Education

About 1,800 people milled about the Galt House on Thursday, discussing mind control, debating civilization’s demise and playing cribbage.

They were in Louisville for an annual gathering of American Mensa, an organization open only to those with strikingly high IQs. Its members are people clever enough to score in the top two percent on a standardized intelligence test.

Statistically, about 1 in 50 people qualify, said LeRay Bakerink, vice chair and executive testing officer for American Mensa.

Nearly 56,000 people across the U.S. are dues-paying members of American Mensa, Bakerink said.

Perhaps some of the members fit the stereotype of the seriously smart:  Trekkies, gamers, the obviously gifted. But, of course, Mensa members have many roles in the world.

“We have everything from garbage collectors, rocket scientists, physicists, housewives. It’s very diverse,” Bakerink said.

Diverse and exclusive.

There are two ways to get into Mensa, Bakerink said.

A person can submit results of prior supervised, standardized intelligence test–like the Wechsler, Stanford-Binet or GMAT. Or a person can also take a standardized test under the supervision of a certified Mensa testing administrator.

I chose the latter.

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For a fee, Mensa America allowed people to take the test during the Louisville gathering. The testing sessions was held on the third floor of the Galt House, in a windowless room with bright fluorescent lights and rows of tables covered in white linens.

One of the test proctors, a former school teacher, read the test instructions precisely as they are written to the nine Mensa hopefuls.

Scotty Landers is among the testers. He came to the gathering with his father from Fort Worth, Texas. His dad is a Mensa member. Scotty, 15, said he is taking the test just to see if he has what it takes.

“To see if I’m smart enough,” he said.

Two freshly sharpened, Mensa-branded No. 2 pencils are distributed to each test-taker. The doors are shut. The test begins.

For the next few hours, Scotty and I are blasted by a whirlwind of problem solving, word associations and math.

In the hallway, once the test is complete, we convened.

We commiserated over the picture associations. We cursed the “what is the fraction of the fraction that equals the square root of 60 when multiplied by 4” (I’m paraphrasing) math questions. We shuddered reminiscing the vocabulary section.

“Some of them are, like, large words,” Scotty said.

We agreed, it’s not an easy test.

“It was pretty hard,” Scotty said. “It wasn’t just general knowledge, it was general problem solving.”

And it is. It’s stocked with questions that, to answer correctly, the test taker must have a strong grasp of complex problem-solving methods many people see just a handful of times in high school geometry classes.

A solid memory is also helpful, as is a working knowledge of the lesser consulted pages of a thesaurus.

For an instant, we may have felt a inkling of defeat. But, we were quick to remember that it’s just a test.

We won’t know our results for about a week.

Maybe I did OK. Maybe I didn’t.

And Scotty said even if he aced it, it’s unlikely he’ll soon follow in his father’s footsteps and join Mensa.

He said, right now, he has “other stuff to do.”

But he really likes to learn and he’ll keep doing that. He said he enjoys tagging along with his father to Mensa events because there is always someone willing to share some knowledge, always something to be learned.

Bakerink said that’s the beauty of Mensa.

“We’re never bored, at least when we’re together,” Bakerink  said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.