Comments on the Sigma Test VI

Chris Cole


I’ve looked over the Sigma Test and discussed it with a few other members.  Here is our consensus.


I’ll discuss each of the first few questions in detail.


  1. This question is a standard trick question.  It is usually stated in terms of the distance a rubber band around the equator will be stretched if it is lifted one foot.  Coincidentally, Marilyn vos Savant asked a version of it in her column in the March 7 issue of Parade Magazine.  Anyone with an interest in puzzles will know the trick.
  2. This could be a nice puzzle, but it is overly complex.  The conditions on the order in which the man and woman can stand are inserted into the puzzle without motivation.  The item should be reworked to include the same essential idea without the unnatural conditions.
  3. This is a straight combinatorics problem that can be looked up in several books and probably on the Web.
  4. This is a thinly reworded version of the standard puzzle about the priest who informs his flock about the existence of at least one adulterer.  Anyone with an interest in puzzles will know the solution.
  5. Much of the problem statement is taken up with estimating the number of atoms in the universe to be 6x10^78, which is not relevant.  All that is being asked is whether the number of possible positions of a chess board in 29 ply is less than or greater than this number. Clearly there are 64 possible positions on the board and one off the board and 32 pieces.  Ignoring all complexities, it is obvious that the number of possible positions is less than 65^32 , which is about 10^58.  This is a trivial problem.


The remaining problems on the test, which are only graded if the testee does well on the first five problems, rely on precise definitions for terms that are inherently vague or at least controversial.  For example, problem 8 is “Create a functional model of a fictional universe.”  The answer is scored based upon how “coherent” it is.  This is not a well-defined concept and in fact is currently very controversial.   It is the height of presumption to claim to be able to objectively score a test item on this basis.


A quick consensus of five members is that this test is unsuitable as an admissions vehicle.