I am looking for a short science fiction story from my childhood (about 30 years ago). The story tells of a boy or young man who is shortly to go from his home (farm?) to the big city to be 'tested'. He's nervous about the test, however everyone in this society gets tested and it denotes what you'll do for a living or something.

The test is some sort of situational piece where the student has to make a decision, and you're graded accordingly. A worker where the boy lived said he took the test and apparently 'just failed', didn't seem to care if he passed or not appeared cynical of the test, I got the impression he was expecting the boy to fail as well. The boy's family are supportive, suggesting that he's smarter than he knows, as demonstrated when he reorganised some equipment in their work to operate and produce things a lot more efficiently.

The boy doesn't think he'll amount to much and certainly won't be running anything important in his career, unlike those that work in the grand buildings in the city. The day for the test arrives and the story describes some of the build up to the test, and that the boy makes the decision as he sees it, and finds that he's passed and can now join the ranks of those in the city and not forced to work the land.

Does anyone have any ideas on this one?

It's not 'Profession' by Asimov and a lot shorter.

  • I remember a story almost exactly like this with a much darker ending. I can't remember the name sadly.
    – JMac
    Mar 20, 2017 at 12:56
  • The first story I thought of was "Unaccompanied Sonata" by Orson Scott Card, but too many things don't match.
    – Spencer
    Nov 26, 2020 at 22:25

2 Answers 2


"Examination Day" is the first segment of the sixth episode from the first season (1985–86) of the television series The Twilight Zone.

I was looking for this as soon as I saw the YouTube movie trailer for "The Thinning". I knew the story from years ago when I saw a TV short film. This was it. Boy takes test that everyone must, ends up "too smart", and is eliminated. The boy that he talked to could care less that he failed, now the viewer understands why.

It is derived from a story called "Examination Day" by Henry Slesar written in 1958 first published in Playboy magazine that year. According to Wikipedia there were many variations in print:

"Examination Day" (1958) - Originally published in Playboy, February 1958.

Frequently anthologized; some include:

  • School and Society Through Science Fiction, 1974, ed. Patricia Warrick, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, ISBN 0-528-61240-9;
  • Inside Information: Computers in Fiction, edited by Abbe Mowshowitz;
  • Beyond Time and Space, 1978, ed. Robert R. Potter, ISBN 0-87065-155-2;
  • Realms of Darkness, 1985, ed. Mary Danby, ISBN 0-86273-244-1;
  • New Stories from the Twilight Zone, 1993, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, ISBN 0-7515-0329-0;
  • 100 Hair Raising Little Horror Stories, 1993, ed. Al Sarrantonio, Martin H. Greenberg, ISBN 1-56619-056-8;
  • Beware!: R. L. Stine Picks His Favorite Scary Stories, 2002, ed. R. L. Stine, ISBN 0-06-623842-0.
  • 1
    In your story the child dies, however in the asker's story, the child ends up living in a city. Your answer seems to be wrong.
    – Edlothiad
    Mar 20, 2017 at 14:46
  • 1
    Absolutely, it's definitely close but the child doesn't end up being executed. Thank you for the suggestion though!
    – James Dodd
    Mar 20, 2017 at 22:04

Sounds a lot like Isaac Asimov's "Profession".

The boy is shocked that he doesn't qualify for anything, even labourer. But he learns that he's unclassified because he is an original thinker too precious to society to be corralled into just one narrow specialisation.

In the story the tests are called "Olympics". Does that fit?

  • 1
    The last line of the question: "It's not 'Profession' by Asimov and a lot shorter."
    – user14111
    Nov 27, 2020 at 0:02

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