending to have a heart attack and see how they react. His young doctor, who also happened to be the son of his dead and ruined business partner, got PISSED and killed him instead. It really didn't help that one of the girls was planning to kill him already.
  • The Code: Emperor of Code Breaker is fond of giving these to Ogami to ensure he is an acceptable host. For example, Ogami is presented the chance to give the Emperor a personality change. Naturally, he refuses, accepting the Emperor as his usual, difficult self.
  • Employed in the fifth Queen's Blade OVA, where Nanael steals a sacred grape and is booted out of heaven and down to the Swamp Witch's lair. Down below, she eats the grape and becomes a fallen angel, using her powers to blow up the Witch's castle. In somewhat of an Ass Pull, the whole course of events was revealed to be a Secret Test of Character, but the more incredulous part is that Nanael's actions caused her to pass.
  • Heartcatch Precure has one. In order to unlock the full power of the Heartcatch Mirage, the girls must undergo a Final Ordeal, which involves them fighting themselves... or rather, the negative aspects of themselves. Once the girls finally realize that and admit they can grow past it, they're asked one last question: "Do you need me anymore?" All four girls say "Yes."


  • Child Ballad
    • In The New-Slain Knight, a man tells a woman of a dead knight; when she complains that her child will be fatherless, he offers to marry her, and she rejects him; he reveals that he is her love.
    • In The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington, she tells her love that she is dead to test his love. He declares he will go into exile to avoid the place, and she reveals the truth.
  • The English ballad "Sovay" tells of a highway robber who demands, at gunpoint, a man's ring; the man refuses, because it was a gift from his fiancee, and is surprised when the robber just leaves. The next day, the fiancee reveals that she (in disguise) was the robber and would have shot him if he'd handed over the ring.
  • A lot of "broken token" ballads work like this: Hey lovely, your boyfriend is dead and he gave me this thing. How about having some fun together? Of course, a Genre Savvy girl should flat down refuse him.
    • Examples include John Riley and "Banks of Claudy".
    • Personally, I want the victim to abruptly dump the jerk when they find out they've been emotionally tortured because the jerk doesn't trust them.

Comic Books

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

Fairy Tales

  • In The Serpent and The Three Sisters, the king has promised that who cures the prince may marry him. He is cured by a woman but refuses because he is already married. The delighted woman reveals that she is his wife.
  • In Bearskin, the youngest daughter agrees to redeem her father's promise and marry a filthy, hairy man wearing a bearskin without knowing he will be able to take it off and clean up once his Deal with the Devil is done. Her sisters, who refused him, are so envious they commit suicide, and the devil happily makes off with their souls.
    • Some versions add a second part of the test where the suitor, after cleaning up nicely and collecting on his deal with Satan, returns and courts the youngest daughter to see if she will keep her promise or renege it in favor of (she thinks) a new and much more appealing match. She passes, of course.
  • In Diamonds and Toads, the younger daughter is willing to give an old woman (a disguised Fairy) a drink from the well; even warned, her older sister is unable to be polite.
  • In The Girl and the Dead Man, all three girls are offered the choice between a whole bannock 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 Hares, Jesper's older brothers lie about the pearls they are carrying and find they are transformed into what they claimed them to be; Jesper tells the truth and is given a magic whistle.
  • In The Three Little Birds, two brothers tell a fishing woman that she won't catch fish where she is, and end up failing their quests; then, their sister tells her "May God help you with your fishing," and receives a magic wand and advice.
  • In "The Invisible One", an invisible god and his sisters come up with a test for a prospective bride. Girls are brought to his dwelling place, and whoever can actually see him is worthy to be his wife. Many girls (including the protagonist's wicked older sisters) try, some even lying. But the only one who can actually see him is a kindhearted and shy girl who goes by Oochigeaskw ("Little Burnt One," or "Rough-Faced Girl," because her sisters pushed her face into the embers of their fire.)

Fan Works

  • A drabble for Tin Man starts with the Mystic Man giving Wyatt Cain a promotion to full Tin Man status (the Tin Men are an Ozian law enforcement organization). The confused Cain questions the Mystic Man's decision after all, he let a petty thief get away in order to tend to a sick old beggar in the streets. The Mystic Man simply explains that prioritizing compassion over strict interpretation of the law IS the mark of a Tin Man, and the whole thing was a test.
  • In the Discworld fan fic Moving Pictures II Vimes suggests to a prospective member of Cable Street Particulars that torture is still a a part of their methods. When the candidate absolutely refuses to take part in it ... he is hired.
  • Luso had to go through one so a shopkeeper is satisfied that Luso is mentally and emotionally prepared to be a Fighter before the shopkeeper will sell him the necessary equipment in The Tainted Grimoire.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic "Civil Disobedience" (published in Strange New Worlds I), Q is ordered not to interfere with the Borg's assimilation of humanity, after Picard is turned into Locutus and the Enterprise is destroyed trying to stop him, as part of Q's probation since regaining his powers in Deja Q. Q believes that disobeying his orders and interfering anyway will result in his powers being taken from him again, or even in his immediate execution... but because Picard and the Enterprise saved his life in Deja Q, and because Picard becoming Locutus is arguably his fault, he decides he would rather be killed/made mortal than bear the guilt of not interfering. So he causes the Enterprise‍'‍s weapon to short-circuit and destroy itself rather than the ship, which leads eventually to the defeat of the Borg before they can assimilate Earth (in canon, LaForge warns Riker that the use of the weapon could well destroy the ship; Riker orders it done anyway, because it seems their only hope, but it destroys itself before it has any effect on the Borg. This leads the crew to have to solve the problem creatively, by kidnapping and de-assimilating Locutus, which wouldn't have happened if their ship had blown up.) It turns out that Q's willingness to defy the Continuum in order to do the right thing was the final test required to get him off probation. Q is somewhat pissed off that his fellows were actually willing to let the Borg destroy humanity to teach him a lesson, but mostly he's just happy he passed. It's not like he's got a lot of room to complain, given the stuff he's been willing to allow to teach mortals a lesson.


  • In Pan's Labyrinth, the final part of a trial needed for Ophelia to get to her magical kingdom is a drop of blood from an innocent (her newborn brother). Ophelia steadfastly refuses, which itself completes the test. This is Writer on Board to some degree, as this one bears quite a bit of influence from the ideas Guillermo del Toro learned at his high school, the Instituto de Ciencias.
  • In the opening scene of In the Line of Fire, the undercover Clint Eastwood is told to shoot another agent, who is actually his new partner. He does it and it turns out the gun is empty. Later the partner says he's figured out that Eastwood could tell the gun was empty from its weight. Eastwood replies that there still could have been a bullet in the chamber; that's how far he's willing to go. Though that might be just Eastwood's sense of humor.
  • In Fight Club, Project Mayhem selects for stubbornness: new applicants who come to Tyler's house are yelled at for being too fat, too old, too young or too blonde and told to go away. If they refuse to leave for three days, ignoring the abuse and with no food, shelter or encouragement, they're allowed in. (The narrator has been known to bend the rules on the 'encouragement' part, though.)
  • In Saw III, Jigsaw seems to set up one of his usual traps, involving Lynn Denlon keeping him alive in order for Jeff Reinhold to finish his Unsecret Test of Character. However, Jigsaw was actually testing his apprentice Amanda throughout the film about her will to keep someone alive. Amanda was blind enough to kill Lynn even after her 'test' was over, thus failing and earning her own death at the hands of Lynn's husband Jeff. Nice going Jigsaw.
  • In the first Men in Black movie, when being recruited, Will Smith's character is put into several tests, one of which is a written test, but all the test-takers are sat in egg chairs with no writing surfaces, and their pens kept tearing the paper. He is the only person to pull the only table in the room over to him, despite the hellacious noise it makes. Then in the firing range he ignores all the aliens and shoots the little girl with a grocery basket because " All the other guys are doing (x routine thing here), she looked the most suspicious, out there at midnight for no reason." In the MIB book, K mentions that he hit the right target.
    • In the movie, the little girl was also carrying academic textbooks, but ones that were way too advanced for her age (even a child prodigy is unlikely to be reading Quantum Physics and Relativity). There's also the fact that not only was the little girl out there at midnight as described above, she was out there at midnight with a bunch of hideous-looking aliens around and she didn't run or anything.
    • The Fridge Brilliance of this test is considerable; the MIB force is ultimately an immigration control office for extraterrestrials. The absolute last quality they are looking for in an agent is xenophobia. So the one recruit in the group who actually tries to look at the targets' actions to determine apparent threat level rather than concentrate on their horror-movie looks is the one worth keeping, even if his reasoning processes might need some work.
  • Used hilariously in I Spy, where the civilian partner Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy) is "kidnapped" and is taken somewhere, where they attempt to get information from him by threatening to cut off his you-know-what. He panics and gives all the info he can remember on his partner, then the illusion is dropped and he is complimented on giving vague info and acting well.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan begins with a simulated crew training exercise. The crew receives a distress signal from the Kobayashi Maru, which is trapped in the Klingon Neutral Zone. When they go in to rescue the Maru, the distress signal turns out to be a trap and the crew is quickly overwhelmed by Klingon K't'inga-class battlecruisers. When Mr. Saavik complains that there was no way to win the simulation, Admiral Kirk replies, "A no-win scenario is something every starship captain might have to face."
    • The movie goes on to subvert the Aesop later when it's revealed that Kirk, the only Starfleet officer ever to beat the Kobayashi Maru test, did so by cheating. It's then doubly subverted when Kirk is forced to face Spock's death.
  • In The Golden Child, Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) is The Chosen One, fated to rescue the titular child, but he's a Jerkass and skeptic, and must be taught to accept the supernatural world. This is accomplished by the "Old Man", a Trickster Mentor who puts him through quite a few secret tests of character—the first being to see how he responded to a street vendor trying to cheat him. Needless to say, Jarrell fails quite a few times at the start.
  • In The Usual Suspects, Agent Kujan tells Verbal that the best way to catch a criminal is to arrest five guys for the crime and put them in a cell overnight. The next morning, whoever is asleep is your man. An innocent man will stay up all night worrying, while a guilty one will realize he's been caught and relax. This is actually relevant in the scene with the suspects in a cell together after their lineup. The one who is lying down turns out to be the one who committed the hijacking.
  • In Exam, what initially looked like an 80-minute written exam was in actuality a test of conscience, patience, and attention to detail. It didn't help that the exam room itself had exploitable points of interest, and the rules just a little bit obscure. In the end, all those perks just happened to be a complete waste of time.
  • In the little-known sequel of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo confronts an old man who can control a bunch of shadow wolves. He says that as Milo, Kida and their group know about him, he must kill them so they never give away his secret. He says he will spare them if they tell him one of their secrets (Atlantis), but Milo decides not to. The wolfman spares them, saying they understand the importance of keeping a secret, and lets them go.
  • In Disney's Aladdin, the Cave Of Wonders acts as a combined Test of Character and Death Trap for those who are unworthy. The irony being that Aladdin himself was indeed trustworthy, while his monkey wasn't. But who trusts a monkey anyway?
  • Subverted in Training Day. Alonzo puts Hoyt through all manner of situations to test him for suitability as a narcotics officer working on the street. It later turns out that it's all been an elaborate façade to set Hoyt up as an accomplice.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, during training, Colonel Phillips tosses a (dud) grenade at the trainees. Steve immediately dives on it and cradles it as everyone else scatters. This implies that his selflessness is a main contributor to him being chosen for the Super Soldier program.
    • It should be noted that the soldier who Colonel Phillips considers the best choice for the program is the first to flee.
    • There's also the scene when Dr. Erskine first meets with Steve and asks him whether he wants to join the war effort to "kill Nazis". Steve's response?:

Steve Rogers: I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies. Doesn't matter where they're from.

  • Used in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. All five children to find Golden Tickets are approached by Wonka's sinister rival Slugworth and asked to steal him one of Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers to study. Wonka gives them all one during their tour. At the end, Charlie gives it back to him rather than sell it to Slugworth (Wonka at this point had become angry with him and refused to give him the lifetime's supply of chocolate that was part of the Golden Ticket prize). Turns out that "Slugworth" was working for Wonka and it was a Secret Test of Character to see who was worthy to run Wonka's factory after him.
  • The Princess Bride: The Man in Black concealed his true identity from Buttercup to find out if she still loved him.
  • Played with in Spider-Man: Homecoming. At the end of the film, Tony Stark offers Peter a new Spider-suit and full membership in the Avengers; Peter turns it all down to remain a neighborhood-level hero. As he leaves, he calls back, "This was a test, right?" Stark replies, "You got it, kid." And as soon as Peter is out of earshot he has to come up with an alternate announcement to make to the room full of reporters who were there to be introduced to the newest Avenger. Doubly played with in Spider-Man: Far From Home, in that after Tony's death in Avengers: Endgame, he leaves a very powerful legacy in Peter's hands because of the kind of person he's shown himself to be.


  • Older Than Feudalism: The Bible is full of these.
    • The famous Solomon "splitting the baby" story from The Bible.
    • Solomon himself had one when God offered to give him one blessing, and instead of material wealth or military might Solomon chose wisdom; pleased with this, God gave him the other things as well.
    • Job. Poor Job's family, they got killed just for a test. Which Job passed and got a new one, so everybody is happy. In God's defense, the whole 'Eternal Paradise' gives him a bit of a license to be a dick. It's not they'll be separated from Job for long.
      • Except that it was written as a bet between God and the Devil rather than a testing of Job. And Job DOES eventually question why God wiped out his fortune and his family and his good health. God berates him for it.
    • Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, and when Isaac asks where they'll get the sacrificial lamb, Abraham responds that God will provide the lamb. Isaac is then tied up on the altar, and just as Abraham is about to kill him, an angel comes down and stops him, saying this was a test of faith and he has passed.
    • Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors) pulls one on his brothers in Genesis. Jacob's older sons, jealous of Jacob's love of Joseph (11 of 12), sold him to a slave-trader and told their father he had been killed by a wild animal. Through some strange circumstances, he wound up serving Pharaoh, who made Joseph a minister. When drought hit the region, Egypt rode it out due mainly to Joseph's ordering the granaries to store the surplus from previous years. Jacob's tribes were less fortunate and the elder sons went to Egypt to beg the minister (not knowing) for assistance. He agreed to aid them, and invited them to dine with him, only to accuse the youngest son Benjamin of stealing from him. When the other brothers defended Benjamin, ultimately confessing their previous misdeeds, Joseph revealed himself to them, saying that they had passed his test, and permitted the tribes of Israel to live in Egypt.
      • Where they were subsequently enslaved for several hundred years, so make of that what you will.
      • In fairness, that wasn't Joseph's fault. The Pharaoh forgot his promise to the Israelites.
      • Also, calling it "slavery" paints a negative picture of it. Historically speaking, all citizens of Egypt were expected to put in a set number of hours serving the Pharoah's causes every week. Unfortunately, the Israelites, being nomads, weren't experienced in, say, farming or irrigation or the like, so they got the manual labor tasks.
    • Depending on how you look at it, the Tree of Knowledge may or may not have been one for Adam and Eve...
  • Somewhat utilized in Fearless when Loki kidnaps Sam Moon to see what Gaia will do in order to save him In this case, however, the criteria for her having passed the test is to prove that she will do bad things rather than that she will not.
  • Discworld:
    • In Terry Pratchett's novel Lords and Ladies, an arrogant young witch challenges Granny Weatherwax to a contest in staring at the sun. When Nanny Ogg's grandson runs into the magic circle controlling their power and cries out, Granny looks away from the sun to help him, and Nanny declares that this is a test of witchcraft, not power, and a true witch would drop a silly contest to help a child. Afterward, it's revealed that Nanny waved a bag of sweets to lure Pewsey, knowing he wouldn't really be hurt. Subverted, in that this wasn't meant to be how the test worked, but you can't argue with public acclaim (and indeed, the original challenge was meant to discredit Granny Weatherwax).
    • Granny Weatherwax is a fan of these, as you'd expect from a Discworld witch that honestly believes everything is a test. These range from being as simple and obvious as asking what you'd take out of your house during a fire — Nanny Ogg answering that she'd rescue her cat that could escape itself to appear kindly — to a complex Xanatos Gambit to see whether a witch was worth her training by getting a rival placed above her.
    • Completely averted in Mort. Death takes a titular character as his apprentice and the first job he gives him is to clean the stables of his horse, Binky, which takes hours (he has that horse for a looong time and cleaning its stable is a demeaning job for Death). The whole time doing the job, Mort entertains the thought of the job being this. Maybe Death wants to see if he will argue against his treatment? Maybe he wants to teach him his place? Maybe he wants to get him used to repeatability of moves he will have to face when wielding Death's scythe? After Mort is finally done cleaning the stables, Death asks him why did he have to do it. Mort's answer: "Because you were up to your knees in horseshit." Death is very pleased by that answer, because it is completely true.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, there is a race to rescue hostages at the bottom of a lake with one hostage per contestant. Harry sacrifices his place in the lead to make sure every hostage gets rescued, even rescuing an extra one personally. The judges, while it wasn't what they were looking for (and while the hostages weren't actually in any danger), gave him points for "moral fibre".
    • Actually something of an inversion. There was absolutely no secret test to begin with, but Harry managed to pass it anyway. He didn't benefit on it, since even with extra points he gained only the second score, while he would be first, if he didn't wait. There was a strong implication that Harry was a bit stupid to believe they'd actually let innocent bystanders die.
      • Given that the Tri-Wizard tournament was previously cancelled because too many people were dying in it, not really that stupid.
  • Subverted in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. Harriet Vane was convinced to go against her principles of no sex before marriage (in the 1920s) to have a relationship with a man who said that marriage was against his principles (why his principles were more important than hers, despite the fact that she bore all the costs and he had all the advantages was not made clear). When he did offer to marry her, saying that the sex before marriage was a test of her devotion, she immediately dumped him for making her betray her principles and treating marriage as 'a bad conduct prize'.
    • This happened to Sayers in Real Life as well. Small wonder that she killed off the Expy of the guy that did it to her in the above novel.
  • In Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat novels, a story circulates about Vlad the Impaler. Vlad invited to dinner two monks who had been traveling through Vlad's principality of Wallachia. Vlad habitually punished the lightest crime with impalement. He asked the monks what his reputation really was among the people. One monk replied with what he thought Vlad wanted to hear, that the people saw him as a firm but just prince; the other replied with the truth, that the people thought Vlad was a sadistic tyrant. Vlad then ordered one of the monks impaled, but the story does not say which one. This is presented as a test of the listener's character: Libertarians or persons generally suspicious of authority assume Vlad must have executed the truth-teller, authoritarians or persons who tend to have faith in authorities assume he must have executed the liar. What Wilson never mentions is that the story is in fact an inversion of reality; Vlad actually did have a very good reputation among the common people, who appreciated that his ferocity came down hardest on the predatory nobles.
  • In Paulo Coelho's, The Alchemist, the boy seeking his treasure is confronted by a man on a white horse, the Alchemist. The Alchemist threatens him and asks him why he read the omens of the flight of the birds, and places the tip of his sword towards the boy's head. When the boy answers truthfully, the Alchemist removes the sword point from his head and says "I had to test your courage."
  • A villainous example occurs in Star Wars, where Emperor Palpatine tests Darth Maul to see if he wishes to kill him after he was forced to survive alone while being hunted down by assassin droids then later defeated by him while he was weak and famished.
  • In The Canterbury Tales, "The Clerk's Tale" is the retelling of a Secret Test of Character that a man puts his wife through, including claiming to have killed both of their children. The clerk himself lampshades this by pointing out it's a very bad Aesop.
  • In The Mysterious Benedict Society, kids are told to bring one, only one, Number Two pencil to take the big test, or automatically fail. Outside the test building is a girl begging for help because she dropped her pencil down a sewer grate. Several kids pass the test of character in creative ways, including a girl who reaches into her Bag of Holding for assorted items that enable her to fish the pencil out of the grate, and the protagonist, who breaks his pencil and gives the girl half. As an additional test, the girl then claims to have a cheat sheet, which she offers to share.
    • Although as this was an unusually flexible testing process in general, and the various qualities being looked for included both being willing to trust and depend on newly met associates, recognize and disobey pointless rules, and an affinity for espionage, accepting her offer probably wouldn't have resulted in an automatic failure. The way Mr. Benedict operates, her answer sheet probably would have been inaccurate, giving the test taker the additional challenges of recognizing this fact and trying to clue her in to the right answers.
  • There is a story where the final road test to get a driver's license takes place in an elaborate simulation. During the test, no matter how well the student drives, even if he makes no mistakes, something will go wrong and he will kill his family. If he passes the test in terms of skill, he's offered his license after exiting the simulation. Accepting the license bars him from driving forever. The problems with this should be fairly obvious.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel The Killing Ground, Uriel and Pasanius's third ordeal is to fight Leodegarius, and they are defeated -- Pasanius unconscious, and Uriel unable to rise. Uriel tells him to Get It Over With. Whereupon Leodegarius tells him that the ordeal is to lose, because the only way they could have defeated him was the use of warp-based powers. Failure proves they are untainted.
    • Ultramarines seem to like this a lot, in one comic, a group of recruits have a race across the rocky mountain range barefoot, the two that came in last pass because they helped each other finish the race. Space Marines are supposed to work together as brothers.
  • In Philip K. Dick's short story "The Exit Door Leads In", the protagonist turns out to be in a Secret Test Of Character. The title would give this away, but Dick cleverly includes a Title Drop early on that appears to explain it.
  • A Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel features the Real Life Shoot the Dog example outlined below; a young soldier seconded to UNIT from the Marines was forced to do this by her previous commanding officer to be allowed to join the regiment. She admits that she initially felt proud of herself for having the 'character' to belong to the regiment after she did it, but cried herself to sleep later that night. It's used to provide a counterpoint to The Brigadier, a much more humane and honourable soldier, who condemns the test and her previous commanding officer as a bastard.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Summer Knight, the Gatekeeper urges Dresden to give up because the task is far too large for him; the Council would never send a single wizard to do it. When he refuses, the Gatekeeper promises him his vote. And says had he walked away, the Gatekeeper would have killed on the spot, since it would be the same effect as voting against him.
  • One of these is used on Aviendha in The Wheel of Time series. She thinks she is almost ready to take the test to become a Wise One, but her trainers assign her more and more degrading punishments (well, degrading to an Aiel) for some offense she doesn't even know she committed. She's very reluctant to ask what she did wrong, and when she finally breaks down and asks, it turns out that was the test - a Wise One needs to be able to stand up for herself and deal with other people being unreasonable.
  • In Mickey Zucker Reichert's Renshai books, Ra-khir has to pass two of these during his examination for knighthood. First he concedes defeat in a duel, pointing out that he'd been struck a 'killing' blow that his opponent had apparently missed. His testers confirm that this was the right thing to do, as acting honourably is more important than winning. Then, just before he is about to pass the examination, a messenger rushes in and tells him that his estranged mother is threatening to kill herself if he doesn't go to her immediately. Leaving means that he will fail the exam (which lasts for two days nonstop), but he doesn't hesitate to go. The messenger then explains that it was all part of the test, and he is now a knight.
  • In C.S. Goto's Blood Ravens trilogy, Sturnn tells Gabriel that his Imperial Guard forces killed Ultramarines; Gabriel asks why and deduces (after he learns that they were disguised Alpha Legion) that Sturnn told him to find out whether he would just attack or ask questions.
  • In John C. Wright's Titans of Chaos, Amelia is told that if she speaks the word, her people will destroy the world of Saturn, a.k.a. our universe. When she does not speak, they proclaim that despite being raised as a human and thinking as a human, she nevertheless came to the moral conclusion, thereby proving the world.
  • The Pure Ones' Special Ceremony, TUPSI, is an awful warped version in the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. To join the elite ranks of Pure Ones, an owl has to prove his brutality by killing a loved one, either a family member or a close friend. Very much like the S.S. example in the real life section, especially in Nyroc's case, where his mother specifically picked out a lower-ranked orphan sooty owlet, introduced them, encouraged their friendship, and then Nyroc's Special Ceremony arrived ... This was the point where Nyroc realized the Pure Ones were evil.
  • The Fountainhead: Invoked and then rejected. Wynand offers to let Roark build him the house of his dreams, but only if the latter agrees to become the former's personal architect. Roark would have no input into the plans and would have to execute whatever crummy design Wynand has in mind. After Roark tells him to shove his offer somewhere painful, Wynand backs down, but explicitly says the offer was not a Secret Test Of Character. He badly wanted Roark to give in, because Wynand enjoys making talented, idealistic people betray their principles. Roark points out, however, that he trusted Wynand's morals from the beginning, and was, in effect, testing his character.
  • Robert A. Heinlein was a fan of these. In Space Cadet, the aspiring Space Patrol candidate is given a test where he must drop beans into a small bottle at his feet - with his eyes closed. He's disappointed that he only managed to get one bean, where others had many more. Afterwards, the examiner heavily implies that what they're actually testing is trustworthiness; only the Cadets that kept their eyes closed pass.
  • Another Heinlein example. In Starman Jones, the eponymous character is working on a spaceship in the cargo bay. Ships are run by guilds with very strict entrance rules, so Jones had to use fake paperwork to get on board. When he's being considered for a promotion, he's called to a superior's office. The man has read over his file, which is full of fake posts Jones had supposedly served on before. He asks Jones if it's an accurate accounting. Jones, deciding he's sunk anyway, admits that the whole thing is a pack of lies. The superior informs Jones that he knew that the whole time, and if Jones had tried to lie, he would have thrown him in the brig.
  • In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, when Phaethon points out to Ironjoy that he could eliminate the effects of his punishment on his mind, Ironjoy demands to know if it's some kind of test. Despite his loathing of what he had done (induced by the punishment), he is this person and wants to be no one else.
  • D. C. Poyer and David Andreissen's short story "If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute". A man is chosen to represent Earth in a marathon race with a representative of an alien species. Before the race he's given cocaine by one of the human organizer and told to take it during the race (which is legal under the race's rules). He eventually decides not to and even helps the alien when he gets in truble during the race. He ends up losing, but the alien tells him that he won a greater victory in the aliens' eyes by showing sportsmanship and honor.
  • In Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart, the Oriki try a few on Spock, though he quickly sees what they're doing. One test involves them offering meat, the Oriki being anxious to see if he sticks to his vegetarian ideals or takes the meat so as not to "offend" them. Spock politely remains true to himself, despite potentially insulting the Oriki, and thus passes their test.
  • Don Quixote: Deconstructed in the Novel Within A Novel "The Ill-Advised Curiosity" where Anselmo asks his best friend Lotario to test the fidelity of his wife, Camila. In any other story before Don Quixote, Lucinda would have passed the test and everyone would have lived Happily Ever After. In the novel, Lucinda and Lotario became lovers ensuring the tragic deaths of the three.
  • Violet Eyes is a retelling of " the Princess and the Pea" wherein nearly all of the 'princess' tests are kept secret (although the prince tells his beloved what they are so she can fake them, as she wasn't raised as a princess) however, in this version, the King and Queen aren't as dumb/ superficial as in the fairy tale, and each of the tests as a hidden, secret test, so that even when the girls are told of the test, they still have no idea what the real test is. For example, one test is to test how 'sensitive' the princesses are, and the girls believe it is based on the pain they feel at loosing a single hair. In reality, the test is how they react to the death of a servant.
  • In The Pale King, applying for the IRS involves listening to a lengthy, mind-numbingly boring presentation. The recruitment office is closely monitored to see how would-be applicants react to the dull, tedious nature of the work.
  • In Brewster's Millions, when Montgomery Brewster told his bride about the seven-million-dollar inheritance his uncle left him, she had initially believed he was testing her love when he proposed to her before telling about the inheritance but he explained he wasn't allowed to tell about it until he reached the age of 26.
  • Hilariously subverted in The Name of the Wind. Kvothe wants Elodin to teach him Naming, and Elodin tells him to jump off a building. Kvothe assumes that this is a Secret Test of Character, and that Elodin will use Naming to stop his fall. Instead he hits the ground and breaks some bones, and Elodin tells him that he is too reckless to learn something as volatile as Naming.

Elodin: Congratulations. That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Ever.

  • The Idiot features a possible example, because it's left unclear how much (if any) of the proceedings were actually planned by the tester. Nastasya Fillipovna, having heard that Gavrila Ardalionovich would “crawl to Vassilievsky Island for three rubles”, takes a package of ten thousand rubles and throws it in a fire. She tells Gavrila that he can have the money if he'll pull it out of the fire with his bare hands. Gavrila refuses and then faints, so Nastasya grabs the fire tongs, pulls the money out herself, and gives it to Gavrila anyway.

Nastasya: So his vanity is still greater than his lust for money. [...] I grant him full possession of it as a reward for... well, for whatever!

  • At the end of Destiny's Star by Elizabeth Vaughan, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Wild Magic prepares to teleport Ezren and his girlfriend Bethral home, and offers Ezren a chance to alter reality. Erzen, who had a hard life and has long been ashamed of being short and scrawny compared to Bethral the Hot Amazon Action Girl, answers, "Change nothing. Bethral loves me as I am, and those events made me as I am now. Change nothing." The Wild Magic calls him wise and says he made the right choice, then returns them safely.
  • Described in the Frederick Forsyth novel Icon:

(General-of-Police Valentin) Petrovsky then ran a series of covert will-they-take-a-bribe tests on some of the senior investigators. Those who told the bribe offerers to get lost received promotions and big pay hikes.

  • The title character of Sydney J. van Scyoc's Darkchild faces one of these when his new friend Kira's mother uses her powers to animate statues, attacking the kids with apparent lethal intent. The attacks are mainly at Kira, and Darkchild (Kira calls him that; he's a clone with the designation "Rauth-7," not an actual name) realizes he can probably escape if he abandons her. He instead goes to her defense. Mom, of course, stops attacking and says, "I told you, Kira, that I would need to know more about your new friend before I decided whether or not to let him stay with us. Now I know more. You may stay, Rauth-7."

Live Action TV

  • This is how The A-Team frequently chooses their clients. It usually goes like this: Client has problem. Client tries to contact A-Team and doesn't seem to be having any luck. Client meets someone who offers them a chance to gain something in a rather unethical way. Client refuses. Person reveals himself to be Hannibal Smith in disguise, and agrees to take the case. Happened way more often in the earlier episodes. Somewhat toned down as time went by. Not that it wasn't done well, mind you.
  • Carter goes through one of these in an early episode of ER. While he was interviewed for the surgeon position he was told to tie a knot through a magnetized paperclip in the bottom of a metallic cup - apparently symbolizing sewing around a vein. Lifting the paper-clip from the bottom of the cup symbolized severing the vein. After a half-dozen failures, they ask him what he would have done if this were an actual operation. He answered that he would fix the damage and move on. They accept this and tell Carter that it is fact impossible to do what they asked him to do. However, they liked his answer and that he kept his cool during his "failures".
  • The News Radio scene between Dave and Mr. James, quoted at the top of the page.
  • On Big Brother Australia, one weekly task involved pretending to be police. They had to run the assault course twice. They were told that they would pass the test if the time of their second run was greater than that for their first. When they were quicker the second time around, they failed. They were then informed of the original instructions, they had to go slower on their second run. Being observant is a necessary trait for police officers, sure, but apparently common sense (which would recommend improvement) and a good understanding of the English language (since the term greater was obviously implied, in this instance, to mean better rather than larger) aren't.
  • Lost pulls a subversion, when the Others bring Locke his own father, who was responsible for his parapalegic injuries, and instruct Locke to kill him. When Locke decides it's a secret test and refuses, the Others turn away, disgusted that he failed the task
    • Locke ends up getting back in their good graces by taking a third option and allowing Sawyer to do it for him, and taking the credit by bringing the body back to the Others' camp.
    • Actually, the only way Ben said he'd be allowed back was if he brought his father's body back. Ben never said that John had to kill him.
  • Used in various forms throughout the Star Trek series:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Arena", Kirk passed a Secret Test of Character by refusing to kill his Gorn adversary. This happens all the time in Star Trek: The Original Series: "The Corbomite Maneuver" "Specter of Gun," and "The Empath," to name a few.
    • Both Worf and Picard challenge Ensign Sito to Secret Tests of Character in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Lower Decks." Although Worf's was more of a lampshade, meant to illustrate to Sito the lesson she needed to pass Picard's test (which she was failing). Worf liked the cut of her jib and didn't want to see her fail just because she was too in awe of the captain to stand up to him.
    • The episode "A Matter of Honor" puts Commander Riker (as part of a "Officer Exchange Program") on a Klingon vessel. Long story short, because of space barnacles (again, they used fancier terms), the Klingon captain thinks the Enterprise is out to destroy them and demands that Riker tell them anything that could be used to help destroy the Enterprise. Riker refuses, citing his oath to Starfleet, as well as his oath to Captain Picard. The Klingon captain (after several seconds of bristling anger), points out that, if Riker had said anything, he would be considered both a traitor (to Starfleet) and too cowardly to serve on the vessel, and thus promptly killed. Moral lesson: never volunteer for the Klingon Officer Exchange Program.
    • Wesley wrings his hands over a certain portion of the Academy entrance exam where he'll have to face his worst fear. Right before the exam is supposed to start, he hears an explosion coming from another room; he's only able to save one occupant. Of course, the test was to see if he could make such decisions. It should be noted that Wesley's father died in this exact scenario and that the test places him in Picard's shoes when he wasn't able to save Wesley's father. Pretty sadistic actually.
    • Troi takes a similar bridge officer's test, in which the only way to save the ship is to send Geordi to his death. She mistakes it for a test of technical knowledge at first, then realizes it's to see if she can make the best decisions for the good of the ship.
    • An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has one of these, where Bashir was put into a holodeck simulation to see if he was a spy, by Section 31. He passed the test, and was offered a position in the organization. He vehemently declined, though he's still a viable candidate, should he ever change his mind.
    • A Voyager episode had Chakotay giving Tuvok a phaser and asking him to shoot the captain. It turned out to not work. Possibly a subversion: Tuvok deduced that it was a character test before pressing the fire button, since you don't give someone of questionable loyalty a live weapon. Janeway finds his logic, less than sound.
    • The Kobayashi Maru. Presents would-be Starfleet captains with a no-win situation, just to see how they handle themselves in such a circumstance. Apparently cheating and reprogramming the test is a viable answer.
  • An episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years featured Zack & company in an ethics class, in which the first session involved the professor stating that only half of the class would pass. After being a hardass all semester and playing up the difficult final, the professor releases the real final as a Secret Test of Character by dropping copies of what look like answer keys. Between Zack's discovery of a fake "key" and The Reveal, Hilarity Ensues.
    • Zack points out the professor's own behavior was unethical, and he admitted Zack may have a point but he wanted to use to whole thing to get the class to be seriously thinking about and have a real discussion of ethics which they start on as the episode ends. Most interesting perhaps is that Zack decided for once that cheating would be wrong.
  • Stargate SG-1 episode "Thor's Chariot". The Asgard use a holographic series of puzzles, including a test of character, to determine if the Cimmerians were advanced enough to meet them. Also from SG-1, the 'foothold situation' in "Proving Ground," and 'the radiation attack' on the stargate that tests Lt Elliott's ability to not leave a man behind.
    • When Vala is being considered for the SGC, she is approached by the IOA. They offer to ease her entry in return for her spying on the SGC. It was, of course, a Secret Test of Character, as the SGC has to be able to count on the loyalty of its people.
  • An episode of the The George Lopez Show has the manager forcing George to fire one of the two teams he's in charge of. One of them has his mom on it, but he fires that team anyway since the other team has been working better. Turns out the manager was merely testing if he'd fire his mom.
  • Used quite often in Who Wants to Be a Superhero?:
    • In the first episode, prospective superheroes are challenged to change to their secret identity without being seen and then race to the finish line. However, right before the finish there's a little girl, crying that she's lost and can't find her mommy; the true test is to see who would stop and help the little girl. (Only four of the ten contestants actually did.)
    • The third episode pulls the same trick again, by asking the contestants to each choose a contestant that they would eliminate, and then explain why. In truth, this was a test of self-sacrifice; the correct response to the question was for each contestant to nominate him- or herself to be eliminated. Four of the six remaining prospective heroes passed this test.
    • The second season had a scenario where the heroes are stopped by an adoring fan who wants a picture while they are supposed to be on a mission. The lesson was "humility".
  • An episode of Will and Grace had Will take a job at a very prestigious law firm. The senior partner then ordered Will to defeat Grace in arbitration. Will obeys, but then immediately quits the job, saying that he can't work for a firm that would require him to betray his friend. The partner then pays Grace the money she was owed and gives Will a promotion, saying that he has all the coldhearted bastards that he needs.
  • In the Taxi episode "The Wedding of Latka and Simka", the lovers undergo an old-world ceremony per their religion. It climaxes with a question-and-answer test. The final question asks Latka: if a charging boar were going to attack Simka and a baby, and he could only save one, who would he choose? He chooses Simka, but is informed it was the wrong answer; thus, they cannot wed. Simka announces she will marry Latka even if they must defy their religion, and the reverend reveals that they have passed the real test - she's proven how much they truly love each other by putting that above all, and thus are worthy of marriage.
    • An episode of Perfect Strangers had a similar situation, where Balki puts his cousin Larry and his fiancee through a series of ludicrous trials as a "Mepeot Marriage Test" to test if they are romantically compatible. Once the two have gone through this torture, Balki announces that the tests show they are completely incompatible, and their marriage is doomed to failure, to which they say Screw Destiny, they're getting married anyway and they'll make it work. Balki's response? "Congratulations. You passed the Mepeot Marriage Test with flying colors."
  • An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch featured Sabrina and her twin Katrina, who are informed that one of any given pair of twin witches is good and one is Evil Twin. After it is determined which is which, the good twin must push the evil one into an active volcano - one of the few ways to destroy a witch, according to the episode. After various tests, Katrina is chosen as the good twin, and when they get to the volcano, she pushes Sabrina in without a second thought. Oops, turns out that was the final test, and Katrina just failed. (Fortunately for Sabrina, she managed to grab the rocky ledge on the way down.) And it turns out they were lying about the whole 'lava being fatal to witches thing' too.
  • The magician Derren Brown once did a TV special where at the end of the episode, a volunteer would load one bullet into a revolver and Derren would predict which slot was used, firing five (hopefully empty shots) at his head and the bullet into the wall. The episode up to this point consisted of multiple secret tests of character to narrow the volunteers down to someone with the right mentality such that he was confident of pulling this off. For example, when the group was invited into an auditorium, the whole front row was dismissed for being too eager, later on they were split into groups of three and asked to vote one person out - that person went through to the next round.
  • In Babylon 5, we have the case when Lyta accepted Ambassador G'Kar's invitation to help the Narns get a hand on the telepath gene years after he had asked (and after which he had done a full Heel Face Turn). G'Kar answered that he had to add another request to her list: That she and her fellow telepaths would be willing to spy on the other ambassadors. She refuses, starts to move away and G'Kar stops her and inform her that that was his last test. Had she answered yes, he could never trust her.
    • G'Kar has been on a receiving end of such a test himself. In one scene, Garibaldi found out that G'Kar was smuggling weapons for the Narn Resistance through the station. So he confronts G'Kar. G'Kar, knowing that Garibaldi would never confront someone without proof, decides to save time by admitting it outright. Garibaldi rewards his honesty by providing an alternate way to smuggle weapons without involving Babylon 5 in it.
    • Played with in the episode Comes The Inquisitor. Delenn is told that the Vorlon are sending an Inquisitor to the station to test her resolve for the coming war. The Inquisitor turns out to be an apparently psychotic sadist who tortures her while telling her how worthless she is. Eventually, Sheridan comes in to stop it, and the Inquisitor turns around and starts torturing Sheridan instead. Delenn, full of righteous indignation, demands that the Inquisitor stop, and let her die in Sheridan's place. Sheridan likewise says that he'll die in her place. The Inquisitor informs them that they have passed the test. The Vorlon didn't want a pair of glory hounds, drunk on the power they would have being leaders in the coming war. They proved that they were ready to die, alone and in the dark, without anyone ever knowing of their sacrifice.
  • During a second-season episode of The Mighty Boosh, Rudi gives his long-time partner Spider tickets to Rio de Janeiro and backstage passes to a Carlos Santana concert. When Spider refuses, and rips up the tickets, Rudi reveals that it was just a test. Parodied in a season one episode, where the tests involve returning a magic flute ("Many men would've kept the flute, for it is worth well over thirty-five Euros.") and not kissing Rudi's balls when he asks. ("Many men would've kissed my balls, for they are worth....")
  • In Heroes, Hiro and Ando are searching for Usutu, an African who can see the future. The problem, obviously, is that Usutu knew they were coming and all. After getting hit over the head with a shovel (twice), which you can read about in the Crowning Moment of Funny page, he finally decides that Usutu would be unable to handle two guys at once, at which time Usutu lets them get him, because Hiro decided to use his head instead of relying on his powers.
  • In the reality TV series, Rebel Billionaire, the first episode featured the contestants moving from their hotels to Richard Branson's home, with Richard Branson himself posing as the limo driver. Several of the contestants helped Branson load their luggage, and were very polite to him. Others, well... weren't. When Branson revealed himself, the polite people had a good laugh. The ones that weren't had the expected reaction. Branson picked the two contestants who were (in his opinion) the worst of the lot, and they were removed from the show. Two contestants down, and it was only fifteen minutes into the first episode.
    • And in the end the 2 finalists were 2 of the people who failed the test
  • The show What Would You Do had actors play out certain situations in public without the people around them knowing and with hidden cameras recording the scene. The situations involved things like a man drugging his date's drink while she was in the restroom, and a woman asking to cut into the grocery line and being the 5000th customer at the store, and they were performed to see how people not in on it would react. There were also variations done, like the date in the first scenario wearing skanky clothes and a modest dress in different 'performances'. Most people were not very amused when they found out that the scenes were hoaxes; the show was mainly created to show peoples' reactions to these kinds of situations.
  • In The West Wing, the treatment that Will Bailey was subject to when he started working with the President's senior staff seemed to be a mixture of this trope (in order to determine whether he was of suitable stuff to work in the West Wing) and hazing, to the extent that it was frequently difficult to see where one ended and the other began. In one example, he was tricked into attending a meeting alone with the President to see whether he would 'tell the truth to power' and was considered to have failed in that he ended up stammering nervously for a few moments and then excusing himself in embarrassment. Will, who was under the assumption that his current post was pretty much a glorified temp job at the time and that he'd mistakenly been ushered unprepared and alone into the Oval Office with the President, responded to this particular example with understandable resentment at being tricked and humiliated, and to the rest with a mixture of firm resolve and paranoia (since he never knew when he was being tested and when he was being pranked).
  • One first season episode of Merlin (The Labryinth of Gedref) has Arthur required to pass some tests to remove a curse on Camelot. The last test is that he is told he and Merlin have to drink two cups, one of which is poison. He passes by pouring one cup into the other and drinking both, thus sacrificing himself.
  • The reality show True Beauty runs on this trope: it's a reality show that made its contestants think it's a Next Top Model rip-off, but it judged their "inner beauty".
  • This seems to be Robbie Ray's default method of parenting in Hannah Montana. He routinely gives his kids enough rope to either prove themselves, or hang themselves. In the former case he's proud, in the latter he's usually ready with either an embarrassing punishment (like announcing to all of Miley's friends who think she can drive that he's dropping her off because she failed her driving test), a heartfelt speech containing the word 'bud', or a new, and suspiciously plot-relevant song.
  • On The IT Crowd, Douglas uses this as an excuse to pretend that his painfully obvious and feeble attempts at trying to seduce Jen after making her his assistant, which she has rejected at every turn, are one of these to prove that she really does want her job and doesn't just want to sleep her way up the ladder. Relieved, Jen takes the opportunity to explain—at length—that Douglas really isn't her type. Douglas isn't pleased.
  • In The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, Prince Garrett undergoes a trial by combat to prove himself as the Fifth Knight. When he is overwhelmed by multiple opponents he cries for help and ends the trial. Thinking he has failed, the Fairy King reveals to him that pride is his greatest weakness, and that a display of humility was what was required to pass the trial.
  • Used in Smallville when Clark meets Lois' dad for the first time since he and Lois got together. He acts like a complete asshole and has an insane list of things that Clark needs to do in order to prove his love for her. Clark completes the task to the letter thanks to his powers, but the general is still not satisfied. He leaves and orders Lois to follow him. Lois explodes and demands that her father must respect the man she is in love with. Turns out the real test was on Lois, since her dad figured that if she let him treat her boyfriend like that, like she had with her earlier boyfriends, then it meant that she didn't really love him.
  • Farscape has one in "Look At The Princess" with a rather different moral than the usual. You pass the test by getting pissed and trying to kill the arsehole who claims to be tormenting you for the good of the universe.
    • Technically, Kahaynu, Moya's creator, was testing Zhaan to see if she would protect Moya from exploitation (ie, being used to breed an army of gunships to terrorize the galaxy.) Zhaan just demonstrated her devotion by going a little homocidal on him.
  • In the story arc between the end of season 3 and the beginning of season 4 of Wizards of Waverly Place, FBI agents nab the Russos and place them in an interrogation area, after it is revealed that they were spying on them for being wizards. They escape, but not before Justin, under duress and being convinced that the agents want them to track down aliens, reveals magic to the agents. Alex does the same later to reporters in an attempt to bring peace. It is later revealed that Professor Crumbs conjured up the agents and reporters to test the Russos' character. As both Alex and Justin failed by revealing magic, both are demoted to Level 1 status as wizards after a Kangaroo Court trial, while Max, who gave the agents incomprehensible answers, improbably takes the lead by default in the wizard competition, to everyone's shock and frustration.
    • Professor Crumbs seems fond of this. in the Series Finale, the Wizard Competition is "interrupted" by Alex accidentally letting a dragon out of a storage unit that she was to have plucked a body part for to make a potion. It snatches Harper and Zeke, who were accidentally transported to the Wizard world, to its lair atop a mountain. Crumbs gives the Russos a strict time period to rescue Harper and Zeke, which they must follow lest they lose the competition and their powers. The three rescue Harper and Zeke, but not in time. They learn they are disqualified and the Wizard World was abandoned, and they must turn in their wands. The three Russos must learn to live without their powers and live a normal life working at the sandwich stop. Justin and Max blame Alex for making them late getting back, which complicates matters in the shop as they take their frustrations out on Alex, scaring customers in the process. Their parents close the shop as a result of the bickering, all three of them are in despair and are further divided, but then they reconcile, learn to work with each other, and the shop re-opens, making more money. Eventually, they are whisked back to the Wizarding world, finding out that Professor Crumbs was testing their character and family bonds in such a scenario, and everything returns to normal.
  • In the last episode of Total Recall 2070, Farve's creator simulates an attack by good guys over a communications failure to force Farve to choose between self-preservation and greater good. Farve succeeds, but his creator itself admits it would have failed.
  • This is one interpretation of The Booth At the End. People who decide not to follow through on morally reprehensible tasks tend to get what they wanted anyway.


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

Newspaper Comics

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

Tabletop Games

  • The Guardians of the Veil (a sort of wizard intelligence agency) in White Wolf's Mage: The Awakening have a series of moral tests for prospective members. They are told to do a series of more and more morally questionable actions. In the final test they are asked to do something completely reprehensible. If they obey, they are refused membership and monitored from then on as a potential risk. If they refuse, they are granted membership. The Guardians don't want mindless drones; they want strong-willed individuals who will do what is right.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Dungeon Masters are notorious for doing this to their players playing Paladins, who lose their powers and have to undergo an arduous atonement if they act outside of their code.
    • In 4e canon there is a group called the Sable Lancers that use this on potential recruits (often without their knowledge). The potential recruits are hired to carry a chest to a nearby town, with the stipulation that they not look inside it. Along the way they encounter several moral dilemmas, such as a woman whose child was carried off by goblins, two wagons crashing on a bridge, and an unconscious man in a ditch with a large sum of money on him. If the characters ignore the problems or fail to complete them satisfactorily, they fail. It goes without saying that if they look in the chest, they fail.
    • Module OA 5 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.
  • In the Star Wars d20 module Living Force the characters are sent on some errands for the local Jedi, and two of these are intended as such tests. The rest however wind up with genuine complications and one of the two secret tests goes horribly wrong. The local Jedi Master takes this in strides and uses all five encounters, even if only one was planned, to evaluate the heroes. Low level Jedi who passed these tests were considered to have completed their trials to becoming a Jedi Knight.


  • Richard Strauss' fairy-tale opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow) The daughter of Keikobad, king of the spirits, has married the Emperor, a mortal man, but has to gain a shadow (that is, the ability to bear children) or the Emperor will turn to stone. She tries to con a human woman to sell her shadow, but in the end, although the Emperor is turning to stone before her eyes, she will not take the woman's shadow, having seen what misery this will bring the woman and her husband. She then get her own shadow and the Emperor turns back to flesh and blood.
  • Shakespearean works are prone to this.
    • In Macbeth Act 4, Scene 3, MALCOLM claims to MACDUFF that "With this there grows / In my most ill-composed affection such / A stanchless avarice that, were I king, / I should cut off the nobles for their lands, / Desire his jewels and this other’s house. / And my more-having would be as a sauce / To make me hunger more, that I should forge / Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal, / Destroying them for wealth..." as a test to see if MacDuff will withdraw support if Malcolm claims to be legally able to be king but claims to have a long list of nefarious attributes which would make him entirely unsuitable to honestly fill the role. This bizarre string of confessions is false and Malcolm almost immediately repudiates them, after testing MacDuff's reactions.
    • In The Merchant of Venice, Portia's father gives potential suitors for her hand the chance to choose between three caskets composed of gold, silver and lead... as yet another test; the Aesop presumably being to see which ones judge by appearances.

Video Games

  • In Breath of Fire II, there is a point where Ryu has to undergo a test to earn the Infinity/Anfini power to defeat the game's Big Bad. The one trial is that he must sacrifice just one of his "most faithful" companions for the power. To pass, he must pick "no one" and stick to it until the very end... despite the fact that it's intimated that you will bite it if one of your party members don't, as the Dragon Clan's vengeance on you for not living up to destiny. Your willingness to kill the universe rather than kill a friend is, in fact, the real test, which Ryu passes with flying colors.
  • Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete has a tower contains a series of character tests. First the party stumbles upon a man who is injured and pretending not to be that needs to be healed. The next area has the main character asked to dismiss his weakest character (in which the answer is to refuse to in the first place). The final puzzle requires the characters to mold something "beautiful", in which the main character is the only one that passes because he makes a statue of the girl he loves.
    • It's worth noting that the tester misunderstands the subject of the statue though... He doesn't think it's Luna but rather the Goddess Althena who supports the whole world and such. Of course Luna IS Althena, so he wasn't wrong.
  • Parodied in Portal. In one test, the character is given a companion to help her solve the puzzles, and is then ordered to incinerate it at the end. The companion? A large inanimate cube with a heart drawn on each side. If you explore the area fully, you can find evidence that several previous test subjects formed a significant bond with this "weighted companion cube"... Several real players apparently feel the same way. Mission Control will then smack you across the face with its words for being such a Yakoff.
    • Also, earlier in the game, GlaDOS starts a test chamber by informing you that it is unsolvable. Then, when you do solve it, GlaDOS says it was all a test to see how you would handle a seemingly hopeless situation. "Fantastic. You remained resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism."
  • The ending in Disgaea actually turns out to be a Secret Test of Character. Seraph Lamington, ruler of Celestia, turns Love Freak Flonne into a flower as punishment for harming other angels in the process of defeating Archangel Vulcanus, in order to see how Demon Prince Laharl reacts. (The game has Multiple Endings, so whether Laharl "passes" depends on the player.)
    • It's way too easy to fail that one, Guide Dang It! If you get so much as a single teamkill during the game, even an accidental one you have to settle for second best.
    • Sapphire pulls one of these on Almaz in chapter 4 of the third game.
  • Quest for Glory 3 had an interesting example. You engage in a series of contests with the chief's son, to see which one of you will get the title of a warrior. During the race, he easily outruns you regardless of your stats, and manages to fall into a trap. You can either gloat and keep racing, or help him out. The karma reward is swift and obvious. However, unlike other secret tests, you can win the title even if you fail in this particular instance.
    • Subverted in the second game. If the character is a Fighter, they can join the Eternal Order of Fighters. The initiation ends with the player defeating one of the members, while the others order you to kill the now-helpless opponent. Turns out the EOF is really a bunch of Jerk Jocks, and you only pass if you try to flat-out murder the guy. A Double Subversion occurs in the ending; if you refused to kill the guy, he joins the choir praising the hero.
    • This is just one of several Secret Tests of Character during the game, all pointing towards becoming a paladin by the end. Thieves will find it remarkably difficult to succeed, but it IS possible.
    • Quest for Glory 1 had another possible Secret Test of Character, as the gargoyle guarding Erasmus' house sometimes asks you what the Thieves' Password is. Erasmus doesn't like Thieves very much, so the correct way to answer the question is to either admit or pretend that you don't know the password. If you do give him the correct password, he'll say "That's RIGHT, but it's also WRONG."
  • This trope is used in the amateur but popular RPG Maker game A Blurred Line. The protagonist, Talan, seeks refuge from an evil Agency in a town known as Paradise, but only those judged of sufficient moral strength are permitted to reside there. He is told he will be tested the next morning. However, that night he hears crying outside and sees a young woman about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. His attempts to stop her ultimately fail and he dives off the cliff after her. The woman lands safely in pool of water at the base of the cliff but Talan lands painfully on the rocks below. As a result of his heroism, the people of Paradise waive his trial and permit him to stay. It is eventually revealed that the woman who jumped was an actress and the entire event was in fact the trial itself. It is implied that Talan is the only person to join the town to actually pass it.
  • This seems to be popular in Star Trek games. The final puzzles of Star Trek: Judgment Rites and Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Final Unity hinge on these.
  • Parodied in the Soul Calibur 4 omake manga, Cassandra (who has been "teaching" Hilde about the game mechanics) talks like a typical instance with lines that wouldn't be out of place in the "kill the mentor" variant like "The time has come to say goodbye" "I don't have regrets for my life" "Now finish me with the secret technique critical finish!!!" and Hilde does so (in tears!), throwing her into the sky and weeps about how she will never forget her. Cassandra then comes out of nowhere, to Hidle's shock.
  • Phantom, one of the Four Guardians in Mega Man Zero, dies in the first game trying to stop Zero, but failed. When he resurfaced in the third game, he fights Zero once again, this time as a Bonus Boss. Turns out he didn't want to kill Zero outright, but only to see if Zero still has what it takes to be a hero, especially since Phantom learned that Zero's using a clone body.

Phantom: You truly did... have the soul of a hero... Go... Cross blades with Omega, and show what that body can do! Will your blade flinch after you know the truth? Do you have what it be a hero? You must be the one to determine that!

  • In Lufia 2, after you save the king's crown, you're offered one of several rewards. You're actually rewarded with money no matter what you choose, but you get the most money should you tell him to Keep the Reward.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time, the heroes are judged by a magic door on their inner character before being allowed through. Mario passes, and the babies, as babies, are judged to be pure enough, but the door doesn't believe Luigi qualifies. It encourages the rest of the team to go on without Luigi, but Mario insists on bringing Luigi along, so the door says that Luigi's worthiness can be proved if he can reach a certain block. As they return after reaching the block, the block asks Luigi to tell him who was the one who did the work, with the options being "Mario", "the babies", or "Me!" Doesn't matter what you answer, the door yells at you, finally insisting that the proper answer (which wasn't even an option) was that everyone contributed. In response to this, Luigi breaks down, but Mario quickly comes to his defense and the babies start hitting the door with their hammers. Then the door settles down and reveals that Luigi's actually plenty worthy, but the door just wanted to test how they work as a team, so Mario and the babies insisting on staying with Luigi and coming to his defense was exactly what he wanted to see.
    • Also from the Mario series, in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, during one Fetch Quest you are asked by the NPC to pay for the privilege of having his Plot Coupon. You can pay 10 coins, 50 coins, or 100 coins, or you can choose to give him all your money. Doing so leads to him asking to confirm that you're going to give him all your money, making it very difficult to do anything in the future. He'll give you the item, then tell you it was a test to see how much you wanted it, and give you your money back. Doubly subverted in that A) you can get by with paying less than 10 coins, or even no money at all, with this option; and B) he probably would have kept the money if his wife and son weren't standing right next to him.
  • In Final Fantasy IV, Cecil, the protagonist, must 'fight' a dark version of himself in order to become a paladin. In actuality, winning the fight entails Cecil only standing still (or Guarding) whilst a series of messages pop up.
    • Quite a few of them pop up in Cecil's Paladin trials, like accidentally breaking a vase and being questioned for it (tell the truth), facing a monster who claims to be a human under a Baleful Polymorph, (spare him), or being asked to find someone's Golden Apple (give it to him). The more right answers the player has, the better the weapon at the end is, and if all of them are right, you get the Infinity+1 Sword.
    • Kain's trial in Advance, centered around dealing with the darkness in his soul and coming to terms with his unrequited feelings for Rosa, also qualifies, especially the part at the end where he must decide whether to kill Cecil.
  • Ultima game from IV onward had a test that was unique in that there were no wrong answers. The purpose was to decide what class the player would get.
  • In Psychonauts the main hero Raz is told to kill 1000 censors before he can get his Marksmanship License. The target dispenser in said test has an intensity dial ranged from one to ten, and then one level beyond marked with crossed bones. Desperate to pass the test as fast as possible Raz sets the machine to the forbidden setting which makes the whole shooting range derail and turn into a combat zone. Which is exactly what his teacher secretly wanted him to do from the very beginning.
    • In case the player fails to get the obvious hint, the machine stops after 20 censors or so.
    • Though, the twenty foot tall mega-censor that stamps him into incoherence was not part of the plan.
  • The entirety of the Chzo Mythos is a Secret Test of Character devised by the Big Bad Chzo to test his Dragon with an Agenda. He fails, and is disposed of - replaced by the Player Character.
  • Final Fantasy VIII's SeeD ranking system is a Secret Test of Character that pretty much lasts throughout the entire game. Most of the decisions over which one can gain or lose SeeD rank involve demonstrating appropriately high levels of skill and professionalism (complete the Train Job without any mistakes, don't try to violate curfew or cast magic carelessly in the halls), but others are more opaque matters of moral character (make sure to save the dog while running for your life from the nigh-indestructible spider tank).
  • Dragon Quest VIII has this happen for Prince Charmless following his Rite of Passage. His father sends the heroes as bodyguards to help him retrieve an Argon Heart; Charmles shamelessly exploits this by forcing them to do all the work, then screws the rules even further by buying a bigger Heart at the marketplace. However, his father witnesses this, and after getting the full story from the heroes decides to test his son by seeing how far he'll take the charade while giving him every opportunity to confess. In the end, Charmles utterly fails, and the way he brazenly lies to everyone's face ultimately enrages his father so much that he publicly humiliates him and strips him of his status as heir.
  • There's a time in Dragon Quest V where you have to ditch your heroine and go to have a test in some cave that determines if The Hero has a right to be the king of Gotha.
  • Vulpes Inculta of Fallout: New Vegas enacts one of these on the town of Nipton in the form of a lottery. The winner lives, second place gets his legs broken, and everyone else is killed, enslaved or crucified. No one objects when he starts calling out names.
    • Then there's Vault 11, which after the door locks, its dwellers are informed that if a dweller isn't sacrificed at regular intervals, the vault computer system will kill everyone in the vault. After its population of one thousand is reduced to five after a long and terrible history, they finally decide to end this and not send any more sacrifices...then the computer congratulates them and the door opens: the purpose of the vault was to see when people would stand up to the computer. Realizing that all the others died for nothing, four of the five commit suicide.
  • About three-quarters of the way through In Famous, Cole is given a decision: save his girlfriend Trish, or five doctors. It's a Secret Test of Character because no matter what you do, Trish dies. The only thing it affects is your Karma Meter. Kessler[6] orchestrated the whole thing so that Cole would be ready to fight the Beast. Mainly, so he wouldn't be burdened by having a family (and not meeting the challenge head-on) in the Bad Future Kessler[7] comes from.
  • In TheElderScrollsIV during the Knights of the Nine quest line, you have to speak to the Prophet. He gives you some basic information on an evil that's plaguing the lands, then when asked about seeking out the relics, he asks if you're worthy. If you say you are, he informs you that you clearly don't need his help finding the relics if you're such a renowned hero already. Only if you answer "no" does he let you continue the quest chain.
  • Phantasy Star IV has this in an optional dungeon near the end of the game. After a very strange but emotional battle, Chaz is confronted by a creature who asks him to consider the rage and hate he feels, and offers to teach him a technique to turn those feelings into power. The player is then given the choice to accept or refuse. Saying no causes him to reassure Chaz that those feelings are natural and part of the human experience, and he learns the technique; saying yes gets him smacked down like the unworthy bitch he is.
  • League of Legends has the League Judgement, a process in which the character being tested is forced to relive a major event or a nightmarish scenario in their life. This varies from Graves the Outlaw getting thrown into the underground prison of Aregor Priggs, to Rumble seeing his beloved mech get destroyed by his arch-rival Heimerdinger. This is always followed by the questions "Why do you want to join the League?" and "How does it feel, exposing your mind?" Of course this is not even remotely important to the game itself, but adds a lot of depth to the characters for those who choose to indulge in the lore.
  • In Dragon Age, Duncan performs this on the City Elf Warden during their Origin story. After noticing his arrival, the City Elf goes to inform him that its not safe in the Alienage for humans at present, to which he refuses to leave. When they politely insist and Duncan once again politely refuses, the City Elf offers to find an acceptable compromise. Duncan then congratulates them on keeping their composure, even when encountering an unknown and armed human.
    • In the Mage Origin, Duncan can question the Mage Warden on their feelings about their powers and how they think they should be used.

Web Comics

  • Xykon pulls the villainous version of this on Redcloak in The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness prequel book. Allowing him to kill his own brother as a secret test of loyalty.
  • 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!")
  • 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.
  • The Achewood arc with Cartilage Head. He proved himself a coward who would desert a dying man.
  • 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-hearted 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • In this Slimy Thief strip, the Thieves' Guild wants to see how Aisha handles an impossible task. Unfortunately, they don't realize the extent of her slime powers (and in fairness, neither does she).
  • 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, the 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.
  • In No Rest for The Wicked, November meets the classic old beggar woman.

Web Original

  • As well as being Cool and Unusual Punishment, this is apparently why The Nostalgia Critic captured The Nostalgia Chick and made her do Bratz; so she could be proud of sitting through the worst girly movie of all time. So, uh, yay pointless masochism?
  • In the Lost Alternate Reality Game "Dharma Wants You", the player goes through several flash-based tests supposedly used to test his/her capacity to join a reinstated Dharma Initiative. At the beginning of the test series, head recruiter Hans Van Eeghen warns you about the attempts of someone known as "Black Swan" to "undermine the testing program". Each of the tests themselves have a secret "Black Swan" option allowing the player to cheat. The final test (called the "Honesty and Integrity Test") is a simple video informing the candidates that they already completed the test: Eeghen himself is Black Swan and the cheats were used to test the candidates integrity. Eeghen then congratulates those who didn't cheat claiming "the officials reviewing your results will look very favourably on this outcome"

Western Animation

  • In Adventure Time, Finn is told to kill a neutral ant; however, he refuses.
  • Partial example in Avatar: The Last Airbender. While not an intended test, Piandao accepts Sokka because he's the first student to come to him who admitted that he was not worthy, and thus proved that he was open enough to learn. He later rewards him with a White Lotus Pai Sho piece for admitting that he lied and was not a Fire Nation Colonist (which Piandao had figured out long ago, due to Aang's presence and Sokka's name). It's stated on the DVD Commentary that pretty much everything Piandao did was some kind of test.
    • Possible villainous example in "Nightmares and Daydreams": Why would Ozai invite Zuko to the war meeting, given Zuko's history of having dramatic, righteous outbursts during war meetings, if not to test his sense of loyalty and/or fear?
  • In an episode of The Land Before Time Littlefoot is tested on his ability to one day become the leader of a herd. One test involves retrieving a red leaf from a small island in the middle of a lava pit. After much deliberating, Littlefoot finally concedes that he can't find any safe way across. He is then informed that that was the test and that the point of leading a herd is to put their safety first.
  • In the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 series, the turtles, who have been kidnapped along with four other people, are subjected to one of these by their kidnappers, the Ninja Tribunal. The Tribunal states that the kidnappees must fight each other to the death, and that only those who survive would become the Tribunal's students. The kidnappees refuse, attacking the Tribunal instead and therefore passing the test.
  • The end of the South Park episode "Pinewood Derby" reveals that the whole plot of the episode was just one big test of character to decide whether or not to let Earth into the Galactic Federation after they discovered warp travel (Randy enhanced Stan's Pinewood Derby car with a supermagnet from the Large Hadron Collider). Earth fails and is barred from the rest of the universe. As Randy says at the end of the episode "Well that sucks!"
  • Professor Wizgiz in Winx Club pulled one of these on all the students by saying there would be a pop quiz the next day, and letting them all find envelopes which appeared to contain the answers. In reality, the envelopes contained dust puffs, which let him easily see who was honest enough not to open them.
  • Parodied in an episode of Family Guy, in which Peter refuses to take an ordinary looking college exam, only to learn that refusing to take the test was the test.
  • The Real Ghostbusters had one in the episode "Night Game." Winston's found himself in the crossfire of a battle between the forces of good and evil...which happens to take the form of a baseball game (It Makes Sense in Context). The other three come in to save him, but can't, because he's already in the game and there's no room for more players. All they can do is sit and let the game continue—the stakes are for Winston's soul. If good loses, he becomes the slave of evil. If Ray, Peter, and Egon try to involve themselves, it will be considered cheating, and, as the Umpire says, "evil cheats." Winston revealed in the end that they were playing for Peter's soul. Peter was understandbly scared, since he and the others considering interfering with the game.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: In one episode, He-Man and Company had to look for an antidote to save Man-At-Arms and the only one with the needed knowledge was a dragon named Granamyr. Granamyr, who believes that Humans Are the Real Monsters, only agreed on the condition that they destroy an old tree (the stated reason being that Granamyr doesn't like NOT being the oldest living being and the tree was the only one older than him) and threatened to banish our heroes to a realm of demons if they fail. Upon learning about the tree and all living beings that depend on it for sustenance, they decided not to kill the tree. Granamyr then revealed that it was a test of character.
  • Parodied on American Dad. Bullock (Stan's boss at the CIA) has been sleeping with Sta'ns daughter and treating both of them. Eventually Stan gets so fed up that he beats the crap out of Bullock. To keep Stan from killing him, Bullock tries to pass off everything he did as a Secret Test of Character to see if Stan would stand up for himself and his daughter. He's clearly making it all up, but is just persuasive enough that Stan lets him go.

Bullock: You see, before promoting you, I had to be certain that you would stand up for Haley, for if you couldn't stand up for your daughter, how could you stand up for your country?... or something like that.
Stan: So none of this was real?
Bullock: No sir!
Stan: But... you're really hurt.
Bullock: Ha ha ha! It would appear that way, but no. (spits out one of his teeth) Props will be wanting this back!

  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius sets up a game show that citizens of Miseryville unknowingly compete on where they have to keep there promise to stay on a single spot. Unlike most tests, Lucius wants to prove that no one is really good enough to do it, even staking his entire fortune on it. Which means it's troube when the contestant is Jimmy.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends retroactivlly reveals that all of the imaginary friend characters are this trope. The negative aspects of their personalities are meant to help their children. Wilt's constant doormat, nice guy nature helped his child become a better sportsman. Eduardo's meek, scaredy cat personality helped his kid become more brave and start standing up for herself and others.
  • In the 2011 ThunderCats reboot, after Lion-O dies and the rest of the Thundercats are captured by Mumm-ra, he's saved by the spirit stone and is told that he has to undergo four trials to prove that he's worthy of being brought back to life. He fails the last one and is told that he cannot return to life, but that the stone can return his soul to his body until sunrise. After the sun rises, however, he will die and his soul will be stuck forever in limbo. Lion-O, of course, chooses to return to life temporarily in order to save the Thundercats. After he rescues the Thundercats and is prepared to die, Jaga appears and tells him that his willingness to sacrifice himself for his people was the last test and he's earned his life back permanently.
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "The Least Dangerous Game", Commander Ransom brings Mariner, Billups, and Rutherford to a planet called Dulain to fix one of the orbital lifts (or “giant space elevators”, as Mariner calls them) that the Dulainians used to board orbiting starships (Dulain has a thermosphere of charged ions which prevents them from using transporters). Ransom tells Mariner to help him fix the actual lift, and tells Billups and Rutherford to go down to the surface to act as diplomats. This of course seems like an absurd idea (as Mariner points out), because both Billups and Rutherford are engineers, while Mariner specializes in diplomacy. To absolutely nobody's surprise, Billups and Rutherford manage to make the natives angry by committing a religious taboo, but despite Mariners pleas, Ransom insists the two can handle themselves, and that their intervention is not necessary. And again, to nobody's surprise, the situation with Billups and Rutherford gets worse, until they are under sentence of execution. Mariner finally decides to defy orders and skydive to the surface in order to help them, but just as she does, she gets a comlink call from Ransom. He apologizes and congratulates her, claiming he was testing her to see if she would defy in order to help them, a test that has now gone too far out of control, and tells her to meet him at the docking Bay so they can both go down to assist them. Mariner manages to get there before he notices she was gone (barely, nearly getting herself killed in the process), so while technically she failed this ill-conceived test, Ransom believes she passed it.


Real Life (allegedly)

  • A disturbing example is the Milgram experiment. Fictional characters, it seems, have a better success rate in Secret Tests of Character than we do.
    • A similar albeit less cruel SToC is 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.
  • There is what is probably an urban legend about an ethics class. The class was waiting outside the room where the final was scheduled, and shortly before it should have began a messenger told them that the final had been moved to a room across campus. Naturally, the whole class ran toward that room, passing an injured man. A small group of students stopped to offer help, and one of the others promised to tell the professor where they were. Naturally, the way to pass the final was to stop and help the injured man, who was actually an actor hired by the professor. This is a highly doubtful story, as only a few people would have been needed to help the injured man.
    • In another version of the story, it's a Biblical class, with an emphasis on the story of the Good Samaritan, where the professor emphasized that the students would not be allowed to take the test if they were late. One student comes in late, and explains that there was a girl outside who had dropped her papers, and he had stopped to help her. The girl was of course an actress and the boy passed.
    • Urban legend indeed. Something happened, but it's changed in the telling, as Snopes shows.
      • However, there was an experiment done, using this story almost to the letter. It showed that the less time you had to do something important, the more likely you are to pass up someone who appears injured badly.
  • Allegedly subverted hard when a student suffered a heart attack during the Bar Exam. Two other students rushed to administer CPR, and were not given extra time to make up for the half-hour they lost. That said, they passed anyway. A cynic might argue that the other prospective lawyers in the room passed the Secret Test of Character by not sacrificing their time to help a stranger.
    • That story is somewhat misleading. It involved 5 students helping the man, not two. Two of the students passed the exam, but of the three other students, even a perfect score on the section they missed would not have given them a passing grade. Considering the bar has a 45% passing rate, that sounds about right.
  • A guide on giving job interviews suggested giving an applicant a piece of cake, but no fork to eat it with, then observing how the applicant reacts. Presumably, the right kind of applicant would ask for a fork while the wrong kind of applicant would sit quietly and not ask for a fork, but the test doesn't take into consideration what happens when the person isn't hungry or a diabetic or something. Or eat it with their hands. Or if they just use the titanium spork they always carry.
  • In the 19th Century, the final exam for British Army officers included the question "How do you dig a trench?" as a test of whether the candidate had an officer's mentality. Candidates who gave an answer involving the actual physical actions required would fail the test. The correct answer was "I say 'Sergeant, dig me a trench!'" If he was in the Navy, officer candidates would be expected to know what they were ordering the hoi polloi to do- They'd still make the PO do it, but they'd know what would be involved.
  • Some teachers use a simple test to see if the students can follow instructions: At the top of the paper, you are told to read the entire test, and then perform the tasks. The tasks can include anything from simple math, to standing on one foot while singing the national anthem. The trick is of course that one of the last instructions on the page is: "Ignore all the other tasks. All you need to do to pass is to write your name at the bottom of the paper." Most students will ignore the first instruction, and properly look like fools to the few who actually remember what the test was about: following instructions.
    • Some teachers employ this tactic haphazardly, which teaches children that in taking classroom tests, all tests are subjective and rely on the interpretation of the person administering the test. Some even go so far as to take points off for not recognizing the difference between "printing" an answer and "writing" an answer.
      • Some standardized tests can be quite stringent of this: for example, for the Ontario Grade 10 Literacy Test, the markers would fail you if you wrote the test paper in anything other than a black pen (as it clearly instructed at the top of the test paper). After all, one of the main points of a literacy test is to see if you can read, understand, and follow instructions.
      • A variation of the test exists in which an instruction to ignore the rest of the test is placed at the top with the beginning direction, to test if students will actually read the directions or not.
  • There is a psych-class test like this. In the middle of class a person dressed in a ski-mask and all black clothing steals the professor's notes and runs out. Then the professor asks the class to describe him. In order to pass you have to prove you can overcome preexisting social assumptions by not assuming the attacker is (among other things) male.
  • Applicants to a position of a newsperson/secret agent are asked to deliver a sealed envelope to some other location. One of them is overcome with curiosity so he hides in a closet and opens the envelope. Inside there is a note saying: "Come back, you are hired."
  • An applicant to a law firm is given a test: "Imagine three people in a shark-ridden sea. One of them is unarmed as he is not afraid of sharks. Another one has a huge badass knife. The third one has a harpoon gun. Who do you associate yourself with?" "Well, the third one, of course," - responds the applicant. "I'm sorry,"- says the interviewer, - "you are not the right kind of person for us. Our employees should associate themselves with the sharks."
  • 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 having some writing 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.
    • 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 being. 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.
  • Similar to the Prince Valiant example above, supposedly this was used as a judging technique in ancient India: the suspects would go into a darkened room containing a donkey and were told to pull its tail; if the donkey brayed, the suspect who pulled its tail was guilty. However, what the suspects weren't told was that the donkey's tail was covered in black powder that wouldn't show up in the darkness. If a suspect came out of the room with powder on his hands, he was innocent, under the idea that a guilty person would only pretend to pull the donkey's tail so it wouldn't bray.
    • A variant is the tale told of John Napier who owned a black rooster. When he suspected his servants of stealing from him, he told them to go individually into a darkened room and stroke the rooster. The rooster would tell Napier who was guilty. In fact, he put soot on the bird's feathers. The innocent servants had no worries about stroking the rooster, but the guilty one only pretended he had, so his hands were still clean.
    • A similar story is told of ancient China: three suspects would be told to plant sticks of equal length into the ground, and are told that by morning, the stick belonging to the guilty man will have grown one inch. The next morning, the authorities arrest the man whose stick is one inch shorter than the others; the guilty man, afraid that his stick would grow, secretly cut an inch off it in the middle of the night.
    • One of the legends of Ooka Tadasuke, the famous samurai judge, has him using the same trick. The mechanism in this case is a dusty old Jizo statue. (This statue was a favourite of Ooka's -- he used it as a witness in another case.)
  • This old joke works by implying that the listener unwittingly passed a Secret Test of Character:

Joke teller: To join the Neonazis, you must pass a test: you must kill a Jew and a dog.
Listener: Um, why a dog?
Joke teller: You pass!

  • Another old joke goes that a young Navy Seal recruit is brought in for his final test. He is led into a room, where his wife is gagged and bound to a chair, and handed a gun. His teacher tells him that, to prove his loyalty, he must shoot his wife. The teacher leaves the room. He hears a gunshot, and a few minutes later the young man emerges from the room, saying, "Sorry it took so long; some idiot loaded the gun with blanks so I had to beat her to death with the gun butt."
    • In some versions of the joke it's three different men and the first two pass by refusing to kill their wives while the third gives the answer above. (Often the men are from the FBI, CIA and NSA or Marines, Air Force and Army, in whatever order the teller prefers.)
      • And in another version, the first two, the ones that refused to kill, were male. The third, the one that went through with it using the chair, was female.
    • Another military joke where you [insert branches of choice here]. Three officers (in different units, say Army, Navy and Marines) are arguing about who's soldiers are the bravest while standing on building/a ship. The first two each call up a private/seaman/other "grunt" and tell him to jump off. The soldiers say "Yes Sir!" and jump. The last officer smiles, calls up a private from his unit, and tells him to jump. The Private stands up straight, salutes, and says "Fuck You" before leaving. The officer turns to the others and says "that, my friends, is true bravery."
  • 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.
  • There's an old joke where a newlywed couple are going to a costume party, and their costumes arrived in the mail that day. The man puts on his gorilla suit, but before the woman can open hers she claims to be taken sick, and insists that he go to the party anyway. After he leaves, she puts on her costume (an angel costume with mask and wig) and goes to the party to test his loyalty to her. She arrives to find him dancing with another woman, and decides to see just how far he'll go and seduces him (but insists they leave the masks on.) She then slips out before he does and waits at home. When he comes home, she asks him how the party went, ready to pounce. He responds with "Oh, you know I can never have much fun without you. In fact, I spent most of the evening playing poker with some guys in the den... but the guy who borrowed my costume said he had a hell of a good time!"
  • It is sometimes recommended that a good 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.
    • Note that this is an easy way to annoy the regulars of said community. If the group has been in existence for any length of time, simply reading the existing posts will give you just as accurate a picture of how polite the regulars are.
  1. Note that Naruto passes without answering any of the written questions. (The point of which were to test one's skills as a ninja.) This indicates that standing by your teammates and putting the teams interest ahead of your own are considered more valuable qualities than one's ninja abilities.
  2. While the other applicants swam down to save her, Hachimaki simply continued with the test. He passes while the others all fail from running out of time, and Locksmith reveals that he is impressed by Hachimaki. The logic is that, while Hachi's behavior seems ruthless at first glance, if the event had occurred for real during the Von Braun mission, saving the ship, the mission, and everyone on board would have taken preference over saving one crewmate
  3. Turns out the 11th person was an instructor who had been deliberately placed to cause trouble as a test of character. Several incidents, however, were not planned, and the entrants are commended for still attempting to last as long as possible in spite of this.
  4. As this happens, the other girls are attacked and quickly subdued. The third one wants to help but the Masshin says she must stay with him and proceed with the awakening ritual even if the others die, or she will NOT succeed and the whole mission will crumble. Inevitably, the girl chooses her friends over the mecha... and not only he lets her go help them, but congratulates her because had she chosen to stay, she wouldn't be able to get the Masshin by sacrificing her companions, agreeing to be bound to her.
  5. after Luffy's Berserk Button was pushed when the amazons that helped him were turned to stone by Boa Hancock, he proved to be a formidable opponent and defeated the champions of Amazon Lily by almost revealing their darkest secrets, the empress offers him a choice: he may either take a ship and leave the island to reunite with his nakama or she will release Luffy's friends from her powers. He immediately chooses the latter and even bows in gratitude before her. This convinces her to reveal her and her sisters' Dark and Troubled Past and the reason for their cruel behavior, earning her respect/love for Luffy and allowing him the use of a ship.
  6. aka. Big Bad of the first game
  7. aka. Future Cole