Could You Pass the MI6 Exam?

EMPLOYMENT

Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty Images

About This Quiz

MI6 is the British intelligence service made famous by Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and later movies. It's the international wing of the Secret Intelligence Service. Indeed, it's arguably the most famous secret organisation in the world. You'd think that being a very famous secret group would be a negative, but it's actually one of MI6's leading recruiting tools. Recruiters say that they have visited everywhere from major cities in hostile nations to small villages in remote corners of the world seeking a local source to train as an asset, only to hear, "MI6? Of course I'll work for you! Can I meet M?"

However, while this does mean that a lot of people both qualified and unqualified want to be a part of MI6's team and recruiting sources and local assets is fractionally easier than it might otherwise be, this has not resulted in any commensurate lowering of standards for the team itself. You still have to pass a rigorous exam to be able to join, as well as passing a battery of other tests. You also have to answer what you'd hope would be some very obvious questions, which some people nonetheless do flunk out.

Do you have what it takes to pass, or will you be hearing a very polite and British, "Thank you for your time"?

Can you be trusted?

This is, verbatim, a real question on the quiz given to people interested in joining MI6. Being trustworthy isn't just useful to the agency, which has to be able to trust its own agents. Trustworthiness, also called integrity, is essential in winning over foreign nationals, to turn them into assets. If someone is expected to put their freedom and maybe even their life in your hands, they need to believe you can be trusted.

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For all real numbers, b and c such that the product of c and 3 is b, which of the following expressions represents the sum of c and 3 in terms of b?

MI6 prizes logic skills, some of which can be demonstrated through maths. Furthermore, some missions may require mathematical skills either to understand what intelligence is valuable or to maintain a cover as a scientist. The equation described above can be represented as 3c=b. Isolate c as follows: c = b/3. Adding 3 to this value makes the answer b/3 + 3.

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How educated are you?

In the old days of MI6, the service recruited mostly men from "the right families" from Oxford and Cambridge, letting their social standing get in the way of proper background vetting. After a terrible scandal in which a Russian double agent spent decades in MI6, giving to the Soviets troves of intelligence, MI6 took a long look at itself. To ensure this does not repeat, MI6 recruits from many universities, many classes, and many ethnicities, but a university diploma is still preferred.

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Are you a British national?

It is completely essential that all MI6 personnel be British nationals. This can mean that they are born with U.K. citizenship, or that they become naturalized citizens, having possessed foreign passports in the past. This rule is ironclad. This question is a real question on the first questionnaire.

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Two sites, website.net and website.org, with the same annual traffic, had fluctuations from August through December, with peaks in October and December, respectively. What proportion of traffic belonged to website.org?

The ability to disregard unimportant details is necessary when making decisions, and numbers make this task even harder. Most of the information in this question is completely unimportant because the question demands how much of the total traffic went to website.org, but the facts include that both websites have the same annual traffic. Thus, the answer is half.

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You are in a public place and think you see someone following you. What method should you use to check?

When being tailed, it is important to know one is being tailed and by whom. Once this is known, it's good to try to keep one's tail in the dark about one's knowledge of the fact. Thus, when checking for a tail, it is wise to do so in a way that does not make it clear to one's tail that one knows about the tail.

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Why do you want to protect this country?

This is a variation on the simple question "Do you want to protect this country?" which really is on the test. In the real test, a no will see you out the door. Other questions try to extract the reason for wanting to serve, with patriotism being the only acceptable reason.

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What means do you consider acceptable with regards to protecting this country?

While a certain moral flexibility is necessary for intelligence work, the idea that any means are acceptable is not acceptable. In a profession that is, on some level at least, about breaking laws in other countries, the existing laws become even more important. After all, when a nation compromises on essential parts of its identity, then what is it fighting for?

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How many degrees are there in all the corners in a pentagon?

Some tests will combine the visual, the mathematical and the logical, more to see how one answers and to learn about one's strengths than to get the correct answer. In this case, a pentagon's corners are 108 degrees each. Since there are five corners, the total is 540 degrees, total.

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How effectively do you handle setbacks?

Not every day is a winning day in intelligence work. It's lonely work, with little in the way of financial rewards or companionship. As a result, agents need to be self-starters, capable of getting the job done without support, even when things aren't going well.

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Are you willing to travel abroad?

While not all jobs in MI6 involve travel, a willingness to travel means that there are more opportunities open to the applicant. Reasons for nor wanting to travel can be important as well, deciding the type of job with which one would be entrusted.

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Would you describe yourself as "empathetic"?

Many questions on the entry exam deal with empathy. Empathy isn't just about demonstrating it through decision making, as will be the case with some questions, but also with one's assessment of oneself and what one understands empathy to be.

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Octopuses are an intelligent species with eight legs and three hearts. Their biggest killer is reproduction, as males die after mating and females die after their eggs hatch. Which of the following statements is most supported by the above?

Logic questions like this are common on the test. Octopuses (without going into the inner workings of Latin grammar, that's the correct plural) can't be said to be the most intelligent creatures in the ocean by the above information, nor can one assume anything about the strength of their hearts because there is so little information. What is clear is that the males die immediately after mating and the females die some time later, after their eggs hatch.

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Would you be willing to work in London?

Most MI6 jobs are not just domestic but located in London in the agency's main offices. A willingness to work in London is therefore essential to most jobs. Of course, even agents who work abroad have to spend time in London being debriefed and sometimes educated.

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Is curiosity instinctive to you?

This question, a real question from the entrance quiz, is more complicated than it would appear. Natural curiosity is needed to learn anything, making training more effective. It is also essential when one is tired and thus less likely to notice things. In those circumstances, the curious person will take in more details than the incurious one, which can mean the difference between success and failure.

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What foreign languages do you speak?

Some languages are more valuable to intelligence agencies. At this moment in history, fluency in Russian, Arabic and Mandarin are highly prized, since many of the destabilizing forces and world events originate in places where these languages are common. Moreover, fluency in these languages is rarer than fluency in Western European languages like French, German or Portuguese.

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Have you told anyone about your application to MI-6?

The existence of MI6 wasn't publicly acknowledged until fairly recently. Similarly, many employees of MI6 can't admit they work there, having to maintain cover stories as office drones in embassies across the world. As a result, certain jobs will be off-limits if one has told third parties about their job application.

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Where do the most pernicious threats to the national security of the United Kingdom lie?

There are some questions that are less about right and wrong and more about assessing one's point of view. All of the above are threats to the United Kingdom. Demonstrating emotional detachment, the final answer is the sort that would be preferred for anyone wanting to be an MI6 field agent.

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For which of the following types of people would you offer your seat on public transportation?

Empathy being useful, it's interesting to see how someone decides to use it in the world, and it is telling. Empathy is about more than just recognizing needs, it's about recognizing consequences. While a middle-aged person is unlikely to need a seat and obviously an elderly person is, a child should be resilient enough not to, and moreover, giving up one's seat to them teaches them not to give up their seat to an elder.

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How would you react if you learned that your oldest and most beloved friend were an intelligence asset belonging to a foreign power?

Emotional detachment is very important in intelligence work. If one's friend is a foreign asset and one has one's friend arrested, then little is accomplished. If one tells one's supervisor, one could find out that this fact was well known to MI5, or if not, that your familiarity with the asset means that you are ideally situated to divulge false intelligence, in order to discover where the asset's intelligence product is consumed.

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Which of these sentences is worded correctly?

Communication skills are very important in intelligence work. Command of language, especially the shared English language all MI6 employees speak, is essential in order to clearly communicate intelligence to analysts at HQ. Furthermore, when the opportunity to transmit fulsome communiques is not on the cards, a high competence as a communicator allows improvisation with a high likelihood of being understood.

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Which of the following objects is most likely to ensure your physical safety when traveling abroad?

Foreign agents may be outside the reach of a bribe, and the act of traveling abroad with a weapon can often draw more scrutiny than is worth the trouble. A simple tool that is useful when physically threatened is a flashlight. With a bright light set to strobe, any intruder or attacker will be blinded, making their efforts less effective. With a heavy object in the other hand, or a heavy flashlight, most opponents can be easily dispatched.

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Even more than money, what is the most common motivator used to turn enemies into intelligence assets?

Everyone wants to be a hero. Heroism can take many forms, depending on the situation. It could mean overthrowing a leader believed to be illegitimate. It could mean stopping an out of control military. Whatever it means, that meaning is assigned by the asset. Turning an asset is often not about money or sex or religion, but the intangible idea of being a hero, either to one's country, one's morals or one's family.

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What is the best kind of camera?

Ever since spies had to photograph documents with 110 format cameras in the Cold War, the photographer's adage "The best camera is the one you have with you" has been understood as true by intelligence agencies. There are times when a very high-end camera, even a satellite camera, is the only camera for the job, but when the only camera you have is the one on an iPhone 4, if it gets the photo you need, then it's the best camera you could have.

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Is MI-6 all fast cars and guns?

This is, verbatim, one of the first questions on the MI6 entry questionnaire. Some potential trainees think they are signing up for a job consisting of the exciting parts of "Thunderball." This is far from the case. Most MI6 employees do mundane jobs behind the scenes, analyzing intelligence, balancing the books or working with other agencies. Very few jobs involve guns or car chases.

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Can you keep a good "poker face"?

Deception is an essential part of espionage, and it is necessary that sometimes agents must lie by omission, not just commission. Not telling someone that they will be wanted by the police the moment they steal a document for you may be part of one's mission, so being able to send that person to do a thing they wouldn't want to do, having bonded with them emotionally, requires a good poker face.

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How good are you at finding a reason to get along with someone you really don't like?

When the work is important, one's feelings aren't. Being able to work with other MI6 agents is essential, even when one detests them personally. What is more likely, however, is that one will have to work with dangerous, even evil people such as terrorists and the lieutenants of dictators. In those cases, being able to act in a friendly, inoffensive way could be just the thing to stop a war.

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What would it take to derail your sense of humor?

Having a good sense of humor isn't just useful in social situations; it's a sign of a healthy mind that can deal with stress effectively. Being able to keep one's sense of humor intact, even in the line of fire, is a powerful tool for any field agent.

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How much do you agree with the statement "I do not become defensive when I am criticized"?

Organizational discipline is very important at MI6. When a rule is broken, or if a work product is not up to snuff, one's superiors will let one know in unambiguous terms. When this happens, it is best not to argue, even if one feels one is in the right.

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Of what party, that will verify your credentials, did you inform your references?

The Secret Intelligence Service, which covers many agencies, is the entity that does all background checks for applicants to MI6. An opaque process from the point of view of past employers, it could mean getting a job as a janitor or an intelligence agent. When applying for a job with MI6, past employers on one's CV should be informed that they will be contacted by SIS.

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How do you manage your stress?

How one manages stress is very important to MI6. When you're hiding out in a hut in Afghanistan, going for a long run, seeing a therapist or having a cold drink may not be on the cards, and more importantly, any of those could become a vulnerability in the field. Instead, it's best if stress can be managed internally, without the need for anything external.

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How would you motivate a comrade who seems emotionally negative?

Being inspired emotionally is more powerful than any of these other motivators, especially being negative. While insulting someone's virtues can motivate some people to show you that you are wrong about them, it can completely demotivate other people, and it cuts off certain approaches, especially positive ones.

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Should your ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation matter with regards to your fitness to become an agent?

The times of discrimination at MI6 are long past. The agency has found it cannot afford to cast aside any skilled patriots, especially given the urgent need for language specialists, people with very specific technical skills and people familiar with subcultures outside the purview of the average Briton. In short, all are welcome.

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Would you make a good parent?

Handling an asset is a lot like handling a child. Assets need to be taken care of, sometimes literally. There are stories of intelligence agents helping assets with family matters, housing, and the like. Making an asset view an agent as a benevolent, trusted figure is essential to getting the most out of them. It's a lot like being a parent.

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Are you capable of taking actions that do not make sense given the available information?

Compartmentalization is a part of espionage going back to Sir Francis Walsingham. It is often necessary that the source of one secret be kept a secret, and even the existence of the secret can give away the source. As a result, sometimes spies are asked to spend their resources on things that may not make sense to them. This is only because they cannot be given all the information for fear they are captured.

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