Think You're So Smart? Prove It

For the most part, they looked relieved as they streamed out of the classroom -- about 20 people, mostly young men with a couple of women mixed into the group. They had just finished the Mensa admission test, a two-hour exam meant to separate the truly smart from those who just think they are.

Anyone who scores in the top two percent of the general population will be invited to join Mensa, an organization with only one qualification for membership -- extremely high intelligence.

Today is the group's version of a membership drive -- National Mensa Testing Day. About 2,000 people around the country were expected to take the entrance exam this weekend, and more than half will score high enough to qualify for Mensa membership.

"It's a very self-selecting group," said Hilary Moore, marketing coordinator for American Mensa. "The people who come take the test believe that they are smart enough to qualify for Mensa."

'An Ego Thing'

At the testing site in New York, there is little modesty when it comes to brainpower.

"I'm a smart guy, so it wasn't that hard," said Greg Barasia, an 18-year-old student at New York University who admitted that getting up early on a Saturday morning to take an IQ test is an odd thing for a college student to do.

"I guess I wanted to see if I was smart enough," Barasia added. "To be honest, it's an ego thing."

"A lot of people who pass the test don't even join, but they need it as some type of validation to prove that they're smart," said Linda Spadafina, a Mensa member who also serves as proctor for the admission test. "Some people just like being card-carrying smart asses."

Others are looking for the respect that comes with Mensa membership.

"I'm new to the United States, and it's a way to prove my credentials," said 24-year-old Adithya Lanka, who recently moved to New York from India.

Not All About Brainpower

But being a Mensan, as members are known, is not all about proving your smarts. Moore said one of the most common misconceptions about members is that they all "sit around talking about their IQs."

"Mensans get each other's jokes," Moore said. "They're people who are all on the same level as you, and they get what you're talking about."

"Just talking to the members of Mensa, I felt like I was home again," said Spadafina, who joined Mensa in 2003. "I found my tribe, as they say."

No Easy Task

The Mensa entrance exam is open to anyone who can pay a $40 registration fee. It is actually made up of two separate tests.

The first test has 50 questions meant to test mathematical and engineering ability. The time allowed to complete it? Only 12 minutes.

"I've only seen three or four people finish it," Spadafina said. "Other people, they just throw their hands up in the air."

The second test measures verbal and listening skills, and is made up of seven timed sections, each lasting four to seven minutes.

Prospective Mensans must score in the top 2 percent of the general population on either test to join. It's no easy task.

"I see people who are confused, who don't understand the instructions," Spadafina said. "I see a lot of nervous looks when they come in. And on the way out, I see everything from people laughing, thinking that it was a lot of fun, to people looking like they just wasted $40."