Intelligence... it's all in the mind

It's the world's most exclusive club. But you don't have to be famous to join. You don't have to be rich. You just have to be brainy. Rachael Clegg takes the Mensa test and talks to 15-year old Ben Waters about possessing one of the highest IQs in the country.

JUNE Waters knew there was something special about her son when he was just three years old.

Barely a toddler, Ben would read out the stories in the chat magazines to his mum while she did her supermarket shopping.

"Is he actually reading that?" people would ask when they saw the youngster - strapped in a trolley - reading to his mum.

June, probably as bewildered as the onlookers themselves, would reply: "Yes."

And when June took her son for his three-year check-up at the GP, the health worker asked if he would have a go at a jigsaw.

"It was one of those simple jigsaws, with grips for your fingers," she said, "but Ben wouldn't touch it. The health worker asked whether he did puzzles at home and I said 'yes, 500-piece jigsaws."

"I don't know where he gets it from," said June. "We knew he was bright from being a baby. Even at the pictures when he was a little boy he would read everything. He'd sit there reading every advertisement out loud like 'do not light your cigarette' and all sorts."

Ben, 15, who studies at Wickersley Comprehensive School in Rotherham, started reading the Harry Potter books at the age of four and now – at an age where most of us are discovering the fantasy books for the first time – Ben's reading them in Spanish.

Last year Ben took the Mensa exam, which tests mental agility. His result - 171 - put him in the top one per cent of the country in terms of his intelligence quotient (IQ) score.

"The Mensa exam only measures a certain aspect of intelligence," says Ben. "But people are intelligent in different ways – some people are good with their hands and other people are good musically."

Ben has predicted A*s for all his GCSE subjects – except one: PE.

"He's not a fan of PE – he spends all his time on Facebook when he's at home and moves so little I have to turn him every half hour," says June.

Despite being only 15 years old, Ben already knows which university he wants to go to and what he wants to study - English literature at the University of Oxford.

And while most teenagers don't have the opportunity to get an inside glimpse of university life among Oxford's dreamy spires, Ben's already visited the university as part of a trip with other Wickersley students from the Gifted and Talented programme.

But while most of us associate high IQ with social awkwardness and a social life limited to chess-playing and Medieval re-enactment societies – Ben disproves this stereotype.

The outgoing, chatty 15 year-old is regularly at gigs, parties and constantly in touch with his pals.

"We've been really lucky in that Wickersley is a fantastic school," says June. "A lot of his year have been put through exams early and they are really pushed to do well."

But this hasn't always been the case. At primary school, teachers were less equipped to accommodate Ben's educational needs.

"I remember being given advanced work in primary school and being sent into the staff room with extra work. That's when I realised I was different, academically. I used to go and help year six with their reading when I was six."

Ben's come a long way since reading his mum's chat magazines. The next challenge for the teenage Mensa member is Oxford University.

MENSA factfile

Mensa was established in 1946 by Roland Berrill, a barrister, and Dr Lance Ware, a scientist and lawyer.

The pair wanted to create a non-political, non-religious and racially-equal society for bright people - the only qualification for membership of such a society was a high IQ.

The name comprises two Latin words: mens, which means "mind" and mensa, which means "table", indicating that it is a round-table society of minds.

Waiting for score for my own exam

SATURDAY, 2pm, room 1031 in Sheffield Hallam University's immaculate, slick City Campus building.

About twenty-odd people – including me – are here to take the Mensa test, ranging in age from 14 to about 65.

There's a lad in a huge street-style bubble jacket, a young woman wearing jeans, a Chinese lady and an Asian boy. There really isn't a Mensa 'type' of person. Clearly, the people in this room are from all walks of life.

To people critical of IQ testing, this test will have no bearing on their lives whatsoever.

But to others, the carefully-compiled Cattell B test means everything.

During an interlude between tests, when asked why he was doing the test, one pleasant man replied: "I'm sorry, I can't talk, I really need to focus."

My first thought was 'surely people don't take these tests that seriously?' but as the session progressed I found my self becoming more and more obsessive about getting the right answers.

And the strange things is, the test is actually fun. I'd happily sit through it again, or have a go with a pal over a drink in the pub - not conducive circumstances for a high score, I'm sure, then again...

The questions range from language-based challenges such as choosing an appropriate synonym for a given word from a list of alternatives to completing vague sentences. But it's the time you're given to complete the questions which makes the test extremely hard – eight minutes for one entire paper, three minutes for a page of questions on another.

Mensa tests a specific intelligence in the broadest sense – one's mental agility and reasoning ability. To be a member of Mensa you have to score highly in the test and the results are assessed according to a scale which takes age into account.

Despite the geeky image associated with Mensa, its members include former Miss Rochdale Laura Shields, Sir Jimmy Saville, US actress Geena Davies and Oxford United footballer Joey Beauchamp.

And though I am yet to discover my result, I think it's unlikely the list will include me. So I'll just stick to the pub quiz - make mine a pint.

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